Gami Gang Gami Gang Gami Gang Gami Gang
Emo rising stars Origami Angel discuss the ambitious double album they're about to unleash on their highly enthusiastic fan base
In their most recent press photo, viewable above, Origami Angel singer-guitarist Ryland Heagy and drummer Pat Doherty are respectively wearing a University of Maryland throwback jersey and a Bane hoodie. At the risk of angering the Boston hardcore community — a risk I do not take lightly — Origami Angel are way more excited to Remember Some Terrapin Guys. Despite not having gone to UMD, Heagy and Doherty are hardcore Terps fans who absolutely light up at the mention of Lonnie Baxter, Chris Wilcox, Greivis Vasquez, and Juan Dixon. In fact, I don’t think we talked much about other bands at all throughout our Zoom call, as the conversation frequently veered towards the likes of Tyreke Evans and O.J. Mayo, Dewey Wilkerson and Sheen Estevez, with a little Anakin Skywalker thrown in for good measure.
Those figures are source material for the uncleared samples which serve not just as the binding for Origami Angel’s dizzying double LP Gami Gang, but for Origami Angel itself. While Heagy often describes their working relationship with Doherty in metaphysical terms of “kinesis” and “chemistry,” “the way we could fill a conversation that has nothing to do with music for hours, whether it’s Dragonball Z or Pokemon or basketball,” is the basis for their friendship. “I just know that this is my guy forever.”
After two years of mounting anticipation, much of it confined to the internet due to COVID-19, the follow-up to their 2019 breakthrough Somewhere City is out this Friday. The duo considered self-titling it before setting on Gami Gang, but really, they’re about synonymous: The enthusiasm Heagy and Doherty have for each other is replicated in the relationship between Origami Angel and their fans, as any tweet mentioning the band is tagged with “gami gang” like a New York City subway car in the 1980s (see also: “glass beach band,” “dogleg band”).
After a year of emo going fully virtual, it can be hard to recall the thrill of seeing a band’s online hype translating into the physical space. The last time that happened for me was shortly after New Year’s Day in 2020, when Origami Angel packed out a bowling alley in Los Angeles with Short Fictions and glass beach. All three had released fantastic albums the previous year that predicted a bright and bold new future for emo — Short Fictions’ Fates Worse Than Death was less than a month old, an initially overlooked gem of orchestral, revival-era emo whose visions of unstoppable gentrification and environmental apocalypse grew more resonant with each passing month. Though they parlayed the feverish hype around the first glass beach album into a re-release on Run For Cover, glass beach had only played a handful of gigs by that point and were buoyed by the hometown crowd as they valiantly tried to adapt their maddeningly dense arrangements to a live setting.
With all due respect, Origami Angel were the ones that had a “Joyce Manor circa 2011” look about them, a band that could walk into any DIY space or basement or bowling alley anywhere in the United States and leave no doubt that they’d be playing somewhere much bigger by their next album. Everything that made Somewhere City 2019’s unofficial emo MVP — Heagy’s electrifying tapping riffs and keening, shoutalong hooks about self-acceptance, fast food, and Danny Phantom; Doherty’s nimble, propulsive rhythms — had already been internalized by the sweaty crowd of college kids, its energy replicated in kind. I sometimes get tempted to lie and say this was my last show before the pandemic, not the perfectly enjoyable and otherwise unremarkable White Reaper gig I saw in early March; it’s just a more poignant example of everything we lost and may never, ever get back.
That night, I was told Origami Angel were already set to capitalize on Somewhere City‘s success with a 20-song, 50-minute album to be released later in 2020. That pretty much exactly matches the specs of Gami Gang. Heagy reveals that the basic outline of the album was basically done by the time Somewhere City came out. Obviously, here we are, about 16 months later.
“I don’t want to use ‘blessing in disguise’ because that’s absolutely not what it was,” Heagy admits. But with Doherty’s graduation from Salisbury University and no more last-minute, get-in-the-van tours to interrupt the recording process, the duo were able to focus their energy on seeing Gami Gang to fruition. And the lack of touring did little to suppress the zeal of the Gami Gang itself; like many venues, Bowling Green’s Summit Shack had to move their operations to Minecraft for their fourth Fauxchella festival and the servers crashed during Origami Angel’s set. The band immediately pressed the performance to vinyl and titled it Origami Angel Broke Minecraft, selling hundreds of pre-orders on its first day.
