Gouge Away choose a new path

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Gouge Away interview

Gouge Away never officially broke up, but within a few years after building up momentum behind their acclaimed, intense 2018 album Burnt Sugar, the Florida hardcore/noise rock group came to an unceremonious halt. The members of the group found themselves splintered into different parts of the country, the music they made together falling by the wayside after a series of frustrating attempts to restart the engine.

Their story is, in many ways, a familiar one: Gouge Away’s momentum had reached a critical mass just in time for pandemic lockdowns to put a stop to it, and in attempting to get back on track, they faced one setback after another. With a new album half-written but the band unable to move forward, they simply walked away from it, choosing to simply move on with their lives—at least temporarily.

“I decided to step back altogether and focus on my personal life,” said vocalist Christina Michelle via Zoom call from her home in Portland. “There was no plan to start Gouge Away up again. We all moved apart from each other. Me and Tommy (Cantwell) moved to Portland, and Tyler (Forsythe) moved to Atlanta. And having this distance and missing each other, we we were revisiting these songs we had written before the pandemic and were like, OK, it’s time to revisit that and finish this record and put it out.”

The album they finished after making the decision to reignite the fire, Deep Sage—out this month via Deathwish Inc.—is a reflection of that distance and time spent away from each other, reconvening as a very different band than the one they were before they started writing the album. These are more melodic and more nuanced songs, still shot through with the kind of fury and intensity that marked their earlier records, but with the space to explore sounds beyond searing barnburners. It also contains some of their most personal material as well, particularly on closing song “Dallas,” written about a friend they lost far too soon. And in returning to the song, it brought a new sense of urgency and purpose to the band, to finish something that carried a greater meaning.

“When we came out to Portland, my whole life changed. I started going to therapy. We’ve all grown a lot as individuals, having space from each other and not being on tour so much,” Michelle said. “I don’t talk about this too much, but I have a friend who took their own life. I was revisiting the song ‘Dallas,’ because that’s what it’s about, and I just cried a bunch and I talked to the guys about it. I had this realization that I don’t want these songs to just die on our hard drives and our phones. I want to do them justice.”

We spoke to Gouge Away’s Christina Michelle about new album Deep Sage, reconvening after a period of change and growth, and expanding their horizons.

Treble: How much of Deep Sage was written after the band got back together?

Christina Michelle: I think probably half of it. We wrote a lot of songs before the pandemic and we probably could have just put that out as a record, but when we got back together again in 2022, we for some reason, all just completely saw eye to eye on everything and shared the same opinions on which songs we loved and which songs we didn’t want to hear again. And from there, the momentum was insane. We were just poppin’ out songs, we were so on the same page it was crazy.

Treble: Was there a specific direction that you had in mind once you started working together on these songs?

CM: I don’t think we really had that. We all like so much stuff, we like so much music, and I think now we’re all in a place where we’re not afraid to play whatever we like. It doesn’t matter what genre it fits into or if it doesn’t sound like our old record. If it’s all of us in the same room, that’s the path we take.

Treble: Were you looking to push yourselves out of your comfort zone a bit?

CM: I think when we released Burnt Sugar, we were so scared of releasing the song “Ghost”—that was the first time we really put a song out there with a big melody and actual singing. But people love that song, I think it’s our most popular song. And it feels good to play live, and it gave us some validation to keep pushing in that way.

Treble: After spending some time apart, how comfortable was it playing together again?

CM: It came together so naturally. We worked better together than we ever had before. Being constantly on tour and forcing ourselves to practice for 20 hours straight, it’s a hard environment to be cooperative with each other. But coming back now and missing each other and really really wanting to do this—doing it because we wanted to and not because we felt like we had to—the momentum was crazy. 

Treble: Did that give you an opportunity to refill the creative tank?

CM: Yeah, definitely. Especially lyric-wise, there’s so much more to pull from when you have space and more life experiences, and literally, I changed my whole environment.

Treble: Do feel that you’ve all changed a bit?

CM: Yeah. I think going from touring nonstop and being in this band grind of always pushing yourself, always promoting yourself, saying yes to everything, playing everything, worrying about merch and tickets, and then just like having complete privacy and alone time is pretty night and day. 

Treble: How has your perspective on making music changed?

CM: I was really burnt out in 2019 and early 2020. So I feel like I had space to miss Gouge Away and fall in love with it again and appreciate just being in a room with four people who you admire as musicians and what a cool opportunity that is. We all kind of share that. This record could have never happened and we all appreciate it so much more.

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