Interview with Garbers
Garbers is a solo acoustic live-looping artist that uses a guitar and a shaker to live-record beats and rhythms, building creative songs that are full sounding, and entertaining. In 2003, Gravy Garbers began pursuing his musical journey writing songs as a way to journal his life and make something that would outlast him. He found that playing music with friends was a bond that felt a bit deeper. Starting the childhood band USED2Bsyris, the 3 piece rock unit took Garbers north to England where he had a chance encounter with Paul McCartney in 2007, and in retreat for a more stable way of life he studied Audio Engineering in 2008. He has since toured internationally as a professional sound engineer, played in 7 different bands (most notably 4 piece alternative rock act South of Nine) gaining radio play in South Africa with songs 'Circles' and 'Jozi'. He has performed on stages alongside musical icons in multiple countries and over the years Garbers has not only performed his own music in front of thousands of people, but he won a lottery, relocating him from Johannesburg to Denver, CO in late 2019. Armed with his fourth and latest single, ‘Existence’, Garbers hopes to share his story and inspire others to follow their dreams too.
What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?
If not music, then honestly, I’m not sure. Maybe I would be involved in motor racing somehow!
Well, a few things got me into music. I grew up in a place where musical people seemed to be an extremely rare quality. Also, at the time before the internet in Gaborone, Botswana, it was tough to get ahold of albums by artists you may have enjoyed or heard on TV. Days spent after school were long, hot as hell, and boring. My best friend and I decided that it would be 'cool' to play music together and be in a band. I had never seen a band before until we made one, and even learning to do that seemed way out of reach. We believed that to be truly original, you should start writing songs without ever learning how to play anyone elses to avoid being tainted by the curse of being another rip-off. Around this point, coming to terms with mortality, I realized that the only way to make something that could outlast this life and leave a mark on the world was through art; with Music being the most powerful and impacting one. I saw just how conveying emotions using sounds got a stronger message across, and furthermore, it could capture the spirit. I was terribly shy around people, I lacked the ability to express myself, but in these moments of playing music, I felt completely confident in being outward.
What do you like to do when you are not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?
Just get myself surrounded by more music really, if I'm not playing myself, I'll be doing something with it somehow, it's super time-consuming. I have been lucky to be around amazingly hard-working and talented people in my life, all these interactions have informed and inspired me to no end. Staying involved helps you evolve and collaborate constantly, furthering yourself down the music rabbit hole. This I indirectly learned from the best. You will find that we are all normal, the only thing that separates the creative from the uncreative, is the uncreative aren't even trying to create. If you change your perspective you can unlock that expression. I must confess to my liking of extreme sports and racing. Similar to music, it includes flow state, timing, and unwavering concentration… I see it like a dance or rhythm, ultimate freedom, and peace of mind.
How long has music been your career?
Given that it doesn't have to be going well to be called a career, I started performing in 2003 when I was 15 which would be almost 20 years now. I have played in 7 different bands, three of them as the principal songwriter. Professionally, I became a Sound Engineer in 2009 and have been involved in the live music scene since then. Performing my music has been ongoing.
The Short answer would be... What career? I just started.
Where are you based and how did that influence your music?
I am currently located in Denver, CO. I wouldn't say the city has impacted my music as much as where I was before and what led here in the first place. There are a few tie-ins to this city that I never realized existed even when I initially arrived. The exposure to the American scene I had early on was informed by my older brother Peter, he would find stuff through internet friends in the early 2000s. He was the one that really got me into a lot of the music I still love today. To get your hands on albums you enjoyed was not only expensive but you could wait 2-3 months for your special order cd to arrive in the town, thus the internet became the go-to for finding new artists. All I wanted was to live in a city where I could watch these epic bands, that desire, and being so far removed from that, made me want to do it even more because I was missing out so badly. One show that resonated with me greatly was seeing the DVD Incubus live at Red Rocks '04. This seemed like the ultimate venue of all time. An amphitheater built in an amazing rock structure. A milestone achievement of many great artists over the decades from around the globe, that's right here. Crazy to think I watched them perform there 2 months ago, it was like I completed the cycle. Another tie-in was the 7-string guitar that I played for the better part of my teenage years, it was sent to me by this tiny shop only 10 minutes away from where I live now, I only realized this when I walked into the place because it looked like the sticker I had received in the mail. I even met the gentleman that packaged and sent me the guitar out to Africa. Small world or coincidence.
Tell me about the best and worst shows you have played.
The best shows have to be the ones where you are playing to a full venue, free food and drinks backstage, hotel suites all free. For a second there you are like hey this is working out. On the other hand, we traveled to another country to play a gig once, and it was literally just to the barman. One gig we ended up fighting with the venue owner while trying to remove our sound console, he was so drunk he thought it was his. That was the night of the distortion robbery outside the venue, the next day I woke up with black marker all over my face and body, and had to drive 12 hours to the next town. I did a gig once and the bass player was on it and just made up random stuff over the songs for 40 minutes, he played one song perfectly at least. The most life-changing worst gig was actually an impromptu show early on where we attended another friend's gig and they coaxed us up there for a couple of songs. Unplanned and on other people’s equipment, we tried to pull it off but unbeknown to us our drummer was wasted drunk, we kind of forced him up there, uncool. The single-handed most favorite one has to be when we were based in London in 2009 opening for one of my favorite grunge bands Nine Black Alps in Wimbledon. Our bass player had just been released from hospital after jumping off the famous phone booth monument in Kingston while shattering his heel bone. We had a great powerful set. The club was busy and he jammed in his wheelchair which made it memorable, after the show the lead singer of Nine Black Alps invited me onto the tour bus which I quickly declined and have wondered why ever since.