In releasing its lead singles in pairs, Origami Angel hint at the album’s underlying split — half Somewhere City II, half “the weird, experimental sophomore album,” or as Heagy jokes, Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness if the songs were about 60% as long. Whereas Somewhere City was nothing but bangers, an album intended to hold up live night after night, Gami Gang is filled with detours, allowing them to try out muted acoustic confessionals or bossa nova and trap instrumentals that would be impossible to replicate with their spartan live setup. “It doesn’t feel like a show at points, it’s more like a playlist,” Heagy explains, aware that Origami Angel Broke Minecraft was essentially both and still might be the closest thing to a true, communal Origami Angel live experience we get in 2021.
Though a host of bigger acts from Waxahatchee to Deftones have confidently rolled out 2021 tour dates, for bands like Origami Angel who’d otherwise be packing crowds into poorly-ventilated clubs, “we definitely need a preseason,” Hyland jokes. Despite their DC roots, neither are insane nor self-loathing enough to be Wizards fans, and Doherty imparts their Sixers fandom by quickly muttering, “We talkin’ about practice,” in response. In a way, Gami Gang is in just as precarious a place right now as it would have been if it was released last year — things might start getting back to normal, but what if they don’t? Does it become more tragic in light of the shows that were so tantalizingly close to materializing? But for Origami Angel, the mantra has remained the same throughout the pandemic, spoken like a true Sixers fan: “Trust the process.”
Releasing an album at any point in the past year has been difficult for obvious reasons, but bands that did so right before the pandemic arguably took a greater hit because they had to cancel tours and opportunities they were financially relying upon. Origami Angel had three months to build off the success of Somewhere City before everything shut down, so was there any doubt as to whether the band could continue?
PAT DOHERTY: Honestly, at least in my head it was never in doubt. When touring was halted, I had a mindset that it was gonna come back at some point. In the meantime, let’s just work on practicing our instruments, writing good songs, preparing for LP2. We were working on that for most of the pandemic. There was never any doubt about the future of the band. This situation really sucks but it’s gonna end at some point.
RYLAND HEAGY: For me, it was all about weathering the storm. When you sit down at night and think about what could have happened and the shows we didn’t announce, the tours we didn’t announce, or the shows that didn’t happen that we announced that people never got to see… you can get really down on yourself, as any sort of person and as a musician. But there was a way for us to find something positive out of an overwhelmingly negative experience, if that makes sense. We were able to work on this record on our own and record it in my room and basically put all our energy into something. We had all this time, and we were really able to hone our skills and take our time and focus on this record. It was really important to have something to look forward to like that and just consistently work on. It grounds you in times like this. And it goes with the album’s theme, which is that there are more beautiful things that aren’t often looked at as beautiful. In a very dark place, you can find moments of clarity and that’s what we did.
I always wonder whether having a two-person set up in a band makes things easier or more difficult; on the one hand, the decision-making is a lot more streamlined, but it puts more pressure on the friendship.
HEAGY: I always tell people that me and Pat have the type of friendship and working relationship where we’ve been in cars together driving up and down the East Coast and everywhere in between so often, that we have this kind of kinesis about us. It doesn’t need to be like we’re talking all the time. When it comes to touring, I never felt like we had much of an issue at all because we never were too overwhelmed by the music side of it. We’re not living together, but when we were potted up and together working on this record, we got to re-experience the brilliance that is making music together. It made me appreciate it that much more because we had that chemistry where we could just get into the rooms with the microphones. We practice a few times and the chemistry is right back there.
DOHERTY: There’s a lot of people where if you share silence with them, it’s kinda awkward. With touring, we know we can take those brief moments of silence. We’ve been doing this since 2016, back in our old van — as far as the chemistry between us while making this record, it’s effortless. We can not practice for months on end, and that happens because I was doing the school thing. It just takes a practice or two and we’re clicking again.
HEAGY: A lot of where we got our legs as a band comes from being in chaotic situations. Since I commuted to work on the bus and train, I would take the bus to the gig we were playing and [Pat] would bring all the gear. And after no practice for a month, we’d play a full set with some friends. Or when [Pat] is at school, figuring out when and where we’re gonna practice for 45 minutes before a show and getting into it. Having that chaos in our roots as we’re finding what we were as a band helped in this situation translated well.
DOHERTY: How many gigs have we played where you take the Metro and I’m driving all the way from Salisbury?
