As Gemma, Felicia Douglass Finds Her Groove – AdHoc

As Gemma, Felicia Douglass Finds Her Groove

Watch the Brooklyn R&B artist’s new video for her sparkling ode to New York, “‘Til We Lose The Feeling.”

The great irony of Gemma’s “‘Til We Lose The Feeling,” the irresistible single off her lavish sophomore album, Feeling’s Not A Tempo, is that she delivers the refrain, “Hey, my timing was all wrong,” with impeccable… well, timing. Her voice is confident and precise as she varies the delivery over and over again, transforming the line from something inward and self-forgiving into something shimmering and cathartic.

The track’s new video, featured below, pairs her satiny vocals and bouncing electronic melodies with shots of her dancing indoors, cast in a warm, hazy light. Gemma literally glows as she finds her groove, strutting and bobbing and twisting in her apartment.

Gemma is the indie-pop-meets-R&B-dance project of Felicia Douglass (Ava Luna, Dirty Projectors, Lip Set, and Baile) and music therapist and producer Erik Gundel. The duo spent the last few years working on Feeling’s Not A Tempo, following the release of their debut album As Ever, in 2015. For Douglass, “‘Til We Lose The Feeling” is primarily a celebration of New York. The video draws from her improvised movement practice, which she captures in clips that she calls “felmoovs.”

“‘Til We Lose The Feeling” is my ode to New York, the city that raised me,” Douglass told AdHoc in an email. “I thought it would be fitting to shoot it in an apartment, displaying me having a good time at ‘home.’ The song is meant to be celebratory, about reaching for that joyous moment no matter what it takes to get there. I make a lot of short miscellaneous movement videos coined ‘felmoovs’—mostly loose improv in real time as opposed to choreographed—and I wanted to pull from that sentiment in this video. I’ve always been drawn to ’70s disco funk videos showcasing singers grooving and dancing to their own tunes. They’re over the top in the best way and exude a level of confidence I can get behind.”

We recently caught up with Felicia and Erik over email about their experience working on the new record, plus some of their inspirations from Missy Elliott to Madlib. Read the interview below, and catch Gemma at their record release show on July 11 at Union Pool.

Feeling’s Not A Tempo is out May 31 on Double Double Whammy.

When did you write and record Feeling’s Not a Tempo?

Erik Gundel: We worked on a bunch of demos, starting way back in late 2015. Gradually, we narrowed them down to the group that made the album, then we went into the recording studio with our live rhythm section of Ethan Bassford and Alejandro Salazar Dyer. We did further overdubs in our home studios, then went about mixing it. It was a prolonged process every step of the way, but we didn’t really have a deadline and didn’t feel rushed at all, which is a luxury.

Felicia Douglass: It’s been a few years! Album planning is daunting for me, and I have no sense of time if there’s no due date. But I prefer having flexibility with this type of collaboration. Not everything we work on ends up on the album, so it’s nice to be able to experiment and pass along buds of ideas without stressing about the outcome.

What were some inspirations for the record, both personally and musically?

Felicia: I love, love, love to dance. I’m interested in the contagious nature of movement in a crowd and the idea of dance as an emotional release. We didn’t have to troubleshoot how to make a dance record, but I did talk about disco as a heavy influence for me, so there are some sprinkled in. I absorbed so much growing up in a musical household, and I idolized many female vocalists my dad had the pleasure of working with: Chaka Khan, Aretha Franklin, Aaliyah, Missy.

The presence of interludes and talking on the album are a nod to ’90s R&B albums. In terms of writing style, Gemma is a more fearless and emotional side of me. It kind of reminds me of when I first started writing a lot of songs in high school. I had all these ballads about love and heartbreak but had no idea what any of that actually felt like, but wished I did. I imagined another me. I keep referring to Erik’s instrumentals as fantastical, because they are so emotive and send me to another place. As the primary vocalist, I wanted to push myself and mess with different vocal runs, lots of layered parts and all that exciting stuff.

Erik: Much of the first drafts I work on are all sample-based, maybe with a couple synthesizers, but generally it’s sample collage. In that vein, The Avalanches, DJ Shadow, and Madlib are always big influences for me. But I find inspiration in any number of things—books, visual art, a lot of comedy. I was studying to become a music therapist while working on this album, so that inspired a lot of thought about what music is and how it fits into our lives. It’s maybe obvious to say that my bandmate Felicia is a big influence, especially when collaborating on music for her to sing on; her vocal melodies always amaze me, and can often lead to rearranging the music to emphasize what she brings to them.

How’d you get connected to Double Double Whammy? What was it like working with them?

Felicia: Mike [Caridi] reached out to me at some point after our first record came out with kind words and said to keep in touch. I always had respect for their musical taste and had heard good things from other friends on the label. I’m happy that I did keep in touch years later, because it’s been an incredible experience working with them so far! Mallory [Hawkins] and Mike are so friendly, smart, and hard working, and I’m very thankful to have their help.

Erik: Mike and Mallory […] are so great to work with. As musicians themselves, they truly seem to be most concerned with the artist’s experience of releasing music, and are real fans of what they release (as well as lots of other music).

How does Feeling’s Not a Tempo compare to As Ever? How has your sound or process evolved since then?

Erik: This one is way more elaborate and ambitious. As Ever was strictly a bedroom project, and this one has actual live drums, bass, and other musicians. There are still some of the initial samples from the initial tracks. Some are replaced with live instrument recreations; others are kept as part of the sonic fabric. So it’s a hybrid approach this time, which was challenging when it came to mixing: How do we get all these disparate elements to sit together? It was a good learning experience.

Felicia: It’s bigger and better! Erik put so much time into editing and played too many live instruments for me to list here, and Ethan and Alejandro took the songs to another level. There are some incredible features from Gabriel Birnbaum on sax and Greg Albert on upright bass as well.