To contemporary ears, the production on Abbey Road is fairly terrible. It’s choppy and tinny and occasionally outright graceless, wholly unlike the Beatles’ earlier records and much more like what you hear on flabbier releases from the 1970s. But however mediocre “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” may be, the B-side medley manages to be one of the most gorgeous runs of short songs in the canon. The Australian dream pop artist known as Japanese Wallpaper (government name: Gab Strum) grew up listening to the Beatles and has always wanted to cover “Golden Slumbers.”
“It’s one of the most beautiful songs,” Strum tells SF Weekly. “When you put it on, it still feels really vital and current. It hasn’t dated in a way that a lot of ’60s music has. Maybe that’s just me being sentimental towards it, but you put in … that new Kurt Vile album and I feel like the production choices were informed by some of the things the Beatles pioneered.”
Japanese Wallpaper’s carefully measured quanta of happiness might owe more to the deep cuts on Revolver, but Strum is equal parts musician and producer. Having won the 2014 Triple J Unearthed High competition, a prestigious endeavor assembled by a state-supported Australian radio station that can essentially launch careers in one go, he realized that music was something he should “pursue more meaningfully.”
He’s since worked with some top-tier names on the strength of a single full-length release, 2015’s eponymous debut, which yielded collaborations and remixes like “Breathe In” with Wfia, along with a handful of singles like 2016’s “Cocoon.” Three years after an album with a song called “Arrival” arrived, Strum is yet one more part of whatever distortion in the Earth’s magnetic fields keeps channeling one exceptional Australian electronic act after another to the U.S. — in his case, landing for a two-night stay at The Independent on Tuesday and Wednesday, Nov. 27-28 in support of Shallou.
“I feel like myself and RÜFÜS DU SOL and those types of bands had Cut Copy record in our blood. Them and the Avalanches,” Strum says of the genesis of this phenomenon.
He might be youthful and also a full-time college student (studying music composition) but he’s become a rock star by at least one measure: not knowing where he is at the moment. Probably Virginia, it turns out — or at least, somewhere between Durham, N.C., and Washington, D.C. Having tasted a bit of success early — Flume, Gotye, and Chet Faker have registered their approval, and Strum worked with Ben Allen of Neon Indian and Cut Copy on his forthcoming record — he’s feeling refreshingly unpressured to sustain it all. If anything, the tricky part is the same dilemma that faces a lot of acts in his genre: how to translate a sit-on-the-living-room-floor-for-a-deep-listen sound to a live show.
“At home, our touring scale is a lot bigger than it is in America,” Strum says. “There’s a four-piece band and a full lighting show. But I feel pretty strongly about the record and the show not having to be exactly the same. I’m pretty comfortable with the idea that the live show is its own beast.
“I feel like there’s a really fine line with electronic music performance at the moment, because some shows can be so involved in trying to play every note live that it looks a bit confusing and stressful to watch,” he adds. “The performers could be just checking their email and you wouldn’t know any different.”
Stage banter isn’t his favorite, by his own admission. He’d recently retweeted Weezer’s ever-cryptic frontman Rivers Cuomo: “How does small talk work? I’m struggling with it.” But Strum claims Cuomo’s random feed may actually be crowdsourced. In any event, the maker of shimmering sonic air castles has better things to do on stage.
Japanese Wallpaper (supporting Shallou), Tuesday and Wednesday, Nov. 27-28, 8 p.m., at the Independent, 628 Divisadero St., theindependentsf.com