Named after a quote from Chuck Palinuck's novel Fight Club, GEMS' most recent album, "Kill The One You Love," is filled with dark yet earnest beauty that speaks of the relationship between its two creators. Yes, Lindsay Pitts and Clifford John Usher are involved outside of their music. However, their sound is clearly a reflection of themselves as individuals. In her lyrics, Lindsay is telling her own story, using romantic language and scenarios that could just as easily describe the struggle between disparate aspects of one's identity. As far as production, you can see how Clifford's work compliments Lindsay while still allowing himself room for buzzy electric guitars and, at times, lighthearted sampling choices. We caught up with Lindsay to discover more about the duo's history, process, and her own experience with lyric writing.
How did you both start with music? What was your first instrument? Were you were involved in garage, marching or jazz bands?
I played the piano and sang in show choir! Not really into that kind of stuff now but I loved it at the time. Cliff played bass clarinet in his middle school band and a few other things before landing on guitar. I think he was born to record though. He started using recording software in middle school and recording his bands in high school.
When did you two meet and when did you become involved musically?
We met on the sidewalk outside a bar at the end of college. We were both outsiders at a relatively conservative university so we hit it off right away and started playing music together.
Moving onto the debut album, how much was left on the cutting room floor?
Too much to keep track of.
The album title is a reference to a line out of Chuck Palinuk's Fight Club. Do you have any other literary influences?
Two quotes I kept coming back to making the album:
“It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.” ― Joseph Campbell
“I know the bottom, she says.
I know it with my great tap root.
It is what you fear.
I do not fear it: I have been there.”
― Sylvia Plath, “Elm”
Clifford does the production, which can be a tedious and incredibly labor intensive task. Do you ever struggle with perfectionism there? How do you keep focused on the bigger picture of the song/album?
Cliff is totally a perfectionist but I like to think that when he goes too far down a rabbit hole focusing on some minute production detail, I help keep perspective on the song. That perfectionism thing is both a blessing and a curse. For something to be really great, there are a ton of details that matter, but if it prevents you from moving forward then it’s a problem. Finding that balance between attention to detail and still having perspective is a huge part of the struggle.
How do you share ideas? Are there some songs that are completely one or the other's creation or are they all a pretty even mix of both your influence?
We both contribute to each song, but the process can be different. Often I’ll come up with some chords and some words and part of a melody and Cliff will come up with a beat and some words and another part of the melody, then we’ll trade back and forth.
While a lot of the lyrical content clearly deals with the life cycles of a romantic relationship, the internal nature of the struggle can also be representative of identity issues and the multitudes of self. Do you see a separation between two ideas? For example, do you think that a relationship with yourself is essential before having a successful relationship with others?
Hmmm… maybe you’re on to something there.
Who does the majority of the lyric writing? Is it ever uncomfortable to put so much of yourself out there, or is it simply cathartic?
Super uncomfortable... but the cathartic feeling when you distill an idea down to it’s purest form (or as close as you can get) is super satisfying. Probably something that keeps me going in music: searching for that moment the song comes together and the emotion hits deep down in your core.