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Floating clouds of synths glide through Arrows, a diverse five-track EP that marks Gabriel Gifford’s debut solo project – out 30th October. From soul beats to jazz and disorientating layered sound on titular track, Arrows, this EP has something for all tastes with no compromise on artistry.

The Bristol-to-Berlin producer has toured Europe with band-mate Harvey Causon, featured tracks on Radio 1, Apple Music playlists, 'Brown Sugar' and 'New in R&B' and deftly collaborates across the genres. Following the release of intimate jazz ballad Quiet Nights Without You on 9th October, we reflect on music communities, British politics and loss.

Dedicated to coping with the passing of his father, Arrows puts some creative direction to a challenging time. In today’s context of continued crisis, the coronavirus pandemic, fragility of life is brought into sharp focus rendering Gabriel’s difficult theme a relatable one. This is a talented artist who talks so humbly, and we want to listen. He describes the EP’s tone as "retrospective nonchalance” supported by the robust intimacy of collaborators as he makes his first leap out on his own two feet.

The EP leads with Never Stopped for The Sun ‘Til Now, an explicit late night banger brimming in hazed groove, and leaves us with emotionally charged Quiet Nights Without You. Gabriel confidently and sensitively stretches through fields of sound creating a reassuring bubble of escapism for all those yearning for escape; you can listen to both All for You and Quiet Nights Without You pre-release online right now.

Firstly, what music did you grow up around?
I’m lucky enough that my father and step-father were from quite different worlds musically, but both impacted my taste massively. On one hand, my Dad introduced me to loads of jazz, Afrobeat, dub, and psychedelic rock, whereas my step-dad introduced me to ‘90s hip-hop and dance music. My music definitely touches on slight nostalgic tropes, but I look to modernize it with the way I process things. Besides that, indie landfill, early Madonna, and Amy Winehouse were mainstays.
I knew you first as a producer – working with Harvey Causon, Lucy Lu and Maya Law –, and I am so excited to hear your solo work. How does it feel?
It feels relieving. I haven’t released music on my own since my Soundcloud beatmaker days, so it’s nice for people to hear things that are inherently ‘me.’ I set out to make a varied and dynamic project, which I think I’ve achieved. It’s definitely scarier making and releasing music on your own, but the reward is higher.
Saying that, this is still a very collaborative project, whether that be the featured vocalists or other amazing musicians playing on the record such as Ben Toon, Keahnne Carlita, and Conor Harrington. Collaboration on this EP is either me being an ‘old-school’ style producer or having codependency issues – I haven’t worked it out yet.
Arrows is a really personal project of yours; would you describe making music a coping mechanism for you?
It’s definitely helped as a distraction. When you’re in ‘flow state,’ nothing else in the world matters. I would say the community you build from music is more healthy though. I lost my father to suicide last year, and the people around me have made sure it’s been a far better year than it could have been. There’s a robust intimacy that comes with writing and performing music with people, it involves opening yourself up to someone in a more authentic way than relationships built around drinking.
Does creating soundscapes feel like it can replace words sometimes?
Someone asked me why there are no happy songs on the EP, and it made me realise I make music far more often when I’m in a worse mood. If I’m already happy, it’s unlikely I feel the need to express it through music. I’m not sure soundscapes replace words for me, rather release some tension when I have no words. I definitely try to establish moods through sonic atmospheres rather than my melodic language.

Isolation, solitude and grief are impacting a larger population than usual during the coronavirus outbreak right now, so your EP is easy to identify with. How do you relate to your listeners?
The songs have lots of feelings of reflection, introspection, and battling with how you feel about that. I’d like to think that the lyrics are open to interpretation, whether such problems have arisen from grief, a relationship, or just your own craziness. I think it’s pretty universal to be over-analytical about things that have happened, particularly in young adulthood. The tone I’m trying to strike is to be at peace with these things. Retrospective nonchalance?
Titular track, Arrows, is a very trippy, transient spoken-word moment that really stunned me. Can you give some context for the words?
Arrows is a poem written by my late grandfather. To me, it perfectly encapsulates this idea of being at peace with stuff you can’t control – it looks at the trajectory of life in a pretty chilled way. The poem bears new weight since my Dad passed, and it was important to me to include something deeply personal considering the majority of the EP is with featured vocalists. The voices heard are many of my close friends, so it was pretty emotional receiving some of the recordings. The plan was to flick between each person reading the poem, but that sounded too much like a bank advert.
My first listen of that track, Arrows, had a similar energy to Quiet Nights Without You – it beguiled me with full body tingles. You’ve mentioned the later has a reference to Brazilian artist João Gilberto’s track Corcovado (Quiet nights of Quiet Stars in translation), why did this particularly resound with you?
It’s a kind of funny story considering how sad the song turned out to be. The title came from a phone recording where I’m fumbling around a bossa nova-esque guitar idea and mumbling “quiet nights only came without you,” much like Corcovado. At that moment in time, it was about being an introvert and being particularly worn out by the energy of someone I was seeing at the time.
You put a psychedelic touch on each track introducing undulating synths like wave patterns. Corcovado references a mountain in Rio de Janeiro and it made me wonder, do you find any inspiration in nature for your music?
On a conscious level, not at all. I really love the idea of using field recordings as the basis for production, but in reality, I can be quite lazy when I sit to make something. But it wasn’t until the EP was close to completion that I realised there was all this imagery of the sky, in Arrows and the chorus of Dust Rises, for example. The title of the opener, Never Stopped for the Sun ‘Till Now came from this incredible sunset I saw days after my Dad died. I just stopped and took the whole thing in for a while, feeling very existential. It marks a slight change in the way I think about things now.
Being a creative is hard financially, and with venues closing it’s even more challenging. Have you had access to the UK Arts Fund during this crisis?
I have not. I had furlough money from my hospitality job keeping me afloat during lockdown, and it’s important to keep the limited funds available for those that need it most.

Tribune Magazine writes well about our government’s handling of arts funding, and jokes about ‘retraining’ have been doing the rounds on social media. What’s your stance on the UK government’s treatment of artists?
Oh, man… It’s laughable but also deeply depressing and insulting. Anyone that started pursuing artistry for the money is in the wrong game. But more seriously, we’re talking about a whole industry that generates a lot of money for the country that is being reduced to this idea of misguided lazy creatives. The arts are one of the few exceptional things about this country, and so its demolition is fucked up. To have no clue about the jobs that exist within the arts is insane. Revoke their access to any art, media, and literature, and they might realise a few things.
On a lighter note, are you celebrating the release of Arrows EP on 30th October?
I will have just moved to Berlin, so that’s cause for celebration in itself. I guess Halloween is cancelled, so everyone can bump my tunes all weekend?
Are there any more exciting projects of yours you’d like to share about?
I’m in the middle of helping out on the debut project of a good friend of mine, Elsas. Some of it is a bit like Rosalía/FKA Twigs if they were trained in jazz and did acid all the time. She’s one of the most talented people I’ve ever met, so it’s a total honour to contribute.

Bella Spratley

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