Playing it Safe with Simon & Gyan
It’s been 30 years since musician Gyan released her debut self-titled studio album Gyan that saw her take out the ARIA that year for best new talent. In this interview she talks to Mandy Nolan, with her partner in life and on the stage, producer/composer pianist and guitarist, Simon Greaves, about the creative process, finding mentors, and how they navigate their place in the industry. Like for most artists COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on their year.
Gyan says ‘It wasn’t what was planned – I was going to do an anniversary gig celebrating three decades since my first album came out – why not do that and do them in a different way? There was quite a lot of interest, and a lot of travel, so I guess it’s just looking at the calendar and going “that didn’t happen”.’
Artists are now assessing how they go back to work. How do they reach their audiences in a way that is accessible and viable?
‘I don’t think anything is going back to normal quickly. We are working in a different realm’ says Gyan. Reflecting back on her 30 year career that saw her living and recording in Woodstock, in the Abbey Road Studios in the late ‘90s, she notes that on an industry level, not that much has changed.
‘Now is different to then, but strangely it’s not. Nothing much has changed in the interim – we are still fighting the gender battle in the industry. I am closely aligned to some young women artists out in the world and they are still butting up against the same things I did.
‘You are quite alone, and because of what we were plotting and planning I dug out some old footage from the recording in America. The producer bought me a camera, but I was more behind it – being a woman, and often being the only woman in the room – it was an ongoing onslaught of bumping up against people – fighting for everything, be it a word in a song, or a guitarist I wanted, to be on a level with the guys you were working with was a challenge. I found I had too many battles. It ends up more battle than it does music. One side you are a warrior, one side you are an artist. Trying to balance those things.’
Her partner Simon agrees. ‘My personal battle is that I think everyone is on the same page as me and working towards a great outcome. In the business you have to learn that a lot more will go out, than what comes back in. But at the end of it, you gain so much – I have worked with some incredible artists and feel like everyone has contributed to my repertoire.’
This year has seen Simon return to uni to do his PhD.
‘I enrolled in my Masters 20 years ago when I got the loan to build the studio. It was non stop for 20 years.’
Gyan laughs: ‘That was a Real Life degree’.
So for these artists, who mentor emerging artists like Merryn Jean, who was the person in the industry who did the same for them? They both agreed; Desmond Child. ‘He was a musician called Desmond Child and Rouge – a disco outfit in the ‘70s,’ says Gyan. ‘Then he became a songwriter – he is a collaborator – his first hit was I was Meant for Loving You for KISS. He went on to work with Ricky Martin and Steve Tyler.’
Simon appreciated his honesty. ‘It was one of the things; if he was any sort of mentor, [he’d find] that next level of honest expression that you can peel off [to get to] another coat to get to the core.’
‘You only need one person to catch the spark to make your fire fan – if you can just connect,’ says Gyan. ‘I get off on trying to explore areas I haven’t explored.’
This long-time couple are fabulous together, onstage and off.
‘We are a good combination’, says Simon. ‘Gyan has made a pact with the critic on the stage. So Gyan can be totally herself – off the stage it possibly doesn’t hold so well. Off the stage my pact with the critic is here in the studio, not on the stage. I can go, I can meet Gyan on the stage, and I have to make that pact with my critic to hold the space. It’s easier as an accompanist, because all I have to do is hold space for Gyan being on stage – it’s like having a microscope on your soul and your thoughts.’
Gyan laughs ‘It’s as much therapy-on-stage, people want honesty.’
Simon Greaves and Gyan have two upcoming socially distanced sit down concerts, a.k.a ‘Safe Sets’ hosted by Mandy at the Byron Services Club on Friday 2 October and the Mullumbimby Ex-Services on 3 October. Tix are $35 on mandynolan.com.au and requests for the first set of covers should go to email: [email protected]