IT has been fascinating speaking with Gizmo Varillas…
about his new track, Losing You, and what compelled its creation. He tells me about his second album, Dreaming of Better Days, and the sort of ideas that go into the songs. I ask about his upbringing and the music that inspires him hardest; what gigs he has in the pipe; how motivating London is – and which new artists are worth digging.
He talks about his favourite memory so far and the three albums he holds dearest; how his Spanish upbringing has shaped and driven his music; how he spends his time away from music – why writing Losing You was especially emotional and upsetting.
Hi, Gizmo. How are you? How has your week been?
Great, thank you - excited to release new music this year.
For those new to your music; can you introduce yourself, please?
I am a songwriter that makes music (mainly) inspired by Latin America and Africa. I use traditional tropical rhythms and instruments from around the world to create new exciting music.
Losing You is the new single. It was written as a response to the Pulse nightclub shootings in 2016. Was it an emotional track to put together?
It was emotional. It's one of the few songs that I have written that, as I made the melody, it inflicted an emotional reaction on me...
I shed a few tears while writing it.
What was your reaction to what happened? Did you affect you in a very immediate and profound way?
I was shocked at first: what happened didn't really sink in at first. It was only when I was on the train - I was really touched by what I saw on the train that same day. I was on my way to work and I saw two men sitting opposite me, crying and holding hands. I must have internalised that and the next day the song just flew out of my mouth, word for word. I used the name ‘Maribel’ as a way of putting myself in the shoes of one of the Latin mothers who lost their child. That song is, basically, a letter to her.
The sad lyrics provide some sort of depth - and the happy music gives reassurance.
The song is taken from your second album, Dreaming of Better Days. Can you reveal any other songs and ideas on the record? What are the main topics of inspiration you explore?
Lonely Heart is an ode to companionship and friendship. Fever, Fever is an analogy of the state of the world. It's about how tensions are rising: “The heat is getting critical, fever, fever". But, it's also about empowerment and taking a stand, hence: “I'm not waiting for a miracle”. It can also be interpreted in a way that, for example, the Earth's temperature is actually rising, too - and that it's time to change our ways. So; there are several meanings that can be drawn from this song. One People is about bringing people closer together.
Camino Al Amor is about the highs and lows of finding love: the good and the bad is all part of the journey. Through the Hourglass is a song of nostalgia and finding your way back home. Before the Sun Goes Down has a carpe diem message behind it. The Truth Will Be Heard is a song of freedom and that you can't tie down the truth: one way or another, it will come out eventually. Lights Down Low is about the power of love and how it can pull us back up in our lowest of times.
Dreaming of Better Days is a song of hope - and envisioning a brighter future.
Your music takes in rhythms from African and Latin sway - a myriad combination of colours. Are vibrancy and eclecticism important as a songwriter?
It certainly is for me. I need this vibrancy in my songs to make it interesting for me. I think it makes the album, as a whole, more colourful and distinctive.
Do you feel your music differs a lot from your earliest music in 2016? What are the main changes you have made as an artist?
I think there hasn't been a huge shift. What has happened is that my music has developed in various ways. I have incorporated new instruments; the production and sound have changed - but the feeling and emotion in the songs are the same as in 2016.
That's why I think this second album is a natural progression from the first - and I am very proud of both.
How much influence do you take from your homeland and the sounds you were exposed to young?
I was born in Spain (by the northern coastline) and I used to travel a lot in the car, listening to music while going from beach to beach. So, those moments have been engrained in me forever. I take huge influence from that time when I was young; but it's more of an inbuilt thing now.
That's something you can't erase.
Politics and the state of the world seem to play into your thoughts. Do you think, with leaders like Trump creating division, you have become more inward-looking as a writer? What is your view of the current political climate?
In these troubled times; Trump certainly creates division. In that respect, he is one of the most destructive people in power. His decision to put a wall around Mexico certainly fuelled the writing of a song like Fever, Fever – as I wrote “I'm tearing down these walls we have between us”. His actions have made me more outward-looking, if anything, I consider the state of the world to be something important to talk about. (I could not watch atrocities and not talk about them in my songs).
I will always feel the urge to write about what is going on in the world.
London is where you are based now. Is the city somewhere that gives you creative flow and ideas?
London has a powerful energy to it that keeps you on your toes. I like that. It does give me creative ideas - because I take so much inspiration from the different cultures that live here. I have also seen so many great musicians in this city and that is also inspiring - to be the best you can be. It allows you to find yourself and find out what qualities make you different from everyone else.
If you had to choose the three albums that mean the most to you; which would they be and why?
Bob Marley – Exodus
Because Bob spoke about the injustices he faced around him in this album in such a profound way.
Fela Kuti – Zombie
Because not many artists can make a political stance and make you want to dance the night away at the same time. The percussion on this album is just phenomenal.
Manu Chao – Clandestino
Because it is the soundtrack to my youth and it brings me huge nostalgia - as well as being an incredible record full of great songs and feel good music.
Can we see you tour soon? What gigs do you have coming up?
On 12th February, I will be supporting the amazing Mexican pop star Natalia Lafourcade at KOKO (in London). Shortly after, I will be announcing my own headline show in London - so make sure to keep an eye out. More dates will follow that takes me across the U.K. and Europe.
You will find everything on my website.
What has been your most treasured memory from your career so far?
Creating two albums in my bedroom and seeing them being played by fans from Australia, to Russia; Turkey, Mexico and Africa...
That, for me, is my most treasured memory to date.
How do you spend time away from music? Any hobbies or favourite ways to chill?
I love climbing, swimming - and I also surf when I'm in Spain or Portugal. I also like to listen to podcasts or read books on poetry and indigenous culture and music.
Finally, and for being a good sport; you can each choose a song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music - I will do that).
Natalia Lafourcade – Tú Si Sabes Quererme
Follow Gizmo Varillas