Still Woozy Navigates Life’s Frictions Through Fantasy on New Album

Following the release of his debut album, If This Isn’t Nice, I Don’t Know What Is, Still Woozy talks working with his fiance, showing new sides of himself and gives us a glimpse into his creative world.

WORDS Emily Phillips

It’s Wednesday, and having just risen from bed, a lethargic Still Woozy seems stuck in a dream-like state. He’s hardly yet recovered from the past month filled with finishing touches and arrangements for the drop of his debut album, If This Isn’t Nice, I Don’t Know What Is, the Friday before – August 13th. As we chat over Zoom he expresses a sense of relief at having the release over and done with, but simultaneously feels somewhat displaced. “It’s crazy to put so much time and energy into one thing and then have it all out there,” he says. “Cause then there’s this floating around period where you’re like, ‘Oh, so what do I do now?’”

Still Woozy is fast becoming one of the most multifaceted and visionary creators in the world of music with a voice like buttermilk, a lush, soulful sound and intimate lyrics to boot. His specific strain of groovy alt-pop has metamorphosed over the past half-decade into an infallibly euphonic exploration of life’s frictions through a fanciful lense. His imbued sonic playground first commanded attention with his hit single, ‘Goodie Bag’ a 2017 track that has now amassed more than 200 million streams on Spotify alone. Subsequently came a whirlwind of sporadic yet successful singles and the occasional EP. Now with his debut album, he has created a genre-blending body of work that echoes the thematic conflicts of dark human emotions, bittersweet love and the pursuit of happiness.

I remember being about nine years old in the back of my mom’s car visualizing what it would be like to be on stage, while we were listening to the Beatles or some stupid song or something. That was the moment I knew I wanted to pursue music.

Still Woozy

Born Sven Eric Gamsky, he spent his youth in the San Francisco Bay Area going against the grain of his family’s classical piano education and legacy of medical career paths. “I have this tendency to do the opposite of whatever my family is doing,” he explains. “It’s really kind of stupid, this vein that I have, but I always felt like the black sheep of the family and that I had to do something different.” 

“I remember being about nine years old in the back of my mom’s car visualizing what it would be like to be on stage, while we were listening to the Beatles or some stupid song or something,” he recalls. “That was the moment I knew I wanted to pursue music.“

Soon enough Gamsky was writing his own songs and even playing in a math-rock band before refining his musical abilities by studying classical guitar and electronic music at university.

When he was young, it was unexpected to those around him that he would make a career out of music, and yet at only 29-years-old, Still Woozy has electrified the stages of Coachella, Lollapalooza and Governor’s Ball, and topping it all off with a sold-out North American headlining tour and is showing no signs of slowing his musical momentum anytime soon with an international tour coming in 2022. 

The songster speaks with such acumen about his craft while he sits back, absentmindedly gyrating in a swivel chair in his Portland home. Still Woozy has the mind of an artist, perturbing and whimsical. His honeyed voice and copper-colour Hollywoodian beard unwittingly embody his carefree yet ceaselessly scatterbrained spirit as we unpack the new album. 

The title of his latest offering, If This Isn’t Nice, I Don’t Know What Is, was derived from a quote voiced by American writer Kurt Vonnegut. “I chose this quote because it’s kind of about people’s search for happiness and it’s a way of taking stock of those moments that might go unnoticed if you don’t acknowledge them; those moments that go underappreciated when you look back at your life. But, it also has dual meaning to me,” he explains. “The second part of the quote is “I don’t know what is,” meaning I don’t even know what’s nice. So, it’s hard for me to feel happy sometimes because I deal with depression a lot and I can’t always see when what’s happening is good.”

I chose [the album title] because it’s kind of about people’s search for happiness and it’s a way of taking stock of those moments that might go unnoticed if you don’t acknowledge them; those moments that go underappreciated when you look back at your life. But, it also has dual meaning to me

Still Woozy

An intimate and evocative soundscape, If This Isn’t Nice, I Don’t Know What Is, sees Still Woozy’s reflections on longing and living come to fruition. Mellow or bubbly and steeped in nostalgia, the album’s big bass grooves and hypnotic beats are laced with melancholic melodies and lucid lyricism. 

Accompanying the 13 track record comes 3 trippy single artworks born from the quirky mind of nursing student, artist and fiance to Gamsky, Amiya Kahn-Tietz, moniker Cooks. For Gamsky, it’s been “amazing” working so closely with his partner on bringing the album to fruition. “She’s the most natural artist I’ve ever met because she can pick up specific artistic accents and skills so easily, but she doesn’t even consider herself an artist,” he explains. As we chat, Cooks paces in and out of the room engrossed in her morning routine. “It’s all her,” Gamsky admits of the inspiration for each of the psychedelic compositions. “It’s one of those serendipitous things that just clicks into place for her.”

Artwork for singles ‘Rocky’, ‘Window’ and ‘Kenny’ by Cooks

“If I got one thing right, it was you and me,” he sings in the lovesick track, ‘Window’. While the song articulates his loving relationship with Cooks, it also explores a somewhat fictional narrative. To make sense of this, Gamsky explains, “I always draw from experiences and most of my songs so far have been literal accounts, but there’s this longing there. I felt it was time for me to write about something else. So, what’s on the album is like a blur between reality, fantasy and fiction.”

Still Woozy confesses the tracks were written with his mind motivated by the desire to reveal new sides of himself. “I don’t know if something happened in the pandemic or what, but I realized what I want for my music: there are all these other sides of myself that I want to put out.” While delivering predominantly upbeat tracks to date, Still Woozy realized they don’t all need to be sprightly. By having a heartfelt, slow side as well, seen in songs like ‘Kenny’ and These Days’, the new record is exceptionally diverse in its anatomy. He adds, “I realized that downtempo songs are essential to my core identity.”

Time and time again, the musician distinguishes himself through his experimental, DIY aesthetic, eternally crucial to his artistry. This time, If This Isn’t Nice I Don’t Know What Is, was written and recorded while holed up in a Portland Airbnb with longtime friend and producer Lars Stalfors who kept Gamsky, who is often scatterbrained and spiralling, on task. “We’d fill an Airbnb with instruments and we would just work on music for weeks and weeks,” he recalls. “Before this album, it was just me, by myself, doing everything and taking fucking forever to do even the tiniest lyric. God, it was brutal. Having somebody to sound more stuff off of was so helpful because it’s hard to work with solely yourself for so long. You get a kind of ‘fish bowl’ syndrome where it’s hard to get perspective on anything, so you just get stuck.”

I realized that downtempo songs are essential to my core identity.

Still Woozy

The natural harmony between the creative duo elevated the album, navigating songwriting with a spontaneous approach to uncovering inspiration. “We were in the kitchen shooting the shit and Lars was like, “Blah, blah, blah, do this and that,” Gamsky recalls. “And I said to him, ‘Yeah, well, you wouldn’t last a day in my head.’ Immediately his response was, “Oh shit, write that down.” So, we wrote it on the whiteboard. This was right around the time we were trying to get through ‘Woof’ and I didn’t know what the fuck to sing about. But then I just looked at the board and the chorus happened.”

Despite the type-A assistance and grounding perspective Stalfors provided, Gamsky remained adamant that he has a hand in every part of the album’s production as it’s imperative for him to feel that the music is true to himself. “I have such specific things that I like, so I’m like a curator of sounds in a way.”

The self-proclaimed perfectionist admits that he could tweak little elements of everything he creates, indefinitely. “It’s really hard for me to stop,” he says. “My whole team basically had to pry this album out of my hands!”

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