A Saving Grace
Musician Reeves Gabrels is most famous for his collaborations with David Bowie from 1989-1999. Boston musicians and music-lovers know him not only for his work with the Atom Said, Modern Farmer, and the legendary Bentmen, but also for his support of local bands. Reeves has recordedthree solo CDs and has collaborated with artists as diverse as David Tronzo, Public Enemy, and filmmaker David Sutherland.Reeves currently resides in Nashville, Tennessee.
Al: Why Nashville?
Reeves: You remember Jamie Rubin?
Al: Of Modern Farmer and Wing It fame.
Reeves: I realized he’s almost my oldest living friend–we’ve known each other for 30 years. He moved to Nashville, like a lot of Bostonians did, knowing that mainstream country is today what mainstream rock was 20 years ago. So about ten years ago, a lot of people who had been playing rock in Boston said, “Fuck, I could move to Nashville and do the same thing and it would be new.”
So Jamie came down here to do songwriting and he opened a club and restaurant while continuing to play music. I played his club a few times when I was post-Bowie and living in L.A.
Al: How does your and Jamie’s rock music fit into the faux cowboy purgatory of Nashville?
Reeves: We’re in East Nashville. It’s a cool scene. It’s got the Americana thing going on, but it’s also got rock and jazz and it’s very eclectic.
I was in Los Angeles and recovering from a prolonged sickness. The massive antibiotics I was on caused me to lose my equilibrium and made me legally blind for a while. Jamie said, “Why don’t you move to Nashville? I’ll rent a house for you.” A mutual friend was moving to L.A. and needed someone to rent his house. I threw a bunch of my stuff in my car and moved.
Al: And Nashvegas hasn’t been the same since.
Reeves: I was mistaken when I thought that all of Nashville is like East Nashville. It’s not all that open-minded and eclectic. It’s a company town in the same way that Los Angeles is Hollywood. But we’re fighting the good fight and playing music in East Nashville that no one in the rest of Nashville wants to hear.
Al: Are y’all alone in the struggle?
Reeves: No. There’s a strong undercurrent. There’s a show on the local FOX network called “Not Just Country” and I think I’m going to be on it sometime soon.
Al: So you’re still playing what you want to play.
Reeves: And through the wonders of the Interweb, I’m playing for people in Australia, Barcelona, London and New York, and I’m doing it all in my underwear, at home on my Pro Tools system. And most of the work I do is out of Nashville.
Al: How have your locations affected you? How are Los Angeles and Nashville different from each other in terms of how they’ve affected your songwriting and playing?
Reeves: It was easier to write in L.A. because I tend to write out of irritation. L.A. certainly supplied me with more stories; the seedier underside of existence is more readily apparent there.
Al: And how does that change the music-making process?
Reeves: When I lived in L.A., I had McMullen (mutual colleague, pedal steel and guitar player Greg McMullen) play pedal steel on the record I made when I was living there (“Rockonica” –ed.). I like the idea of casting the pedal steel as a flavor in whatever my approach to rock music is. But I wouldn’t do that now that I’m living in Nashville. My nature is such that if I’m surrounded by something, I’ll do something that with other things–things that I can’t get. I’m more interested in R&B, funk, and jazz now than I ever was. Or that aspect of what I do is coming out–more extended harmony, more syncopated rhythms and odd meters. Whereas prior to moving here, I made a record that somebody referred to as my “classic rock album.”
Thus endeth part one of a multi-part interview. In the next installment,Reeves talks about his influences–musical and otherwise.