Acclaimed Puerto Rican/Belgian singer-songwriter Gabriel Rios is hitting the road supporting The Staves at several UK venues from the end of this month.
A new signing for Sony/Columbia, Rios’ most recent release (and his fourth studio album) This Marauder’s Midnight hit number 1 in his native Belgium. You may recognise his voice from the Thomas Jack remix of ‘Gold’, a viral YouTube hit.
For a whole year between October 2013-2014, Gabriel Rios posted a song a month on his website. The songs now constitute, This Marauder’s Midnight. An illustrated short story was included in the special edition of the record about an infamous serial hair-fetishist in fin de siècle Paris that manages to get himself caught red-handed by an unlikely heroine while trying to obtain yet another trophy for his abominable collection.
The Marauder realises he has broken into the wrong room when he encounters a 10-year-old girl who demands that he tell her a story in exchange for not screaming. Rios says, “I might have gotten a little carried away with this indulgence but it comes close to describing one of the feelings that I both enjoy and dread when writing and performing music: almost on command, a song has to be able to move a stranger.”
Born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Rios was the recipient of various eclectic mixtapes compiled by his father. Paul Simon, The Police, The Beatles, Keith Jarrett, Tom Zé, Willie Colón, and Nina Simone, among others, came out of the speakers at home. “I spent the last years of my youth playing dive bars in Old San Juan, trying my very best to be worthy of the local punk rock scene before being whisked away at age 17 by a young woman and the Old World promise of adventure and romance. I ended up in Gent, Belgium, where I fronted several bands and studied painting.” It was there during his last year of art school that Rios met Technotronic producer Jo Bogaert, who would go on to produce his first two records. The first, Ghostboy, was an eccentric, nostalgic, bilingual mix of latin, pop rock, and urban beats. The main single, “Broad Daylight,” was well-received and allowed Rios to build a following in Belgium and The Netherlands as well as a steady summer festival presence.
The pairs second collaboration, Angelhead, delved further into the world of pop electronica and away from songs in Spanish. “I was now finding it increasingly difficult to sit through the countless hours of programming and editing that so characterise albums made “in the box.” I had also acquired an eight-piece band and was playing mostly to sold-out audiences who had come for an uptempo party. Alas, my sojourn as an entertainer was cut short when upon a stage in a small arena in Brussels I realised that I was no longer where I wanted to be.”Rios disbanded the group, started playing solo shows and formed a trio with Jef Neve (piano) and Kobe Proesmans (percussion) to explore the road less travelled. The Dangerous Return was the fruit of this union and its title track gave him his first taste of live recording.
The thrill of setting out to capture a unique performance was an unparalleled experience. Yearning to be in an English-speaking city with a healthy live music scene, Rios left Belgium for New York. It was only then, after three studio albums, that he arrived at the place where many singer-songwriters actually begin their journeys: in front of a small audience with a guitar, a mike, and a handful of songs.“Almost upon arrival, I was introduced to the world of Rockwood Music Hall, that great little place on Allen street where people go to find good music. The slightly daunting reality of all those people singing and playing great songs became an inspiration rather than a deterring force. I realised that, just like everybody else, the only thing I had to do was come up with the best possible songs and show up to play to whomever happened to be there that night. No soundcheck, no curtains, no introductions. Something told me that if I did this for a couple of years, the album would write itself.”One of those present one evening was Ruben Samama, a gifted musician and composer/arranger who would eventually join Rios on double bass and go on to produce the album. After trying out several line-ups they asked Samama’s wife, the sublime cellist Amber Docters Van Leeuwen, to accompany him on a couple of songs. It quickly became clear that they had found the right instrumentation.
The idea then came to make a record with nothing but the three of them playing the songs in a room. This also became the premise for the videos which were directed by Michael Sewandono and consist of the group performing the songs live in an empty venue. “Keeping the arrangements sparse allowed us to give just a hint of classical orchestration while keeping the focus on the songs and stories themselves. When the time was right, we booked a week at Dreamland Studios in Woodstock and returned with half the record.”
Rios began releasing a song a month while simultaneously playing concerts and recording later additions to the batch. This allowed people to preview the record during the course of the year, getting to know the album inside out, track by track. The success of the album’s first single “Gold” kept the group busy in Europe and a dance remix version of the same song, made independently by Thomas Jack, went viral, opening doors by unexpectedly introducing people to a record they would probably not have found otherwise.“When you take away the drums, there’s a lot of empty space in a song. The listener’s body has to react to the pulses in the music and connect the dots. I like watching faces change as they grow accustomed to the sounds, especially when it’s a brand new audience. It’s like adapting to a pitch black room just before shapes and subtle tones become visible. An overwhelming attraction to words and melodies led me to this place – a place of dimmed lights and expectation. When all is said and done, I like believing that what moves me is going to move you.”
Gabriel Rios will support The Staves throughout the UK in October and November 2015.
October 24th – Manchester, Albert Hall
October 25th – Newcastle University
October 26th – Glasgow, Old Fruitmarket
October 27th – Leeds University Union
November 1st – Birmingham, The Institute
November 3rd – Cardiff, Y Plas
November 4th – Falmouth, Princess Pavillion
November 7th – Bristol, Colston Hall
November 8th – Bournemouth, Old Fire Station
November 9th – London, The Roundhouse