Originally from Los Angeles, California, today we have Brooklyn-based singer/songwriter/producer Gabe Greenland. With his recently released album Love & Espionage, I look forward to reviewing one of the tracks, especially after reading his bio on Facebook, proclaiming, “His quirky crooning will see you swooning.”
And quirky it is, but with a track titled “Paranoid Romantic”, what else would you expect?
Starting with a bouncing guitar melody and voice, Gabe incorporates other elements such as staticky bass kicks, sparse tambourine, and toms with a hint of reverberation. He creates a sense of paranoia with overlapping voices and storytelling, taking the role of an unreliable narrator who learns of government secrets through a girl who most likely doesn’t even exist.
He continues to spin the listener deeper into a frenzy of psychosis as Gabe attempts to flee his pursuers.
They must bust bullets through my heart
they want the skinny on my brain
hop in the mini cooper cart
let’s dip, let’s peel out in the rain
they said they’d only sorta slice up my aorta
just ignore the pain
From here he launches into a guitar solo that faintly reminds me of the ending scene in Fight Club where The Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind” can be heard as buildings come crashing down. Just as those buildings had collapsed in that film, Gabe’s psyche begins to deteriorate as he laments the imagined game of cat and mouse, stating:
I’m sick of her experiments,
the research, and comparisons
and plus that pair of jumper cables
clamped onto my left and right respective
they want my perspective
so they carry out every insidious directive
when they come arresting Mr. Greenland
best expect the Mr. Mean man
Mr. Kissed your sister in the bushes
playing kick the bean can
He knows they’re coming, and has decided he isn’t going without a fight. A whirlwind of voices, guitar, and drums surrounds the listener, enveloping them in full hysteria before a high pitched guitar wails out, sounding much like audio feedback before fading into the lone guitar we heard in the very beginning. Gabe finishes, stating:
Everybody is out to get me
they want me bloody
but I’m not scared
‘cause you’re there to protect me
As bizarrely sweet as it is, it’s also incredibly tragic; this probably wasn’t the first time and, without any medical treatment, won’t be the last time this cycle will repeat, as Gabe indicates with the repetition of this musical idea.
While a unique story, it’s also a harrowing imagining of what it may be like to live with delusions such as the ones described in this song. One might be tempted to skip a track with such a strange plot, I’d highly recommend giving it a listen.
What was the inspiration behind your track “Paranoid Romantic”?
One of the first songs I ever wrote held the nugget that became “Paranoid Romantic.” Banging around with my axe in 9th grade, I started writing a goofy romp called Everybody is Out to Get Me. That song was never finished. Seven or eight years later (when I was 22), I found myself formulating a set of songs for what would become my first full-length LP: Love & Espionage. I drew on this older joint because I’d run out of new ideas for this Spy-Guy Alt-Adventure I was going for and needed a song to close the record. The titular sentiment — neurotic narcissism manifesting in teenage paranoia — fit the L&E mold all too perfectly. This self-sampling was the songwriting equivalent of finding a few bucks in my pocket on laundry day. That said, “Paranoid Romantic” took on a life of its own and funnily enough is the most original song on the album, but it’s kernel comes from something in my drawer.
What was your favorite part of writing “Paranoid Romantic”?
My favorite part of writing “Paranoid Romantic” was realizing I had come up with something that didn’t sound like anything anyone else was doing. The song follows a series of congruent emotional threads. It originated as a quirky pop-punk love anthem and evolved into a sprawling and somewhat erratic pulp sci-fi story. As a vague narrative began to take shape, I realized the identity of the song was drastically shifting. I feared that the raw adolescent emotion – the high-school crush logic of the original composition – would be lost to accommodate the lofty new ambitions of the track. This is where the crucial challenge of this particular creative process presented itself: how do I musically marry these separate themes? I figured the solution was to organize the song into distinct, interlocking sections that would communicate with each other as the song built to a climax and eventual reprise. I’ve never written a piece like this before and it was a joy to *Tim Gunn Voice* make it work.
That said, I also had loads of fun putting together the initial singer-songwriter version on my acoustic. As much as I enjoy the production process, yelping sing-along choruses alone with a guitar is a blast.
