credit: Angie Pai
When Gab Strum began recording as Japanese Wallpaper at age 15, he could not have predicted what followed — coveted slots at Falls Festivals, Splendour in the Grass and Laneway festivals; praise from personal idols Lorde and Gotye; a Hollywood movie soundtrack spot that came before his Year 12 exams. Now, at age 19 with just one EP and a single to his name, Japanese Wallpaper has earned loyal followers and glowing praise. New single ‘Cocoon’ will not disappoint — fans will recognise the delicate effervescence of Strum’s self-titled EP, but on ‘Cocoon’ he lends his own deep, warm vocals: a taste of what’s to come.
Strum began picking up national, and then international attention with his first proper single. 'Breathe In' was recorded with good friend Wafia. Strum provided the arrangements, Wafia the lyrics and vocals. What resulted was breathtaking. Strum's sparkling production, combining bright, spacious melodies with a sparse but rumbling beat which is felt more than heard, and Wafia's ethereal singing, made 'Breathe In' impossible to resist. Strum remembers the build up being slow, but it wasn't long after that triple j was broadcasting his song to the nation and, a year later, electing him Unearthed Winner of 2014. By then, Zach Braff had chosen the track for his latest film, I Wish I Was Here. "Sitting in the cinema and hearing my song while watching famous people on the screen was a milestone," Strum says.
'Breathe In' was followed by the rejection fantasy 'Between Friends' with up coming crooner Jesse Davidson. 'Between Friends' takes the immortal hook from the Spice Girls' 'Wannabe' and flips it into a kiss off: "If you wanna be my friend / Stop tryin' to be my lover." Becoming confident with his own songwriting has been a trial for Strum, but he recalls the girlfriend of a prominent Australian musician once saying to him, "It sounds like what I imagine your brain feels like," and even as Strum stands behind a laptop and a sampler, the music and the shows which consistently sell out because of it speaks for itself. Strum is working on his own vocals, but in the meantime, one of the major parts he enjoys about music is his collaborations. "Collaborations are half the fun.. Working with people you like and respect. Every time I've collaborated with someone, I've learned so much about songwriting," he says.
"Forces", featuring grimy R&B belter Airling on vocals, Strum says it's the first time he and a collaborator had nothing prepared. Instead, they worked from scratch together, and three days later they'd written their next single. Lending help were Graham Ritchie from Holy Holy and Big Scary's Tom Iansek as studio engineers with Ritchie providing additional guitar. "That was exciting. I've been listening to them since I found out about Australian music," Strum says, "and #1 Dads made my favourite album of 2014.
Released under the guidance of local label Zero Through Nine, 'Forces' presents the first step in the next act of Japanese Wallpaper's career. Zero Through Nine co head Will Evans admires Strum's unique perspective on electronic music, forged not by genre trends when Strum first started, all he was listening to was The Beatles but by his own instinct. According to Evans,"He can't really party, and he can't go out and experience the scene in that way, so he could only make music that was the opposite of what everyone else was doing."
Strum sees an album in the near-future. "I have this image of me writing an album and not being full of self-doubt when it's finished." Strum wants to sing on it, too. But his ultimate goal is to keep reaching out, moving and relating to people through his music. "I got an email the other day from a recovering heroin addict," Strum recalls, "and they told me my music really helped get them through it." That means more to Japanese Wallpaper than anything else, as much as Japanese Wallpaper means to them.
Strum has kept busy following the success of his debut self-titled EP, with a string of 11 shows across east-coast Australia which was topped off on a high at Splendour in the Grass, an AIR nomination for Breakthrough Artist of the Year, and a tour around the country for Laneway Festival with the likes of CHVRCHES, Thundercat and Beach House. In May, Strum joined French artist M83 on his national Australian tour and soon after in June, Strum released his first follow up track to his EP, ‘Cocoon’ which, debuted his recorded vocals. Cocoon was received to stellar reviews from the likes of NME, Nylon and Hypetrak and sold out a 10 date tour across the whole country. Strum is now busy working towards his debut album which can be expected for release in 2018.