Between True & Imaginary Friends - An interview with Reeves Gabrels
by Gio Pilato
Innovator, pioneer, alternative but fundamentally, one of the most talented guitarists and producers that the music business has ever had in the last four decades of music history. To define Reeves Gabrels is rather difficult, given the magnitude of his talent; therefore, no one better than The Man himself can tell us more about him and his incredible career in the music industry. Reeves has recently completed his new project, called Reeves Gabrels And His Imaginary Fr13nds, together with bass player Kevin Hornback and the drummer, Jeff Brown. Bluebirdreviews.com is delighted to have today Reeves talking about past, present and future and most importantly, about his new album.
Gio - Hi Reeves and many congratulations for your new project called Reeves Gabrels & His Imaginary Fr13nds. Despite the fact that you have been on the music scenes for many years, this is only your fifth album as a solo artist. For how long has this record been in your mind?
Reeves - We started this record about four years ago; then I joined The Cure in 2012 and I was about to release the record that summer but I got shelved because of many different things happening. I listened to it again and re-mixed a couple of songs, re-recorded few tracks,take some tracks off the album and recording few more pieces for it.. Actually it is (the record) something I have never had the luxury of doing having that much time available in between the whole process. Kevin Hornback, Jeff Brown (The Imaginary Fr13nds) and I have been playing together for almost seven years now and they have been part of this project for so long time that I really felt the need of calling the album Reeves Gabrels & The Imaginary Fr13nds as a tribute to their involvement. Originally I use The Imaginary Fr13nds nickname at the time I was doing some acoustic shows because people was asking who I was playing with and I said: "My Imaginary Fr13nds!". I brought some stuffed animals with me at that time at the shows and I thought, "It's as good as a name as any"; It was like the Buckaroo Banzai movie and I felt like the Buckaroo Banzai and the Hong Kong Cavaliers (chuckles).
Gio - The album counts 5 covers among the overall 11 tracks, all beautifully executed with your unique style, full of virtuosity and versatility as always. How difficult has it been for you to choose the covers that ended up on the record?
Reeves - Those were songs which I thought about including in my next project about six years ago. I have been playing with people like Nine Inch Nails and other industrial bands and doing some avant-garde projects in the past but still I have got a real fond for blues; my father used to hear a lot of country music and blues, therefore I grew up with that type of background music in my house. I wanted to try and find the way to revive a couple of blues songs, re-harmonize and re-arrange them, mess with and put my personal touch on them. Gradually, they just became so much fun to perform live and when we started recording, we actually tried those songs first to try and have a taste of what the sound in the studio was like. Then we liked those tracks so much when we played them that we decided to include them on the album. The T-Bone Burnett/Bono song Wish You Were Her, I really like the lyrics on that track; funny enough, there is only one existing version of that song, which is played acoustically on guitar by T-Bone. That meant I had to create some brand new arrangements on that song myself and have the opportunity to dress up that song in my way. On previous records, I always put at least one cover on but this time, I kind of felt of including few more in. Some people can be a bit scared to do few covers on a record because they want to have as many originals as they can on their records all the time but I felt I don't think I need to worry about such things anymore. Most people think that in the 90's Bowie's catalogue, all songs were David's but many ignore I wrote maybe 40 tracks at the time so many people just assumed were his; that battle about getting people to pay attention to me as a songwriter and a producer as well..I don't really care anymore. I basically do what I want, at this stage of my life as a musician. I never thought I was a natural musician or a guitarist back in the days but I just loved it so much.. When I was in college, I went to Art School and the minute I started playing guitar, that took over pretty much everything. I remember when I was a child I had friends they were 13-14 years old and they started playing guitar at the age of seven and stopped playing at the time they were 18. So maybe the fact that I came to guitars a little bit later in my life served me well.
Gio - In Drown You Out, perhaps my most favourite track on the album (although the choice is very difficult), your singing voice shines through beautifully, as overall on the whole record. Do you reckon that your singing style has reached its peak on this album?