On “Paranoid Romantic” it sounds like you collaborated with other artists. Do you often collaborate with others or do you prefer to work alone?
It’s easiest to come up with something completely new when I’m working with just me and a guitar, so I prefer to work alone. My friends Lucas del Calvo and David James – from the band Robert Laser – played bass and drum-kit respectively on this song, the rest is me. Even the “female vocalist” I’m talking to on the first chorus and spoken-word bridge is my voice run through a piece of pitch-shift software called AlterBoy.
Don’t get me wrong, collaboration is important and often yields fantastic results. Several songs on the record feature my super-talented friend Jill Ryan – from the band GREAT TIME – singing alongside me. Lucas, David, and Jill brought a life and depth to the record that I never could have reached on my own. I hope to get into more collaborative efforts in the future because my friends are profoundly talented, but working in a group has never been my bag, at least at the conceptual stage. I usually know exactly how I want a song to sound. However, since you asked, I’ve found this amazing guitarist/singer, Spy Riley, and we’ve started working together. We’ll be gigging in NYC in early 2019.
What genre or genres would you consider yourself to be?
I would consider myself to be Hi-Fi Garage Rock.
When writing songs, which usually comes first: the words or the music?
Usually the music comes first, but this is not necessarily by design. I find that composing the music is not as personal as finding the right words. Writing music lends itself to a much more methodical creative approach. Cooking up compelling lyrics requires a certain level of vulnerability that I do not feel is as necessary for writing melody and harmony. Because of this, I’ll often find myself with many different pieces of music that I could lay a set of lyrics over. I think about it like the dichotomy between beats and bars in hip-hop. Though songwriting often entails writing beats and bars together, sometimes I’ll find myself with a hot beat in desperate need of bars. Other times I come up with some cool bars that beg for the perfect beat. There is no consistent rule. It all comes down to where that initial spark of inspiration originates.
What do you think is more important in a song: The words, the music, or neither?
Words and music are vehicles of expression. Both are equally important. The real weight of a song comes from authentic human emotion. But don’t get it twisted; a song does not need to be earnest to convey humanity. The superficial dionysian-ism expressed in my favorite party track is as fundamentally human as the existential dread conveyed in an Elliott Smith song. Both are facets of our fleeting earthly experience. Whichever part of the composition evokes a visceral response in the listener is the most important part, whether that comes from rhythm, melody, story, or confession. Any good musician is an artistic empath to some degree. If we cannot emotionally communicate with our listeners, we have not done our job successfully.
What would you say is the most challenging part of working as a solo artist?
Overcoming the urge to nap. The workload gets daunting. Making thoughtful and complex music is incredibly time-consuming. The process is meticulous, repetitive, and circuitous. Creating a few minutes of quality music requires a lot of labor. Solo artists can’t divide this labor and allocate it according to speciality as bands can. A group like Migos can be so prolific because each member tends to only write one verse per song. I envy this a little bit. Love & Espionage took two years to finish because I did a majority of the grind alone. Working as the composer, producer, lead vocalist, guitarist, saxophonist, and studio engineer took a lot out of me. I mixed the whole record too, but now I’m just bragging…
I noticed you recently came out with your debut album. Congratulations on that! What inspired you to get started on the album and how long did it take?
Thank you! I had just graduated from college and spent the summer of 2016 living with my parents in Los Angeles. I was making a lot of music and working as a freelance audio engineer but lacked a real sense of creative identity or direction. At the end of that August, my Dad told me to focus my efforts, sit down, and write an album. I thought this was great advice. I had no idea what I wanted to do with myself musically and he gave me a push in the right direction. I grabbed my acoustic guitar and wrote She Walks Strapped Through the Shadows.
I had spent that summer re-watching X-Files and following the ascension of our wack-ass president (as I imagine we all were). I noticed a jarring similarity between the news and the histrionic monologues coming from my crappy laptop speakers at 3AM (the spookiest time of night in my humble opinion). I wrote six of the seven songs on L&E in the following weeks. Each of these songs got tweaked, changed, and finessed as the record took shape, but Love & Espionage is at its essence a product of late 2016. I finished the recording process in June 2018 and spent the summer mixing L&E at my old apartment in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.
