This article was originally published on Clash
The Brothers Acheson, Baird and Gabe (aka Goldwash), are united by a telepathy that is unique to their familiarity with one another. The Baltimore-raised, LA-based siblings have taken on multiple forms over their relatively young careers, but working together has proven to be the one formula that has consistently produced lush results. After assisting each other across a combined five solo records and countless behind-the-scenes undertakings for other artists (most notably BROCKHAMPTON’s ‘ROADRUNNER: NEW LIGHT, NEW MACHINE‘ and ‘TM’), the pair finally decided to brand themselves as a joint entity.
The South Hill Experiment (S/H/E) was born of turning one intentional “oops” after another into “eureka” moments. With just three years between them, Baird (26) and Gabe (29) have a profound understanding of each other’s strengths and weaknesses, thought processes and sensibilities. This allows them to act on the right impulse when conceiving virgin-birth ideas during jam sessions, bestowing a select few with a complete life. They step in to elevate each other during moments of self-doubt and, similarly, use their discretion when putting new concepts under the microscope.
Our first full-course taste of this enterprise is the newly released ‘MOONSHOTS‘ LP. In just under 30 minutes, the duo arranged a series of non-sequiturs with a coherence that suggests the album was scripted head to toe. The duo’s debut package is a bustling ecosystem of sounds, themes and imagery — it’s raw yet refined, genre-fluid yet tidy.
With the album finally out, the siblings sat down for a chat in their studio on South Hill St. in Los Angeles to discuss their chemistry, practices and approach to making music, all of which helped bring the South Hill Experiment to fruition.
I’m sure you grew up playing together. What were the circumstances that led you guys to pursue solo careers and then eventually circle back and start the South Hill Experiment?
Gabe (G): Probably geography… I was studying music at Yale while Baird was still in high school. I graduated college, got my driver’s license, bought a Honda Odyssey minivan and pretty much drove across the country to LA like, “Alright, let’s make this career in music happen!”
Baird (B): I guess the nature of the solo projects was just being in different places. Gabe started his when he was in college and I sort of launched my previous artist project, Flybear, while I was still in Baltimore. Then I went to Brown, did a semester in Mexico City and just kept living there because it’s really cheap. It’s an exciting place to be, so I stayed there till the pandemic started shutting everything down.
G: We were still collaborating quite a lot. Anytime we would be in the same city for more than a day or two, we would get a couple of sessions in. We were always sending stuff back and forth, and then he too came out to LA at the beginning of 2020.
With you both now in LA, how did you get summoned to work on the BROCKHAMPTON album?
B: I did a session where I thought I was going to be making beats with my friend and Romil (Hemnani), one of the producers of the group. Then, all of a sudden, it wasn’t just them but other members of the group were there, and I guess I made enough of an impression that when they were working on ‘ROADRUNNER’, Ian (aka Kevin Abstract) called me. Gabe and I were living in this two-bedroom spot, it was 11:30 and I was brushing my teeth, and he was like “Hey, we’re working on the album … do you want to come in and help record some stuff?” So I went with my guitar—didn’t even tune it—and walked into the session to record a guitar solo on one of the songs. After a couple of days like that, Ian and the guys invited me to stay on to help finish the album.
G: And there was some piano stuff they needed because Baird was basically way out in the valley and they didn’t have that many actual instruments. So that kind of happened, and then we just kind of kept sending more and more stuff over. Through that, I’ve worked with a lot of the other guys in the group. For their last album, ‘TM’, we both were up in Ojai working with them.
It was all very collaborative, and I think that process was relevant to South Hill. They were so freeform and carefree with the actual musical material. I’d seen a little bit of that in other sessions I’ve done but never to that degree. It was very inspiring because it made us realise that we can make a record in a short amount of time and – that we have enough good ideas. That was a little bit of fire under our butts to take this stuff a little bit more seriously. Everybody has their solo projects, and that’s cool, but with the South Hill stuff, we want to make sure there isn’t too much ego attached to it.
Do people usually ask to work with you guys as a pair? What is it that each of you brings to the table that’s different?
B: I feel like if Gabe’s working on something, I’ll try to like get my paws on it. There’s stuff that’s individual and a lot that’s collaborative, but some of it’s collaborative just by the nature of the space since we share this studio. Obviously, there are different rooms and we can work fully isolated, but if I’m walking through to get a coffee and I hear something that he’s working on, I’m just like, “Man, I’d love to try some Pharrell-type drums on that.”
