Under The Gun is pleased to bring you this exclusive conversation with Gabriel Riccio’s progressive project, The Gabriel Construct.
A Maryland native and current Chicago inhabitant, Riccio has been involved with music for several years and recently released his thematic debut album, Interior City, under the TGC pseudonym. We had the chance to speak with him as he delves deep into the album’s themes and much more about his project, working with members of Periphery, and his personal life so read through our exclusive, candid interview with Riccio and get familiar with The Gabriel Construct!
How long have you been making music, Gabriel? How did you originally get started?
When I was very young, I was always getting in trouble in school for constantly humming and tapping on things. I’ve heard music in my head all the time for as long as I can remember. I started taking piano lessons in third grade and started playing drums in fifth grade, but I didn’t really start taking a more serious interest in music until later.
What inspirations would you say influenced you to be interested in and get involved with music?
My mother was the one who got me to start taking music lessons. Early on, I listened to a lot of her records – I especially remember listening to Stravinsky, Mussorgsky, and Peter Gabriel. My piano teacher also had a great impact on my musical development – she had me play music ranging from Debussy and Satie to Dave Brubeck, and she encouraged me to pursue anything I felt like exploring. I became more engaged as a listener in sixth grade, after she let me borrow albums by bands like Tool, A Perfect Circle and Deftones. That same year, I played in my first cover band and played around with sequencing programs like Fruity Loops and Hammerhead. In early high school, I developed an interest in early ’90s rock. I started creating piano versions of Failure songs by ear, and soon after I wrote my first piece for a real instrument – a solo piano work. My engagement with music only increased from there – I performed in musicals, sang in choirs, and wrote music which became more ambitious and complex over time.
You have a BA in music, correct? What kind of effect or advantages would you say that has had on how your music turns out?
That’s correct – I have a degree from Swarthmore College. Those four years completely changed the way I hear music, and I incorporated a great deal of what I learned into my music. My knowledge of music history and theory gives me a greater degree of control over my writing. It helps me avoid cliches and avoid repeating myself. It also allows me to deliberately do either of those things, if I so desire, and it helps me to better understand and imitate many genres. I was introduced to a lot of music over the course of my education. My composition teacher was a student of George Crumb and Olivier Messiaen. I took a class on Messiaen’s music, and I got to meet Crumb and see the debut performances of quite a few of his new works. Both composers ended up having a huge impact on Interior City.
Speaking of Interior City, which came out not too long ago, what can you tell us about it in terms of its sound and how the title relates to its content?
Interior City is a stylistically diverse record, unified by its dark mood and atmosphere. It’s dominated by acoustic piano instead of guitars, though the pianos are often distorted. The music ranges from sparse solo piano passages to densely layered sections filled with thick stacks of vocals and dissonant harmonies.
The title refers to two ideas. Firstly, it is representative of the main character’s worldviews and how they affect his interactions with the world. Secondly, it is a literal reference to the internal place this character retreats into to escape the outside world.
Being that the album is obviously very theme oriented, can you elaborate on that a bit and explain the lyrical content and what influences led to your writing process?
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.
Many aspects of Interior City have an autobiographical basis. As a child, I saw another dimension superimposed onto this one, as if I lived in two worlds at once. Many would tell me that this was all a product of my imagination, as children frequently have imaginary friends and see things that aren’t there. I don’t know whether the things I saw were real or not, but it doesn’t matter to me – they felt real at the time. As I got older, I became more firmly rooted in this world and saw less and less of the other. Part of me wanted to regain the ability that I had lost, but part of me was afraid of it and never wanted to return. “Arrival in a Distant Land” was inspired by these experiences, while “Ranting Prophet” is about the struggle to come to terms with being alive.
These experiences made me see the world quite differently from everyone else. I had a very difficult time in school as a child, and none of the teachers quite knew what to do with me. I felt very alone and misunderstood. I’ve experienced depression at many points throughout my life, and have often felt a desire to leave this realm. “Fear of Humanity” deals with this directly. It also incorporates some of my thoughts on the negative effects of Westernization, though it takes them to an extreme, paranoid, self-parodying degree.