If you could meet any musician, dead or alive, who would it be?
I want to meet super-producer and trap-architect Zaytoven. I’ve watched a lot of tape on him and we approach composition completely differently. In the lab, I’m a little neurotic and often overthink my creative choices. I’m also a perfectionist. This doesn’t make any sense to me, considering that my favorite band is Pavement. Zaytoven is the Pavement of hip-hop. I mean that as a compliment of the highest order, of course. Zaytoven composes at a baffling speed, allowing the music to exist in finality at the moment of inception. There are no mistakes, only ornaments. The blemishes become birthmarks, accentuating and ultimately proving essential to the track’s allure. This music is raw, unpretentious, and fat as hell!
Now, I bet cats are gonna come at me saying “Gabe, you’re full of shit. Zaytoven works exclusively in the digital domain and quantizes every instrument. What ‘blemishes’ could you possibly be talking about?” This is a valid question, albeit a trolly one; however, it misses the point. I am much more interested in Zaytoven’s creative philosophy than his technical methodology. I’ll pound out six different drum patterns on my MPC before even thinking about moving forward with an arrangement. Zaytoven would never do this. He does not look back. He just makes hits.
Do you have any hobbies outside of music that influence your songs? If so, what are they?
I am an avid NBA fan. I saw the Nets play last month with Spy Riley; I even give Miami Heat forward Justise Winslow a shoutout on She Walks Strapped Through the Shadows. The LA Clippers are my squad.
I connect with the sport on an aesthetic level. The fluidity of motion is like a well-choreographed dance. LeBron might as well be Baryshnikov on the basketball court. These elite athletes ball with a level of poise and restraint that I admire.
Music is dissimilar to competitive sports because creativity is not a zero-sum game. That said, I look to the league for inspiration. I have immense respect for anybody who can consistently maintain their composure and reach the pinnacle of their field. In my own work, I aspire to the level of concentration, commitment, and confidence exhibited by an NBA star. It takes talent to get to the top. It takes hard work to stay there.
With the New Year recently upon us, do you have any resolutions or goals as a musician?
I have goals. Basketball is a useful metaphor to explain how I see these goals. There’s a guard on Philly named Jimmy Butler. At the beginning of this NBA season, Sports Illustrated ranked him the 10th best player in the world. Nobody could have guessed he would become this good, nobody but Jimmy Butler.
I see myself in a similar position to Jimmy when he came into the league as a relatively unheralded rookie. Completing an album is a considerable achievement. I think I’m pretty cool, but nobody has heard of me. Why should they? I haven’t done much. I don’t have media hype like Sheck Wes or Mo Bamba. I don’t have an angelic voice like Ariana Grande, nor do I have any crazy tattoos like… wow, so many people. I have game, but my narrative is unremarkable. I doubt many people have great expectations for me right now, but they will.
In 2014, Jimmy Butler was 25 (hmmmmm, same age as me). Butler told his team at the beginning of that season he was betting on himself. He predicted a breakout year. He predicted he’d become a franchise player and the team would have to treat him as such. I’m betting on myself for 2019.
The betting part is easy. Honestly, I lose most bets I make. I’m an inept gambler. However, this is a wager I plan to win. This year I need focus, diligence, and discipline. The indie music game is brutally competitive. I need to refine my craft and expedite my process. I need to take my studio stamina to the next level. I need to produce with aplomb and write with more confidence. I need to become a more mature musician.
I was talking music and hoops with a mentor of mine. I asked him where I stood. He mentioned Sacramento Kings phenom De’Aaron Fox: lot of upside. Not every talent lives up to their potential, but every baller I mentioned in my sports soliloquy has – or likely will, in Fox’s case. This year I will make music at the highest level of my life so far. I don’t know if that’ll bring gigs or streams or fans or follows or Fader fame. Don’t hold me to any of that. The music game is unpredictable. Here’s what I do know: in 2020 you’ll pull me up on Spotify. You’ll play my newest release. It’ll be even better than Love & Espionage, and I’ll say, “Thanks for listening.”