With such an eclectic group of talented musicians that have worked with some of the biggest acts in the music industry today, London alt-pop band Neon Gru has been embraced by fans for their intricate lyrics and atmospheric sounds. Comprising of Ny Oh on vocals, Leon Itzler on bass, Ru Lemer on keyboards & production, George Risk on guitar, and both Nuno Brito & David Dyon on drums, this six-piece band just released their latest single — Hot Wine, a dreamy, sky-soaring track inspired by a hot summer day that makes you want to dance while feeling just a little wine drunk.
We had a chat with Ny Oh about the catalyst that brought the band together, the inspiration behind the track, and where they got the band name from.
At what point did the six of you decide: okay, let’s start a band and make music together? What’s the inspiration behind the band name?
We all kept bumping into each other at festival jam tents around the UK. This went on for a few years before George suggested we jam at his house in London. It’s funny because we’re all based in London, it just took us years to bring it there. The first jam went for 2 days and the songs were flowing. Over the next two weeks we did another 2 or 3 sessions like that. It felt like we were discovering ourselves through each other’s lenses, it really solidified some beautiful connections into music. Neon Gru is an amalgamation of our names Ny, Leon, George and Ru – although since coming up with the name we’ve been joined by the ferocious drummers Nuno Brito and David Dyson… Neon D’Gruno?
What does the band’s artistic process look like?
Well, it’s something that’s evolving, and has already changed so much since 2018… It was important for us to jam at the beginning, to establish the atmosphere in the room as a collaborative space. From there, we all settle into a groove and discuss how to develop a song tonally, or dynamically etc. For Ny, the lyrics come mostly from poems that are written throughout the session. Everyone else is using the time to develop the structure and fine-tuning the direction. Both Hot Wine and Growing Pains had a fairly similar process. Ny, Leon, George, Ru and Nuno wrote the outline of the songs in an initial recorded jam. Ru then took the projects back to his home studio and went through everything, pulling out the golden bits. Then David got involved, overdubbing his signature busts of colour and rhythmic fireworks.
Based on Moonlight and Hot Wine, the band’s sound is very much genre-bending. How do you define your sound or is genre-bending something you embrace?
We’ve asked many people this question. It’s an ever-changing answer – let’s just say genre-bending is very much something we embrace. We began as an exercise in flowing, so we try to always keep that in our minds when we make creative decisions about songs. We love that music can be a voice for the things on this earth that can’t speak, and I guess that means really being open in whatever you’re doing to entertain new ideas and processes.
You describe Neon Gru as a ‘melting pot of soulful pop and indie electronica.” The term melting pot is also a great way to describe your city of London. How has the city, its people, and the various cultures around London influenced the band’s sound?
Love this question. London is dripping in culture, music and art, and there is something special about being in it and getting to create within it. I (Ny), think that it has a power over the music we create in it. A lot of our musical and lyrical themes are about finding that stillness, that reprise, that sanctuary within this busy world, or our minds.
All of your visuals, like the Growing Pains and Hot Wine single covers, all have the same sort of aesthetic. Are visuals something you think about when you’re writing and recording the song or is it something you think about later?
We’ve been working a lot with Ru’s sister, Gabrielle Vickery, at The Arthouse Oasis. Ru and her do some incredibly creative art through experimenting with acrylic ink pouring. It seems to fit the music, and we really hope the tracks come across in the same light – organic, intricate, flowing, deep and psychedelic. Our Bird came from an artist we found on Deviantart called wetdryvac, and it was love at first sight. We actually settled on our Bird and the name ‘Neon Gru’ on the same day in 2018, it just felt right, so the image became a part of our identity. We don’t think about it while writing though – so far, the music and artwork have developed independently.
Your first band photo was a screenshot of a video call which is on point for how this year has turned out. How has the lockdown helped the band creatively? Has it been more difficult or have you felt more free to create?
Individually we’d all answer that very differently. Half of us make our money in studios and the other half from live shows, so this year has been a mixed bag for us all personally. As a band though, we’ve been in better communication, got a lot of organising and production done and just focused our attention to the things that get overlooked when you’re out in the world! We were quite lucky in some ways, because we got a load of recording/writing done at the start of the year, expecting most of the band to be leaving on tour for Summer. So when lockdown hit we had a hard drive (or 3) full of weird goodness to spend Summer working through.
The world in which you guys released Growing Pains is very different to now, as you’re about to release Hot Wine. How would you say the band’s songwriting or sound has changed since then?
Those two songs actually came out of the same session, and it was one of the first writing sessions we had as a band. They’re massively different tracks – we were just throwing around genres to jam and these were 2 of the stepping stones we landed on. In terms of refining our sound in production; Growing Pains was our first step into the world, and since then, our direction and aesthetic has become much more solid. So it’s safe to say that Hot Wine represents the start of a new chapter for us. We’re all really looking forward to our next writing session though, and we’re working on ways we can keep ideas flowing online in the current climate.
What’s the inspiration behind Hot Wine?
It was a VERY hot London summer’s day and for some bizarre reason Ru was drinking hot wine from an opened bottle he’d found in his van. That was gross enough to warrant the name of the jam, the inspiration behind the lyrics, and the reason why we could never change the name!
I love the lyrics ‘All I want this to be/is a moment in time/where freedom is a dance that we both get right.’ What do those lyrics mean or represent to you?
We’d like to leave some things to interpretation, as time changes what words represent. At the moment, it feels a lot like our desire as a human race to get it together and be more aware of our reality… or is that just a super 2020, at home, smoked too much weed answer! HA
Your next release will be your debut EP, I Am A Bird. Without spoiling too much, what can listeners expect from that collection of work?
BIRDS. Weird noises from mouths. Deeply satisfying bass. Slinky guitars. Rhythms, Weird time signatures, Intergalactic synth odysseys. Hummous.
Lastly, what do you hope that people take away from Hot Wine?
We’d just love to transport people to that golden hour feeling of a summer night.
Check out ‘Hot Wine’ below:
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