Reeves - My friend Rob, who co-produced this album with me, came to see us playing live few times and he has always been very complimentary about my voice and he always thought I could do even better, as a singer, on this record. He made me really work harder on this album and insisted my vocals should have been louder more than I was comfortable with. So a lots of credit goes to him, that really pushed me harder on my vocals and considering that my last solo record was almost six years ago, I feel now I have learned how to sing, finally. You know, working with people like Paul Rodgers, David (Bowie), Mick Jagger and now working with Robert (Smith), among many others, made me think I could have learned to sing at a later stage of my career, given how hard is to sing so beautifully, like these guys I just mentioned. Especially with Bowie, I have always been the guy producing and being behind the glass; I never thought I had that natural skill of being a great singer but I must have picked up some good singing vibes somewhere, by working with such masters, through the years. Funnily enough, Drown You Out is a song in which Kevin (Hornback), the bass player brought the original idea in, we wrote the lyrics together, I then rearranged it together with Jeff (Brown) and really felt like working as a collective. It was the first song we actually did together, as a band and it has become a live favourite by our fans too.
Gio - Since you have been living in Nashville in 2006, have you had any more chances to perform with your Boston-based buddies Club D'Elf (underground dub/jazz/Moroccan/trance/electronica group)?
Reeves - I go up there every couple of year because I like it and get my ass kicked a bit, as a musician, to remember what you don't know. I like the fact that, every time we play, 80 per cent of what we play is pure improvisation. We show up and we get something like two pages of melodies and chords suggestions. Mike Rivard, who runs the project, he would start with one musician and when it feels right, after a while, when it sounds like the music is losing its momentum, another musician would shift in.. We play for almost 4 consecutive hours and it is so much fun; there are so many layers of different music and the quality of the musicians is top class. And we never know who is going to show up that night, i.e., how many of us would be there performing. The Imaginary Friend project is an updated version of Cream/Hendrix Power Trio. We just try to bring the music I first responded to up to the 21st century, a different total beast from the Club D'Elf we just mentioned.
Gio - Which guitars have you chosen for this record, to better suit the sound you wanted to achieve on the album?
Reeves - I have two Signature Record (Reverends) guitars made by a company in Detroit and another one I put together from parts, like a '66 Telecaster neck, Stratocaster tremble-on, Fernandes' Sustainer Pick-Up, excetera...a kind of mutant! The guitar has been built by a friend of mine, Peter, who used to work for Fernandes, but is running now his own company. A kind of solid mahogany melted Les Paul, which is also the lead guitar on Who Do You Love, the Bo Diddley's cover on the album. There also some electric sitars on the album but fundamentally, the guitars chosen were not pre-meditated but just the result of intuitions I had on the day I was working on a particular song. As you can imagine, I am not short of guitars' arsenal, so it was just a matter of working on what it was sounding better on a particular track. On Who Do You Love, as in many R&B songs or music of the 50's, the lyrics are so good that Marilyn Manson wishes he could have written them! We abandoned completely the original arrangement by Bo Diddley, slowed it down a lot and put it in a minor key. We did different core changes sections and put them together, despite Kevin, the bass player, been unsure of the outcome in the beginning and saying things like: "Oh, Man, I am not sure this is gonna work". The result was so amazingly good that what we thought was going to be initially a throw away, ended up being a beautiful, although very different version, of a great classic.
Gio - Some major artists' music would have been unconceivable without your vital support in songwriting and co-producing, back in the nineties. Then you decided to travel solo and do magnificent works such as The Sacred Squall Of Now and Ulysses (Della Notte). Do you feel that such records have been the vital push ahead for your solo career and to give to your creativity the exposure deserved?
Reeves - That is a tough question; reason being is that David Bowie was the one that talked me into doing my first solo record, because he was started doing his own record label. That was 1995; so I have got my record together and then when we got together again before starting the live tour, I told him: "Here is my record" and he said "I like it" and then it emerged that after all, he was not going to start his own record label anymore. So the outcome was I had a record but no label, until I found a label in Austin, Upstart, who decided to put it out. So in a way, I guess Bowie gave me the push to start indeed my solo career; then I did my second album, "The Sacred Squall Of Now" in the period I was working on the Bowie's Hours album and on a couple of soundtracks for films and a couple of cd-rom too. I was not sleeping that much back in those days! The "Squall" album was published quickly after I decided to quit working with David but yes, I have got to admit that he kind of gave me the career I have. I guess that, as for other many great musicians, having the stamp of approval of someone like David Bowie meant really a lot for whoever was going to hire me as a musician or as a producer, so I guess I have to be grateful for that.
Gio - It is a two-ways street, though. You did a phenomenal job for him in those days.
Reeves - I certainly put a lot into the songwriting and production for him at the time for the records we did together. Ultimately, that was why I left when I did; when we started working together at the Tin Machine era, I was thinking of him as the singer, the singer in my band. We then spent a lot of time together, later, working on his records and get to know him very well; I thought that, for what and how much i was giving to him artistically, I could have done the same for a record on my name rather than his, so I just decided that was time for me to go. I wanted to try things he didn't want to try, musically. It was a fantastic time, those 13 years of collaboration together and thankfully, in that time, I got to meet great people like Robert Smith and a bunch of some other fabulous artists. When we did the Madison Square Garden evening for David's 50th, I was his Musical Director so I had to teach all the guest artists the songs they were going to perform. The great outcome was that great artists such as Frank Black and Dave Grohl worked with me afterward on my solo album Ulysses and Robert Smith asked me to play on a Cure song (Wrong Number) and work together on one of my songs (Yesterday's Gone) and did other things together. It all kind of unfolded afterward.
Gio - An Inconvenient Man, the instrumental that closes your new album, seems to come out from a Michelangelo Antonioni's movie soundtrack and it is certainly an unusual choice to close a fundamentally rock-tinted type of album. What is the story behind this track?
Reeves - I had recorded the guitars at Rob's, the co-producer's living room house, in the studio he has downstairs, where there was even a grand piano. There I did also a bunch of stuff that I was making up on the spot, without a precise direction. When I reviewed those stuff I made, after I thought the record was done and ready to be released, my friend Roger Nichols, who did some of the re-mixes, took a look at those stuff I made and he found this section he really liked. I generally do not do instrumental or like to do instrumental-rock kind of stuff but I fancied something to almost ease away the album. And it worked well on many levels, because that track syncs perfectly with the guitar-loop intro of the album, 13 Steps; try and play on a cd player the two tracks in sequence and you will realize that An Inconvenient Man picks up exactly from where 13 Steps ended.
Gio - The lyrics in Zero Effect, an almost Zeppelin-esque beautiful track with an intense wall-of-sound created by you and the band is, for me, a bold statement of anger. Are you referring to somebody in particular when you mention: "I was there when it all went down..." or "I am not your Zero Effect"?
Reeves - Do you remember the Woody Allen's movie, Zelig, when there were all these moments in history? On a much, much smaller scale, thinking of all these people, when I first left Bowie and move to California, all those people telling me what David was thinking about the Tin Machine album or what he was thinking about the Hours album.. I was like: "Dude, I was there, I co-produced the damn thing, are you seriously telling me what David was thinking?. "And what about what I was thinking? What was I in that equation? So, in answer to your question, those lyrics were not directed to anyone in particular, it was mostly the result of my exasperation with that particular type of bull***t.
Gio - Reeves, you have been playing guitar and worked in the music industry with the cream of the establishment for almost four decades now; if you were going to write a biography on your splendid career, what would be the right book title, which would sum up who you are, both as a musician and a human being?
Reeves - Well, there has always been a little concern, into the music industry, about a possibility for me to write a book about my career and I am not sure why (smiles ironically). I just said to publishers that after all, there is not a lot of interesting things to talk about but I have been messing about on a song, lately, whose working title at the moment is "The book I'll never write". If it is not going to be released as a song, maybe could be a good title for a possible book, you never know!
Please check out Reeves' website on www.reevz.net about the album's release date and availability:
About Our Author: Giovanni "Gio" Pilato is Italian music writer, who has been living in UK since 2002. With an enormous passion for music, and life in general, his interest in the communications began at 11 years old. He worked briefly for local radios in his youth and did a one-off radio show on 2007 on the glorious BBC 6 Music Radio station. Gio started his freelance journalist career in 2012, with Italian artists, and is now mainly focusing on blues artists. To follow Gio Pilato and his all cool radio show, Visit: (RTL 102.5 Cool (Webradio)): http://www.rtl.it/Cool