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.