Gabriel Royal’s Denver Debut At The Savoy Denver March 14

This is Steve Roby from KGNU Radio. I want to introduce you to Gabriel Royal, the Oklahoma-born, Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter and cellist who began playing in New York City subway stations. Today, he performs to sold-out crowds in countries worldwide and collaborates with some of the industry’s most in-demand names.

I caught up with Gabriel to talk about his music and upcoming show at the Savoy Denver.

Welcome to KGNU, Gabriel. Thank you so much for being here.

Pleasure’s all mine; thank you for having me, dude.

Could you tell us about your musical career and how you got to where you are today?

Man, that’s a loaded question, a lifelong question right there.

I started playing cello in middle school because there was an excellent public school education music program. And from there, I took lessons with my good friend, Diane Bukianarian. She was my first teacher. She was on the Tulsa Philharmonic. Then, I went to Booker T. Washington. We’re under the tutelage of one James Kirk.

Mr. Kirk is what we called him. He’s probably one of the most influential musicians in my life, as far as teaching me technique and taking music seriously, as opposed to just pop music. Not that I believe in the hierarchies of music. I think anything that makes you dance and that you like listening to is good music.

I’m pretty easygoing when it comes to that. But I do think that you should know the mechanics of music. Sure. And the man who taught me that was James Kirk. Jim Kirk, sorry. Then, I guess I came to TU, which is here in Tulsa University, where I studied under Diane Bucanieri again because she became the cello professor at the university here.

I was in the orchestras. At Booker T, there was a piano in the hallway, and during lunchtime, my friends and I, instead of going outside and playing basketball or soccer or something, would just hang out at the piano and make songs, essentially. And that’s where my songwriter bug took flight because I started writing songs in high school.

The first song I ever wrote was when I was five. My dad went from piano shop to piano shop, so I played many pianos. I’ll play that at the show, too. You can hear the first composition to the newest one.

Who would you say are some of your musical influences?

I have to say, Stevie Wonder was such a significant influence that I almost forgot to mention him. I hate to say that. He’s just part of our language.

The Beatles were huge for me and my brother. My brother’s also a very talented guitarist and violinist. If he lived closer, he’d be playing the show with me. Shout out to my brother Malcolm. We would listen to a Beatles album on the way to Jackson, Mississippi, driving from Tulsa. It was a tradition of ours to go to see our grandparents. We’d buy a new Beatles album every time we went down in the springtime and listen to it on our headphones.

My personal favorite is Burt Bacharach. Love Burt Bacharach! It was a long time before I realized that Dionne Warwick that he wrote her songs. I didn’t find that out until ten years ago.

That’s my guy, Burt Bacharach—newer people, newer folks who I like. I’m really into Thundercat. He’s a genius. I really like Silk Sonic.

Silk Sonic they got a lot of groovy; it’s just good time music. It has some vintage feels, like some vintage funk, but it’s also new music. And the guys who do it, they play it all live.

When I become more successful and can pay people the money they deserve, I would love to work with harmonies, singers, and string players.

I’m doing a solo act right now, but once this thing takes off, I’d love to work with a large ensemble once this outfit takes flight. I’m sure it’s coming soon.

Let’s take a listen to another track from your debut album. This one is called “Fall Apart.” What can you tell us about this song?

I wrote this song in Brooklyn. I was living in New York. I’ve been back in Oklahoma since the pandemic but wrote it while walking to the subway. I took it into the studio with my producer, Matt Young, an incredible artist, pianist, and producer who makes beats. He’s a genius, but I took it into him, and we just laid down the tracks to it and then wrote some lyrics, so it was an organic piece, and lyrics, I can’t say always, but usually come after the melodic idea.

Some lyrics speak to you as in like suggestions. There are specific linguistic suggestions that are implied through that, and I try to follow them. I don’t write music to poetry a lot. One of the newer songs I will play for you guys at the show is… I don’t want to ruin it now; I’ll save it.

But there’s a specific poem I wrote to an ex-girlfriend that didn’t work out, but that would be the only piece of music I’ll say I tweaked right to. So, this one was an organic thing, melody first, and then the song just grew from there. So often, we fall apart. Things ain’t the same, and awful.

I recently interviewed Will Baptiste from Black Violin, a group that blends Hip Hop and Classical Music. What are your thoughts about bridging the gap between various genres?

I know those guys. I went and saw them in D. C., and I was possibly going to join their act, but I had too much stuff to do double booking and stuff.