G: My primary instrument is piano and Baird’s is guitar, but we still switch it up. He tends to be a little more of rhythm and texture—basically production—and I tend to be a little more melody and harmony. On South Hill, vocals are pretty much 50–50. I think our voices are similar enough, so on a lot of these songs, we do a couple of layers of both of us singing. A lot of times, if one of us has more of a hand in writing a melody, the other person ends up singing it.
B: This goes back to detaching your ego from it all. We’ll write a melody and the lyrics together, and then we both try to sing it and be like, “You know what, I think your voice sounds better on this.” Then he’ll go, “Oh, really? I kind of think your voice does.” We just try to find whatever sounds best since it’s a band. Since we each have solo projects, it’s like we get our rocks off that way and then just let this be the best music.
What about what about lyrics? Is that also a 50–50 thing?
G: We play off each other. We’ve been writing songs for a long time and we both also help other artists write songs … not like ghostwriters, where we give them complete ideas, but rather like a bounce board for ideas. Baird does that a lot with Ian and I do that a lot with this awesome singer, Naomi Scott, for example. We do that with others, so I think it’s pretty easy for us to bounce off each other, melodically and lyrically.
B: What’s nice about working in pairs is that you can see strengths in the other person that they don’t see in themselves. I think Gabe has a wordiness which is kind of cool…
G: Sometimes it’s cool, and I think he’s good at picking out when it is and when it’s not. Baird has an emotionality to his lyrics which is also great. The thing about South Hill is we want the lyrics to be way less precious. It’s really tough to write lyrics for our solo projects, so we were thinking about writing from the perspective of characters this time. For example, ‘Tired of Stars’ – is about an astronaut in space — imagining the incredible loneliness of looking out into the world and seeing how beautiful it is, but also thinking, “Fuck, I’m up here all by myself.” We were thinking the metaphor will be obvious if we just fully write it from the perspective of this character.
Was there a specific vision you were working toward while making ‘MOONSHOTS’?
G: We’ve made so much music for so long, so getting to start fresh with this project allowed us to pick and choose with less ego and preconceived notions about what album art has to look like or what a band name has to be or a track name or even lyrics. Like hey, for this song, we’re going to say the same line 20 times in a row and still sell it. I’m trying to apply that attitude toward my music and toward the other people I work with. The Experiment is a creative exercise for both of us — the music is a byproduct of a creative workflow based more around jamming.
B: There were themes from the jump. We put down a list of words to use while writing the songs … I remember the phrase “irreverent reverie.” It’s like, “I love this one song by Cortex, so now I want to listen to every French 70s fusion band and really study them and be serious about the things I love,” which is not that fun, but it’s part of being passionate. You then combine that with just total irreverence, like not giving a fuck about what jazz or fusion or harmony should sound like or what the song form should be. Or if we have a really great song that we worked really hard on, we’ll pitch shift the whole thing down. It’s really just combining the studiousness with not giving too much of a fuck.
G: We can take the art seriously while not taking ourselves too seriously. We’re just always looking for the right artistic move — sometimes it makes sense technically and sometimes it doesn’t, but there’s no rule about why something will work. We just have to hear it and see if we like it or not, and also just try to have as much fun with it as we can. We’re essentially trying to capture a feeling and a vibe.
For the new album, did you guys put the tracklist together after recording a bunch of stuff and then picking songs out of it or were those 12 tracks recorded one after the other?
G: We probably had like 100 ideas that we pulled 12 from. And everything was basically a jam.
B: Some jams just emerged while we were in the middle of working on other songs. Like we were working on ‘DREAMS!’ – and we decided to just take a break from it and jam. That’s how ‘What it Means to Love’ – came about, and then we realised it’s in the same key, so it ended up working really well together. But it was really just supposed to be a distraction.
G: We wanted to discover the order rather than being like, “This needs to be here.” So we’d put the tracks next to each other, listen and ask, “Does this work?” If it didn’t, we’d either add a little something to make it work or just set it aside, but there really was no grand plan. There’s been a lot of serendipity to South Hill overall, like even finding this rooftop venue four or five days before our album release show!
Your shows feature a full band, but how much of what I hear on the record is just the two of you?
