Encountering Psapp’s Galia Durant and Carim Clasmann at their clandestine King’s Cross HQ-cum-studio-playpen is less like meeting a band and more like stumbling into a funny, hazy, miraculous parallel universe. A kind of boho bolthole-meets-Narnia-scape, theirs is a cosy, dusty, otherworldly realm - a clutter of home-made toys, doll’s house ephemera, somnolent cats, glinting laptops, and incalculable bric-a-brac of mysterious provenance. And that’s not to mention the duo’s veritable junkshop heaven of arcane musical instruments and ‘sound emitters’ that range from gleaming pianos and pot-bellied ouds to children’s xylophones, farmyard noise-makers, mechanical ashtrays and squeaky rubber poultry; all of it holding equal sway in Psapp’s giddy, skittering sonic dominion.
Curious, then, that such an apparently cloistered, hermetic environment should be the wellspring for music whose appeal already stretches around the globe. In part thanks to its ubiquity on primetime US TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy, Nip/Tuck and The OC, Psapp’s agitated-yet-swooning electro-acoustic signature is already a familiar sound in millions of living rooms. Indeed, Psapp have made a unique, fully focused noise since their debut track ‘Scissory’ appeared on the Deep-Water label’s Indoor Shed compilation in spring 2003, ushering in what has been a quietly meteoric ascent - from homespun indie hopefuls to assured international contenders in little over two years.
Galia Durant’s story began in a household running amok with records, art and books. Galia’s mum collected protest songs while her dad is a professorial art historian with an encyclopaedic knowledge of Indian classical music. Galia “loved it all,” finding no real distinction between Woody Guthrie peacenik anthems, Sarangi etudes and her elder brother’s acid jazz albums. After struggling to learn violin and piano (she preferred her 1988 vintage Casio SK-8 sampling keyboard, which the band still use), at 8, Galia graduated from a more-ideas-than-action ‘band’, “GO”, formed with her brother.
Carim Clasmann’s musical youth was spent in German recording studios learning the alchemical business of faders, compressors and microphones. A self-professed failure at the school recorder and a frustrated guitarist, he dabbled in music-making while cutting demos for other people. Quickly rising through the Cologne studio ranks, Carim learned his chops recording bands like Einstürzende Neubauten and Die Toten Hosen and even worked at Can’s famous Inner Space studio, always dallying with music of his own on the side. He moved to London at the close of the ‘90s, working and then taking up residence at the King’s Cross studio/house he and Psapp currently call home.
Carim met Galia through mutual, musically-inclined friends who would often gather at the studio. For a year or so the duo experimented, united by an eclectic taste for Tom Waits, the Cure, Erik Satie, Duke Ellington and “anything that’s silly and uses stupid noises.” Their own ‘silly noises’ married to Galia’s sultry vocals and perspicacious lyrics produced recordings of shimmering originality and nascent charm - an opinion shared by the handful of labels to which Psapp, as they’d by now christened themselves, sent demos toward the end of 2002. A litany of recordings duly followed. Early 2003’s debut EP for Melodic called, instructively, Do Something Wrong was followed by a single, ‘Difficult Key’, the following Autumn. After seeing a live show by Morr Music electronicists ISAN and befriending the band’s Robin Saville, Psapp’s next recordings would appear on Saville’s own Arable imprint, with Winter ‘04’s Buttons And War EP attracting rave notices.
Around this time several Psapp tracks found their way to US music consultants who were universally wowed by the band’s evocative charms. The duo’s music seemed to chime with the TV zeitgeist and their music started to seep into primetime dramas (not to mention a very high profile Volkswagen advert), culminating in the track ‘Cosy In The Rocket’ being chosen as the theme music to hit ABC medical drama Grey’s Anatomy, which premiered in March 2005. At a stroke, burgeoning inquisitiveness about Psapp turned into an eager US fanbase. Meanwhile, in King’s Cross, dust wasn’t being allowed to settle. A Japanese EP, Northdown appeared in March 2004, swiftly followed by a vinyl-only 4-track nugget, Rear Moth for the discreet Wiaiwya imprint – some tracks from which would appear on the band’s debut album for Arable (also licensed to Leaf for the US and Canada, Third Ear in Japan and Gronland for much of Europe). Released in February 2005, Tiger My Friend consolidated the burgeoning interest in all things Psapp. MOJO magazine’s four star review – “Arresting, childlike pop confections… effortlessly carved pop sophistication…” was typically hyperbolic. With Psapp duly rising, the major labels soon came a-courting but by autumn 2005 Psapp had spurned their fevered advances, preferring to ink a deal with Domino.
Toward the close of ’05 Psapp embarked on their first live ventures. Translating their records’ layered complexity to the stage was never going to be easy, but with the multi-instrumental Galia and Carim joined by Gwen Cheeseman (violin, floatation toys), Eshan Khadaroo (drums, lumps of wood), and Jim Whelan (bass, keyboards, ashtrays etc), (joined this year by Matt Jones (keyboardist, Ultrasound, Minuteman)), Psapp took to the road around the UK and Europe, eventually honing an exhilarating, ‘in the flesh’ version of their incomparable recorded sound. Initial touring forays successfully completed, Psapp set about buffing their second album to lustrous perfection, pausing only to head down to the Dorchester Hotel to pick up the BMI Award for 2005’s Best TV Theme Tune for ‘Cosy In The Rocket’.