(This piece was originally published in Written Citizen and is re-published with permission)
A SONG IS A WEAPON | EXCLUSIVE WITH GABRIEL DAY LEWIS
"I want to touch other people through my music, and I want to assert myself as a musician and make my own mark in this world as an artist."
- Gabriel Day Lewis
Co-directors: Zoe Gilligan + Christel Langue
Stylist: Christel Langue
Photographer: Ben Ferrari
Interview by Christel Langue
Words, editing, and design by Zoe Gilligan
It's cold outside, but Gabriel Day Lewis sure isn't a cold man. Gabe is a warm, genuine person with a knack for transitioning feelings into melodies. He is a French, English-Irish nineteen year-old soul/folk-oriented musician based in New York City. Known for a rich, velvety voice conveying the unwritten, and a recherché ability to induce a personal connection between his audience and him [through the music], it won't be too long before Gabe will dominate our music libraries. He just has that awe-inspiring 'it' factor that no one can quite fathom, yet everyone can't help but admire. This 'it' factor is also receiving recognition in the mercurial fashion industry—he is a model signed with IMG.
To state it simply: Gabe is an extremely talented writer, model, and musician. #TripleThreat #goals
Though Gabe is never not in front of lenses, cycling through the city, writing, singing, and strumming at his guitar, he always makes time for his friends, family, and cat S'mores. This is just another attribute adding to his prevalent genuine character. Even when working in these fickle industries, Gabe has always stayed constant and true. He is just getting higher and higher, and we're here to join the ride.
WRITTEN CITIZEN: Hey Gabe! Thanks for sitting down and chatting with us. So, what's an average day like for you?
GABRIEL DAY LEWIS: Yeah, of course! For the most part, I spend time with my friends in New York City and do normal stuff like go to the movies, skateboard, and bike around. I spend most of my time working on my music—writing songs, rehearsing; I take a few vocal lessons here and there. I [also] spend lots of time with my cat, named S’mores, who I recently adopted. I read a lot and I love French poetry—it’s something that I feel really helps me with my song writing. I’m with a modeling agency as well, so they have me running around doing castings and photo-shoots.
WC: As a model and musician, which career path would you like to focus on more?
GDL: Definitely music. The first time I ever played a guitar and wrote a song, I knew it was something that I wanted do for the rest of my life. Music is my primary focus; I’m working on my first EP. All I want to do is share my music, so that people can relate to it on an emotional and personal level.
Modeling is another thing that I’ve been doing. My agency (IMG) represents me as talent, so they have me doing some modeling, like advertisement campaigns, but it’s in no way my primary focus.
WC: So, you were born in America, but raised in Paris?
GDL: I was born in North Tarrytown, New York, though neither of my parents are American. My mom came to New York two months before the end of her pregnancy and had me here so that I could have American citizenship. My mother then flew me back to Paris—where she’s originally from—and I was there until I was fourteen years-old. My dad is English-Irish, so I moved in with him when I was fourteen. I lived with him in Ireland for two and a half years, along with my stepmom and two younger brothers. Eventually, we moved to New York, and I’ve been living here for the past three years.
WC: Now that you’re living in New York, how has the city treated you?
GDL: I would consider New York to be a second home to me at this point. I fell in love with this city as soon as I moved here. I love the hustle and bustle, the energy, and the people. I’m really into bike riding—I’m kind of an adrenaline junkie, so there’s nothing like weaving through traffic on 5th Avenue going, like, thirty-five miles per hour. The energy in New York is what really speaks to me. I have the skyline tattooed on my forearm. It’s definitely been a very significant and important chapter of my life.
WC: You are French though, and composing French pieces for your EP. Has there ever been a cultural crisis, being born with both a French and English-Irish background?
GDL: I wouldn’t say a cultural crisis, but I’ve been made to adapt culturally and socially many times. It’s been hard for me to be uprooted and thrown into a completely new cultural context, but never a crisis.
WC: How does all of the travel influence your music? Are you inspired by any specific cultural experiences you've had or witnessed?
GDL: I think it’s important for all artists to see the world through different lenses. Having diversifying cultural experiences is something that’s very crucial for not only artists, but also everyone. It’s a way of being open minded and discovering new things about the world and you yourself. Having traveled as much as I have has had a very positive impact on my music. Through my travels, I’ve learned about myself, and I’ve drawn a lot my inspiration from having to adapt to new places, meeting new people, and having different cultural and living experiences.
