GABRIEL MANN: ON TOUR WITH ALANIS (2005)
Piano rocker Gabriel Mann – accompanied by bassist Carson Cohen and drummer Adam Marcello – have recently entered Europe, opening the show for Alanis Morissette on her tour. Going through Denmark, Norway and Germany, they eventually ended up at London's Brixton Academy where Inciting Scenes hooked up with them.
How did you get this tour with Alanis?
- We finished a new record about two months ago, and sent over a copy of it to Alanis's business manager, Gabriel Mann explains. - Well, our manager knows her bis manager. She listened to it, liked it and asked if we wanted to go to Europe. So here we are! It was all very fast, we sent the CD on Thursday and got the call on Friday.
- So she probably didn't listen to it, really, Carson Cohen shoots in.
- No, she did, Gabriel persists. - I know she listened to it. I too thought she didn't at first, but now I know she did. Cause I asked her, he grins. - She was very complimentary about the music. One of the people who work with her also said that this is the kind of thing she wouldn't let anyone else decide. It was pretty lucky, essentially, and a great way to get on tour, rather than someone owing someone else a favour. Our first little bit of luck. Ever, he laughs.
Gabriel has played smaller venues in Los Angeles – like Room 5 and the Hotel Café – as well as being on tour with Jamie Cullum and now Alanis Morissette. But what do they prefer? Intimate or not?
- As long as the crowd's enjoying themselves, both are great, Adam says. - With bigger crowds, because they're further away, it's harder to connect with them but when people are digging it and there's a lot of energy, it's fun.
- There's a level of intimacy, obviously, Gabriel adds. - To talk to people directly in an audience or talk about whatever you want to talk about is a very comfortable atmosphere. Whereas in Rotterdam there were 10,000 people. The only audience we could see were those right up by the stage, and the rest is kind of this cavern. You can hear them, but you can't see their faces. Maybe 500 of'em up front. When you play in a big room like that every move you make is amplified. If I raise my hand up in the air or do a dramatic motion, the impact of that is multiplied. I feel more comfortable about being more physical, but you'll feel kind of silly doing that in for instance Room 5, where you saw us in February.
- As far as our career, the last couple of weeks we've played to 20-25,000 people who have never heard of us and never would have, and in LA we're playing to maybe 50 people on a good night. And that's usually people who know us, so playing to this number of people expands our fanbase enormously, Carson says.
So how long have they been playing together?
- Three years with Adam, maybe four, Gabriel more asks than states, as he looks at Adam. - And about a year and a half with Carson. I've been playing around solo for a long time, and with these guys for a few years. Which I guess is a long time. We got introduced through our tour manager Allen. He was living in LA and we all went to this birthday party where we were the only guest.
- He probably set it up like that, Adam grins. - He's good at that. Allen gave me all of Gabe's music to learn in a weekend and we did a gig.
- It was very convenient at the time. Adam and Carson have played together for a long time, they both sing, which is very convenient. Cos we're all singing, for better or for worse.
The trio have a self titled album coming out by 3 of May, but they're playing a gig at the Key Club in Los Angeles on the 29 of April. They don't have a record deal, but the album will be available on iTunes, cdbaby.com and of course at their shows. Gabriel Mann is the songwriter of the lot, but how does he write his songs?
- A lot of songwriters seem to have a method, but I feel like I write differently each time. A lot of the ideas come when I drive around LA. I call various voice-mails and leave myself messages that I accidentally end up deleting, he laughs heartedly. - I have a piano where I live, that I write a lot at. I have a big back log of songs, hours and hours of tapes, that I have to go through sooner or later that I'm hoping to turn into songs. As far as what comes first, sometimes I'll start without words and it'll gradually turn into something. The melody will often come first, but if I'm on a plane – which I seem to be a lot these days – I use my time to write lyrics, cause it's awkward to sing, obviously, and I can't leave myself messages, he grins.
- Some of my best songs happen at the same time, writing at the piano. In those situations I get the song out fast, and it feels more solid. Half of what I write is personal, from my own life; some is inspired by people around me, like family and friends; and a small fraction is fiction. Or romanticised reality.
What would make him sign a record deal?
- Tons of money and no responsibility? Adam suggests.
- Yeah, that's one thing that would be good, Gabriel agrees. - The problem without a deal is that you gotta do everything yourself. PR is the most expensive part. For this tour we're getting paid, but the expenses outweigh the fee by a lot, so the only way to make money on this tour is to sell records, and if you don't sell enough records, then you're still broke. But touring is expensive. Anything you want to do costs money, and a record company will take care of that. The other day Alanis's crew filmed our show, which was another 500 bucks. It's a great way to spend money, but a record company will... ease your pain.
- A lot less upfront costs, Adam adds.
- You end up owing them money, but you don't have to pay it back until you sell enough records, so it's in their best interest to make that happen. There are disadvantages, of course, because they own the music. In exchange for funding your career, they take a large chunk of your earnings. But if we can keep doing this, and it leads to bigger things, it becomes tricky. We might end up signing a smaller record deal with less money up front and keep more of the ownership. At the end of the day it would have to be a significant deal, cause we're surviving. There are other deals, like distribution deals that will get your record out where they won't own the masters, but you can't sell them for a year or so.
Seven shows into the tour, surely they must have some amusing stories?
- We have a million! says Gabriel.
- Our latest thing is that we're staying with a friend of our manager, who has five children. 14 years to 16 months, Adam shoots in.
- Yeah, and one is away at boarding school so we're staying in his room. The beds are not quite long enough for full-size people. We've been doing a lot of couch surfing, and stayed with a lot of people, and I think it's a great way to tour. We don't get to spend a lot of time in the city, so at least we get to stay with someone who speaks the language and knows where to go, so we get the most out of it. That aspect of the tour has been really great. We've had our share of random hotels, and it's not that great. We had a fiasco with our video camera, at the airport they thought it was some kind of weapon and shipped it off to the German military base which doesn't make much sense cause it said it was ordered from Amazon, and as far as I'm aware you can't order weapons off Amazon.com. There's a lot of stuff we can't discuss on camera. For security reasons, Gabriel laughs.
- Where do you want to end up after this tour?
- As a support band this is as good of a gig as you can get. Alanis has a huge following, says Gabriel.
- It's a great following too. People like our kind of music and appreciate new music, Adam agrees.
- It's our kind of crowd as well. Alanis's songs are songs people remember, they sing along, know the lyrics and melodies, and that's the kind of stuff we do. The music's not the same but in terms of the kind of music, it's the same world. After this tour I wanna do more of the same thing, Room 5 or Elton John or something, Gabriel jokes and bounces his steel-wool curls around. - Elvis Costello would be our dream gig. Sting, you know, he jokes. - We probably won't get a big a gig as this one next time, but the bigger the better. The more people you can play for every night, the faster your audience can grow. As far as for us, ultimately we want to do this, but switch around, and have them open for us.
- We need to do more of this, and have lots of people see us, Carson says.
Getting a slot on a big tour has been very adventurous. It remains to be seen where it will go from here, but to have our names associated with her is pretty awesome, Gabriel rounds off.