ORIGINALLY APPEARING IN PIONEER VALLEY UNDERGROUND 1/18/17
by Chance Viles
Gabe Gill is a producer, singer/songwriter, and rapper from Northampton. Gill initially lived in Boston, moving to Northampton at 7 years old. Gill has since moved back to Boston to study in the Studio for Interrelated Media program at Mass Art, but still considers himself a Northampton native and spends his breaks back in Western Mass.
Gill started making music as a high-school freshman with his friend Tieren forming the indie-pop band DRMRL. While initially live instrumentation, DRMRL (Dream Real) became an electronic based pop band that utilizes strong choruses and melodies with a good amount of auto-tune and electronic instruments, similar to the electronic-pop music craze that took over Myspace as well as many teenagers music tastes from 2006 onwards. While not necessarily Gill’s strongest material, DRMRL represents the wide variety of music he can produce.
Since DRMRL, Gill has joined Valley based hip-hop collective Ugly Family, performing with rapper Dro Brown at the Amherst College Hip-Hop festival, as well as producing beats for other rappers and rapping and singing over his own tracks. Notably, Gill began his career producing beats for rappers across the Valley including hip-hop collective Dark World.
The production and beats ride a fine line between almost too weird to rap over and a more euphoric R&B kind of sound. This creates a diversity even among his own production and characterizes the weirdness that is Western Mass. Hip-Hop.
–How did you get involved with DRMRL and making music in general?
Gill: Tieren could play any instrument, so I started making music. Eventually I figured out how to use Fruity Loops and could make a song with any instrument on my computer. That was the first moment where I thought I would sit and write a song as opposed to being unable to play music because I didn’t have a knack for musical instruments.
Initially DRMRL was a Red Hot Chili Peppers rip off band. Then I got really into rap. I was listening to Kanye West and Outkast, like a lot of southern rap, so then I started making beats as a sophomore. I sent my beats to DJ Lucas, Morimoto, and Gods Wisdom from Dark World and got positive feedback and so I kept making beats. I still had this band that was me, Tieren, and his brother, and grew to become DRMRL, which is still a thing. We put out an album last year, but it’s to the point where we need money to go to a studio and record guitar bass and drums. And after a certain point I was like I have all those instruments on my computer, so we started making super electronic beat based music. Still kinda with the same writing style as before, just electronically instead of live instruments.
-What programs do you use for your music?
Gill: I have used Fruity Loops since I was a sophomore. I just got a Mac and haven’t been able to figure out Fruity Loops on here, so I have been using GarageBand. I actually just figured out how to make GarageBand work for me. I’ve been enjoying GarageBand lately.
-How did you get involved with Ugly Family?
Gill: I’ve known Ugly Family’s Dro Brown for awhile through beat making. I feel like I know every rapper in the Valley from producing. Now that I am singing and rapping more I forget how I have met people. But I am pretty sure it was through my production and beats. I did a song for Machakos Kyalo, that was the first time we hung out. We started linking up to make music since then. I became official member of ugly family after texting Dro about it.
It kind of makes sense for me to be a part of Ugly Family. It makes sense considering who I have been making music with and who makes music together. I wanted to be in Ugly Family.
-How did you start working with Dark World?
Gill: I have always been the kind of person that if I know of someone in any capacity I will hit them up and ask to work together. I saw Dj Lucas open for Danny Brown, he went by a different name then, and I added him on FaceBook and sent him my beats. I think what is funny is my beats sounded like they did because I didn’t know how to make beats, but it really worked with their sound. My early stuff was raw and distorted which fit their style. The first people to use a beat of mine was Dj Lucas, Morimoto, and Gods Wisdom, I sent the beat to them [as opposed to being asked for it]. The song is called “Live to God”. That was about three years ago.
-Have you worked with any artists outside of the Valley?
Gill: I have used beats from this group called Brockhampton that Kevin Abstract is a part of (which is not released yet). I am also part of a label called Retro Neon out of Orlando. I just started talking to a marketing group called TangleWood. I collaborated with this rap group from the UK a few times.
-Describe your sound
Gill: Probably like experimental pop, influenced by rap and rock, but kinda mostly pop music with interesting sounds.
-Do you rap over your own beats, or do you keep that separate?
Gill: I have. it’s sometimes weird. The producing part of my brain and rapping part of my brain are too similar. If someone else sends me a beat I can see it better as a vocalist. It’s easier to rap on someone else’s beat. Or if I make a beat I have to wait to write on my own beat otherwise the melodies come together at the same time. I am still trying to figure out how to get my rapping voice as unique as my singing voice.
-What is the general approach and process you take to your music?
Gill: I always feel like it’s a big choice whether I start with a sound, stringed instrument, or drums, one of those things come second to the other. A more hype beat I will start with drum and bass and get like bounce going and add melody and sounds. If the goal is something else, I usually am looking for an inspiring sound to make melodies with. It could be because my music training is not formal, but I always feel as if the sound dictates the melody. If something sounds like an old organ, the chords that I think of will come from that rather than vice versa. I don’t have strong ideas and I iron my ideas out.
