Interview with Gabriel Rios

Ahead of his gig with The Staves last Monday – and his first ever show in Glasgow – qmunicate’s Amy Shimmin caught up with Gabriel Rios to discuss hard-to-pronounce Scottish town names, songwriting languages, converted theatres and fruit markets.

qmunicate: So, I believe this is your first time in Glasgow! How are you feeling?

Gabriel: I’m excited! Being on tour like this, on the bus, it’s kind of like being on a ship – so you set sail in the evenings, and when you arrive you’re always somewhere different and there’s no way to place it. I was in Scotland maybe a couple of months ago, in Aberdeen and Ullapool, and all these places I can’t pronounce very well. But here is a cool city; it’s dark in a cool way. Kind of creepy, I like it.

And you’re with The Staves as well, who are folk inspired – a bit like you. How is it working with them?

It’s super cool because it’s the first time we’ve opened up for a band who play our kind of music, so people really pay attention. We’ve opened for other bands before that are more beat-orientated, so you’re playing to a different kind of audience. I feel like every time we get out there people are giving us a lot of energy, and listening, which is really refreshing. If they were a rock band or something it would be different, but it’s great. And we love what they do, so it feels really comfortable.

How different is it headlining your own show, compared to opening for another artist?

The big difference is that in places like Belgium and Holland, a lot of people know what we do. Here, you have half an hour to play – which I secretly enjoy – and you pick the highlights of what you think your album is about – you do that, you leave. But when you’re headlining, you’re more responsible for the whole hour, hour and a half, and you do have to create your setlist in a different way and be present for longer. I love opening for people, because you hit the audience with the best you’ve got, then you leave.

You’ve talked about touring Belgium and Holland. How do European crowds differ to crowds over here?

I’m originally from Puerto Rico; I grew up in the States, lived in Belgium for a long time, and then went back to the States for three years to create this record.  Singing for an English-speaking audience is very different, as people are listening to the lyrics – it’s like standing there talking. You become more self-conscious of what’s coming out of your mouth. In Europe, because it’s not their first language, they listen to the whole package. Maybe it’s just me, but England, Scotland and the States have all spawned amazing singer-songwriters and you always feel the pressure. There’s more pressure, but I like that.

You’ve written in Spanish, especially a lot of your older music. How do you choose the best language to write in?

Honestly, Spanish would be the perfect language for me to write in, but I stopped songs in Spanish two records ago because I felt that I would have to go back to Puerto Rico for a while, to immerse myself back into the language. You become somebody else in a different country, and to go back to your home country, you become somebody else – your humour changes, your body movements change, so what you write changes. I’d like to do an album in Spanish, but I don’t want to write that in Belgium.

The new album, This Maurader’s Midnight, has been described as both ‘sombre’ and

‘seductive’. You spent three years working on it, so given that, how would you describe the album?

I think it’s an attraction to making as empty an arrangement as possible. Rhythmically, even though the songs are in English, and it’s obviously not a Latin record, there are still influences of that, which I guess come from being Puerto Rican. As we started dropping instruments and decided to play as a trio [voice/guitar, double bass, cello], we noticed that the music got much more exciting and intense. It pulls in the audience, and when we realised this was happening we decided to make the record like that. There’s a lot of empty space, and what’s there is what survived.

Away from the album: if you could perform in any venue in the world, where would it be?

Over here, we’ve been playing some of the best venues that I’ve ever been in. In Manchester, we played the Albert Hall, which is a church that has been closed for sixty years and was reopened only two years ago. Like tonight [at The Old Fruitmarket], there are a lot of converted churches, markets, theatres. So we’ll see – you would have to ask me again after this tour!

[Amy Shimmin]

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