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Interview With Reeves Gabrels
By Billy Donald, Rock Interviews
(more articles from this author)
2003-05-21
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Nobody has truly stretched the parameters of what can be done with an electric guitar quite like Reeves Gabrels. This six-string shredder has burned a hole right through anybody who has ever listened to him play! This Grammy nominated artist first began to blaze his trail when collaborating with David Bowie to form Tin Machine in 1988, an outfit in which Bowie could cut loose and play music that one certainly would not expect from his more mainstream work. This was all made possible by Reeves' trademark screeching, frenzied guitar work. Gabrels continued to work with Bowie, and was certainly instrumental in shaping Bowie's new techno-hard edged style in the mid 90s.

Reeves has also contributed music for film work by famed director David Lynch, and other bands and artists such as Nine Inch Nails, Brian Eno, Ozzy Osbourne, Mick Jagger, Public Enemy, The Cure, and Natalie Imbruglia. However, Reeves is most happy doing his own material, and his 2000 release Ulysses won an award from Yahoo for best Internet-released album. Reeves is back, better ... and louder than ever with his brand new live album Live...Late...& Loud . I am proud to now present my interview with the one and only Reeves Gabrels!

[Billy Donald] Reeves, it is a great thrill for me to have you here as my guest! Thanks so much for joining me. I wanted to start off here by asking you about the album that you are currently working on, the third solo album of your career, entitled Rockonica. You have spent much of this year working on it. What is the current status of the album?

Reeves Gabrels Thanks for your kind welcome. It may seem from the outside that I have spent a year working on Rockonica, but in fact, that record is (for the most part) all recorded and mixed. I may yet add one more song. In total, it took eight days to track and three days to mix, largely because I decided to avoid Logic/Pro-Tools and the rabbit hole of option anxiety that is contained therein. I had gotten bored with digital recording methods in general, most especially where the cut and paste technique lets artists determine song form after the actual act of recording. I decided that, given the fact that the songs were written and primitively demoed in advance of entering the studio, learning and rehearsing the songs as a band/rhythm section and making arrangement/form changes was the way to go.

Having spent the previous six years using Logic/Pro-Tools on everything I wrote or produced (from "Earthling" through "Ulysses" to "Omikron" and "PBS/Frontline"), I was pretty tired of the "man alone in front of a computer" thing. In fact, that whole treated-drum-loop-electronic-rock-band-vibe that I was into in the middle of the last decade seemed soooo tired out to me. While you can't fault the technology (computers don't make boring music, people do), I just felt like to record Rockonica digitally would have been so very, very nineties.

The name of the studio album, Rockonica , functions on a couple of levels. It's a piss-take of that subgenre and a (I think) a funny combination of "electronica" and the phrase "rock on."

Ultimately, we took it further than I originally planned. We ended up recording all analog, no click track, no time code, cutting the solos on the basic tracks, and even some lead vocals. The textural pads and other ambient overdubs were made in real time, not manipulated after the fact. We made the most of the available room sound, which gives the music a more "real" sense of being in a place. Due to that, if we made any mistakes, we had to start at the top and re-record. Exhilarating.

I think the key to it all was the realization that we (Paul Ill/bass, Brock Avery/drums, and Myself) can play our instruments (and play well and with heart and conviction) and that as artists we are at our best when we have some real time collective communication happening with each other as a band. It's (obviously) even better with a live audience in the equation. So, counting rehearsals for the recording studio, that was about three weeks out of 2002. The album will be out late spring early summer through my site and conventional retail methods.

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[Billy Donald] I wanted to ask you a bit about your guitar playing background. Would I be correct in assuming that Jimi Hendrix was perhaps your biggest influence? What other guitarists have you drawn inspiration from through the years?

Reeves Gabrels No ... Hendrix was much later and when I heard him, I was surprised at the similarities sonically. And a weird sense of kinship ... must be the Cherokee blood! Before him, it was Leslie West (Mountain), Eric Clapton (pre- 461 Ocean Blvd), Neil Young, Humble Pie, and, most importantly, Jeff Beck. Later, Mick Ralphs, Mick Ronson, Paul Kossoff, Roy Buchanan, Rory Gallagher, Johnny Winter, and Rick Derringer ... and more Jeff Beck.

Much later, anyone on any Steely Dan album (in particular, Larry Carlton), Adrian Belew, Fripp, Allan Holdsworth, John McLaughlin, Al Dimeola, Ray Gomez, John Scofield and, of course, Jeff Beck.

And then I stopped listening to guitar players for a long time ... as Scofield suggested during one of the two lessons I took from him in 1978 ... I started listening to horn players and piano players.

Ultimately, I listen to music now.

[Billy Donald] You moved to London in 1988 and found immediate work in the form of David Bowie, which would later lead to Tin Machine, which I was quite fond of! How did yourself and David hook up?

Reeves Gabrels This is one tired out question after 15 years. :-)

In a weird twist of fate, my wife, who is actually an award winning hard news journalist, was asked to do press on DB's Glass Spider tour. Having just finished a very difficult six months of work on a project that dealt with the exploitation of children in the developing world called children in darkness, she had an eight week vacation/break coming up. The timing was perfect, and after the last half-year being spent in the Philippines and Thailand with child prostitutes, in the slave labor - like silver mine camps in South America, to being detained in Uganda for speaking with child soldiers, she decided to do it. It was time for her to balance out the horror of the reality of the previous months and, after all, what could be further removed from reality than a rock tour?

Over the course of those eight weeks, I visited my wife several times. After I met DB, we used to hang out a lot backstage. I never told him I was a musician and he thought I was a fine arts painter. Later, after the tour was over, he heard a tape of my Boston band, tracked me down to where we had moved in London and called me. I thought it was a friend playing a joke. Eventually, he convinced me it was him and a few days later, I was staying in his guest room in Switzerland and writing songs. It was a heady time.

