Elizabeth Bernholz (nee Walling) is an extraordinary electronic composer, musician, producer and performer who trades under the name of Gazelle Twin. Forged in a rural idyll in Middle-England and four years in the making (amidst life-changing events, including a move away from Brighton), Pastoral is the first major release by the artist since her 2014 album Unflesh. It’s a fascism-infused hellscape, this time set in deepest Old England. Jeff Hemmings asked her about her artistic vision, child rearing, and her public vs private persona.
Amazing album! I see you gained some support from the PRS Foundation Momentum Fund. How much did this help you realise the album?
It was critical. As a self-releasing artist, I am certain it would not have been possible to release the record in the way I wanted to without that investment from them.
Can you define your art? And why it is important for you to do what you do?
All I set out to do is make something meaningful, immersive and fully realised in terms of how an idea, or set of ideas, are translated through music, as well as the artwork, films, live performance, and the way it is released.
Music has always been an incredibly important creative outlet for me and in the last five years has actually become part of maintaining my survival and good health.
Pastoral has been four years in the making. Has child rearing been the major distraction!
Yes and no! I was also travelling and touring during the early stages of writing it, but I was actually more productive after having my baby than beforehand, despite the sudden lack of time. I think the experience of childbirth and the time during which it happened (early 2016) was certainly the catalyst for inspiration.
What does the word ‘pastoral’ mean to you?
Well, when making this album I was thinking about the traditional sense of the pastoral, the art form; the classical symphony, romantic literature, art, as well as fascist propaganda and the agency of a kind of nostalgia that seems to exist among the rich, the noble and the ignorant.
Pastoral “Exhumes England’s rotten past, and shines a torch over its ever-darkening present”. That “there is horror in every idyll, and danger lurking beyond the ‘quaint'”. Can you expand on that?
I wanted to look beyond the facade of the ‘quaint’, to see what it’s really made of… not just take it all on face value with the mindset that it’s “safe” somehow. I found that I was noticing details about the world around me that I’d never encountered before. Thinking about what it means to be English – with all the unedited shame of our history.
I have read that giving birth and raising a very young child caused you to endure post-natal depression, and engendered heightened sensitivities, which has in turn informed Pastoral – horrors lurking in every corner, that sort of thing. Would that be fair to say?
Yep! For me, having a child made even easy everyday situations feel very different and often deeply frightening or too overwhelming for me. But I also felt as though the world was darkening and becoming less and less empathetic with what has been happening politically across the planet, and that only served to heighten the mood.
I also understand that you live a kind of dual existence; one of a new mother hanging out with other mothers, and Gazelle Twin. I assume that it is very important to keep these two things separate!?
It really depends. I mean, what I do is very complex and strange as a ‘job’ so it takes a lot of explanation, and there is often simply no time to go into that much detail when hanging out with kids and other mums. I usually just say I’m a musician/composer and leave it at that. The thought of anyone Googling my name and seeing the pictures that come up on a search does slightly worry me and I admittedly dread people taking too much of an interest and asking me what it’s called.
What does Gazelle Twin refer to?
Oh it’s just the name I came up with for this project back in 2010. It wasn’t terribly sophisticated – just a rough anagram of my former name.
And the voices, there are so many different ones, manipulated and otherwise. Is this something you experiment with, or do you have an idea of what you want in the first place?
Sometimes I have an idea, but sometimes I am just messing about and experimenting or even playing! I try to experiment above everything else because that is always when the subconscious starts to tune in, you start to get to the core of something you didn’t expect to find, it’s so much fun joining all the dots up later.
When you are on stage there is little trace of you, the everyday person. How important is it for you to be anonymous?
It’s not so much about being anonymous, but rather stepping out of my everyday self in order to channel other voices, emotions, movements, themes etc. It’s not completely detached from myself however, I do think that what I am doing is channelling deep emotions and finding ways to do that which don’t leave me too vulnerable. It’s probably quite important in terms of mental health. As a performer I have found this method to be incredibly liberating.
The costume you wear, including the Adidas trainers, what does it mean to you?
It’s really a kind of mixed up scarecrow of multiple identities, cliches, and traditions. It’s no one thing in particular. I thought it was important to have a sort of puppet to represent all the different aspects of the album, and the template of a Jester seemed to fit the bill perfectly for this as the base of the idea.
You were born and raised in Brighton but now live somewhere rural. How do you look back on Brighton now?
I lived in Brighton for around 12 years whilst studying. Brighton was the first major city I lived in and the first place I made a home on my own away from family. I came of age there I think, even though I was in my early 20s when I moved there, so I really miss it, and often long to be able to live there again with my little boy so that he can enjoy all the wonderful things it has to offer.