HEAGY: There’s definitely been local gigs where the doors are at 7:30 and we’d be playing last and maybe five or six people were there. But I’d take a crazy bus route to get to somewhere in northeast DC and I’d get there and meet the bands. And the bands are all late too, and then Pat doesn’t show up for another two and a half hours, basically right before our set. And then all of the gear is here and we set up in five minutes. It’s stuff like that where we’d basically make a culture for ourselves to be able to get ready quickly and immediately dive into what we’re supposed to be doing.
DOHERTY: A lot of last-minute preparation — there was a drive all the way to South Carolina and getting to our set 15 minutes beforehand.
HEAGY: There was the Michael Cera Palin show where we got added on four hours before the show started. I had a final at school and took the train to meet up with you at the place in DC and you came from Salisbury too.
DOHERTY: Straight shot from Salisbury.
HEAGY: Talking about it now, I’m realizing that we’re able to do last-minute things, just because it’s the two of us. We didn’t need to worry about, “Oh we’re ready to do it,” and then some bassist or keyboardist or something is saying, “Oh I can’t, I’m stuck with x and y tonight.”
DOHERTY: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to tell my dad, “Yeah, bye — I’m meeting Ryland at the gig.”
What’s your process with finding samples — is there a backlog of clips, or do you go digging in the YouTube crates for something that aligns with a lyric?
HEAGY: When I was piecing this record together from demos, I was like, “This transition is a little awkward musically, so we’ll do a sample here,” and I’d search for things. Or if I’d heard something and remembered it, “That’s it, I’ll use that!” The Anakin Skywalker one, “This is where the fun begins,” that was always one we felt we could throw in somewhere and it works well in that song. The Malcolm In The Middle one, “What kind of god makes children think when they’re not even in school,” that’s Dewey after the song that has some lyrics about god.
DOHERTY: Same with the Sheen one [from The Adventures Of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius] about sabotaging his scientific brain with cartoons and sugar.
Do you have to clear these samples?
HEAGY: I don’t really know! Usually, when we do samples, no one really cares that much. Sometimes people will make sure they have the hold or clearance on it, but ours usually have a little bit of sound in the background too to make sure the bots don’t find them. Hopefully.
With songs like “Greenbelt Station” or “Bossa Nova Corps” that work in atypical modes for Origami Angel, I thought back to glass beach’s songwriting process where they’ll try out songs in a bunch of different genres before finding one they liked. Were there any experiments that got left on the cutting room floor here?
HEAGY: The way it usually works is that I’ll write a skeleton of something and then if I don’t really like where it is or feel like it could go somewhere more interesting, we’ll try it out as a demo. But off rip, the only thing that I can think of us wanting to add and change is “Footloose Cannonball Brothers,” we kinda wanted to add a super easycore breakdown in the bridge and it didn’t really work at all.
DOHERTY: I honestly didn’t think it was that bad.
HEAGY: We did it once and I said, “This is so awesome.” And then I was like… “Eh, maybe the regular one would work a bit better,” so we kept that one. When there is experimentation, it’s when I’m writing something linearly in a way — I wrote “Bossa Nova Corps,” which is just this little mathy intro, and then I was thinking, “What about a II-V-I, a little bossa nova pattern?” Then I started thinking of the melody and singing it and it made sense to me. From there, the structure went out. It’s kind of a feel thing, rather than “let’s do a bossa nova thing here” or “we could do this one as swing.”
Do the puns in the song titles come first and dictate the writing process or are they added after the fact? For example, “Tom Holland Oates”…
HEAGY: That one was, “We gotta use that for something.”
HEAGY: And then I wrote [the song] right after and was like, “That’s it.” But then there’s other ones like “Neutrogena Spektor,” I had filler names like “ooo-ooo-oooh” and “I’m never gonna feel that way” from the chorus as placeholders. Then I was looking at the track list and thinking of stuff that we had to make titles for and, duh, “Neutrogena Spektor” hit me like, “That! That’s gotta be it!” And there are titles that will come at the last minute like “Isopropyl Alchemy.” Earlier in the pandemic, I went to the grocery store to get isopropyl alcohol to wipe stuff down. Then I was like, alcohol and alchemy… it’s actually from a Barenaked Ladies lyric, I can’t remember the song [editor’s note: “Alcohol”], but he sings, “Something’s got a hold of me, alcohol or alchemy.” And I decided to switch those two. But then there’s random ones like “Noah Fence.” It’s like Noah’s Ark. I wanted to call it “Noah’s Fence,” but that doesn’t make sense.
