Gabriel Liebowitz, of Dastardly, on Life as a Musician, Producing, & Latest Album - "The Hollow."
July 3, 2015
I'm originally from Rhode Island but moved to Chicago in the summer of 2006. I fronted several bands in the city before forming Dastardly in 2010, where I am the lead singer and principal songwriter. I have gone on several national tours with the band and also as a solo artist.
I'm also an audio engineer and music producer, and write and produce songs for other artists.
Dastardly is releasing our debut full length album "The Hollow" on July 1st, which I produced and co-engineered. Our release show is at Lincoln Hall on July 10th.
I also run a music showcase the last Thursday of every month at Cafe Mustache.
First Music Gig
When I dropped out of college when I was 19, I started playing guitar and singing at Potbelly restaurants during their lunch rush.
It got to the point where I was playing four or five different stores a week, including the one in Merchandise March where the franchise's headquarters are located.
As fate would have it, the commissioner of finance was getting a sandwich while I was singing a tongue in cheek cover of "The Final Countdown" by Europe and I was fired for not taking my job seriously.
The shame still haunts me.
Obscene amounts of money.
Just kidding. Along with a deep love of my craft and a desire to be able to express myself, connect with people, and be better at what I do, I make a point to put aside time every day to actively listen to new records, read books and articles, and watch films that move me emotionally and challenge my perspective.
Chicago is also a vibrant city of the arts. Going out to experience the music, comedy, dance and theater scenes are a huge source of inspiration as well.
Dastardly - A Brief History
We formed at the beginning of 2010 and have gone through a couple changes in aesthetic and personnel since then. It started as a solo project where I was experimenting with writing in the country music genre, and I put together a group of musicians to play those songs live.
We started getting more ambitious with our arrangements collaboratively, released three EPs and went on several national tours before going on hiatus in the summer of 2012 to begin work on the material for our first record, which now, three years later, is finally coming out!
How Has Your Background As A Producer Complimented or Enhanced Your Music With Dastardly?
I learned a lot from my bandmates and my studio collaborator Jonathan Alvin about the art of arranging songs, challenging the listener's expectations, and finding different techniques to create sounds.
A lot of my favorite albums don't sound like documents of live bands, but rather, sound like worlds created in the recording studio.
Records like Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart Club Band by The Beatles, Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys, Hounds of Love by Kate Bush, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kanye West.
I felt like I was able to use my experience working with my band and also producing for various genres including hip-hop, pop and electronic music to combine a lot of techniques and steer the ship toward creating a musical world that's very beautiful and also pretty unique to us.
What Skills & Attributes Are Needed To Be A Successful Musician In Today's Environment?
Well, "success" is a tricky word. As far as growing and getting better creatively, I'd say discipline and hard work, an open mind to learn as much as possible from every genre, making sure you're out performing on a regular basis, and an ability to collaborate with other people.
As far as gaining a presence and growing an audience: talent, relentlessness, and self promotion (without being a dick about it).
State Of The Music Industry
Things are a lot harder now. I saw an interview with Bryan Ferry from Roxy Music where he said he would never have the guts to be in a band now.
There's more platforms than ever before on the internet to be heard from people around the world, but now that you don't necessarily need a major label to reach an audience, the internet is completely saturated with bands and artists, and it's very easy to get buried and ignored.
The struggle isn't even to make money, it's just to get people to click on your song or video and listen to you for free.
The good news is, if you do make something that people are dying to hear and the right sites pick it up or enough people share it, it can catch on like wildfire and your career can really take off without going through the major label system.
How Has The Music Industry Changed Because Of Advancements In Technology?
Just in terms of the marketplace, It's easier to get your music on places like iTunes, Spotify, Amazon and all the places where people buy music, whereas before you would need a distribution deal to get your music sold at a record store.
In that sense, technology has made a huge difference in the sense that any artist can make their music available to the public and make money with sites like Tunecore.
As far as the creation of the music itself, the technology is pretty insane. For the production of our record The Hollow, Jon [Alvin] and I used a program called Ableton Live (which a lot of electronic producers use) to take samples of live clarinets, strings, pianos and accordions to create big lush and haunting soundscapes as opposed to using synthesizers or guitars.
If you take a little bit of time to learn the technology and are creative enough, you can really make some out of this world stuff.
It's definitely changed the way people make and produce music. You don't necessarily need a big budget or recording studio to make something sound amazing.
Grimes made her last record Visions on GarageBand. Gotye sang the lead vocals of "Somebody That I Used To Know" right into his MacBook. It still takes a ton of talent, vision and creativity, but the technology is much more accessible now.