I love those guys. First off, a huge shout out to Black Violin. I love bridging the gap. I think that’s all music is bridging gaps. There’s no pure form of anything. It’s America. We’re a stew. We’re a pot. We’re based on a Western tonal scale. Is all this music just like German-based stuff?

No, everything has you use the tools from other genres to enrich and make new forms. So hip hop melding with classical is nothing odd to me. Classical and metal. There are a lot of similarities. Metal is a very meticulous polyrhythmic. It’s a linear music that’s very Bach. I look for chances to synthesize as much as possible, but you don’t really think about it like that. I love jazz music, I love classical music, I love hip hop, and I don’t write thinking like, okay, I’m going to meld these two; I write by just making music the music, And that’s influenced by all the people who I love and listen to, but some tracks come out sounding more classic, like the “Fall Apart.”

That’s an example of something I’d look at as more classical. But when I set out to write it, I followed the melody that came to my head. I wasn’t doing target practice.

You talked about some of your newer compositions earlier. Before we started the interview, one of the titles that came up was “Dust To Dirge.” Could you tell our listeners about some of the new compositions you’re working on?

“Dust to Dirge” was co-written with a wonderful artist and longtime friend, Ashanti Chaplin. That project was her concept of building a 13-foot obelisk using the clay we collected and dug from 13 abandoned black towns in Oklahoma.

It was a profound project, and I think the music starts as a prayer, almost. It’s a drone, and it’s layered harmonies. It’s meditative. How about that? That’s what I’m saying. And I must give a lot of credit to Ashanti, too, because she was in the studio with me suggesting and pointing in different directions.

This is one of the greatest collaborations I’ve done. It’s a 16-minute piece. It’s all vocals, cello, and a little bit of, a little bit of piano. It’s a beautiful piece. And to hear that, we have records out of that, but it’s only being sold here in Oklahoma now. Oh, so we’re gonna.

She wants to do this as a live performance, so we’re trying to keep it off the internet now. But I will be playing a snippet of it at the show. Okay, let’s talk about the show. It’s gonna be your Denver debut at the Savoy on March 14th. What can the audience look forward to? Beautiful melodies, hearty chuckles, and a transparent show.

How about that? I like to take questions during the show. I like telling stories about why I wrote the songs. I’ve started doing that because people, the crowd, I don’t want to say my fans, because I don’t have many fans who show up to the show. Then I think they like me, just because I’m small time right now. Still, it’s like an interview like in the same way we’re doing this, I like to talk to my audience about all aspects of the song, I like to give them a story about which ex the song was written about because music has their love songs, let me put it like that.

And it’s been therapeutic for me to write songs during breakups. So, I think the show is a, it’s a story of my love life and times, and you’ll laugh, and you’ll cry, but it’s I think that’s what happens when you go to a good show, right?

Exactly. Yeah. Plus, you’ll include that first song you ever wrote, right? What’s it called, by the way?

Oh, man, that’s funny. I’ve never named it. It’s in C major. Let’s call it an “Imagination in C major.”

Sounds good to me. I can’t wait for the show. Gabriel, thank you so much for being here. Will you come back and visit us real soon?

Anytime, man. Just call me. I’m available.

Show Info

Event: Gabriel Royal

When: Thursday, March 14, 2024

Show: 7:00 PM – 10:00 PM

Where: The Savoy Denver

Address: 2700 Arapahoe Street, Denver, CO, 80205

More info: https://www.maspresents.org/events/gabriel-royal

Full bar: 21+ with a valid ID

Students receive a 25% discount on tickets with code MAS-Student25

About the author: From the San Francisco Bay Area to the Big Island of Hawaii, Steve Roby has worked as a journalist, entertainment photographer, magazine editor, radio host (San Francisco, Hawaii, and Denver), and video documentarian. Since 1989, he has been writing about music and interviewing musicians. Roby is also a published author of three books, one on the L.A. Times Non-Fiction Hardcover Best Seller List.

Steve Roby

Steve Roby

From the San Francisco Bay Area to the Big Island of Hawaii, Steve Roby has worked as a music journalist, entertainment photographer, magazine editor, radio host (San Francisco, Hawaii, and Denver), and video documentarian. Roby is also a published author of three books, one on the L.A. Times Non-Fiction Hardcover Best Seller List. He’s been featured in The New York Times, Rolling Stone (x2), and Billboard. He’s now based in Denver.
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