G: ‘MOONSHOTS’ is 100% just us. We’re going to collaborate more on future projects, but this one was just us two.
B: For the next record, we’ll be working with other musicians. Oh yeah, we have one more album coming out this year.
You’ve both worked on solo projects and played supporting roles for a range of other artists. What about working on the South Hill Experiment is different?
G: It’s good to start experimenting sooner and putting stuff out publicly to develop as an artist. That’s why South Hill emerged fully formed, because even though ‘MOONSHOTS’ was our debut album together, Baird did the ‘BIRDSONGS’ trilogy before that and I put out two full-length albums under Goldwash, plus we produce a ton for other people … and a lot of it felt like a grind. For what we’re doing right now, the idea is that if we can’t get it there quickly, then it’s probably not a South Hill song. People manage to make the process not fun and we too fall into that trap a lot. So we’re really just trying to bring that joy and exploratory feeling back, and it comes through in the music because you can’t really fake emotion around creating — the process you bring to it shows up in the product.
B: I feel like every producer should have their own outlet. And that’s what South Hill started as — just like us as producers being like, “Alright, let’s make samples.” Then it became this thing where any time I sent my manager a demo and said I was working on it for my project or it was something Gabe and I made, he’d go, “No, that’s the one!”
Do you find that the process is more fun and less stressful because you’re both particularly relaxed around each other having grown up together?
B: There’s a comfort in being around someone who knows you really well. After a long day of working in the studio with somebody you don’t know as well, it’s nice to come back here and just go, “Yo Gabe, let’s jam.” And it’s not like we’re focused on making a song, putting it out and hoping it does well so it lands us a record deal — that’s not the point at all. I wasn’t even going to mix the South Hill stuff at first. I thought it was insane to even try to mix it.
G: Most of it came together easily. And then at the end, of course, there’s some work, but the whole point of the project was to have as much fun with it as possible. We started out thinking that we wouldn’t even put it on Spotify. Eventually, we realized that this music actually deserves to be promoted properly, but we didn’t make it with that intention. We’re trying very hard not to make future music with any consideration of what people like and don’t like about our stuff… we can’t be thinking that way. We want to go by how we respond.
Does working together make it easier to believe in your product?
B: Yeah, that’s what’s nice about a band. Like we walked out of the studio yesterday and we had a new idea that two people already believed in. So if nobody likes this, at least we’ll be proud of it.
G: I think the familiarity between us has a lot to do with it. It’s this level of honesty we’re at because we’re brothers. It shows up in the middle of writing because we’re pretty good at hyping each other up. But then you also have to switch to an analytical mindset without being too negative. We’re able to pick out and encourage the thing that we like the other person doing, you know, kind of draw that out of them.
Do you ever disagree on which project to release a song through?
B: I find joy in helping Gabe develop ideas and hopefully vice versa, so when we’re working with an idea, it usually finds a home through one of our outlets. Our process usually involves working on something and deciding where it lands later.
G: I love how collaborative the culture in LA is and so you end up working with a lot of different musicians. The negative thing about that is a lot of artists don’t want to release all that much or there’s an imbalance between how much they’re making and releasing, so you end up putting hopes and expectations into songs you think are really cool but then don’t go anywhere. And so through South Hill, we realized how great it’d be if we just released this music. It’s really empowering to have another home for these ideas, and this kind of goes back to what Baird said about how important it is for producers to have artist projects.
Do you see yourselves as producers first and artists second?
B: It’s pretty even. I find it hard to do one without the other. Like yesterday, I made a beat that’s sort of like a Justin Timberlake rip-off, and though I wouldn’t put this out myself, I want could maybe write a song over it and pitch it to someone else. Sometimes, you just have to do the idea justice, and to do that, you can’t force your own artist label onto it. I came to LA thinking I’d do more production than artist work, but the balance just kind of shifted.
G: South Hill feels like production and artist work at the same time because it’s a collaborative project. We don’t want to have too much of a distinction between writing and production either because, to us, it’s just making music. I think the word “Producer” is from a different era.
B: Even the term “Artist” is sort of funny … like everybody’s sort of an artist. When I was 18, I was signed to another label under a different moniker and someone asked, “Well, are you signed as a producer or as an artist?” And I just like stuttered for three minutes because I was both.
Who would you like showing up under the Fans Also Like section of your Spotify page?
G: Alice Coltrane, maybe?