This article originally ran in the US Fanzine, JETLAG in Sept 1991. I interviewed Reeves Gabrels briefly. Looking back on this interview is fun, I can hear myself asking him the same questions today and his answers would probably be somewhat the same too. Enjoy…
A Cog in the Tin Machine: Reeves Gabrels speaks about the new album
SEPT 1991 via telephone
While the influence of David Bowie’s music has been debated by critics, one at least cannot criticize him for sticking with one style for too long. One of other the key elements to Bowie’s success is the people he works with, particularly his guitarists. The list includes: Carlos Alomar, Earl Slick, Adrian Belew, Peter Frampton and Robert Fripp. Fans already know the latest Bowie incarnation and project-Tin Machine, which features newcomer Reeves Gabrels.
Bowie naturally handles the singing in Tin Machine, but the guitar work is handled by Reeves Gabrels. Gabrels met Bowie during the Glass Spider Tour and later Bowie came to see The Atom Said, in Boston (Reeves Gabrels’s band). Gabrels gave Bowie a demo tape of his music after catching the attention of the Thin White Duke, who unbeknownst to Gabrels, was looking for a new project.
“Originally, we didn’t even know if it would work or not, “ said Gabrels via telephone this week. Bowie had been toying with the idea of joining a band as an experiment he explained. The first work Gabrels did with Bowie was a re-make of “Look Back in Anger” for the RYKO re-issue of “Lodger.”
“I went into the studio, and within minutes, David had me singing backup vocals for the track with him. I had gotten over the initial shock of getting to work with him, but standing next to him in the studio made me realize what was going on.” Gabrels said. “ I showed him a couple of things I thought might work (for the remake) and he just said ‘look, I’ve seen you play, just shut up and play away,’ and with that he was just laughed and walked off to leave me to do my thing”
That experience apparently went well for both. A few months later, Gabrels and Bowie joined up with the Sales Brothers (Hunt and Tony). The Sales brothers formerly worked with Iggy Pop and Todd Rundgren. “They are such in your face kind of guys, “ said Gabrels, “ and I am more reserved. I was so nervous I couldn’t remember which one was Hunt and which one was Tony!”
The first track they all worked on together on for the debut album was the lead track “Heaven’s in Here” with its unmistakable bluesy intro-riff.
Gabrels remembered “The first album was recorded in a very live sort of setting, few overdubs. The new one is our first real album in that we spent considerable more time with it in the studio. Tracks such as the catchy “Shopping for Girls” and “You Can’t Talk” attest to this. Since Bowie was on tour with the “Sound and Vision” tour at the time, Gabrels worked on mixing around the tour schedule.
Another factor that makes this the first proper Tin Machine is the fact that the band has gotten used to working with each other. “We’ve found that, although we have different bakgrounds, we have similar life experiences. All the clichés about the band being like a family , are oddly enough true. We are all very honest about how we feel. If someone is having an off-day then the others try to compensate for it. It is very much like a little family unit.”
He continued to explain “On the first one, it was everyone putting their trust in David. Hunt and Tony didn’t think I could cut it, I think, but they trusted David’s judgement. Likewise was true with me. This time, we have put our trust in each other.”
The Atom Said is Gabrels’ other band, based in Boston. “It’s just us traveling in a van, that’s one van for the band and their equipment (laughs) there’s no room for superstars!” Although Gabrels admits with Tin Machine it is nice to have someone set up his equipment, the difference in the two bands keeps him on balance. He commented that guitarist Robert Fripp once told him “First, do your own cooking, then do your own laundry and take public transportation.”
Public transportation might be more difficult now since Tin Machine is finally becoming accepted as a band, not just David Bowie’s Band. “I’m still uncomfortable with the fact that my picture is on the cover of the first album” he said. “It used to make me nervous to walk into record stores and see it.”
I asked the guitarist if he wrote differently for Atom Said vs. Tin Machine, and he said “Actually, I show everything to everyone. That’s funny, because I was thinking about that last night. When I write a song, I just write it. I have no idea who or what it is for. I actually get to do more of the writing with Tin Machine than I do Atom Said,” he laughed.
Recently, on their live sets, Tin Machine has ben covering “Debaser” by the Pixies. “Yeah I LOVE them, “ Gabrels said. “I really like Smashing Pumpkins and Temple of the Dog, too. I also appreciate the crafty things like Tears for Fears. Being a musician today has become so reputable. It’s like parents think if the kid isn’t a doctor or lawyer, a musician is next to best,” he laughed.
Asked how he saw the state of the music business today he said “There’s so much money around it now. Bands just see career opportunities instead of worrying about artist merit. Bands need to learn to be not so greedy. If they take millions from a record company, they need to be aware of the implications of that obligation. That’s why I really like the Smashing Pumpkins, they’ve brought some energy and enthusiasm back to music.”
With that, he was off to more tour rehearsal with Tin Machine, which starts touring this October. Although Gabrels seems an unlikely rock star, his talent stands for itself. His enthusiasm and down-to-earth attitude are a refreshment from the attitude overdoses of a lot of today’s rock bands.