WC: How did your music help you change from a freshman in high school to a nineteen year-old up-and-coming musician?
GDL: I started playing guitar when I was eleven years-old; I wrote my first song when I was twelve. For the most part, I’m self-taught on the guitar, piano, and vocals. I had a hard time in middle school, and I still feel that music is a very therapeutic thing for me. It’s a means of channeling both positive and negative energy into a creative field. Without music, I’d be a very different person right now. It’s something of which I never lost sight and to which I held on—something that I’m still doing today, because it’s a part of me, and it always will be.
WC: Did those difficult times you mentioned influence you more so to pick up a guitar and teach yourself how to play?
GDL: I wanted to be able to share my experiences through the music that I do; music is very therapeutic for me. Nothing specifically drew me to an instrument. As a kid in the stroller, [I’m told that] I used to sing 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star'. I watched a lot of movies that revolved around music—something about them was very compelling, and I didn’t know music was going to be such a major aspect of my life until the first time I did pick up a guitar and write a song. It was almost like an epiphany, or a moment of enlightenment. I was almost like, "This is who I am, and this is what I want to do for the rest of my life."
WC: So you mentioned that you have a thing for adrenaline. Tell us a bit more about the exhilaration you get on stage, and the rush you get from sudden inspiration for a song, or when you finally complete a song.
GDL: For people who aren’t familiar with song writing, it’s way more of a technical process than you’d imagine—it’s almost like a math equation. The song has to be structured, and you have to think about it, but it also has to come from within. I don’t always know the direction in which the song is going to take me, but once I get into it, I start discovering new things about myself, and some emotions I didn’t even know were inside of me.
The feeling I get when I complete a song is so gratifying and so rewarding; it’s a like a true accomplishment. Sometimes, it takes me a week to write a song, and sometimes it takes me two months. I get writer’s block, and have to stop and go back to it a couple of months later.
I like to think of myself as a charismatic performer—I love involving the audience, and I want them to feel like they’re a part of my show. There’s something almost euphoric about being able to share these experiences with the people who come to my shows, and you know, support me.
WC: Speaking more of adrenaline, are there any activities that you would do just for a rush?
GDL: You know, it’s funny you ask that, because ever since I was like, fifteen, I’ve been telling myself that there was no way I would make it to twenty-five without jumping out of a plane with a parachute, or going bungee jumping, or cliff diving. I have been cliff diving before, but I have to admit, they were pretty small cliffs—they were like rolling hills, pretty much.
I love the rush I get from adrenaline because I don’t drink, I don’t do drugs, and I love getting high on life. Adrenaline is freeing and such an important part of my life—only the good kind of adrenaline, of course. It’s something I love feeling, because it brings out endorphins and feelings of strength and power in the best kinds of ways.
WC: Other than music, is there anything [else] that makes you feel particularly strong and powerful?
GDL: Yeah! I’d say spending time with my family: my two younger half-brothers, my dad, my mom. Just spending quality time with my family, and my older half brother of course, who’s also a musician—we have a lot to bond over.
Aside from that, I’d say writing. Writing makes me feel really good about myself.
WC: Back to music, guitar or piano?
WC: What’s your most abused instrument?
Piano… wait—I take that back! Vocals.
WC: First song you ever learned?
GDL: Boulevard of Broken Dreams by Green Day. (Laughs.) It’s the four simple chords: E-minor, G, D, A, so…
WC: What kind of household did you grow up in? What kind of music did you listen to growing up?
GDL: I grew up in a very supportive household. My parents never tried to discourage me from being a musician.
The first album I ever listened to was 'Purple Haze' by Jimi Hendrix; my dad gave it to me on my tenth birthday. My mom flipped out! I know there’s a lot of sex, drugs, and rock & roll all incorporated in his music, but there’s something I loved about that kind of rock & roll. It was so raw, and so authentic—it really spoke to me. My music is definitely soul, folk-oriented, and acoustic, though.
WC: What made you become a soul artist rather than a rock artist? You said you listened to more rock, so what made you pursue this type of music instead?
GDL: I’m definitely not cut out to be a rock & roll musician. I just don’t have the voice for it, and I can’t shred the electric guitar. I think that I do have soulful qualities in my voice, and there’s something about the groove in soul music. I love James Brown so much, and this Brooklyn artist Paul Raffael. There’s something about the timing and smoothness to soulful artists, and their voices, that really speaks to me. I found that it was the easiest genre to incorporate into my music, in terms of my musical abilities. It’s important for an artist to stay true to themselves, but they also have to figure out what they can do. They need to know their limitations and at what they’re best.
