GUM / Ambrose

Ill Times (p(doom) records)

Contact Jaycee Rockhold about GUM / Ambrose

GUM / Ambrose Kenny-Smith – made of Jay Watson (Gum, Pond, Tame Impala) and Ambrose Kenny-Smith (King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, The Murlocs) – announce a new collaborative album, Ill Times, out July 19th. This is the debut release on King Gizzard’s newly-announced p(doom) records. As described by King Gizzard, p(doom) records is a label “to put out our own records and our friends’ too. If you all keep listening to ’em, we’ll keep making ’em.” It’s only fitting then that the first addition to the catalog is Ill Times, an album born out of the friendship between Watson and Kenny-Smith that began over a decade ago.


Watson and Kenny-Smith first met at the bar in the hazy hours after Tame Impala played the legendary Eureka Hotel in Kenny-Smith’s hometown of Geelong, Victoria in 2009. But it wasn’t until Kenny-Smith’s bands came to prominence a couple of years later that the bond between these groups was formed. The roots of Ill Times lay in an instrumental Watson had recorded that he loved but couldn’t find a home for in Pond or GUM by itself.  The track haunted him, enough that he ended up discussing it at some festival Pond and King Gizz were both playing somewhere on the planet one summer. Watson DM’d Kenny-Smith the track, along with a link to “Magic Mountain.” “Jay said that was the vibe he wanted,” Kenny-Smith continues, “and I’m a big Eric Burdon try-hard, so I was into it.”


The idea remained non-corporeal for more than a year, both musicians on tour with their respective acts. When Christmas came around with enforced down time, the duo got to work, remotely. Kenny-Smith wrote lyrics and some new melodies to the song, now titled “Old Transistor Radio,” recorded his parts and DM’d them to Watson. Watson loved what he heard, and then sent Kenny-Smith another track to work on.  For Watson, part of the thrill lay in exploring styles of music he’d loved all his life, but played all too rarely. “I was excited to explore stuff our other bands hadn’t really touched on before,” Watson says. “Funk, soul… groove-based music.” The instrumentals he cut for Ill Times were firmly in the pocket, though thrillingly devoid of genre cliché, their grooves colossal, their melodies deep and irresistible.


For Kenny-Smith, that soulfulness seeped into his very bones. The GUM project arrived not long after the passing of his beloved dad, musician Broderick Smith, and the death of a dear friend, losses that would inform the lyrics he penned for the album, and the way he sang them. Loss is a recurring theme across the album; the title-track is about figuring out how to put your life back together and move on in the wake of devastation. “I learned life is too short to live it in regret or a hole of depression,” Kenny-Smith explains. But there’s humor and wisdom in there, too.


Ill Times is an album that takes swings at losers with god complexes, that builds the Impressions’ slow-burning ballad “Fool For You” into something so massive and brawny it’d give Jack White the willies, and closes with Watson and Kenny-Smith delivering righteous rough justice to an unabashed villain, and then riding off into the sunset like the heroes they are. The album is easily as much fun as the duo had making it, and that was a truly ridiculous amount of fun.


For six albums now, you’ve heard Jay Watson’s brain, unfiltered, as GUM. Now you can hear what that brain sounds like when it’s refracted through Ambrose Kenny-Smith’s bluesy, soulful lens. And it’s a very wonderful sound indeed.