Orkus Magazine Interview with Jo Gabriel 10.2005




First off all I want to know more about the person behind the name „Jo Gabriel“. I have read that you’ve been raised in a highly musical respectively artistically family, which also comes from different parts of Europe. Is that correct? It would be nice if you could tell something about it.

Well, my mother had studied ballet as a child at the American Academy of Ballet. And shortly after I was born she became very involved in Theatre. She is also an unbelievable painter. This definitely contributed to my growing up in a very colorful and dramatic atmosphere at home. I was surrounded by creativity and culture. My mother would either serenade us by singing show tunes or standards or there would always be some vinyl record playing through out the rooms like Puccini, Brahms, Liszt, Chopin, Rogers and Hammerstein, Sondheim, Cole Porter, Edith Piaf and so much else. My older brothers listened to a diverse range of contemporary music so I was enveloped by every style imaginable. So much wonderful music had underscored everything in the house. I started playing the piano at age 8 amidst all this stimulation.

My immediate relatives were from the Ukraine, Austria and Istanbul. Although most all of my relatives are gone now, and I can no longer ask them to relate any interesting stories to me, I remember my Grandfather speaking of our family’s origin as being “ Roma” Gypsies of Europe. My Aunt Edith escaped Kiev with the aid of a Cossack who had fallen in love with her. I recall her having the most brilliant blue eyes. They could pierce you with a glance. On our frequent visits to her house as a very little girl, she would read the Tarot cards to me. She died when I was still very young but the impression that she has left with me was that she was very otherworldly and magical. I think somewhat that it is this ancestral energy that pulses through me, and transmits or helps to manifest the dramatic and arcane in my work.

Would you say that these different roots might also had or still has some influence to your music?

Yes, without a doubt , although I believe that your environment does contribute to ones trajectory, I truly feel that it is the silent hidden seeds of our inheritance that sublimely influence who we are.

What means music to you? I assume beforehand that you, as a musician, love music. But what exactly fascinates you so much in music and in making it in the first place?

Music resonates with me in a very sacred and powerful way. I think that music is the voice of the gods or more accurately the universe. It is how the universe communicates it’s thoughts. It is its language ,its dialogue. It is also how the soul speaks. It is how we learn to listen to what exists beyond the traffic of thoughts and emotions we clutter our minds with. I would not have wanted to do any other thing than be an instrument that creates the conduit between the heavens and the heart. It is the ultimate release. Music is how we let go of our physical and mental constraints and allow the spirit to exhale and exalt. 

If I am informed correctly you “only” wrote music without singing by yourself in the first place, right? What changed your mind and let you take the micro by yourself?

Yesinitially I wrote these instrumental progressions on the piano, almost neo-classical in nature, but later on I began expressing myself by writing pop ballads or romantic songs. I sang these with the intention of selling them to other artists to sing. I just considered myself a songwriter only. So I would record rough demos for other vocalists to use as a reference for themselves to learn the song before recording it. Usually the vocalist would ask me why I wasn’t recording the song myself? I guess my voice was pleasant enough for people to listen to, but I never felt that I had the actual pipes of a “Diva” to call myself a singer. I still don’t. I really think of myself as an artist.

It wasn’t until the tempest broke and I had my first pomo epiphany shedding the superficial skin that I was wearing as a songwriter of generic sentiment that I started creating pieces of work with substance and gravity. Now, I found it imperative to perform my own work, because my voice was an extension of the emotion from which the songs flowed. And it was very much like a deluge. The work just came flooding over me, and I found that I had so much to say. And though I know I am not as powerfully endowed to sing in the way other vocalists can, I trust that I do have character and authenticity because I really feel what I am singing. It is all knotted together in a fret work that shows the total picture of what I am saying, how I am really feeling and who I am. The voice, the words, the music is one entity, one collective ceremony of spirit.

As far as I know your first music genre was more pop oriented. How did it come to the music stile you do nowadays? What kind of influence had this musical “new orientation” to your lyrics?

I guess I kind of answered this question a few moments agoI didn’t feel the inherent passion and connection to the pop ballads in the way that I feel about this work which manifested itself with me when I was my most empty, open, and longing for self emergence. My music became more reflective and so by nature it begs for words” lyrics” that support that idea. You can be too self absorbed with this type of music but with pop ballads there is a tendency I think, to focus on another person in relationship to your place in the world with them. I wanted the focus to be “universal” and speak to all things in life not just the co-dependencies of love. The lyrics now carry the language of emergence, curiosity, mystery, journey, rebellion, exposure, transformation and sometimes bitter honesty. This is the new language I chose to speak and I think the lyrics definitely convey that.

