’Interior City’ is an album unlike most of the stuff we get here at Lords of Metal, and it probably doesn’t go too far to say that the whole project is rather different from what we’re used to. Could you give us a short introduction of yourself?
My name is Gabriel Riccio, and The Gabriel Construct is my solo project. I am a vocalist, keyboardist, percussionist, and composer from Salisbury, a small rural town in Maryland, but I currently live in Chicago, IL. ‘Interior City’ is my debut album, and it incorporates influences from classic prog, 20th century classical music, extreme metal, ‘90s grunge and space rock, free jazz, drum-n-bass, ‘80s pop, middle eastern music, and more.
You’re a composer and musician by education, which is probably something many people reading this can dream of. Time for a brutally Dutch question: does it pay the bills?
No, not yet. I do other musical work on the side, though. I transcribe songs and create sheet music for others artists, which they sell online. I’ve done some vocal editing work and some guest appearances. I’m still learning a lot about how to make a living in the current musical climate. There are a lot of things you have to be able to do well in order to survive making music today, so I’m trying to learn to do as many of them as I can.
I sometimes find it quite hard to communicate with educated musicians because some of them, especially those who are classically trained, tend to look at music as consisting of a set of very fixed rules instead of something dynamic (probably sounds like hell of a prejudice, but let’s keep it that way for argument’s sake). The other end of the spectrum might be something so highbrow that it just becomes pretentious. How do you see this?
Music education should be a way of broadening your horizons and adding to your toolbox. There is an element of learning the workings of traditional musical forms, which are sometimes presented as rules, in order to better know how to break them, but those ‘rules’ were never strictly followed in any time period. In addition to that, all of the rules were already been broken in the 20th century! Thus, I think music education is an important tool to expose you to more music, more techniques, and more ideas, so that you can combine them in novel ways. If music education creates a set of rules for you to follow when writing your own music, then it isn’t doing any good. Either the teacher isn’t doing their job, or the student is misinterpreting the teachings and using them to further elitist ideas which serve no purpose in music. If you want to set rules for a particular piece to keep it cohesive, or even for all of your music in order to define your personal voice, then that’s great, but to say that any set of rules should apply to all music is beyond misguided.
Ok, that was probably quite the intro. Let’s talk about the album now. There’s a whole concept behind it. Could you elaborate on that?
‘Interior City’ is a concept album following one individual’s struggle to come to terms with being alive, but it also extends to society as a whole. The main character is unable to come to terms with his own existence, and he descends into a world of negative thoughts, paranoia, and escapist drives, his Interior City. It is only through cutting himself off from the outside world completely that he is able to realize that the things he is running from are largely inside of himself, they are his beliefs, many of which originated from society, family, and the rest of the outside world. Others are much older, carried in from past lives or from the collective unconscious. Only by confronting these beliefs and fears directly and deliberately deprogramming himself is he able to overcome them and fully engage with the world.
You worked with quite a number of guest musicians. How was working with them, and how do you make sure that they understand your vision of the work? How much freedom do they have to give their own interpretations?
It’s been amazing! I never would have guessed that I’d be working with such talented people this soon into my career, they made the recording process both smoother and more exciting than it would have been otherwise, and they were filled with great ideas that took the album to the next level. They’re all great people and great players, so that helps a lot. As for the process, I sent Travis Orbin (drums) and Tom Murphy (bass) sheet music and programmed demos and they took those parts and personalized them. Travis would then send me MIDIs and a new sheet with his ideas, and I would send him commentary in return. It was rare that we went through more than one iteration before it was right. Travis was a great fit for this music, and he ended up contributing ideas to every song he played on, even production ideas. Tom would record demos of his ideas and send them to me, and I would transcribe them into a new sheet with a combination of my original ideas, his new ideas, and my proposed changes. He ended up contributing new bass arrangements to four songs. Sophia Uddin (violin), David Stivelman (guitar), and Soren Larson (saxophone) stuck to the parts I wrote aside from their solos, they all wrote their own solos, with some guidance from me.
It seems most of the material was composed on piano. It’s also audible in the relatively limited presence of the guitars, at least by this webzine’s standards. Could you say something more about how you composed and arranged this album?
That is correct, all of the songs started with piano parts, and the rest was arranged around the piano. Sometimes song ideas just popped into my head, and sometimes I came up with them while improvising at the piano. When I sat down to assemble Interior City into an album, I had already come up with ideas for every song on the record, and I just needed to expand them into full songs. For some songs, it was a matter of taking a piano part with a complete song structure and arranging it for a full band, in which case the challenge was in writing vocal arrangements and lyrics. Other songs began as piano/vocal snippets which needed to be expanded into full songs. There has never been a consistent method or formula behind my writing. Sometimes it takes a long time to get the structure right for a song, while other songs just fall into place. Most of the songs on Interior City were based on pop structures, so they mostly came together quite easily. The two longest songs, ‘Defense Highway’ and ‘Curing Somatization’, have structures closer to that of a chamber piece, so they were a bit more difficult - I cut as much material from each of those songs as I kept.
How has the reception been so far?
It’s been great! I had no idea how people would respond, but the responses have surprised me. No one has criticized any element of the album that I felt unsure of or expected people to criticize. Most of the reviews have been very positive, and the fan response has been incredible. The mixed and negative reviews seem to exclusively cite the density of the music, which some critics have found impenetrable at times, and some listeners don’t like my voice. Nonetheless, the overall response has been quite positive and sometimes people’s interpretations have even made me consider my own music from a new angle, and that’s very exciting for me.
Is ‘Interior City’ going to be a one-off project, or is there going to be more of this, and, of course, are there plans to take this to the live stage?
‘Interior City’ is the first part of a planned trilogy, and I am well into writing and recording the next two parts! After that, I don’t know what will happen, but I want to keep exploring new territory. My second record will already be very different from the first - it’s a warmer, friendlier record. I think it will be a bit more accessible, since the harmony isn’t as strange and it isn’t as unrelentingly dark. I’m also working on some collaborative projects under other names, some of which also involve Travis, Tom and Sophia.
I am currently working on taking Interior City to the stage in Chicago. The live arrangements will be different from the album versions, but will still retain the essence of the songs. It would be impossible to perform the studio arrangements of Interior City live, as they weren’t written with live performance in mind. With that said, I don’t see a point in creating an exact replica of a studio album live, there’s no incentive for people to come out to a show when they could put on the album and get the same experience. There will definitely be a greater focus on improvisation in the live show, and that will make each show unique.
Thanks for the interview. Any closing comments/famous last words?
Thank you for the interview! Itsteeth (the instrumental post rock solo project of Jacob Belcher, who used to play guitar with Drop Dead Gorgeous and Of Legends) just released an EP with Travis Orbin called ‘Divided’, and it’s pretty killer. I contributed vocals to one track and a mellotron intro and outro to the EP. You can check that out here, or you can watch the drum tracking videos for the sessions on Travis’s YouTube channel, where has has also uploaded the complete drum tracking sessions for Interior City.