Gizmo Varillas - Out of the Darkness (Big Lake Music, 2020)
Gizmo Varillas is a Spanish musician based in London. In the years since his debut, 2017’s “El Dorado”, he’s developed from bedroom artist to one surrounded by other musicians, even living legends, while at the same time confronting, and reflecting upon, his own struggles.
His last album, 2018’s “Dreaming Of Better Days”, found him trying to maintain his – and our – optimism while faced by a world that seems to have lost its way, but this triumphant third album was largely inspired by the events, both political and personal, that have since followed, and his efforts to overcome the problems they’ve presented.
If there are other echoes within the record, coincidental or otherwise – from Manu Chao to Paul Simon – one man whose influence is more spiritual than musical is Bob Marley. “He took universal ideas,” Varillas says,” and wrote in unambiguous language that everybody can sing to. There’s a universal truth that we all connect with, and it’s those things that remind us we are all a lot more similar than we think. I like the idea of taking complex issues and delivering them in a straightforward way.” The technique’s always worked well for him, and continues to do so today.
On the occasion of the release of the album Out Of The Darkness, we asked Gizmo a few questions.
There are millions of musicians in the world, but there are only a few who have real talent. How do you perceive your talent for music?
“I think talent is subjective and comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes. There are people that are incredible singers, but may not be able to play an instrument. There are people who can play the guitar really well but not may be able to sing. There are people who can produce music really well but can’t play any instruments. Other people know little of music theory but are able to create some of the best music ever created. So I guess what I’m trying to say is that we all have our strengths and our weaknesses.”
How do you perceive your talent for music?
“I’d say my strength lies in my songwriting and the ability to capture an emotion in my productions. I am always striving to innovate, to be versatile and adapt within different styles of music. I started playing guitar at the age of 10, started being in bands and writing songs at the age of 14 and produced my own music ever since. This was a natural path for me as an artist, others may experience their own path differently but it doesn’t make them any less talented. The beauty with music is that there are no rules. And I embrace that every day in what I do.”
When did the first urge to compose songs come?
“From an early age, since I was a teenager. Writing songs has always been a way for me to express myself and it has helped me in the darker times of my life. Music has always been a part of my own healing process. As I grow older, being creative is now a necessity for me. I know my mind would suffer if I wouldn’t be able to do it. That’s why I’m constantly creating.”
Did any of your ancestors play music? Do you think it can be hereditary, or have your life events brought you to music?
“There have been a few musicians in my family, but the strongest influence has been from both my parents who were painters and artists. Their creative flare really rubbed off on me as a kid growing up in those surroundings. I believe music came to me later in life, due to the events in my life. I started playing guitar by chance. There are a flamenco and Spanish guitar teacher who was giving lessons in the same building I was living in Spain. That was lucky for me as it is what started me on my journey. Shortly after I stopped going because I wanted to play rock music. I was going to gigs with friends, sharing music and being in bands was all I did as a teenager. That was the beginning of me finding my own style and path in music.”
How many hours a day do you spend working on music?
“When I’m writing I usually start from when I wake up right up until I go to bed, with breaks in between of course – but I am very hard working in that sense.”
Your songs can be said to be simple. It’s quality pop that has the potential to reach a lot more fans than it does today. Do you think it is possible to achieve this without quality management and without a large record company nowadays?
“I think having a good management team and a good plan is crucial for an artist to be successful. The music industry is full of potholes and things that can hold you back. So it doesn’t matter how good the music is, without a good team behind it you can easily get lost in the industry. Alongside my team, I’ve made a career in music and make a living without the need of a large record company and I enjoy having creative control of my music. You need to consider these things when you’re an artist. I think reaching a larger audience is possible with a larger record company but then they own all the rights to your music. At the moment I prefer keeping the rights to my music and doing things my own way. I’m playing for a long term career in music, for my whole life, not just one album that goes massive and then people forget about you. I really believe if the music is good enough, people will listen eventually. You just need to be consistent and keep growing.”
At present, we are getting more and more confronted with the opinion that today only a minority of people understand music and that the majority is influenced by media, advertising, or the environment. Do you agree?
“Certainly the media have a huge impact on public opinion. Particularly on pop culture. But as an indie artist, the internet and streaming platforms like Spotify have evened out the playing field. People find music that they like on their own now. So I really believe now is a great time to be making music. Sure- having huge media coverage gives you an advantage and will be helpful in a campaign, but it is just one drop in the ocean now.”
Your new album is more mature than the previous one. Which of your albums was the easiest to create so far?
“I think all 3 were equally as hard to write, they all posed their own challenges at the time of writing them. Maturity comes with experience. Experience gives you the confidence to be who you are and talk candidly. The more you do something the better you get and because I’m continuing my journey in an honest way, my artistry is blooming – I hope that reflects in the music.”
You haven’t turned your back on Spanish as your mother tongue. Do you feel the need to record a song with Spanish lyrics on each album, or what makes you do so?
“Even though I was raised in the UK most of my life, I was born in Spain, all my family are Spanish, so it feels natural to sing in Spanish. I feel the need to reconnect with my roots and display that in my music because that’s who I am and that’s what I represent.”
How did you manage to get in touch with Tony Allen and get him to the London studio?
“My manager got a hold of his management. They exchanged a few emails, and Tony Allen listened to my song Saving Grace and loved it so he came down to London to record drums. Sometimes it’s as simple as asking, and in this case Tony really loved the music so he wanted to be involved. It was a massive stamp of approval for me.”
What was his reaction to your song “Saving Grace”. Do you think he has developed some kind of a link/connection to it, or he just took it as a “job.”
“Tony Allen told me in person that he loved my voice and the guitar playing on Saving Grace. That’s why he wanted to be involved. He was 78 years old at the time and had already collaborated with Damon Albarn and Paul Simonon from The Clash. For him to collaborate with a new artist like me would only happen if he genuinely liked the music.”
Whom else would you like to work with in your life?
“There are so many… Khruangbin, David Byrne, Nile Rodgers, Vampire Weekend, Rostam Batmanglij, The Weeknd, Lord Echo, Black Pumas… the list goes on and on!”
We wish you a lot of success and will be happy to present the album “Out Of The Darkness” as the album of the week.
“Thanks for all your support!”
Robert Gregor (photo: press Gizmo Varilllas)