Thursday, May 1, 2014

Gigi: A retrospective and interview with Nicholas Krgovich

Some of Gigi. Nicholas Krgovich is on the right.

You know that melancholy feeling you get when you finish a great book that you wished would never end? That's how I feel about the sole Gigi album, Maintenant. I want there to be more. 

Gigi was the songwriting project of Nicholas Krgovich, who's probably better known for his other bands, P:ano and No Kids. He makes solo recordings now, and has a recent album called Who Cares? But Gigi is my favorite thing that he's done.

Conceived as a throwback to the '60s, the Gigi album featured indie artists performing retro-sounding songs with vocal choruses and actual arrangements (as opposed to the everyone-plays-at-once-from-start-to-finish instrumental approach that characterizes a lot of pop/rock music). The album was recorded at Colin Stewart's Hive studios in Vancouver, British Columbia, over a period of years and finally released in early 2010. 

The Pitchfork review of the album bizarrely criticized it for not being a faithful reproduction of the '60s. For example, the reviewer complained that one song mentions shopping malls. As if shopping malls didn't exist in the '60s. The reviewer also criticized it for having too many songs, which is like criticizing food for being too nourishing.  

I still listen to this album regularly. I recently became re-obsessed with the Gigi song "The Marquee," which features Katie Eastburn on vocals, and listened to it endlessly for weeks.

Here's my interview with Nicholas Krgovich from April 29, 2014.

The story on Wikipedia is that Colin Stewart asked you to write the Gigi songs after he got a couple of plate reverb units. Is that the whole story?

More or less. Colin wanted to throw a party at the new studio he had just moved into, so he invited a bunch of musician friends over and asked me to come up with a couple songs that we could record in a "girl group" "Phil Spector" style. The Hive previously had been in a low-ceilinged basement, so I think he was excited by the idea of having a bunch of people in a large room, playing and singing at once, and running everything through the plates. The two songs we did that night ended up bookending the record. All done in one take, mixed to two tracks. Everything else rolled out from there.

Where did the name "Gigi" come from?

Colin always referred to those two songs as the "girl group" recordings, and after the session he burned a CD-R of the mixes, and when I took it home, I labeled it "G.G." with a Sharpie, just 'cause writing "girl group" seemed too weird and too "on the nose." Then I stared at it for a second then changed it to Gigi. My other group at the time, P:ano, just put out a record called Brigadoon, so I think I had Lerner and Lowe on the brain.

How did your songwriting for Gigi differ from your other projects? Did you reference '60s recordings to try to capture their tone, or did you have any particular '60s artists in mind when you wrote the songs? Bacharach? Ray Conniff? The Crystals?

It was very first thought, best thought. The bulk of the songs were written in the winter of 2007, either at the piano in the living room or I would take walks with a dictaphone and just write that way. Quietly singing and recording into it as I went. It was a very natural and fun process. I think if I thought about what I was doing, I wouldn't have been able to do anything. Thinking you can write a song like Bacharach is like thinking you could build the pyramids.

I know that the album took years to finish, but how long did it take you to write all of those songs?

It was spread out over a number of years. The songs from that first session ("No, My Heart Will Go On" and "'Neathe The Streetlights") I wrote in one afternoon. I remember writing "The Hundredth Time" while walking this trail by my house. I think when things are flowing I write fairly quickly. I'm sure I didn't spend any longer than a day on any of the songs. For better or for worse.

You've said that you didn't write the songs for any particular singers. Did the finished recordings come pretty close to how you imagined that they'd sound when you wrote them? Or did you ever end up going in different directions in the studio?

I don't really remember directing the sessions that much. I was pretty interested in the idea of just providing the skeleton of the songs and seeing what would happen. One song, "Strolling Past the Old Graveyard," was a favorite of mine, and when we started running it in the studio, I remember this sinking feeling and just knowing that what was happening was not right at all. So I ran into the control room and got Colin to blast "Nothing But a Heartache" over the speakers, and then almost immediately we were off to the races again. Also, because everything was being performed live without real detailed charts, what was happening was a bit of a whirl. It was just fortunate that the songs came out with the sprit that they did.

What did you think about the finished album? Were you satisfied?

Yeah. But also, at the time, the relief and satisfaction that came with knowing it was finished and was out in the world was almost the most exciting thing about it. It took so long to come together, and then once it was mixed and ready to go, it took so long for it to actually be released, so I was just really into being able to hold this thing that was the culmination of such a beautiful group effort.

Has the album had any aftereffects? It should have been a launching pad for some careers. For example, Katie Eastburn should have become the mainstream pop world's new Dusty Springfield or Dionne Warwick after her awesome performance of "The Marquee."

Well, I completely agree with you. Katie Eastburn is one of my favorite living singers. Maybe my most favorite. And has been for years. It actually brings me great sadness that she is not more widely known. But in my own mind, she's a superstar blasting into the stratosphere. As far as aftereffects, I'm not really sure. I mean, that one song ["The Hundredth Time"] was in that Tom Hanks movie, Larry Crowne. This person in Portugal once told me at a bar that he listens to it at least once a day.

Your songs with P:ano, No Kids, and solo are pretty different from a lot of the songs you wrote for Gigi. Do you see a common thread through them, or do you feel like you were doing something very different with Gigi?

Well, it was for a specific project. The end game was always "classic pop." So, with that comes some pretty specific and rigid guidelines. Most of which I tried to keep in mind, but even still, there's quite a few windy melodies and fudged rhymes, et cetera. Signifiers of an NK record.

Do you think you'll ever do another project like Gigi? Or would you like to?

I'd like to, but it seems awfully audacious to me right now. "I'm going to make a Phil Spector record." What kind of thing is that to say? I'm not sure I have that in me at the moment. I do feel like, if we do make another Gigi record, I'd like it to sound a lot dirtier. Be a lot wilder and stranger. More minimal. I guess this points to me having to find the gall to say, "I'm going to make a Joe Meek record." Then we'll see what happens.

A partial inventory of Gigi collaborators

Read the full list on

Gigi discography

Maintenant (Tomlab, 2010)

  • No, My Heart Will Go On / The Hundredth Time (with Duffy Driediger & Ryan Peters)/ Dreams of Romance (with Zac Pennington) / Alone at the Pier (with Rose Melberg)/ Everyone Can Tell (with Ryan Beattie) / One Woman Show (with Joey Cook) / I'm Not Coming Out Tonight (with Marissa Johnson & Sydney Vermont) / Some Second Best / I Can't Bring Myself to Smile (with Bobby Birdman & Katy Davidson) / Strolling Past the Old Graveyard (with Karl Blau) / The Marquee (with Katie Eastburn) / Impossible Love / Won't Someone Tell Me Please (with Mirah) / I'll Quit (with Owen Pallett) / 'Neath the Streetlights (with Nick Krgovich)

The Hundredth Time 7" (K Records IPU128, 2010)

  • The Hundredth Time // Some Second Best

Larry Crowne: Music from the Motion Picture (Rhino Records)
  • Includes "The Hundredth Time"

Listen to Gigi's "The Marquee," featuring Katie Eastburn:

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