Au Gres instantly creates the proverbial comfort zone.
The Fenton indie pop singer-songwriter quickly throws anxiety, hesitation and doubt aside in his latest warm, dreamy pro-soulmate single, “Nervous,” which dropped Oct. 16.
“The song was inspired by my girlfriend, and I don’t usually set out to write a song. Instead, I mess around with progressions until I get an idea of what I want it to be about, and the song kind of writes itself. But for this one, I just felt so comfortable with her, like right off the bat, and I wanted to write something that felt that way,” said Josh Kemp, aka Au Gres.
“I sat in my room for a long time, and I wrote that bendy hook and everything else around it because it felt perfect to me. It was just me with my laptop in my room. I think I wrote most of it in an afternoon, and then I came back to it quite some time later and added more and more to it.”
With glistening acoustic strums, whimsical electric guitars, vivid bass, pulsating drums and atmospheric synths, “Nervous” serves as the ideal romantic icebreaker that immediately puts apprehensive partners at ease. It’s the melodic, soaring anthem everyone longs to hear on a magical first date.
Throughout the Mac DeMarco-like track, Kemp reveals, “I think I overstayed my welcome/But I think you want me to/Stick around/To bring you coffee or a cigarette/I don’t think we’re done yet/Not for now.”
“It’s a reminder that the reward is worth it so to speak, and I’m talking about long-lasting, real relationships. It’s tough to make yourself vulnerable with people, and sometimes if you want to have that kind of relationship, then you have to be the one to take the plunge and let your walls come down,” said Kemp, who’s inspired by Passion Pit and Phoenix.
Eight months ago, Kemp shared bedroom laptop demos of “Nervous” with Jake Rye at Adrian’s Social Recording Company. Rye solidified the track’s final version while Noah de Leon (guitars, keys, synth) and Kemp (guitar, keys, synth) handled the arrangements and invited drummer Brodie Glaza.
“Noah and I had most of the arrangements filled out, but Jake would take a look at certain parts and help fill in the gaps a little bit. He gave things a lift where they needed and dove into those melancholic, indie feels. He was really good at drawing that part out,” Kemp said.
“I think it really grew into what I had in my head, like when I was in my bedroom. And to hear it come alive with real drums because I was just using samples, and even now listening to it and thinking about that experience, like COVID, and how strange it is to be back working on music, but also at the same time it felt very right and very good. It finally felt like a slice of something very nice.”
Last week, Kemp shared another slice of “Nervous” through a new lyric video recorded with Darity’s Linsley Hartenstein. The quirky video shows Kemp enthusiastically performing multiple parts on a flashy, portable ‘80s color TV (akin to Lindsey Buckingham’s 1981 “Trouble” video).
“It’s a little silly, and it’s my first go ever using a green screen,” said Kemp with a laugh. “We wanted to have fun with it.”
Burnt CDs and Scott Pilgrim
Kemp started having fun with music while growing up in Fenton. At age 12, his older sister burned him several CDs, including Smashing Pumpkins, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Passion Pit and Phoenix, and encouraged him to trade video games for music. Kemp quickly responded and developed an instant appreciation for indie rock music.
“I grew up in a religious house, so music was mostly church songs, and I did not care at all. She offered me something new and opened up my world a little bit, so that’s where it started,” he said.
Over the next five years, Kemp absorbed indie rock and pop music and followed emerging artists outside the mainstream. By age 17, he bought an acoustic guitar and later inherited his older brother’s Squier Strat to study up on power chords.
“I saw ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. the World’ with some of my friends, and we were so inspired by it. None of us had ever played music before, and the aesthetic of it all, the scuzzy, poppy punk thing, inspired us so we went and bought instruments after that. I started off playing punk music with that same Scott Pilgrim scuzzy type of vibe, and that was my introduction to doing local music,” Kemp said.
Kemp played in the punk band Copneconic until 2014 and decided to pursue music with more of an indie rock feel. That passion led to indie rock band with other friends for two years, but Kemp opted to do a solo project, Au Gres, instead.
“My family loves to go up north as most Michigan families do, and Au Gres is a city in northern Michigan. It holds a lot of sentimental value for me in that way of going up north during the summer and allows me to look back at a simpler time,” Kemp said.
“Au Gres is French for that clay-like substance that you find in rivers, and the cool thing about it is clay is moldable, and it can fit whatever it needs. I’ve feel like that’s given me permission to do what I want with this project.”
As for Au Gres’ future, Kemp sees himself as a music curator casting a vision and keeping a team on track. He partners with a core group of musicians, but also brings others into the fold as part of larger, evolving artistic collective.
“I see the sound evolving in the indie pop realm; anything I touch is going to have a bit of that. I’m going to do a series of singles first, and I would love to eventually put out an EP or an album. I really just have to gauge it, and I want there to be a demand for it,” he said.