Also, I'm pretty constantly using GarageBand at home to experiment with different sounds and arrangement techniques so that I can better articulate how to create things I'm looking for when it's time to go to the studio and work with an engineer or a mixer.
Dastardly's Latest Album - "The Hollow."
It's definitely a labor of love, and we took a long time to craft a very distinct vision.
Lyrically it's the most personal, honest, emotional and vulnerable I've let myself be as a writer, and musically I think it's very expansive and exciting.
There's a lot of concepts and themes that tie the collection of songs together, but I want the listeners to take what they will from it! It's definitely a piece of work where things unravel a little more after every spin.
On July 1st you can purchase it digitally at any online store like iTunes, Amazon, and GooglePlay, but you'll also be able to stream the whole thing on Spotify, Youtube, and Soundcloud.
Most importantly we want you to listen to it and share it, but if you want to own a high quality version, that's great too!
Cinematic Elements & Influences In - "The Hollow."
Every song has a lot of twists and turns, a lot of brightness and darkness. It's such a crazy experience listening to an album like My Beauty Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kanye West --- by the end of the record, you've gone through so many emotions that it feels like you just got out of a movie.
That was our goal for this collection of songs.
I'm also very inspired by dramatic singers like Kate Bush, and David Bowie, and especially the writing of Roy Orbison. If you listen to his songs, they play out like three minute operas. It's masterful the way songs like "Crying," "In Dreams," and "Running Scared" unfold into gigantic emotional crescendos, and I've definitely studied that style a lot for my own material.
We also love David Lynch. Moody!
Advice For Fellow Musicians
Be ready to work your ass off and love what you do so much that you can deal with the constant stresses of trying to make a living and growing your career.
Learn how to balance your time between taking in art, creating your own stuff, working on the business side of things, and also going out and being a part of the arts community in your town or city.
Also, if there are bands or artists who you really like, don't only pay attention to their music but also how they release content (videos, photos, posters etc...) and connect with their fans.
We have never had a manager, booking agent, or record label. I have had to take on all of those roles in order to survive and make sure that we are playing shows and growing our audience.
I mostly learned how to do it by asking the advice of people who do those jobs professionally.
I got retweeted by Pitbull in March 2014, it was awesome.
Also, yes, Facebook is essentially an internet portfolio of everyone who you have ever vaguely met which is pretty mind-blowing if you think about it, and there are a lot of internet platforms available to make people aware of content you're putting out.
Top 5 Moments In Music
Listening to the album completed for the first time.
Selling a song to another artist.
Being the musical guest at the Paper Machete (at the Green Mill) this year on my birthday, after my friend and former roommate Dave Maher read a stunning speech as his first public performance after being in a coma for over a month.
Watching other artist's fan-bases grow because of music I produced for them.
Getting retweeted by Pitbull.
What Is Something About Your Career That You Would Like People To Know That They Might Not?
Although I love challenging, weird, experimental music, I've also listened to every song on the Billboard Top 40 for the past two years, and have listened to every Number One song from 2015 to 1958. Twice. I love Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift, and Ariana Grande. The only music on my phone are two Sade albums and 1989 by Tay-Tay.
Constantly listening to old and new music. Making sure that I am steadily writing new songs and producing demos of them at home so that my writing and production skills are sharp in between projects.
I try to practice singing alone for an hour two or three times a week so my voice stays strong and confident.
I try to stay on top of social media promotion, managing rehearsals with the band, and booking shows. I make sure I have always have things to do and plans for the future so that I always feel like I'm doing my job.
My high school band teacher Barbara Hughes and choir teacher Paulette LaParle back in Rhode Island instilled a deep love music and how to channel that love toward discipline in pushing yourself to be better.
My principle bandmates Sarah Morgan, August Sheehy, and Andy Taylor really helped me find my own voice over the years as a writer and taught me a lot about the intricacies of arrangement and how to be a productive collaborator.
Will Brierly and Ryan Brady are two very smart dudes on the management and promotion end of the music business who have taught me a lot about how to make goals and timelines that help you work toward building your career.
Logan Hall has done a killer job making all of our music videos and has been incredibly supportive since our formation. Jonathan Alvin was very giving in his knowledge he shared with me about audio production and engineering, and also gave me an amazing opportunity to work with him at Chrome Studios as a producer and engineer.
David Singer-Vine is a songwriter and artist manager out in L.A. who has taught me a lot about writing contemporary pop music over the past few years and has given me a lot of support as an artist and a songwriter.
Definitely check out the Dastardly record! I also have a tumblr where I sometimes write about things: