Gamblers are a rock band from Long Island, New York. Their latest EP, When We Exit, is out now.
(Photo Credit: James Morano)
I’ve always envisioned Gamblers as an indie rock band that reflects a hip hop sensibility, although we’ve mostly done that in a discreet, almost imperceptible way. With our latest single, “Another Dose (feat. Mick Jenkins),” we’ve started to let my background as a beatmaker come through more. That song is part of our new EP where we’re re-working a bunch of songs from our 2020 album Small World and, like with “Another Dose” making room for features like what you’d find on a rap album. Before that, though, the only Gamblers song where we wore our hip hop influence on our sleeve was “Corinthian Order,” which contains a nod to the vocal hook from Wilco’s “Jesus, Etc.” from the album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.
By the time Gamblers came together in 2014, I’d put out my own hip hop producer album, worked with the Maybach Music roster, and collaborated with Das Racist frontman Heems on a number of projects, including Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown and Vice TV’s Gaycation, so I was quite steeped at the time in the hip hop approach to song construction. But I was also coming from a DIY rock scene on Long Island, and I was part of what is probably the last generation of kids who discovered a lot of their music from watching MTV. I grew up not hearing much of a separation between rap and alternative rock. And when groups like Gorillaz began merging those two worlds in a really exciting way, it felt very natural for me to make music that could straddle both realms, even if you couldn’t necessarily tell right off the bat.
In the years leading up to when Gamblers formed, I was going to school at Hunter College in NYC. Any moment that I wasn’t in class or waiting tables at my family’s bar, I had my nose buried in my laptop making beats. I would kind of try to reverse-engineer what hip hop producers were doing, and recreate their beats. It became a really rigorous process for me, the same way a guitar player or drummer would spend hours practicing scales or rudiments. Naturally, I would fish around for bits and pieces to sample, and one of the sources I landed on was “Jesus, Etc.” What I came up with wasn’t so much a beat, but more like a loop where I’d inverted the chord progression.
Right around that same time, I was in a relationship that was ending, and I thought it would be interesting to turn the vocal hook on its head. It’s a very hip hop-minded thing to do to take something that’s floating out there and treat it like it’s pliable, kind of like a meme. Rappers have done this for decades, both with each other’s work and with pop references. It’s a way of honoring the original artist but enfolding a catchy bit from one of their songs that everyone recognizes into something new that you’ve created.
There’s a part in the verses that’s got such a catchy hook that it’s almost like a chorus, where Jeff Tweedy sings, “Je-sus, don’t cry,” in that singsong-y kind of way. I used to work for a medical delivery company and I was driving very far out on Eastern Long Island during a night shift with that Wilco loop I’d made playing in my car. I kept hearing the line as “don’t lie,” because the way I was feeling about the relationship was very much like, “You don’t have to lie — you can tell me that this is over.” And when he sings, “You can come by anytime you want,” the way it was playing out in my situation was more like, “You don’t come by like you used to,” which is what I ended up singing in our song.
Eventually, we pulled the sample out from the song and recorded original music in its place, but we’d built the song around the seed of that idea. It’s the only time we’ve ever done that with someone else’s material. Every other time we’ve done that, it’s been a loop or sample of something we created ourselves. But it’s really indicative of where I was coming from with beat production. A song like “Another Dose” might sound like a radical departure from our previous sound, but this is how we started — by constructing songs out of these raw parts and then shaping them into something we could play. We would often start with something synthetic, like a “beat” in the traditional sense, but we would just as often use a singer-songwriter guitar idea as a launching point.
There isn’t necessarily a direct line between “Jesus, Etc.” and “Another Dose,” but Gamblers wouldn’t have developed the way we did without that little bit of source material. These days, we’re having a lot of fun and exploring new creative avenues by sampling ourselves.