I managed to pull myself out of that place by deciding that I was going to make a change. I tried RoHun therapy, an alternative form of therapy which may best be described as psychic surgery, in which you dismantle the beliefs and fears which are hurting you or others in some way. Regardless of whether you believe in the energy work aspects of the therapy, I believe it to have psychological validity, and it helped me greatly. “Curing Somatization” draws heavily on the experience of RoHun therapy, providing the healing and resolution that occurs at the very end of the album. Musically, the album is cyclical, as the healing process is never truly finished – there will always be more to deal with. That doesn’t mean that confronting your demons is futile – by beginning the healing process and continuing it, we allow ourselves to move forwards and grow.
“My Alien Father” was inspired by my father’s interest in alien conspiracy theories, but it also plays into the album’s larger themes of paranoia and escapism. Some of the imagery is drawn from my dreams, and I actually first heard the song “Retreat Underground” in a dream.
I’m always very interested in album artwork and Interior City is certainly no exception. What can you tell us about the cover? How did you choose it and how do you think it represents the music?
The album cover was painted by Joseph Borzotta, who is my mother’s cousin. It depicts a person standing in a beautiful environment with no sensory input, so the only thing they can see is a disgusting and grimy city inside of them, representing their worldview. I came up with the basic idea for the cover, but it was Joe’s idea to remove the face – that really took it to the next level and drove the message home. He didn’t tell me he was going to do that, so it was a very powerful moment when I saw the finished cover for the first time.
You have some pretty impressive musicians that helped out on this record as well. What can you tell us about how you chose whom to work with and how you feel their contributions to the album affected its outcome?
I went to a doctor’s appointment, and one of the nurses told me that her son, Garrett Davis, was an audio engineer with a studio in town. Since I lived in a rural area, I figured that he was probably a “producer” with an M-box in his basement, but then she told me that he had credits on Train records and built a studio for BT. I looked him up and it was true, so I scheduled a meeting with him. Upon hearing my demos for Interior City, he immediately recommended Travis Orbin (drums). I didn’t have a drummer lined up, and was considering playing the drums myself. I was familiar with Travis’ work with Ever Since Radio (a local band) as well as his work in Periphery, and I had an incredible amount of respect for him. I had never imagined that it was possible for me to work with him, especially this early on in my career – but I contacted him, and he really loved my demos! It turned out that he lived only 40 minutes away. I decided to record the album with Garrett, and I started doing pre-production with Travis via email. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was.
Travis then connected me with bassist Tom Murphy, who had just left Periphery and was therefore free to play on my album. Travis and Garrett connected me with producer Taylor Larson (who mixed and mastered Interior City with me), as they had all grown up in the same area.
I had been friends with David Stivelman (guitar, ex-Debbie Does Dallas) since first grade, and we went to the same school from then until the end of high school. Sophia Uddin (violin) and Soren Larson (saxophone) were college classmates of mine, and I’d been dating Sophia for almost a year by the time we started recording the album.
All of these people really took the album to the next level, and I am extremely grateful that I had the opportunity to work with all of them.
Do you think that you’ll be working with these same musicians on your future releases or do you have anyone else in mind?
Sophia will continue to play all of the violin parts, both live and in studio. I’ve already recorded a few more songs with Travis, Tom, and a new guitarist named Greg Loman (Funk Ark, New Media, Oddzar). My plan is to record half of the next record with them and to record the other half with my future live lineup. I’ve also been working on a collaborative pop project with Travis, to which Tom and Greg have also contributed.
So you do plan to play live shows… Do you currently have any touring plans in the works? I know it’s rather difficult with a project such as this to get a live band together.
I’d like to start playing live shows as soon as possible. My primary goal in Chicago right now is the assembly of a live lineup, and I’ve already found a few players, but I’m still searching for a pianist, bassist, and drummer. If anyone reading this lives in the area, can read music and improvise, and is interested in joining The Gabriel Construct, please contact email@example.com.
The album looks to be gaining mainly positive reviews with some mixed as well. With such a unique sound, what did you expect in terms of what critics would have to say? Are you surprised at all about the response thus far?
I had no idea how people would respond, but the responses have nonetheless surprised me. No one has criticized any element of the album that I felt unsure of or expected people to criticize. The mixed 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 some of the reviews have even made me consider my own music from a new angle, and that’s very exciting for me.
You mentioned some new music. Now that the album is completed and released, what have you been working on?
