Tue. Jul 16th, 2024

Renowned For Sound

For the latest music reviews and interviews

Interview: Gabriel Rios

7 min read

Gabriel Rios’ blend of melodic tones, beautifully considered lyrics, and gentle yet insistent harmonies has won the singer songwriter fans across the globe. Born in Puerto Rico in 1978, Rios recorded his first album, Ghostboy in 2005. Featuring a range of influences, the record combined genres with a staggering amount of intelligence and creativity, playing with elements of hip hop, Latin music and a variety of electronic styles. While his second album, Angelhead, further experimented within this vein, his third record, The Dangerous Return marked a development in the songwriter’s style. Though a penchant for crafting left of the dial tunes remained, he stripped back and altered his sound.

All this leads us neatly to his new album, This Marauder’s Midnight, a release that combines the intelligence and genre defiance of his early work with The Dangerous Return‘s direct sparse beauty. This Marauder’s Midnight is already being heralded as the work of a powerful voice, and may very well prove to be Rios’ magnum opus.

We got the opportunity to chat to Rios about the development of This Marauder’s Midnight, spirituality, and the terror of choosing a single favourite album….

Joseph Earp: How are you and where in the world does our interview find you today?

Gabriel Rios: Pretty good. I’m in a backstage in Saarbrucken, Germany one hour away from playing a solo concert, drinking bad coffee and reading Levon Helm’s autobiography.

Gabriel Rios This Marauder's MidnightJE:  What can you tell us about your new album, This Marauder’s Midnight?

GR: Well, it’s a collection of songs written during a 3 year sojourn in New York City.  After playing solo and trying out different set ups I settled on bass, cello, and guitar and realized that I had found a sound palette that I needed for what was coming out of the well. We left the songs as naked as we could bare to. We also left the drums out so it’s up to the audience to fill in the rhythm and pulse for themselves.

JE: What inspired you the most during the process of putting the new record together?

GR: Live performing and live recording! You come to be moved by a moment in time when someone is performing for you and after that it’s the only thing you wanna do. Living in N.Y. and playing regularly made this album what it is. Knowing that you gotta finish a song because there’s a gig a couple of days away. People’s faces and reactions, or non-reactions for that matter. We filtered the songs through ourselves and then through them until all that was left was the album. Everything was tried out extensively before recording. The idea was making an album that sounded like just the three of us in a room playing the songs. Therefore, just the sound of the three instruments together was a big inspiration.

JE: Gold, the lead single off your album This Marauder’s Midnight is a beautiful track. How autobiographical is the song, if at all?

GR: Gold is about falling in love with song writing. We had an unofficial on and off residency at Rockwood Music Hall in the Lower East Side. I would write during the week and rehearse with Ruben (bass) and Amber (cello) towards the weekend and we would try out new material directly after rehearsals. It’s about trying to find those songs that are going to move yourself and through that move the audience. It’s like standing in a stream, sifting for gold.

[youtube id=”pl0a_HJtQcc” width=”620″ height=”360″]

JE: The songs off This Marauder’s Midnight all seem to share common themes – pain, rebirth, and hope. Did you have this common thread in mind from the outset, or did they evolve over the course of writing the album?

GR: I don’t know where it comes from most of the time. I’ve tried writing with a particular themes in mind but songs are mischievous and elude any predisposition on my part. I get in there, start singing nonsense, kind of like a kid with a broomstick in front of a mirror. Sooner or later things start to emerge, to galvanize, to stick. Images and stories start to become clearer and clearer. I just have to keep showing up to serve this with all my patience and all my impatience. At the risk of offering what might seem like fake humility I’ll say what has been said before; I’m just the middle man, the medium, the door.

JE: You released This Marauder’s Midnight by dropping a song a month over the space of a year. What led you to release the record in this way?

GR: This came from the way we were trying the songs out one by one at Rockwood. I also new that back in Belgium I had a following and I could dish the songs out little by little allowing people to preview the record before it came out. Also, the songs were written but only half of them had been recorded so we decided to start releasing at the same time as we were playing gigs and putting the finishing touches on newer additions to the batch. It felt kind of like building a house. Or a fancy wooden garden shed… that is probably haunted.

JE: The album also uses a lot of language grounded in spirituality. Are your spiritual beliefs reflected in the album?

GR: Your spirit is reflected in everything you do. There is weak spirit, and strong spirit and everything in between. Myriad signals and frequencies. But that the lyrics directly reflect this is probably a new thing for me. Maybe I was too cautious before and as a reaction to that I now felt liberated to use those words. Maybe damnation and redemption are just irresistible.

[youtube id=”mD63AKtOHJ0″ width=”620″ height=”360″]

JE: This Marauder’s Midnight has been very well received critically and commercially. How does a success like that impact you?

GR: It makes me incredibly happy that there is the possibility that people hear he same thing I heard in my room while making a song. Or that they hear something completely different and feel connected to it. It’s all I can wish for. The rest is quickly forgotten.

JE: The music videos for This Marauder’s Midnight all feature different versions of the songs than those that appear on the album. What led you to restructure your own songs in this way?

GR: We decided to give people live performances of every track instead of making traditional videos where we pretend to play and sing or other images that accompany the music. It also allowed people to directly see what we sound and look like live. Actually the album was recorded the same way. No other content seemed needed or appropriate.

JE: The deluxe edition of This Marauder’s Midnight comes with a short story. Who are your literary influences?

GR: I don’t consider myself enough of a writer to have literary influences. The story probably was born out of a mixture of audacity and pretension and all the stories that have battled and made love in the darkest corners of my mind since I was born. I can see some Tim Burton in there and some Luc Besson with The Professional. That being said, just a few writers who destroy and then rebuild my world: Junot Diaz, Michael Ondaatje, Toni Morrison, Shakespeare…

JE: What aspect of life as a musician do you enjoy the most: writing, recording, or touring?

GR: I love all these intensely and I feel lucky I can constantly switch between them as they feed off of and depend on each other.

[youtube id=”_G3bVs0H28k” width=”620″ height=”360″]

JE: When push comes to shove, what is your favourite album of all time?

GR: Aaaaaaagh! What a terrible thought: that one has to choose! One is impossible. But just for the hell of it I’ll go with: The Listener from Howe Gelb… Wait! Nocturnes and La Mer from Debussy. The Greatest from Cat Power… A Wasteland CompanionBad LoveRandy NewmanVoodooNatty Dread…Aaaaaaagh!

JE: You studied painting as a young man. Do you still paint these days?

GR: I actually just started painting again. Well more like huge crayon drawings. It’s funny. People  say: “You should try painting again” and one says: “Yeah I really should…” but you don’t really mean it. I actually thought it would take too much energy away from songwriting. It’s actually the opposite. A couple of months ago a friend had that same suggestion and this time I took it to heart and now I’m hooked again. Just like that.

JE: Tell me something you’ve never told an interviewer before.

GR: I always get a hangover from talking about myself can we just dance next time and film it with your phone?

More Stories