Gab Strum aka Japanese Wallpaper wanted to take his time, to figure out how to be a songwriter, a producer, and to hone in on the kind of music he wanted to make. After a song from his 2016 debut EP made the rounds online and on Triple J's Hottest 100 radio in his native Australia, Strum was met with a whirlwind of opportunity: a tour supporting the likes of M83 and Lily Allen, a showcase at SXSW and more. Rather than allowing that momentum to carry Strum into the studio to record his debut album, he took his time…learning, experimenting. 

Three years later, Strum delivers Glow, his debut full-length. Whimsical, yet wistful, textured but not overwhelming, Strum fuses acoustic and electronic instrumentation, rife with electric guitar riffs which nestle into synth loops.  Glow is a purposeful arrangement and a slight divergence from Japanese Wallpaper’s prior strictly electronic base. Another artistic choice employed on Glow is the absence of featured singers — or rather, the emergence of Strum’s own voice.

That’s one of the things that I’m most proud of about this record,” the 22-year-old says. “I didn’t have singing lessons from a really young age, so I always thought I wasn’t a singer, that wasn’t my role. And I got really used to working with other vocalists and taking my project down that route but in the back of my mind, I knew I wanted to make a record I was singing on.”

Japanese Wallpaper originated after Strum first composed a string of songs in Garageband at the age of 15. After one of the tracks won Triple J’s 2014 “Unearthed High” competition, geared toward Australian emerging artists, Strum’s career was cemented: music was his destiny. While finishing high school, Strum worked on his 2016 self-titled debut EP. On it, a pensive track called “Breathe In” caught the attention of Zach Braff who included the song on the soundtrack for Wish I Was Here

 While Strum approached Glow with no deadline in mind, he began the songwriting process by consistently taking to the studio for months, creating instrumental loops, building on each one. By the end of three months, he’d had 90 instrumental tracks which ended up forming most of the songs on Glow. Throughout 2017 and 2018, Strum continued to write and record in Melbourne, London, and Brisbane with the help of a coterie of musicians, such as Gretta Ray, Graham Ritchie (Holy Holy, Airling), Amelia Murray (Fazerdaze), Harold Brown (Jacob Banks), Billy Kennedy (Frightened Rabbit), J.Views, and Golden Vessel.

The album hit a turning point when Strum was put in touch with Grammy-winning producer Ben H. Allen (Walk the Moon, Animal Collective, Gnarls Barkley, Kaiser Chiefs, Cut Copy, Washed Out, Neon Indian) who invited Strum to his Atlanta studios to work on the record for a month.

“I remember walking home from the studio and listening to it over and over I was in disbelief, really,” Strum says. “That moment when everything really felt like it came together was the best.”

Thematically, Glow illuminates life’s small moments: The end of a close relationship, illustrated on lead single “Imaginary Friends,” overanalyzing every step of a crush. Exploring the tender emotions of late teendom and early 20s turmoil, Strum validates the mundane, no emotion is wasted.

None of the things are about massive changes or massive terrible things that happened, or big breakups,” he says. “It’s all songs about little things and it’s also fine to be affected by little things.”

For Strum, songs inhabit a time and space: youth in Melbourne. From the ambient sounds of Strum’s neighborhood coffee shop on “Caving In,” a kaleidoscopic ode to a lover in another time zone, to the woozy slow dance of title track “Glow” with strums of acoustic guitar peeking through the haze of keyboards, Glow is grounded both with emotions and memories from the last three years in Melbourne.

A lot of it is me just growing up and trying to figure out how everything works and where I fit into everything.”

Though he may be only slightly closer to the meaning of it all, Glow bookends a period of uncertainty. With more confidence than the teen that emerged from his debut EP, Strum is more aware of his place in the world. The music helps to define him.

We caught up with Gab to chat about the album.

Where in the world are you based?
Hi! I'm based in Melbourne, Australia
How long have you been playing music?
I've been playing music since I was five years old. I took piano lessons for fifteen years and picked up a bunch of other instruments along the way.
Did you study?
I've tried studying a few times - none of them have worked out in my favour just yet but it's definitely something I hope to return to one day.
Would you say you have a particular style or genre of music that defines you?
I don't really tend to think of music in terms of style or genre, but I'd definitely say that I am a disciple of bands like Phoenix, Death Cab For Cutie, M83, and Beach House.
What are you listening to at the moment?
Lately, I have been loving the new Benny Sings album "City Pop".
Best gig you've been to lately?
I saw Maggie Rogers play at Radio City Music Hall in NYC a couple of weeks ago and it was the best show I've seen in so long.
Who are some other bands, DJ's or Producers you think are killing it at the moment?
Approachable Members Of Your Local Community from Melbourne. I've known those guys right from the start of their band and it's so exciting to see them blossom.
What's been your favourite venue to play?
I've been lucky enough to play at The Forum in Melbourne a few times and being on stage there is such a special feeling. I've seen almost all of my favourite bands there.
How did your life change when you won Triple J Unearthed High in 2014?
Everything I dreamed of doing suddenly felt like it was within reach. I'd turn the radio on in the car and hear my songs. People were coming to the shows. It made all of this possible.
You've just finished up a North American tour with Allday & Mallrat. What was it like touring with these crazy kids?
Grace, Tom and I have all known each other for a while and worked/toured together before so it was really easy and enjoyable. To an extent we're all in a similar boat - Australian kids trying to figure out how to breakthrough in America - and I think it made it easier on all of us to have the others around. Over the course of the tour, we also found ways to collaborate in each other's sets which kept us on our toes.
How are you feeling about kicking off your upcoming Australian national tour?
I'm so excited! This year we've done so many support slots, which are fun, but nothing beats the feeling of playing headline shows. I think they're going to be really special.
Your last single "Imaginary Friends" was gorgeous. We loved the track & video. There's a fair bit of buzz about your debut album. Can you tell us a bit about the album writing process?
Thank you! The album process spanned two years, which started with me working on instrumentals and beat ideas in my bedroom in Melbourne, then gradually adding lyrics and melodies over the top, and finished with a month of recording and mixing in Atlanta, GA with the help of one of the most amazing producers I know, Ben H Allen III.
Anything else?
I just got home from a month of tour so nothing comes to mind right now - my brain is pretty fried. Oh! Come to the shows. They're going to be awesome. I can't wait to see everyone.
Thanks for stopping by Hipland!