Soul music – or at least what we commonly refer to as soul music – is dead. The days of stars like Marvin Gaye, Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland and Aretha Franklin travelling the world backed by big bands full of unionised session musicians just aren’t sustainable anymore. Soul music has eaten and regurgitated itself. Visionaries like Gil Scott-Heron and Bobby Womack refusing to let the flame vanish completely pared things back taking a lo-fi approach on I’m New Here and The Bravest Man In The Universe respectively. They showed it could be done without five-piece brass sections and three percussionists. On Bishoune: Alma Del Hulia and latest record Jardin, Gabriel Garzon-Montano has picked up where they left off.
Drake heavily sampling ‘Six Eight’ for the backbone of his track ‘Jungle’ has helped – “When I found out about that it was just insane” – as well as a touring support slot with Lenny Kravitz, that has brought a lot more ears to his music. “On that tour, I got my ass kicked all over Europe. You’re up against 10,000 people who’ve paid a babysitter to go out that night and bought a ticket to see a greatest-hits show by a rock artist. My music has no place in a stadium.”
Gabriel’s mother, a mezzo soprano, immersed him in music as an infant “It was an extremely musical household. She was always on tour or doing rehearsals. There was an upright piano in the house, a cello, a lot of different percussion instruments. She was always warming up or listening to music so I was really into it from an early age.” Despite such high-brow musical genes Gabriel’s first love was a common one. “The Beatles were probably the first experiences I had of thinking ‘Oh wow, that’s great’. The first thing my mom showed me were the anthologies, the red and blue ones. I was sitting at her friend’s computer and she put them in front of me and was like “You need to listen to this shit”.
It may not be immediately obvious but Gabriel feels the Fabs are a direct influence on his own music. “Absolutely, especially the John Lennon brand of melody writing and delivery that’s patently embedded.” The Beatles approach on the likes of ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ and ‘A Day in The Life’ of writing a perfect song, deconstructing it, then building it back up into a different kind of perfect song is something that appeals to Gabriel, only instead of using orchestras and figuring out how to make a guitar sound like a crowing cock he diligently layers intricate backing tracks. “Tonnes of layering, I’m usually the only performer on the tracks so it’s a pain in the fuckin’ ass really. As much as I can shoot myself in the foot I do. But I can imagine a process were a lot of people are involved and there’s a lot of frustration, editing, revision and re-doing so ultimately, I’m sure it’s similar. I take things as far as I can take them. Whether they turn out perfect or not is up to whoever’s listening to decide.”
The writing process varies. “Sometimes I create a mood to live in and it’s pretty well fleshed out. ‘My Balloon’ is one of the more poppy numbers, that started with a guitar loop then I had to figure out what to sing over it. Then there’s a song like ‘Lullaby’ which was pretty much the way it sounds now. I just ‘ohh’ and ‘ahh’ the melody, sometime later I’ll figure out what to sing over it.” Stark contrast between smooth vocal melodies and stuttering, disjointed back tracks creates an intriguing sense of conflict.
There’s a moral backbone to many of the lyrics on Jardine. “Definitely, ‘Fruitflies’ and ‘The Game’ they’re definitely describing in broader strokes and sometimes more specifically the human condition. I think about what I want for myself and other people is to find comfort or happiness and then just try to paint a picture of it. ‘Fruitflies’ is just about the masses, how most people suffer and are caught up in an existence that’s not really of their own choosing it’s more just out of necessity and survival. My music tends to be very colourful. I try to combat some of the everyday things that can be quite deadening. A lot of people are driving a truck and delivering a cake for a living, I want to give them a rainbow in the truck.”
Gabriel Garzon-Montano plays the Workman’s Club on the 24th of this months if you like your soul not-quite-neo but deconstructed. If Jardin is anything to go by it promises to be an amazing show.