Gotts Street Park: ‘There’s a cinematic thread that runs through our music’

We speak to Leeds’ Gotts Street Park, who make soulful, jazzy soundscapes with a nostalgic tint that could easily soundtrack a film.

Gotts Street Park

Gotts Street Park, who formed in Leeds, have a wondrously nostalgic warmth to their sound. Initially devised with a focus on studio recordings, they’ve welcomed several singers onto their tracks, such as Celeste and Rosie Lowe; kneading their sound into the different inflections of each voice.

 It would be tempting to describe their work as jazz, but there’s a wider, more eclectic tapestry of beats and harmonies at play – a “cinematic soul”, as they term it. It’s for that very reason, you can imagine their music, or indeed future projects, acting as the score for film. One that depicts driving across the desert, perhaps, or a sepia-toned coming-of-age indie.  

Following their residency at London’s Laylow, we caught up with the three-piece.

Who are you and what do you do?

Joe: I’m Joe. I play guitar.

Tom: I’m Tom and I play keys.

Josh: And I’m Josh, and I play bass.

Gotts Street Park

Left to right: Joe, Josh and Tom.

How did you guys become Gotts Street Park?

Tom: Me and Joe met at Leeds College of Music. We were both doing a jazz course and were in a couple different bands together: a reggae band, some odd time-signatures bands. Then we met Josh through the Leeds music scene. He didn’t go to music college, but was around the same people, going to gigs and recording sessions.

Josh: I used to live with some pretty hardcore jazz peeps.

Tom: Gotts Street Park emerged from that, from similar tastes. The first time we got together, it was about wanting to achieve a certain sound, particularly with drums. The idea behind it when we first started was more about trying to get this sound we had in our heads; this sort of vintage, breakbeat drums. We were all into hip hop and it was just an experiment to start with. It was never like, ‘let’s make a band’, it more came naturally by exploring different ways to record.

So you worked toward the sound you wanted and then the rest fell into place?

Josh: I think because I’d been doing music for quite a while and, in terms of recording, there’s a very traditional way to record things. Around the time, I was really getting into my research around old records and how they used to create things using very few mics. I think some of the stuff we did at the beginning was trying to get as good a sound as you can with one or two mics on the [drum] kit.

Were there any artists you were basing that style of recording on?

Josh: It was definitely a time period – sort of pre-1972-ish. We all listen to loads of old soul and hip hop that samples old records as well. So there’s obviously some kind of magic in there that was captured and we thought we could just record like that and see what it sounds like.

Gotts Street Park

Photo: Jamie Sinclair

Your music’s been described as jazz meets hip hop. Is there a particular way you’d describe it?

Josh: I wouldn’t say it’s as jazzy as people say. I think it’s more soul.

Joe: I think people hear chord extensions and say jazz really quickly. But there’s a cinematic thread that runs through; I imagine a lot of it as a soundtrack. A cinematic soul type vibe – that’s the best I can do just using weird words for it.

Josh: Yeah, cinematic soul is probably the closest we’ve got to it.

We’ll go with that. What was the Leeds scene like for you to develop your sound in? Did you feel like you were doing something a bit novel or new there?

Joe: There was definitely of a lot of jazz going on, especially around the college scene. Maybe not so much now, but at the time there was a lot of funk – and Afrobeat started getting really popular. But we weren’t doing jazz – we wouldn’t even call it that, and definitely not in the way people in Leeds would call it the jazz scene.

A lot of the scene was the live scene. What we were doing was all studio stuff, which was quite different. When you’re writing and playing as a studio band and not really thinking about live, it’s a really different approach to how you write, how you play, what it’s for.

That almost separated us a bit from some of the stuff that was going on. There’s a different sensibility in the way you play and what you sound like and how you interact. It’s more subtle than you would be on a live gig where it’s about pure energy and entertaining the crowd.

Tom: I moved from Newcastle to Leeds and as soon as I got to Leeds, straight away I could tell there was a step up of live music. All of a sudden there were loads of jam nights, amazing funk bands, Subdub is the best dub night I’ve ever been to; it was all influencing what we were doing. You don’t even know it is; at the time you’re just absorbing it, but it’s all had an effect.

Hence, I imagine, the eclectic nature of your music…

Josh: Yeah, it’s definitely changing as well. The early releases were very gloomy, atmospheric, dark and downtempo.

So you’ve lightened up…

Tom: There was just a vibe back then, maybe where we were all at in our lives. There was a darkness to it. We used to call it “smacky soul” back in the day; but I think now we’re coming out of that a little bit.

Let’s talk about ‘Lost & Found’. It’s quite beautiful. How did the collaboration come about with Charlotte de Santos?