Do you tell stories with your lyrics or do you use experiences you made personally? How do these lyrics develop? It is told often to me by other musicians that they use little “lyric parts” which get collected randomly. Others are writing their lyrics with a certain goal or objective and about things which affect them in that moment. How about you?

I have songs that are stories or rather tellings of how a certain event or situation effected me emotionally. A lot of my work is infused with referential dialogue. Some lines are tributes or fragments of a detail of something that is familiar to me. Or it might bare the essence of some idea or mythology that resonates with me. Or there are several meanings that I imbue a specific lyric with. Words are so very powerful in general. My lyrics are like my melodies. They are most often stream of consciousness, spontaneous and channeled from that place where “dreams” animate in our subconscious and like those thoughts and images  the lyrics just expand and contract in their own time and space. I don’t have much fore thought that goes into it.
Is there not the danger to show too much of yourself when you use your own feelings and fears for your lyrics or is it this openness which makes it to a “good lyric” and touches the hearers on a certain level?

Of course there is always the risk of laying bare your most unsheltered self. You are vulnerable and naked when you ask people to witness you as you invert your whole life story through your art. But I think that this kind of genuine innocence is such a beautiful thing. And I never dwell on or fear other people’s judgment upon my grave honesty. I strive to be real. I want to connect with the listener on that level. Like Jung had said “ The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances, if there is any reaction, both are transformed”

And how about the music to these lyrics? How do you create them? Do you write them first and after that create the music or is it so that you have a melody already in your mind and write the lyrics in response to that?

textJust like the lyrics the music manifests itself from that sacred place of the unknown. I really don’t like to manufacture my music. I like revelation. I don’t like to be too self conscious of the melody. It’s similar to the blank rune “ the unknowable” I like to create when the motivation is potent with possibility not contrivance. 

Does „Jo Gabriel“ see herself as a solo artist or as a band? I would be happy if you could introduce the other musicians briefly.

Yes, I have always been a solitary artist, who has had the wonderful fortune of working with some great musicians on the periphery of my vision. I would say though that my longest and most enduring collaboration with another musician would be my great friend and drummer Linda Mackley. She is a Titan. She is the heartbeat and pulse of my work quite often. 

Do they have some influence on the music and lyrics you have written respectively do all of you also write the music together?

I write all the music and lyrics exclusively myself, and when there is another musician contributing their performance to the process of the production, I trust that they will have a signature style that will offer an added texture to the particular song they are working on. Sometimes I will guide them with what I hear as the direction I would like it to take, but most often I work with musicians who can either follow my sensibilities about the music or present me with something wonderfully unexpected and inspiring. They bring their unique voice to my work. Linda’s drums bring an element of dynamics that create a driving force within the flow of my fluid piano. It’s like thunder and rain. We sort of sculpt a landscape for each other to wander and explore. It is so very incredible to work with her.

From what kind of music stile or stiles do you get your influences?

Believe it or not I don’t submerge myself in a lot of music looking to draw inspiration from it. It’s more organic with me. I pull from the within and I wait for the confluence to happen. There are definitely those masters of music whose altars I worship at. But I wouldn’t say they influence me. I would say they affirm my belief in the idea that music comes from a sacred place. And that when it is truly plugged into the universe’s artery, it can move me to a profoundly altered emotional state. Kate Bush does that for me in an epic way.

I have read for example that you have used music from Hildegard von Bingen for one of your albums, what I personally find very interesting. Did you discover this music “by chance” or are you interested in medieval song collections?

Both, are true. I feel my discovery of Hildegard was an act of synchronicity. I feel very drawn to her somehow. And I have always been moved by Medieval and Gregorian music.  

I have also read that you are very interested in horror movies. What fascinates you so much about this film genre? Have you thought about composing music for such a film or did you even already do it? 

I love that you asked me about thatOh well this could be its own separate interview (hehe). Ok in one of those gravely honest moments, I will confess that when I was growing up the kids used to call me “monster girl”. I always identified with “the other” or otherness. I just have an intense appreciation for the art of Horror. In the classical sense. I don’t have much use for any of the contemporary films that are out there lately. I just can’t embrace them at all. They are too violent in an inherently ruthless way. I grew up watching gothic and macabre films. The work of Val Lewton and Mario Bava are visually nightmarish landscapes that are hauntingly beautiful and surreal. Curtis Harrington’s “horror of Personality” with his characterizations of the fractured mind and injured soul that do extreme harm in order to define themselves, but never quite succeed. The grand days of Universal and the timelessly atmospheric and socially conscious creep shows of the 70’s. There are such high ideas not so hidden in the genre of horror. Horror explores the world in a very poetic way, though dark and disturbingly troubled, it examines the details of our existence by way of the fantastical, fable, allegory and the mysterious. These themes chosen by film makers make them cinematic philosophers, anthropologists and social voyeurs. 