[Billy Donald] Tin Machine was fairly short-lived, but very memorable. Some people considered it to be a project for David's sort of alter-ego, but what people really seemed to take notice of in Tin Machine was the way you absolutely shredded the guitar in the studio and in concert. What brought such an early end to Tin Machine?

Reeves Gabrels Simply, the band had run its course. It was a volatile mix of personalities. And being joined together by a legal and binding band agreement, plus having signed recording contracts together as a band, may have kept us together a bit longer (four years, I think), than we might have. It was stressful for me as I used to keep track of the accountings and expenditures on behalf of the band. We had a tour accountant firm and day-to-day music business accounting firm plus Isolar, which is DB's company and was his business office. Increasingly, it became harder to shut that side of the occupation out when it was time to play, record or write.

I think the negativity from about 70% of the English press was very hard for David, as he takes the U.K. press to heart. Plus, there were a lot of people around DB who didn't like the band idea at all. David's assistant even said that she felt Tin Machine was bringing down the value of the currency of the David Bowie name.

At the time, she was on tour salary that the four band members were paying for. Nice. Plus, even though we provided a catalytic and creative environment, I think David realized he didn't need a band around for him to continue on at his level of fame, stardom and commerce.

Tin Machine had fallen on the grenade, gotten rid of the "Phil Collins-Tina Turner-1980s-Let's Dance-vibe" that he was uncomfortable with, and basically re-booted the Bowie career system.

All in all, it was fun, nobody died, and it was an education in diving into the deep end of the pool.

[Billy Donald] You were also collaborating with David during his revolutionary "techno-punk phase" through a series of albums that included Outside, Earthling, and Hours. I really don't think that any of it would have been possible without the unique elements you brought to the band with your guitar style. Outside really came about through the creative process of yourself, David, and Brian Eno. How did your collaborative ideas evolve into Outside?

Reeves Gabrels My involvement with Outside began with a series of faxes (pre-email days) between myself, Eno and David, to and from various hotels while I was on the road with Paul Rodgers in late fall, 1993. (I actually saved all that correspondence.) In late winter '94, I arrived in Switzerland a few days ahead of everyone else because David wanted to have some pre-session hang time. It also gave us time to write.

When everyone arrived, we worked every day for over a month.

Everything was filmed, every thing was documented, and every day, a certain amount of time (a couple of hours) was dedicated to group improvisation. While our collective discussion and faxing certainly determined the manifesto and direction to some degree, I would have to say that what really shaped and informed that album was the sound and interaction of the six people engaging in daily spontaneous composition in Mountain Studios in Switzerland. The key to knowing which tracks those are on Outside is as simple as reading the very tiny print songwriters credits on outside. Any song that lists all six musicians is a song that came from those group improvisations.

It is always a bittersweet compliment to me when fans, writers and reviewers say that my "unique" guitar style was important in defining the sound of any of the records I did with David. The reason for that is the fact that on most every album I have done with him, I also co-written the majority of the songs and co-produced. I may be overly sensitive to this issue, but I am continually amazed by the number of musician, fans and music critics who seem to be unaware of the amount of songwriting I did with David or my involvement as a producer. It is only logical to conclude that my involvement in the latter two aspects of album and music being made (in tandem with the guitar playing) might really be the source of the resulting sonic effect.

[Billy Donald] I know that you are constantly looking for ways to stretch the limits of what can be done with a guitar. Are there any new concepts or techniques that you have developed lately to speak of?

Reeves Gabrels Melody. I know that sounds like I'm being a smart ass, but it really is what I have been obsessed with lately. No matter how slow and pretty or aggro and dissonant a song might be, I am trying to stay to the course of the melody that is playing in my head.

[Billy Donald] What kind of pedals and effects do you like to use on stage on most given nights?

Reeves Gabrels Much less than most people think. The usual guitarist stuff ... a delay pedal (usually a line 6 DD4 with an expression pedal, a phase 90 and sometimes the odd DJ - not meant for guitarists-type effect.) I never used 1/4 of the effects people assumed I did.

I do require a responsive guitar ... Fernandes Custom Shop Signature RG13 (built by master builder Pete Skermetta) in their USA custom shop, or a Donnacha O'Donnell RG Junior (all non-tremolo) and a tube amp with 2 switchable channels (Mesa Boogie or Bogner).

[Billy Donald] Reeves, I want to thank you so much for your time to join me here! It has been my pleasure. I wanted to wrap up here by asking you what other projects you were involved in over 2002 that we may not have been aware of, and what you have in the works for the next few months?

Reeves Gabrels The rest of 2002?

Prog rock project with Doane Perry (drummer of Jethro Tull), Vincent Kendall (vocalist-Kaviar), Vince Dicola (keyboards-too many bands to mention), Paul Ill (you know his track record).

* guitars for several episodes of ABC's "Robbery: Homicide"
* guitars on a couple of tracks for the next Godhead album
* assembled my live band for a bunch of shows last summer (one of which was recorded)
* mixed and released live album Live ... Late... Loud... out available on Myth Music only through my website www.reevesgabrels.com
* formed Engine Room with drummer Gary "Bulldog" Taylor and vocalist/bassist Jim Henderson. Recorded and mixed six songs (this time in three days) in preparation for upcoming album/DVD. To find out more go to www.engine-room.org
* live southern U.S. shows with improv band/collective Club D'Elf (www.clubdelf.com)
* assorted live gigs (as a guest) and sessions that I can't actually recall at the moment.

It was a quiet year...

But for 2003, mainly my solo album Rockonica and the Engine Room live album and DVD. Those are my priorities for the year.

www.reevesgabrels.com


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