DOHERTY: “Noah Fence” is the way to go.
I just got the joke now that you’ve said the song title out loud.
HEAGY: There were a lot of people on Twitter who didn’t know how to pronounce “Neutrogena Spektor” and then I was like, “I never really thought I’d have to say these out loud and that other people would have to read them.”
I saw an interview with Julien Baker earlier this year where she talked about the lack of separation between her and her songwriting persona, and how it creates more pressure for her to be positive in her interactions with fans. Especially with the way Somewhere City radiated positivity, the biggest difference I hear in Gami Gang is that there’s more negativity or at least conflict in the lyrics.
HEAGY: With Somewhere City, it’s not really a personal journal. It’s not really a dialogue that either me or Pat are having, it’s fictional in a way. And having it be a record in this genre that’s often super self-deprecating, which we had done before and continue to do now, and just having it stand alone in our discography as this piece of music that doesn’t leave that area that is so overwhelmingly positive… it’s a record not to show people, “Oh see, listen to me, you can be happy.” For me, it was what I wanted to exist, in the most cliche way, to make the music you want to listen to. Make the music you need in that moment. As far as getting darker or edgier, it’s the opposite of Somewhere City, in that it’s not all negative and it’s not all positive, but it’s more personal with a narrator’s point of view.
There was a time where I felt like every band was playing Minecraft or Twitch-based shows, so Origami Angel Broke Minecraft might be the only essential live album to come out of 2020. How did the decision to release that set on vinyl came about?
HEAGY: The whole experience with Minecraft was so unintentional that it’s actually hysterical to me that it exists. It was put on by the Summit Shack, which is this place in Ohio that does festivals like Snowchella, Fauxchella, and this one DIY Prom thing — they always have amazing bands. They obviously had to shut down for Fauxchella, that was in the middle of April and a big no-no zone, you couldn’t be with more than 10 people in Ohio at the time. So they hit every band up and said, “We want you to make a set if you could, it could just be you playing a playlist of your music.” Me, in typically chaotic Gami fashion, I waited until the last minute and realized, “Oh, I need to make a set here.” I tried to record an acoustic set, it didn’t work. The vibes were off.
I thought then, I’ll just get the keyboard out and throw some beats down and then play the songs over that. It ended up being completely linear, where I would start one song, play the guitar part over it, with the fake drums or the 808 kit and think what song could go next. I had remixes of beats sitting around to throw in as kind of a beat tape. It all comes together six or seven hours before we’re supposed to go live for our set. And then it happens and people really like it. I think the network that Summit Shack ran their Minecraft server on got hijacked and it crashed — it had nothing to do with us on the low. But there was just this mystique over it, people started going wild in the chat, we played it again, and then Jake Sulzer at Counter Intuitive Records hit us up like, “What if we pressed the record right now? What if we just pressed it and put preorders up, I’ll place the masters.” He immediately sends that and we’re like, “Yeah, we’ll do that,” and then [Counter Intuitive] pressed 1,000 and sold a bunch on the first day.
And looking at that, it was like wow, I never expected to be in this position — we’re releasing music that’s 14 hours old on vinyl. The thing about Jake is that he’ll do anything pressing a record — if you want to press floppy disks or an 8-track, he would do it. He’s always ready to make something happen out of the ordinary. He saw that opportunity and jumped on it. It’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever been a part of.
With the success of Broke Minecraft, did that inspire other ideas about new ways to perform live or press merch?
HEAGY: We were getting all these offers to do live session shows, not with cameras and stuff but Instagram Live stuff — “Oh, Ryland can play acoustic.” We did that for two or three weeks, but at a certain point, it gets really confusing as an artist to play the same set to the same people and you’re not getting that real interaction. Seeing it on a screen is better than nothing, you get their little love-reacts and stuff like that. But it kinda feels like you’re playing in a Black Mirror episode. We did the Minecraft thing, it did really well and then for me personally, as far as mental health, I was like, “I’m gonna have to step back from doing the livestream shows for a little bit.” It wasn’t really enjoyable for me, and I didn’t really want to force that relationship with that part of the music. And it kinda coincided with what me and Pat and Jake and [manager] Alex [Martin] had kinda planned for LP2. We wanted to let the music start speaking for itself, as a product of the times. Instead of doing the most ridiculous thing we could think of for this one, we just felt like this album’s rollout called for, “Just release some music.” We’ll trust the process. We’ll trust the movements we put into this music, we trust the base that we’ve built organically. We know that what we do, we have confidence in that.