Tom: I mean, it’s not that interesting. Me and Josh got sent some music of hers during lockdown to work on as individual producers. She liked our sound and had heard of Gotts Street Park. She just wanted a bit of that in it. We sent over three or four ideas and she just picked one and sent some stuff back. It was pretty much there straight away.

Josh: What are you talking about Tom? That’s really exciting.

It was the way you told it – I was hooked…

Josh: [Charlotte] smashed it, to be fair, with all the vocal harmonies. She’s a very talented musician. She’s got an amazing ear. We sort of imagined like a Minnie Riperton type voice on that tune and she’s got that – a sort of early seventies, disco-ey feel.

Obviously, you don’t have a regular lead vocalist. So what’s it like working with lots of different vocalists? How much leeway do you give them on your tracks?

Tom: We’ve done different things, and we’re still trying to work out what the best way is… Different vocalists prefer different ways as well. Some like to sit with it in their own time, some buzz off the energy of us in the room playing at the same time and that’s where they get their inspiration from. It’s not a sign of a good or bad vocalist. Some people just prefer certain ways – although we prefer to be in a room because it’s more exciting for us. And we do genuinely think we get better songs that way because we interact with the writing.

One such vocalist you’ve worked with is Celeste. What was that like?

Tom: I met Celeste in London, for a session. It was just a one-off – she was almost completely unknown at that time. We were in this really small writing room with no instruments, and it was very clear to me she wanted a live band to jam with. She was into the vintage sort of sound. So I said, ‘Come to Leeds, we’ve got a setup that would be awesome for what you want.’ A few weeks later, she came up and met everyone. This was at Josh’s.

Josh: In the basement, yeah. She just walked in and smashed it out. We wrote ‘Both Sides of the Moon’ and ‘Lately’ in two days. She was full of energy and super excited to be with a band. I think it lit a bit of a fire.

You said she was relatively unknown then as an artist, but you must have known this was someone special…

Josh: Yeah, but it’s funny. Sometimes you hear people’s demos and think, ‘This person’s alright’. Then you hear him in the room and the person is so amazing that you put them in a different framework – you give them a different sound and they totally smash it. So it was a really good session. She’s really easy to be around as well.

Beautiful finished products as well. And you’ve recently finished your month-long residency at Laylow. How did that go?

Tom: It was really good; it was the rocket up the arse we needed to get going with the live stuff. Josh doesn’t do the live stuff, he’s just involved in the studio stuff. But for a while, just me and Joe have been saying we need to get it going really.

Joe: We just got the time to work out some cool stuff with the tunes and rework stuff. It was kind of like remixing our own tunes. And we spent a lot of time in the studio there as well, meeting different artists and writing and recording tunes; hopefully some stuff that is ending up on the album that’s coming.

I understand you do separate production work, Josh and Tom. Does that make you especially perfectionist when it comes to Gotts Street Park releases?

Josh: I think so. With the mixing you can get quite pedantic about things. I’d say there’s always an element of perfectionism in production. It can involve listening to something a lot; especially if you’ve written it, produced it and mixed it. Sometimes it can be a bit of a slog, but I always find that towards the end you can breakthrough that phase and start to enjoy it again.

Do you ever have musical disagreements?

Josh: I think we’re usually always on the same page.

Joe: We’ve got a little boxing ring in the studio, so if we can’t figure it out, we have a wrestling match.

And you don’t have an official release date for album yet, but are there singles you can shout about?

Joe: I don’t think so; we don’t know whether we should announce it.

I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t ask…

Josh: We’ll just say that Beyoncé’s featuring on the next single.

I’ll just say that. That’ll be the headline. Beyoncé visited Leeds to record it.

Joe: I thought we were doing the Rihanna one first.

Gotts Street Park

I could just publish that, and we see what happens… Are you guys ambitious as a band? Do you have an end goal or are you more just seeing where things take you?

Tom: I think it started pretty casual. But quite quickly, we started to see the potential in what we were doing. There’s often a comparison between the Dap-Kings and BADBADNOTGOOD; that model of us being a band, and also producers, and doing stuff for other people, with features on our albums. That’s always been an exciting prospect for me. It feels like you can go quite far with that. You can work with amazing artists, have a lot of creative freedom, and make a name for yourself on your own terms.

Ambition-wise, me and Joe definitely want to start gigging a lot more. And it would be great to get some tours in and some big festivals and European shows. In terms of music, we just want to continue to do what we’re doing. Some sort of soundtrack at some stage would be awesome – we’ve said that for a long time.

Joe: Yeah, we want it so there’s no compromise on what we do, musically and creatively. And hopefully we get as many people to hear it as possible who might enjoy it and also make better money from it and live the dream – but that comes second to making the stuff we believe in.

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