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Dissecting Gouge Away with Vocalist Christina Michelle | Feature Interview

credit: Cameron Smith

credit: Cameron Smith

by Jordan J. Michael (@jordwhyjames)

Cranking up Burnt Sugar, it is easy to imagine Gouge Away playing live. The seminal album from September 2018 was blasted straight to Jack Shirley’s tape reel in Oakland, California; the organic Gouge Away we hear on Burnt Sugar is what we’re going to get if we see the Florida band live.

And what Gouge Away fan wouldn’t run straight to their local show listings for a chance to experience a set? After hearing “Ghost” on a random playlist last fall, that’s exactly what this writer did. Unfortunately, he couldn’t make the Sunday matinee across town. Huge mistake.

Christina Michelle, Gouge Away’s 29-year-old vocalist/lyricist, says that she wondered if her band could do “Ghost;” it’s not the hardcore punk sound that Gouge Away became known for following debut album , Dies. “That song is more vague, but we liked it, so we put it out there,” Michelle said, calling in from her home in Orlando in late January. “We wanted to do what we felt, experiment, and mess with sounds. There were no more rules.”

Side A of Burnt Sugar ends with “Ghost,” featuring the album’s only resemblance of a guitar solo by Mick Ford, an emotional landslide busting through the speakers. “Ghost” is different than any other song on the album, but Burnt Sugar might be at loss without it.

“I think hardcore punk is more about bands that talk about important subjects, promoting messages through their shows,” said Michelle, mentioning Philadelphia's Paint It Black as an example. “Burnt Sugar is in the direction of mental health, which is really important, affecting everyone in my life...including me, too.” 

Michelle’s frazzled bark makes her seem angry because she was angry during the songwriting for Burnt Sugar. Michelle says that a best friend lost her sister to an overdose, and that her mother kept going in and out of the hospital due to her health issues being continuously misdiagnosed. Therefore, the Gouge Away release is the unison of the best slap-snap bass on the East Coast (Tyler Forsythe), prodigious drumming (Tommy Cantwell), sizzling guitars (Mick Ford and Dylan Downey), and choice Michelle lyrics like these:

“Failure is an ocean instead of a floor;”
“Paranoia comes knocking / she’s my only friend;”
“And I’m so fed up with hope;”
“Do I give up my finger prints in spite trying to wash my hands of you?”
“You’ll be calling me an artist by the way I draw blood;”
“It makes me wonder if I’ve passed away or been invisible this whole time;”
“Woke up without sleeping;”
“Everyone always says to just snap out of it;” and
“Never feel richer than to find that the most consistent part of this life is that the sun will always rise and there’s stars in the night.”  

credit: Cameron Smith

credit: Cameron Smith

Is Michelle numbed by paranoia and depression? Previously misjudged as powerviolence, is Gouge Away a form of imperfectionist realism?

“I frequently feel a mixture of anxiety and depression, but that shitty energy gets released every time we practice or play a show,” said Michelle. “I’m trying to understand more about mental health, especially being out on the road so much. When you’re not home, it’s hard to take care of yourself...going to therapy is hard to get into, so I have to be aware. I’m not the only person going through being anxious or paranoid.”

It’s dissociation, Michelle says, and Gouge Away named a song after it. Easily, the Deathwish, Inc. band plays 100 live shows per year, she said, and 2019 is going to be “even crazier.” Currently, Gouge Away is in the middle of a run from East to West and back, opening for Russian Circles and Daughters.

“We want to write more music, and we have no pressure to put stuff out; it’s gonna be written, naturally,” said Michelle. “When we signed to Deathwish in the middle of making Burnt Sugar, we were a little nervous of how we would be received, but we’re happy and our fans are happy. We want to continue to put out music that we feel good about, a message to relate to.”

When Gouge Away had its first show at a warehouse in West Palm Beach, Florida in 2013, Michelle was working as a teacher. The band did its thing on the weekends, but it kept picking up. The members try to keep regular, steady jobs, but employers might not be cool with an employee that frequently takes time off to tour the land.

“Originally, we didn’t intend to be so busy with it, but we also weren't going to say no to further opportunity,” Michelle said. “We never looked back, and everyone was on the same page to make the band work. Tommy and Tyler came in after our first album, and they were super active; we kept feeding off that.”

For a long time, Michelle wanted to be in a real band - a demo and a show - but nothing ever stuck. In the aftermath of harsh, sweet Burnt Sugar, Gouge Away is the catch.

Brilliantly named after the 1989 Pixies hit, Gouge Away has a similar propulsion to the classic punk band. Unwound, Jesus Lizard, Nirvana and Fugazi influenced the band, Michelle agrees (they grew up listening to that music), but they get shape from all over, even pop music.

“Tyler will listen to Paramore with me, and the others will grunt,” said Michelle. “And with the Pixies thing, some people have strong opinions that a band cannot be named after a song...I don’t care.”

Ripping to pure pleasure, any name would do. Gouge Away on Burnt Sugar is probably Gouge Away in live setting.

“We’ve played these songs hundreds of times, even before we recorded in the studio,” Michelle said. “I think it’s pretty close. After running through each so many times, it’s the best, most confident version.”