I would really like to compose for film. Actually my upcoming project that I am hoping to release in 2006 The Last Drive-In is actually an homage to those themes from horror films and the sensations that they evoke in us. Drive –In strives to conjure those feelings, not so much to tell a specific story, but to re-create what a distorted shadow or an intense moment of mystery might sound like if it had a voice. With tracks like “Aren’t you his mother. Rosemary?”, “There’s a Crack in the Wall”, The House On the Hill”, and “Sweet Charlotte”. These pieces are very cinematic and could be used as a soundtrack in a film.

Besides music, are there also other areas in which you are interested in and for which you spend some of your time?

I love the C’s. Cinema, (of course classic cinema.) my Cats and all cats. Coffee, Canoeing on my Creek. The art of Ceremony (pagan).Companionship ( of great friends)
Communing (with the natural world, meaning the earth) and Conjuring (the elements and the joy of living simply)

Every musician has the dream – so I guess – to concentrate himself completely on his music and to make a living with it – without any disturbances. Did you accomplish that dream for yourself?

I think that just being able to say that I have created and still yet create music, whether or not a few or thousands ever hear it, is an accomplishment. To follow your hearts desire.

Like Robert Louis Stevenson said “To know what you prefer instead of humbly saying “Amen” to what the world tells you you ought to prefer, is to have kept your soul alive.” I feel like my soul is very much alive with tribute and observance and I never ceased being an artist , even during my most obscure days.
This I think is the dream realized.

I regret that I wasn’t able to hear very much of your music. I also couldn’t even hear your new album which I didn’t get until now (I guess I will get it in the moment that I send this mail to you ;-)) How would you describe your own music? Many people see similarities in your music to that of Tori Amos, nevertheless you did this kind of music before she started it also – I guess. Is that right?

Oh yes, I definitely was developing my identity quite insulated from what Tori was doing. I didn’t even know who she was until someone else heard my work and made the comparison. I think it is natural to draw comparisons between artists that are not mainstream and very theatrical and poetic. I don’t know how to identify my music in terms of category. It’s very melodic and dynamic. Dramatic and sincere. I believe that it has it’s own unique vision.

But now on to your new album:

What’s the meaning behind the album title „Island“? Is it the wish for withdrawal or rest? Or does it has a meaning like the famous sentence from Arthur Koestler: “Every person is an island”, so to say the sense that every human is alone at least?

I think it is all of those sentiments. The feeling of alienation and otherness. Of retreat and exile. But, to make clear something too. It’s not that I see myself as disconnected from humanity. Just as you said that sometimes we withdraw and so we feel that we exist on the periphery of it. 

Is „Island“ a concept album so that the thought which stands behind it is perceptible through the whole album?

Again, I think the album’s overall concept will evolve as it presents itself to people. It might mean something different to everyone. And that is how I prefer it. I would never impose my expectations on anyone. I hope that each person draws something personal from my work. As long as it moves them in some way I am grateful.

The idea of isolation is not necessarily a thread that runs throughout the album. Sometimes I myself isolate in order to re-embrace the whole of things. And it might seem like the idea of isolation is one continuous thought here, but I think there are several other themes that offer themselves up as well. Because some of the songs for me are entirely concerned with connectedness and in fact the irony and the desperation to reach out and make that connection. 

It would be nice if you could tell me a little bit about the single lyrics (of cause not every lyric ;-)) and their background, because – as I mentioned – I wasn’t able to hear it until now.

Objects in the Mirror – is actually an excerpt from a full length song. Eventually I would like to re-release it in its entirety. The full piece has some wonderfully lyrical imagery. It is for me about the relationship we have to ourselves, in terms of the perceptions we have of ourselves. How we often never seem to catch up fast enough to meet ourselves head on in the mirror. How clearly do we really see our true self?

“I’ve been sneaking up behind myself, haunting my life like a good little ghost. I’ve been faithful to the myth, belonging to the words, when I never moved my lips”

Mother May I- is very much a self expose in that it reveals some harsh criticisms of how a person can have their identity devoured by someone else’s expectations.

