Boston Music Scene Spotter: Interview with Boy Without God
Boston is no stranger to home-grown musicians who have made it big: Aerosmith, Boston, Extreme, New Kids on the Block, Dropkick Murphys, Jo Dee Messina… the list goes on. While they are household names now, these musicians were once up and coming, “the next big thing”. One new face to look out for the Boston music scene and beyond is Boy Without God. Boston native Gabriel Birnbaum founded Boy Without God answered some questions for us.
CBSBoston: How did Boy Without God form and what’s the story behind the name?
Gabriel Birnbaum: Boy Without God was originally a private bedroom project that documented me learning how to play guitar, write songs and sing. It wasn’t really supposed to be serious. Before that I’d only played saxophone and written complicated noisy, free jazz, and I felt a lot of pressure associated with that and wanted to escape it and make music that sounded more like what I was listening to. Since then, BWG accidentally took over my brain and musical life.
The name is something a woman I barely knew called me when she found out I was an atheist attending a Jesuit university (Boston College). It struck me as funny, and so I used it. I didn’t expect to be explaining it for the next five years. Like I said, it wasn’t supposed to be a serious project.
CBSBoston: Tell us a bit about your background. Who were your musical influences growing up? Did you always want to make music?
GB: I’ve gone through a lot of phases. First, I wanted to be a baseball player because my older siblings were both already talented musicians and it seemed unwise to follow in their footsteps. I turned out to be lousy at baseball. In elementary school I started learning the saxophone and getting obsessed with jazz musicians like Wayne Shorter and John Coltrane. In high school I got more and more into violent, noisy free jazz, really abrasive but transcendent music by people like Albert Ayler and Joe McPhee and Assif Tsahar. Then, at the end of high school I realized that, even though I pretended not to, I liked rock music when I heard it in my friend’s cars and, with some help, got into Wilco and Elliott Smith and Neutral Milk Hotel.
CBSBoston: Who or what are your musical influences today? How has your musical styles, likes and dislikes changed?
GB: I’m still pretty prone to phases when it comes to music. I just finished a huge late period Impressions binge, which is making me want to shake the dust off of my falsetto. I’ve also been really admiring Neil Young and Townes Van Zandt lately, for their ability to be direct without sounding generic. Bill Callahan’s lyrics stun me over and over with how compact and gemlike they are, and how they can be simultaneously funny and heavy, because tragedy is always funny as well. And the drama and huge scope of Arvo Part’s Tabula Rasa has been in my mind a lot lately.
Musically, there are three big changes the band has undergone. The first was learning how to sing. I’m not proud of how many shows I played or songs I recorded before I had it even remotely together, but that’s the fastest way to learn. The next is a gradual motion away from the breathy, emotion-heavy 90’s bedroom lofi that was my first inspiration and towards a wider and brighter palette of music: soul singers like Sam Cooke and Otis Redding, country musicians like Willie Nelson and Buck Owens, minimal classical composers like Arvo Part, early seventies songwriters like John Phillips, Richard Thompson. Half art, half pop, less diary. The last and biggest change is the slow coalescence of a group of marvelous musicians around me, including Will Graefe, Elio DeLuca, Pete Moffett, Andrew McGovern, Siv Lie, Aaron Kruziki, & Katie Slicher. They are the reason this music comes to life, and after playing with them I can’t even imagine going back to solo shows.
CBSBoston:What songs are on current rotation your iPod?
GB: Townes Van Zandt – I’ll Be Here in the Morning
The Beach Boys – Surf’s Up
Isaac Hayes – Walk On By
George Harrison – I’d Have You Anytime
Bill Callahan – Drover
Blake Mills – Cheers
Jacques Dutronc – Les Cactus
CBSBoston: What’s next for Boy Without God?
GB: We’re recording a whole new batch of songs at a beautiful all-analog studio called The Soul Shop, in Medford, MA. Look out for those to slowly appear in the New Year, possibly under a new band name…
Jaime is a twenty-something blogger living, working, & shopping in Boston. Interested in all thing things stylish whether it be the latest fashion trend on the runways to the newest decor featured in home magazines, she blogs all about it, and tidbits of her life, at La vie…J’aime. Follow her on Twitter and Pinterest, as well.