NME Radar: Breakout

Still Woozy: Marvin Gaye-sampling party-starting DIY bangers

The Bay Area solo musician’s strong online following has been further boosted by his Tame Impala lockdown cover

Each week in Breakout, we talk to the emerging stars blowing up right now – whether it be a huge viral moment, killer new track or an eye-popping video – these are the rising artists certain to dominate the near future

Still Woozy’s fans have good taste. Not only have they rightfully fallen for the psychedelic bedroom-pop gems that Sven Gamsky has been dropping since 2017, they also requested in a recent Instagram poll that the Bay Area artist cover Tame Impala as a special lockdown treat. Gamsky’s comfortably laidback reinvention of ‘The Less I Know The Better’ has racked up over 540,000 views to date, and contains hallmarks of the Still Woozy formula of electronic influences with acoustic elements that worked wonders on Gamsky’s break-out solo bangers ‘Goodie Bag’ and ‘Habit’.

Gamsky is evidently keen to pay tribute to his musical heroes, with his latest single ‘Window’ ambitiously sampling the vocals of Marvin Gaye in a bid to create an era-blending jam in the vein of Kanye West’s ‘Gold Digger’. NME called Gamsky at home in Portland — where his lockdown life is consisting of making music in his home studio and “hanging out with my girlfriend and my dog” — to get the lowdown on his Gaye sample, his math-rock roots and his sincere hope that Kevin Parker will like his cover.

There’s a Marvin Gaye sample in new single ‘Window’. How did you end up using it in your work?

“I love Marvin Gaye: ‘Sexual Healing’ has got to be one of the best songs ever written; it just has this instant feeling. On ‘Window’ I had the beat, the guitar and everything, but I knew the missing piece: a crispy sample. I just shot my shot and YouTubed ‘Marvin Gaye a cappella’ and there was a whole a cappella version of him doing ’I Heard It Through The Grapevine’. It was too good to be true, so I found a little sample out of that.”

Do you think you might reach a whole new audience through this Gaye connection?

“Maybe, but it’s not really my goal. I think the sample was just me expanding into a new sonic realm for the sake of my discography, and just pushing myself as an artist. I always love samples, like Kanye West’s ‘Gold Digger’ —I love how he used the Ray Charles sample [‘I Got A Woman’]. I feel like ‘Window’ is my little ode or tip of the hat to that… it’s this blend of eras.”

Before Still Woozy, you were in the math-rock band Feed Me Jack – why math-rock?

“I wasn’t into math-rock, I still don’t really ever listen to it! We called ourselves a math-rock band because it was maybe our biggest influence, but it was definitely a mix of everything, like jazz, indie-rock, math-rock, R&B, beats. It was basically just my college band; that’s how I learned how to play shows. We came up doing the house show circuit, playing in these tiny packed rooms with people pushing you over: that’s the kind of environment that I love. I definitely came into my own as an artist in that scene.”

Feed Me Jack split in 2016. Was going solo as Still Woozy the next logical step for you?

“All those people [in the band] are insanely talented, they’re all fucking shredders and they’re much better at their own instruments than I am, which is why it was good for me to play with them because I was able to get my shit together.

Feed Me Jack was always more anchored in technical shit, and I just had a moment where I realised that wasn’t why I like music. I’m not one to listen to a solo for like 30 minutes, or whatever. I’m more interested in the more immediate emotional connection, and just pop music in general. I had a wake-up moment where I was like: ‘If I’m going to be spending all this time working on something, then it needs to be something that I can fully stand behind.’ I just needed more control.”

You’ve recorded most of your Still Woozy material in your garage studio. How do home comforts benefit your songwriting as opposed to a more traditional studio?

“When I’ve been to studios, I feel rushed and it just doesn’t feel good. You need to be able to make shit that feels genuinely like yourself. I would like to be comfortable enough to go out and record in a studio, but for now it’s just a comfort level.

Although I am collaborating with more people now, and I’m getting to that point where I’ve made a lot of stuff by myself and now I wanna get out there and see what other people are doing. So there will probably be a lot more of that in the future.”

“‘Window’ was missing a crispy sample. When I found the Gaye vocal take, it was too good to be true”

You teamed up with Omar Apollo on ‘Ipanema’ last year. You and he are among an exciting generation of musicians, along with the likes of Brockhampton, Dominic Fike and Clairo, who embrace intimacy and vulnerability in their work. Does it feel like you’re part of a generational movement?

“I think so. I think the only thing connecting us is the internet: not [literally] connecting through the internet, but just the SoundCloud culture at that time. I don’t really know most of those people, and if I do I’ve talked to them like only once. It’s not like we’re going back and forth like other [artists in other] eras have, where’s the more of an actual group. It’s more disparate people and groups working all over the world, and we’re just connected through this aesthetic on the internet.”

One thing you all share is each having your own sizeable fanbase. How has your online following impacted your development as an artist?

“I think sometimes it fucks with me and I will overthink everything. But at the end of the day I’m just super-grateful to be able to do what I’m doing, and that’s only due to the fact that I have people who follow my music. As an artist and as someone who’s so self-critical, I can go through periods when I can get in my head about what I’m doing and the kind of music I’m making, and wondering if people can connect with it. I feel like everything I do and every thought I have come in these cycles, and, for now at least, it just comes and goes. I’ve learned to deal with myself and ride out my own cycles.”

You seem to prefer Instagram, and don’t much use Twitter – why’s that?

“I hate Twitter! It just feels like a cesspool. It’s like they took the worst part of Facebook, where everyone would post their every little thought every 10 seconds, and made it only that. When I go on Twitter I feel instant anxiety.”

You covered Tame Impala as a special fan requested self-isolation cover recently. Would you love to work with Kevin Parker?

“I’m fucking down! ‘The Slow Rush’ was awesome. His textures are amazing, and I love the production on his drums. I love the vocals for his sound, even though a lot of the time they sound so far away. That’s kinda of the point of it, it’s like a trance to get into.

I’d be really curious to hear what he thought of my cover, whether he’d hate it or he’d like it. It’s interesting with covers, because as an artist you have such a strong feeling about what the song is, so it’s often hard to watch covers and hear somebody who will maybe take the song really far away from the core feeling that you created. Hopefully my cover isn’t too far away from his!”

Your debut Still Woozy EP ‘Lately’ came out last year. Are you building towards an album release now?

“I’m definitely working towards an album, but I’m not gonna abandon the singles path. I think putting out singles is just a more sustainable way to be an artist right now, because it’s this climate where people have such little attention spans. It’s doing a lot to put out a whole album out, because that could take a year to make and then it’s just this one event. I’m not the kind of artist who is gonna put every single song I make onto a record and put it out. I’m going to take my time and think about what fits and what feels right, so it wouldn’t be sustainable for me to do a bunch of albums.

I do want to make an album: singles lead into an album, and I do have a lot of songs that are 60% of the way done. I have an album in the back of my mind and I’m working on a tracklist, but it’s just about timing.”

Want more NME?

Subscribe to our mailing list here to be kept up to date on all things music and pop culture.