I’ve been working on a full length with Ocuplanes, a progressive rock band from Ridgely, MD. I am performing all the vocals and some of the keyboards on the record in addition to producing and engineering it, writing the vocal arrangements, and co-writing the lyrics. If all goes well, it will be out before the end of the year. I’ve also started recording the next two TGC albums, but I’m taking my time with them – promoting and performing Interior City takes precedence.
I have some guest spots on two upcoming releases – a brief vocal appearance on Being’s Anthropocene and guest keyboards and vocals on Itsteeth’s Divided EP. Travis also appears on both of these releases, and as I mentioned earlier, I’ve been working with him on a new collaborative project.
So you just recently uprooted to Chicago, right? Do you think that a new locale will have any kind of effect on your creative process?
I’ve actually spent three weeks in Chicago now, and I love it. I find cities overwhelming, but this place doesn’t feel like a traditional city at all. I spent a lot of time in near-isolation while creating Interior City, and being around people on a more regular basis will definitely have a positive impact on my writing.
Is there anything in particular that you have noticed that you want to focus on or improve upon while working on your new material now that you can listen to Interior City from a more external standpoint?
It will be a while before I start writing any truly new material, as I wrote multiple albums simultaneously during the process for Interior City and it will take some time to finish writing all of those. However, from a production perspective, there’s a lot I’d like to do differently for my next album. Interior City ended up becoming a very cold, digital, processed production, and while it works for that material, the next album is going to be much warmer than Interior City – more positive and emotionally dynamic. It’s going to need a more organic and raw mix. Half of the record is being tracked out of my home studio, but I’d like to try doing live tracking for the other half if I can make it happen logistically.
What do you hope listeners experience or gain from listening to your music? Is there any kind of disclaimer you think you need to include for those that may not “get it” on an inaugural listen?
The album is best experienced when listened to from start to finish, preferably in the dark. I designed it to alter people’s moods in specific ways at specific points, so it would be ideal if people were able to experience the album the way I intended it, but I know that not everyone has the time or inclination to listen to it that way, and that’s okay. I also know that not everyone will have the same emotional response to it. More importantly, I hope that it can be of help to someone – that it will move them, make them think, and improve their lives. If it does that for even one person, then it’s all worth it to me.
A lot of my favorite music didn’t click on the first listen, or even the third. It was only over time that I was able to really understand where it was coming from and start to appreciate it, but I’ve loved it ever since. I think I’ve created a different enough sound on Interior City that it may be in that category for many people, so if it confuses you at first or doesn’t quite click, I’d recommend giving it a few more spins. I know that’s a tall order in a time when the music world is so over-saturated that people are forced to evaluate music based on 30-second clips, but that’s a risk I took by making this album now.
What is your ultimate goal for this project?
I’d like to make progressive rock truly progress again. The genre started by integrating classical and jazz ideas into a rock setting. I am trying to return to that original idea by integrating ideas from other genres into rock music – ideas which haven’t been used in rock music in the same way before. Interior City incorporates influences from quite a few different genres, but since a lot of the material on it was written years ago, I wasn’t writing it with that goal in mind. I wasn’t trying to be novel. I think I can eventually create a much more complete manifestation of that goal, even though I plan to release a few more albums before writing a new album which is fully dedicated to that idea.
I’d also like to use this music as a platform for ideas and a catalyst for social change. I hope that I can get people to think and to start acting to achieve the change they want in the world, whether that takes the form of inspiring people to create new, daring and challenging music or of inspiring them to reconsider and change their lifestyles to be less harmful to themselves, other people, and the environment.
One of the core concepts behind Interior City is the idea that societies that lack respect teach every individual that they are not worthy of respect. If we had a sense of respect for ourselves or for other people, we wouldn’t manufacture and consume food that’s been loaded with pesticides, antibiotics, hormones, and other chemicals. We wouldn’t be allowing slavery to happen overseas for the manufacture of our products, and we wouldn’t load our products with untested chemicals. If we valued our own lives, we’d value what keeps us alive and we’d value and protect the people that produce these goods.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I’d like to thank my parents for being so supportive through this whole process. I couldn’t have made this record without them.
Written and conducted by: Brian Lion – Follow him on Twitter
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