It's the week that Boo Seeka's second record drops, but the man behind the music isn't waiting for it to hit shelves before he starts on album number three. That adventure is already under way.
"It's just about getting into the studio and experimenting with new sounds," says Ben "Gumby" Gumbleton, the songwriter behind Boo Seeka, and formerly the band Benjalu. "I want to get back to having fun. As cliché as it is, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel and the Australian music industry is coming back. We can get back to doing what we love and enjoy the process of writing and touring."
It's remarkable to think it has been five years since the release of Boo Seeka's debut record, Never Too Soon, an album that took Gumbleton into Triple J's Hottest 100 with the track Deception Bay and around the world to sold-out venues and festival stages. With a constant drip-feed of stand-alone singles and radio play, Boo Seeka has yet to leave the public consciousness.
New record Between the Head & the Heart is a punctuation mark at the end of an arduous sentence in Boo Seeka's story. Gumbleton, now in a reflective, hopeful phase, recalls how a dark time in his life ultimately spurned the writing of his most personal record.
"I'd actually scrapped two records prior to the one I'm releasing," Gumbleton reveals. "They just weren't speaking to me. I was going through a really, really tough time during that two and a half years of COVID."
Gumbleton formed Boo Seeka in 2015 with Sam Croft, who departed in 2019 to become a pilot. Michael May then stepped in until mid-2021, when the pair split due to "fundamental differences", as stated by Gumbleton in an Instagram post. This only added to his private upheaval.
"Michael and myself had gone our separate ways," he says. "I had other personal stuff going on. I'd hit rock bottom in my personal life. Where this new record went for me was basically writing 12 personal messages to myself. I'd formed this scenario where I was talking to myself in a mirror and was writing what I thought I needed to hear. So this is a very personal record for me, that's for sure."
I want to get back to having fun. As cliché as it is, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel and the Australian music industry is coming back.- Ben Gumbleton
The result is a cohesive collection of electronic pop songs, tinged with melancholy and heavy on mood, the product of a fruitful new connection with rising engineer and producer Matt Bartlem. But while the sensuous, silky beats and stinging samples of Between the Head & the Heart, might sound planets away from his coastal-rock roots as the singer in beloved band Benjalu, Gumbleton insists that songs still emerge when he's got a guitar in his hands.
"Even if we come up with sounds in the studio, I always default to an acoustic guitar," he says. "Benjalu was how I learned how to write and create songs. I learned so much with those guys. I'll forever be thankful for my life going the way it did with Luke [Elsley], Tony [Morris], Nick Saxon and Cooky [Nick Cook]. So, for me, it's always about breaking it down on the guitar, then I have all the thoughts, sounds, drumbeats, melodies in my head. Matt is so incredible - I'll explain something to him then hear all the sounds in my head come through the speakers."
While Between the Head & the Heart is, at its core, an electronic record, Gumbleton says it's a mistake to assume his guitar never left its case. The songwriter is influenced by artists that deconstruct the guitar sound, like Icelandic band Sigur Rs or Moby's work on his seminal record Play.
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"There's actually more guitars on this record than there was on the first," Gumbleton says. "One thing that we really experimented with was turning the guitars into samples. If you listen to Next to Me, that's a guitar that I strummed but we cut it up into sections so it sounded like a sample being played on a pad. There's guitar on about nine of the 12 songs."
Gumbleton signed a management deal with Untitled Group - the collective behind festivals such as Grapevine Gathering, and whose roster includes Daniel Johns and Hayden James - just two weeks before the pandemic hit. Untitled suggested that Gumbleton would be a great fit for Bartlem. The two spoke on the phone and soon worked out that they'd met during a particularly treacherous moment in their lives.
"We were actually together when we got stuck in the [November 2015] Paris bombings," Gumbleton says. "He was playing drums for Jarryd James and [Boo Seeka] were supporting Jarryd James in Paris."
While he insists Newcastle in NSW's Hunter region will always be his home, Gumbleton is enjoying a new chapter on the Gold Coast in Queensland. He was with his parents on Boxing Day, 2020, when news broke that the Queensland border might close again. He was intent on making a record with Bartlem.
"We'd already moved the record back a year and a half because of COVID, so I knew I couldn't let it happen again," says Gumbleton. "Matt [Bartlem] was on the Gold Coast, so I packed a backpack and got in the car and drove up the day before they closed the borders. I haven't left since."
As fate would have it, Gumbleton fell in love and now lives on the Gold Coast with his partner. "Newcastle will always be home for me, forever and always, there's no doubt about that. But it's just a new chapter in my life up here."
Gumbleton says a tour will be announced in mid-July and he intends to make the final stop a homecoming show. "We said this back in Benjalu - there was nothing like coming home to play Newcastle. Whether it's music, or someone like Mitch Revs in the arts, or the Knights or the Jets, Newcastle supports their own through the good and the bad. It's the best town to have grown up in and I'll always call myself a proud Novocastrian. The last show of the tour is always in Newcastle, so I'm definitely coming back to Newy to finish the national tour with a bang."
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