Mychael Gabriel: The Interview

Mychael Gabriel Interview

Feature Photo: courtesy of O’Donnell Media Group

As the godchild of Sheila E. and Prince, you could say that making spiritual yet shredding guitar-centric rock was what young six-stringer Mychael Gabriel was born to do.

These days, you’ll seldom see an artist put as much heart, soul, blood, sweat, and tears into their craft, let alone the spoils of said craft. And yet, here Gabriel is, reminding us of the musical benefits of such hard work. Indeed, music – and guitar – were ingrained in Gabriel at a young age, and considering his musical lineage, there was never another way.

With parents who logged miles during the Purple Rain World Tour in 1984, for Gabriel, a career in mind-bending, soul-searching musical heroics was always in the cards. But that doesn’t mean he’s taking his gifts for granted. As evidenced by his latest offering, Genesis, Gabriel is furthering himself as both a songsmith and guitarist. Don’t believe it? Listen for yourself.

As he continues traversing the great musical unknown, Mychael Gabriel dialed in with to recount his musical origins, guitar musings, rig rundown, and what’s next for him as he looks ahead.

What first inspired you to pick up the guitar?

My upbringing greatly impacted me – even if I didn’t realize it at the time. My parents met and fell in love while working on the Purple Rain World Tour in 1984. My godparents are Sheila E. and Prince. Music always had an active presence in our household, and the guitar immediately hit a special place in my heart. The sound of the instrument, its versatility, and its ability to transduce raw emotion appealed to me at a very young age. I remember playing the concert film Sign o’ The Times on repeat as a kid – holding my plastic guitar and trying to mimic the motions I saw on screen.

Can you recall your first guitar, how you obtained it, and if you still have it?

I have a couple of “firsts.” My very first guitar was a youth-sized classical nylon string guitar. My first electric was a youth-size Lotus guitar, but my first full-sized electric guitar was a gift from my parents – a fixed bridge Ibanez with a maple neck and a black finish with a hue of dark green in the center. I still have all of them.

What were the first riffs and solo you learned?

“Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple had to be my first riff. I used to teach guitar – that’s such a classic introduction to ’70s rock guitar performance and a great way to build enthusiasm when you first start playing. And then, I was obsessed with B.B. King as a kid, so the first solo I attempted to learn was from a song of his called “The Thrill is Gone.”

Over time through trial and error, the best learning process I’ve found is to break down the music into smaller sections and then “loop” those sections until you have developed the muscle memory needed to move on to the next section. So be it if you have to go two notes at a time. Loop those two notes until you’ve mastered it. Okay – now add the third note, fourth note, and so on.

Eventually, you’ll develop the dexterity needed and find a lot of things will come easier and easier. I’ve found this method works whether you’re beginning or advanced.

What are five albums that band shaped you thus far and why? How is their influence best reflected in your playing?

There are too many albums to mention and a near-impossible task to pair down to five. I love everything from Stevie to Elton, Jimi to Satriani, James Brown to Parliament Funkadelic to D’Angelo, The Police to Hall and Oates to Earth, Wind & Fire to Led Zeppelin to the Beatles to the Rolling Stones. Not to mention Sheila E. and Prince, of course. I mean, the list is unending, and that doesn’t even include more contemporary bands or artists.

Who most influenced your sound, and how is that best illustrated in your style?

The human experience is such that we are made up of all the millions of experiences put together. I cannot credit any one influence.

Tell me about any original music you’re working on. Your songwriting approach and now that continues to evolve?

I just released an album titled Genesis. It is a multi-genre record, symbolic of my personal journey with sounds that have inspired me to become the artist I am today. The evolution of how I approached this record, in particular, was crucial. The songs and their message needed to be cohesive from beginning to end.

None of the songs on this album were selected at random, but all were written with the intention of a singular vision and concept for this album: part biblical allegory, part personal journey, and part rollercoaster ride representing the human experience.

What songs and recordings that you’ve done so far mean the most to you, and why? What lessons have you taken from them that you’ll carry forever?

All of them. As a creative, there is a natural high I get from writing and performing that’s unlike anything else. It’s a spiritual thing. To then be able to share that with the rest of the world through the technology of this day and age? I count that as a blessing – the cherry on top. The lesson and beauty in seeing something to completion are that you are now free to move on to creating the next thing – only now do you have all this experience of where you’ve been before.

How do you balance the want to craft quality songs with the desire to shred? 

Feel. It’s all about feeling. If you’re really in touch with the “feel” and “vibe” of the song you’re crafting, you’ll know what it needs. I ask myself, “What am I feeling? How do I want to feel? How do I want the listener to feel?” Sometimes you’ll find that shredding applies; other times, less may be more. It all depends on feeling.

What guitars, gear, pedals, amps, and effects are you using?

I have a PRS SE Custom with a coil tap that I use while touring, a Fender American Strat in the studio, a 1970s Ibanez acoustic, a custom semi-hollow, and a few other personal toys I’ve modded myself. Boss ME-80 is my touring pedal board of choice for portability.

In the studio, I’ll have a varied selection of pedals, from a Cry Baby Wah to various compressors, auto-wahs, choruses, and delays. I like to record a lot of what I do direct and reamplater as needed. I do this because I’m always forward-thinking about whatever may suit the track best—having flexibility that way just makes sense to me and my process. If I send guitar tracks to someone else for their project, I’ll generally print all FX and provide a clean one as needed.

What are your most immediate goals, and how do you plan to make them a reality? What’s next?

To continue to create and share my music with all of you! Let’s make it a reality together. Touring, music videos, and the release of a deluxe version of my album, Genesis, will include more songs and extended plays, and more general creation.

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