-How would you describe the musical community you are involved with in the Valley?
-Gill: I would say that it’s interesting. I am kind of a part of a few different communities. I love the same thing about all of them which is the strong sense of hard work and personal integrity. I love when people have DIY spirit but also work as if it is not DIY in a sense. Sometimes I see people who have bands but don’t take anything seriously. That’s cool and fine and usually fun, but there are a lot of people out here like HoneyFitz who grind hard to record their own music and make t-shirts. They tour all over. He is my age. HoneyFitz puts all of his work into that. I love Dark World. They have done cool things for the valley. There are some rappers in Springfield I work with who are great, and kids at the Northampton High School are doing cool stuff. These people have their vision and goal and work towards that, which is why I love the Western Mass. music scene.
-What in your current sound would you say is uniquely influenced by Western Mass. music?
Gill: Local music in high-school was Dark World. Aggressive lo-fi stuff. Other friends were making chill rock music. And although my music is not either of those things, what is unique is I took both of those styles and made them more poppy and brighter, but still with that feel of being in a place where people are listening to everything and recreating it on a very wide and lo-fi scale. That carries into my music. It channels all different things. Including that Western Mass. punk energy. I am filtering it all through what I can do and know how to make.
-You recently moved back to Boston for college. Has your sound changed since you have left the Valley?
Gill: I think so. I don’t even know if this is the kind of shows I tend to go to here versus the shows I go to in Western Mass., but, I think that Western Mass. shows were home-like and low-key, introverted. Here, the shows are high-energy and more people, less familiarity. It has made my music more focused. The songs I have made since going to Boston have been more high energy. When I make a song I think ‘how is a crowd of people I don’t know going to react to this?’ versus ‘what will my friends think of this song?’ So I think that even being around new people has made me shift how I make songs. It has made my music more aggressive. Bigger sounding. Yeah. More concise.
-How has your sound changed since you have started making music in general?
Gill: When I started with DRMRL it was alt-rock. Over time I realized that Tieren and I love pop music and big choruses and melodies. So our sound has gotten more on a pop side over time. I think that when I started making beats we became much more electronic. We put out a mixtape last year that was almost entirely electronic beats with vocals over them. When we figured out auto-tune we fell in love with it, and now it’s on a lot of my music. Now it’s a combination of everything. The roots of that indie-rock songwriting and sentimentality is now in all of my music. I throw in hip-hop influenced drums now. Our sound has gotten more unpredictable. Now I feel more careless in a way and I will sing on anything or throw any sound on an instrumental.
-Do people hit you up to make them beats?
Gill: A little less lately. I have been emphasizing that I am less of a producer now, but yeah. I think there is a while where I was frustrated because my production skills are limited. I know how to make what I make. If someone wants something very specific, I can try, but it’s gonna sound like me trying to make a beat like that. I couldn’t just make a Biggie style beat. It’s going to sound like me trying to make that. So people who don’t produce might not get that it’s a different skill set. People do hit me up and I am always happy to make stuff but people need to know my music and know what it will sound like.
-Does rapping and producing now take a backburner? How would you categorize yourself as an artist?
Gill: I am a songwriter. I want to make good songs. The tools I have are production, singing, and rapping. Rapping is starting to rise in the ranks of my confidence. I use my skills based on how well they will work out for me.
-What are your main musical influences?
Gill: Red Hot Chili Peppers, Kanye West, Frank Ocean, 90s indie rock and pop, 90s/2000s R&B, are thee most influential to me as a blanket.
As a kid I read a ton, and I think that changed how I rapped. I could freestyle, but I used it as a party trick sort of. People always thought I could rap, and I thought it would be corny if i started rapping so I didn’t take it seriously. Once I started genuinely making music that was kind of good, I started rapping. High-school was a gradient of me being more serious about rapping. It wasn’t until like last year until I was comfortable rapping and used it as a serious thing. Prior I was a singer, and I could freestyle but it was funny.
-I noticed that you are into fashion, what are you involved with outside of music?
Gill: Everything is intertwined for me. I am at art school right now for visual art. Like 90% of the time I am drawing or painting or doing graphic design projects. I do like fashion. I don’t care about technical knowledge of fashion. I like clothes a lot. I recently did some modeling for Bodega in Boston. I was in their winter catalogue. I work at a teen center in Roxbury, I am really into community work that is art related as well as educating. I did a lot of stuff like that last year, I took a gap year and did a lot of teaching and community work with internships in the Northampton area. So I think it all comes together with me in terms of my main interests being art, music, and community events and exchange of knowledge.
-How much music do you have released right now, and what do you have coming up that we should keep an eye out for?
Gill: DRMRL has 1 mixtape, 97, which came out December last year. I have a bunch of singles on my Sound Cloud. Personally, I have 1 song and 1 video out, and a bunch of collaborations.
I have an album in two parts, two EPs sort of, two seven song installments. I am about to go back to the Valley and finish part one over break. I want to have it mixed and mastered and have a few videos out in the Spring. The album will come out in June or July. I am also aiming to tour over the summer. The goal is to then put out part two of the album next Fall.