Tell me about your favorite venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you have not already?
The Purple Turtle in North London which has closed down now, we had multiple great shows there with amazing turnouts. Other than that I would say the Johannesburg rock venue called Rumours, this spot is a staple in Johannesburg and is a melting pot of a lot of the greatest unknown South African rock acts. Where do I strive to play? The Whiskey A Go Go is on the list for sure, I was surprised when visiting it that it is way smaller than it appears on film. The history of the place is absolutely inspiring to me. Red Rocks is up there too, but not even worth thinking about for me. There are too many cities, but the top of the pile would most likely be a random dive bar in Seattle.
If you could play any show with any lineup, who would be on the ticket?
Biffy Clyro, Silverchair, Bush, Starseed, Seether, Prime Circle.
What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into music?
If you like making mistakes, become a musician, we make them all the time. The best musicians I have met also think they suck, welcome to the club.
If you could go back in time and give yourself advice, what would it be?
It will never be perfect, the more you try seeking it the further away you get from it.
Of your songs which one means the most to you and why?
I would definitely say my song 'Karma', I see it as a summary of the life I've had on this planet. It reminds me to be humble because as soon as you start getting ahead of yourself, Karma will find you and reset everything you thought you knew.
Which songs are your favorite to play and which get requested the most?
Two songs that are most commonly requested would have to be 'Jozi' and 'Circles'. My favorites to play are generally the higher-energy songs. If I had to go with one lately it would probably have to be my looping song 'Release Me'.
What is the creative process for you, and what inspires you to write your music?
This has definitely evolved over time to become different approaches; all of them breeding different results. I have 4 approaches, almost always starting with me on an acoustic guitar. 1. I come up with a rhythm/lyric for one verse and a chorus and before anything else I present that fresh idea to a band and we create the song together. 2. I take that verse chorus and I map it out structurally to where I think the song wants to go. I then create the specific beat I believe works best for my idea, I record all the instruments to that and then I get the drummer in to play reacting to the song in all its glory. This way he plays with my vision in mind, instantly the song is better adding a real player on the kit, it adds life. . 3. This is the fun one, it is collaboration, free-form jams, freestyling with random friends, at parties, late night after work, on stage before a gig, backstage, and make sure you have that recorder on because this is when you capture the coolest stuff. Only problem is, spending the time to go back, and recreate those songs again. Some of my favorite songs ever created have been this way and these songs will probably never see the light of day as they don’t have the correct vehicle behind them. 4. My latest approach is maybe the most instantly rewarding but the result produced is a lot simpler, that is by using a loop pedal. This way I can loop a beat that won't have a drummer pulling his hair out while I trip over average ideas on the pursuit of something gripping. I can spend hours upon hours coming up with leads, lyrics, chord changes, it's a good imaginary companion as you multiply yourself on repeat. It sure is fun but cannot beat an evolving musical dance between players. Inspiration can be found in random times, a different city, a different room in the house, a different guitar, a different time of day, it could be a life-changing event. Sometimes you just get the urge and you know you have to try capture or risk it getting lost before being found.
What kinds of messages do you like to get across in your music?
This changes all the time. To me, there are many reasons I write a song, a lot of it is aimed at me more so than other people realize. One of the most common themes I focus on is morality and inspiring myself to be a better person. Most times the lyrics mean something directly to me, 3rd personal perspective is a big one where I like to pretend that I am the earth and I am singing back to the creatures on it trying to impart wisdom and smarts. I also will take certain characters from my life, put them in a scenario loosely to portray an event in time. Another perspective I use is singing back in time as if I am dead already but I only exist in this aural world. Lyrically, I really like double entendres, I like the cryptic way of words, a trait inherited from my mother. It intrigues me how saying one thing can tell two different stories.
Do you ever have disagreements when collaborating and how do you get past them?
I would say no because I have mostly been in a place of creative freedom amongst band mates, then again I have never been told what I should play, I would never push an idea that others aren't feeling. A simple way to approach this is to try both ideas, one will float better than the other and you can feel that. Usually, in a room full of others it will be obvious what works better. The most important thing would be to let people express themselves how they see fit. Ridding yourself of expectations is the first step. If it sucks don't get mad, maybe the song wasn't going to be anything anyway, or maybe it just wasn't the vibe for them, could be a number of things. Most of the really cool stuff comes about unplanned anyways. Keep the vibe right at all times. Music isn't created when people are dejected
What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that is coming up?
So the exciting thing is that I will be embarking on my first national tour in the United States in March '23. The goal is to play as many shows as possible, meet new people and see this beautiful country. In the last year, I have been fortunate to work with hundreds of really great American and International bands touring through Denver. At times I wished I could just jump on the bus and join them as they headed out east or west for the remainder of their tour. So really this is kind of just me getting to do that now. For the most part, as an engineer, I would keep my music a secret to the musicians I worked with so please don't tell them about it.