Listen to one song in Robbie Gil’s powerhouse set and you are sure to be hooked on this songwriter’s gut-wrenching lyrics and soulful voice. A regular at established New York venues such as The Living Room, The Bitter End, and Rockwood Music Hall, Robbie recently released his sophomore album Lightning in a Bottle, a hopeful follow up to his first record Stumble Inn, named after a bar his father owned in the 60s. Hooked on music since first picking up a vintage guitar in high school, Robbie explored his voice by singing along with great rock singer-songwriters like Roger Daltry, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, and Robert Plant, traces of which linger in his performances today. His ability to hook his audience with powerhouse ballads like “How’s Colorado” and “The Big Picture” have made Gil’s shows a must-see in NYC. The volume of the crowd when singing along takes even the smallest venues and makes them feel like Giants Stadium, moments which Robbie describes as completely beautiful. “I was so filled with joy on the stage,” he describes of one particular night. “It means so much for me to be able to share my gift and be getting it back.” The raw and vulnerable energy Robbie Gil bestows on every stage he graces simply serves as a reminder to all of us that from even the most dismal, disheartening, and frustrating of situations, the purest form of beauty can emerge.
How would you say that your latest release, “Lightning in a Bottle,” differs from your first album, “Stumble Inn,” in both lyrical content and sound?
I always write about the juxtaposition of good decisions versus bad decisions. That’s something that consistently comes up… I try to put a little hope on it. There’s a lot of despair about what I was doing as a person when I was writing Stumble Inn- I was a mess, just partying way too much, all over the place, and that’s a lot of what that album’s about. Lightning in a Bottle is the revelation that I could change things about my life and do things in a different way. Also, [Lightning] was coming off of a long relationship that didn’t work so there’s a lot of loss and longing in the songs, as well as finding something new and great. It’s about letting go of that last love- saying goodbye not only to that but also to booze and drugs. There’s a lot that’s being left behind in Lightning in a Bottle and at the same time there’s a lot being gained. It’s more hopeful about what life means to me, and how I can participate in the world and give to the world in a more sober, meaningful way.
There is such honesty in the way you write that reaches people on many different levels. When you are writing, is there any sort of method or process you follow, or do the words just come naturally?
I am incapable of being not 100% honest in music. I don’t know what it is but I just feel the need to be so confessional, almost to a fault… if I’m going through something, you are going to know about it. If you listen to my music you will hear what is going on in my life.
I want to write from an honest place and talk about things that are real. I’m not good at sugarcoating it. Also, I love words. I love making things that are awful sound beautiful and getting to the core of things. I don’t know of any other way to write.
While your lyrics often pull at the heartstrings, your music composition is also incredibly choreographed to reach its audience in a powerful and memorable way. Do you find your lyrics affect your orchestration?
My music can be very cinematic in it’s reach. Dynamically there are lots of shifts… there are quiet moments but then there are cries for help, or this really big voice that comes out. I like those peaks and valleys in music… I think it’s more interesting. I also think going to acting school had an affect on that. Something that intrigued me in acting was a monologue- the way it’s structured and has an arc. In a monologue something should change, because if it doesn’t what are you looking at? Simply a snapshot. I like to have those snapshots within a song, but I also like the perspective to change so there’s a sense of story to the song.
Your voice is so powerful and distinctive- it’s very clear to the audience that you are singing with everything in you when you get up on that stage. Do you ever feel vocal strain from the reach and range in your voice?
I’m not really good at marking something. I have to perform it all the way. It doesn’t feel right if I don’t, and it can’t feel fake to me. I always want to give it 140%. I would do that if it’s Rockwood for 20 people or if it was Madison Square Garden- I don’t discern those two places. You have to give it of yourself or else it’s not real. The songs come from such an honest place and they’re true moments for me, or bits of my life that are being expanded upon; whatever they are now, at their initial stage they were important enough for me to write about. So when I perform them I want to get back that energy. [The songs] need to convey a message, whether or not I’m feeling differently about them. When you don’t give all of yourself the audience is not going to get what you meant, or believe you and the place it came from.
What is your favorite aspect of performing?
I love being able to affect people, and to see that. I love being able to allow people into my life and give to the audience in a way that I know they are identifying with what’s going on, even though the situations may be different from me to every person they’re still taking something from it. And “it” is a universal thing, whatever “it” is- hope, fear, loss, love, falling down and how we get back up and face everything every day. It’s about going through all of the hard parts of life, which I tend to write about more.
How would you describe the energy in New York and the music scene?
I think New York is amazing. There are so many good artists hanging around the scene right now and there is definite validity to “if you can make it there you can make it anywhere.” There are a lot of struggling musicians and artists. You’re constantly trying to one-up yourself in New York and it pushes you to sometimes do even more than you’re comfortable with- something new, inventive, interesting, catchy. You can’t suck in New York… you have to be good for people to pay attention to you because people are inundated with talent. I’m constantly blown away by the acts here, particularly at Rockwood and The Living Room. It’s pretty awesome.
Robbie Gil is current working on an EPK and looking to expand his performance schedule to at least two different cities a month. His next NYC show will be on February 11 at The Bitter End, 9:30pm. Both “Stumble Inn” and “Lightning in a Bottle” are available on iTunes. More info on Robbie at www.myspace.com/robbiegil and www.robbiegil.com.
Category: Exclusive Interviews