“Mother may I have this dance, please let me lead for once, the sandman’s here for his recompense. He’s been waiting to take me to bed, the lamb’s in his bed now, the devil in my head.”

Wash Away- Speaks of the wanting to belong and the prayer not to be left behind. In asking to be cleansed of the sadness that isolation breeds and the longing for recognition and sanity. 

“I hear the water run, far away, but close enough to drown yourself in. I died a million times, in your deepness.”

Little Birds and The Simple Truth– are songs of irony and contradiction. 

“I don’t believe in prophecy, I don’t believe in pressure, I don’t believe in blindfolds they keep on bringing us together.”

“We all dive into lake obsession, but no one really wants to drown”

Tinderbox- says that desire is flammable!

Broken-  speaks of communication. It is also about the “reaching out”.

How would you describe the musical development in relation to you last albums?

Well I worked with a few new musicians this time that really added an incredible element to some songs that I had previously released but still love fiercely.  And I really like the idea that there are several versions of the same song. It’s like the essence of my music is just wearing different masques. The tone of “Island” is very dreamy and misty. I get skewered through the heart every time I hear Matt Turner’s cello. He is a master. There is more of a sparseness to the approach of several of the songs. It allows the theme to breath a little differently than the last versions on the album Tinderbox released in 2002.
So I am not sure if the work developed in the sense that it has evolved into something quite new, I would say that it took a lateral step as if this were a dance.

Did you recorded the album with your „well-tried” team again?

Well of course I had Linda Mackley with me on this project in the recording studio. She brought that characteristic primal energy that drives my melodies. She is so dynamic and poised. She is a powerful drummer and very romantic in her approach as well. 

And, for the first time, I had the unbelievable privilege to work with Matt Turner, who told me he would tour with me if he is able to. ( oh, how I pray he is able to )
His contribution was extraordinary. His improvisational cello created the voice of lament, desire, possession, and transcendence on the album.

Also a new ingredient in the mix was recording with Wendy Bugatti. I get hit with waves and tremors when ever I hear her electric guitar on The Simple Truth.
She’s a provocative, gritty and earnest guitarist. 

Florian Walter’s guitar work on Tinderbox is so warm and lush and embraced my piano like a deep kiss in a really hot room. It courted the melody to it’s feverish conclusion.

And of course Harald Lowy laced the album with his dreamy electronics that at times lull me into a hypnotic meditation. Broken seems like it evolves out of a haunted music box in an old abandoned house.

What moment in general is the most exciting while you create an album or song? Is it the one in which you find the last matching tone or text part at least or the one in which you hear the ready made song the first time directly from CD?

The whole entire process is magical to me. From the inception of writing a song that feels right to me, to the process of recording and then releasing it out into the ether. 

How important is the graphical arrangement of your albums to you? Do you handle this by yourself or is someone else doing it for you?

It’s all important. And again, there has to be continuity and authenticity. It has to represent who I am. The last two album’s artwork for Tinderbox and The Unreachable Sky were designed by me. I didn’t design the artwork for Island but it is just absolutely beautiful.

Will there be live gigs in Germany after the album-release?

I really hope toI have wanted to come to Germany even before joining Kalinkaland. Perhaps in the fall Linda and I will manage a small tour and it would be a great honor for me to perform there. My friends are starting a “help send Joey to Germany fund” I will find a way. Somehow. 

What can the audience expect at these concerts? What do you feel when you are standing on the stage and “present” your songs to the people?

I have been told that I have a very ethereal and charming persona on stage and even just in my ordinary waking life. I suppose I might have a presence. I am very intense, but I am also so very simple and real. I think I project a lot of humility and gratitude. I hope that translates as grace. I am not enigmatic like other performers. I really think of myself sometimes as a feral child in the woods. I am naturally theatrical but not by device. It came with my upbringing. When the iron butterflies start banging around in my stomach, I try to just allow providence to channel itself through my shyness and self-doubt, and pursue the mission so I can perform. And when I am really connecting with it emotionally it moves me to tears. I hope I move people. I hope like the lyrics in Broken “ I’d like to give you something that you can take away”. I wish people can take away something from my music and my performance that causes them joy or recognition of an emotion. Or release of some sort because they identify with my work.

So, that’s all for now. I hope you had some fun by answering these questions. I for now am waiting with tension for your album and your answers. ;-)

Doreen and Orkus Magazine, thank you so much for giving me an opportunity to talk to you.  I appreciate it so much. And hope that you liked hearing from me.



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