DOHERTY: The simplistic approach was the right approach for this album.
That certainly applies to the cover art.
DOHERTY: The idea for the cover is really good, it’s just… “Gami Gang.”
HEAGY: The way I’ve always explained it to people is that it helps me conceptualize what the record’s about. You could see something that looks very plain, like a white album with black text. But there’s a spectrum of sounds and content and ideas in between it — in the gatefold, there is the full array of color and you don’t need it on the cover. It’s what’s in between black and white in life.
I don’t want to project influences on this album that might not exist, but I definitely hear more Korn-like chunk and panic chords along with the tapping solos.
HEAGY: On this record, there’s a lot of lick-y, twinkle stuff and there’s fewer taps in between — I’ve had to cool it on the taps sometimes. There’s still the moments like in “Bed Bath & Batman Beyond” with the tap solo and the blast beat behind it. When I was learning guitar, it was from people who knew metal guitar and did lessons for $15 an hour. And that was one of the techniques I’d learned. I feel like there’s this stigma of what tapping is, that it’s douche-y metal stuff. But it works with the twinkle aesthetic of emo, emo-pop, whatever we are.
When everyone was paying tribute to Eddie Van Halen after he died last year, it was hard not to point out how tapping solos are pretty much the exclusive domain of dorky emo bands now.
HEAGY: It is basically half twinkling now. I always had the skill, I always knew from the practice that I’d done early in my playing career, I was just like… if this is cool again, I just think it sounds dope, I’mma do it! There’s more EVH-style tapping in this genre than anything that you would call quote-unquote hard rock. Which is fun as hell to me. I love guitar pyrotechnics, it’s a fun thing especially when it’s just us two and you gotta think… “For this song, if we want to fill up some space and energy, we gotta do a combo of drum and guitar pyrotechnics,” that’s the best way I could put it.
Over the past week, bigger singer-songwriter acts like Julien Baker and Waxahatchee and Lucy Dacus have started to announce tours and it seems like there’s a real ambivalence in the DIY and emo realms about whether it’s safe or appropriate for shows to start coming back in smaller venues.
HEAGY: I was talking on this podcast with Jake and Alex the other day, where both of them had different ideas of what shows would look like when they came back. They’re gonna look different in every city. You cross a state line and the rules will be 100% different. We pretty much decided early on that we’re not really about touring until we can be super certain that it’s super safe for anyone that’s coming, and ourselves. Personally, I do have a history of respiratory disease, on some scary stuff. Even though I have my first shot, I’m still gonna be wary of it and know that if we announce a tour, say, in the fall or late fall or winter and there was reason to say maybe we shouldn’t having these shows, we won’t. Because the fact is, there’s gonna be some shows back, right? And we’re not gonna be the first people back. But there will also be results, we’ll see case counts after the first shows come back and for us, we’re just gonna do the safest thing possible and not put anyone in harm’s way.
I really can’t imagine how Fest is going to happen safely in Florida this Halloween, especially with that state’s notable flouting of safety precautions.
HEAGY: I’m curious too, Fest usually has 35,000 people down there sometimes. There’s a sea of people! How…even…in the world…is that gonna be cool in October? I’d be super impressed if they were able to pull it off in a super, super safe way and everybody would be not upset. I think bands gotta ease back into it, honestly. Even if it’s 100% safe, we gotta be like, “OK, just so people remember how to act at shows, we’re playing a five-minute set and we’re only gonna play at 25-capacity so no one trips over themselves.” Make sure no one is going wild over the pent up feelings they’ve had. Everyone should have a spring training, if you will.
We’d probably be better off if only the chill bands came back first.
HEAGY: I’d be so cool with that, if only the Field Medics came back and your solo acoustic acts. Honestly, they should finally take the step and say, “Everyone sit down. Everybody sit down for the show, it’ll be fun. Sit down five feet apart for people, not just from a social distance thing, but until you relearn how to communicate in social situations.”
So, the people have to know – do you see yourselves as fifth wave emo?
DOHERTY: I don’t even know what that means.
HEAGY: I heard someone say we were “second wave easycore” and I would have to lean harder towards that. I’ve heard from some people that we’re no wave and that we’re fifth wave. We were in the same boat with a lot of people from when the fifth wave started. I try not to place too much attention to it, we make what we make and people are gonna call what they call it. And whether they like it or not, it is second wave easycore.
Gami Gang is out 4/30 on Counter Intuitive.