WC: How has your taste in music evolved over the years?
GDL: I listen to a lot of soul, some French artists, and I’ve always loved folk. My taste in music has also definitely changed over the years, but I have to say I started listening to rock & roll before anything else.
WC: To what are you currently, as well as always, listening?
GDL: The people to whom I look up are usually to whom I listen for the most part. I love David Bowie, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Wonder, Daft Punk… and most people don’t know this, but Daft Punk has drawn so much inspiration from Stevie Wonder. If you listen to some of Stevie Wonder’s old stuff, it sounds a lot like what Daft Punk are doing now. Also, Sam Smith, John Legend, John Mayer, Rafael Saadiq.
WC: Who are your role models?
GDL: Most of my role models are the musicians to whom I listen because their music speaks to me, and I can relate to their experiences. I’d have to say John Legend, Sam Smith, and James Brown. My role models are people who have gone through a lot of trials and tribulations, and have overcome them. I have an unconditional respect for people who are able to deal with difficult experiences and come out of them with a better understanding of themselves, the people around them, and the world in which they live. Obviously my family too—my parents have taught me how to be a better person and how to look after myself.
WC: Favorite collaborations thus far, and dream collaborations?
GDL: Thus far, my favorite collaboration has been acting in one of my close friends’ short films. His name is Alex Wolff, and he wrote the screenplay for this movie for which he also directed and composed the original soundtrack, and in which I starred. I got to play the complete jerk who ends up stealing the girl that he’s been chasing for almost a couple of years. It was a pleasure working with him. I saw the short film a couple of weeks ago, and it completely exceeded my expectations. He’s sending it out to film festivals throughout the United States, so hopefully it’ll be successful [in regards to him].
I haven’t done any musical collaborations yet, but I’d love to collaborate with artists to whom I look up. Sam Smith is definitely somebody with whom I would love to write, compose, sing, and perform. John Mayer and Cody Simpson too. I’m very open minded, and I’d love to collaborate with anyone who sings, has a good head on their shoulders, and is talented in whatever genre of which they're part.
WC: Would you ever consider going into acting or any other entertainment-based profession?
GDL: For the time being, I’m trying to assert myself as a musician. It’s not something to which I’m opposed, though. I love performing, being on stage, getting into character; I’ve done a lot of high school and middle school plays. The reason I was willing to do the short film with Alex is because I read the script and was like, "This is awesome." I was very happy to support it. Later on, down the line, if something comes my way, I’d be happy to consider doing it.
WC: Favorite films + TV shows, go:
GDL: TV shows: Breaking Bad, American Horror Story, Peaky Blinders, The Wire.
Films: Goodfellas, Raging Bull, Casino, Taxi Driver, Godfather II, andCrazy Heart. Lots of Scorsese movies and Crazy Heart is awesome—it’s about an alcoholic country singer that goes on his last tour in the south.
WC: Moving away from entertainment, do you have any words of wisdom or advice for Citizens out there?
GDL: Never lose sight of where you’re coming from, always stay humble, and appreciate the people that are there for you. We all have rough patches—what’s most important is to stay optimistic, positive, and know that things always do get better, as cliché as that may sound. Don’t change on anybody else’s account, always stay true to yourself, and use everything as a learning experience.
WC: When you say, "Use everything as a learning experience", I’m reminded of your tattoo that says, "Every scar is a healing place". What is the significance of that tattoo?
GDL: It’s something that my older brother said, and it really stuck with me. I’ll never forget when he said that. What’s amazing is that it sounds like a quote that’s been around for a long time, but as a matter of fact, it’s my brother's! It’s something I apply to some of the harder things with what I’ve had to go through—an understanding that these things help us grow, and shape us into the people that we become later on. As long as we learn from our mistakes and our experiences, then we can only become better people, so I do believe that every scar is a healing place, and there’s a bit of a double entendre. You know, it’s a tattoo, so… (Chuckles.)
WC: How many tattoos do you actually have?
GDL: I stopped counting by the time I turned eighteen. I’m nineteen now, and I started getting them when I was fifteen. I told you I was an adrenaline junkie! I should’ve mentioned this when you asked what I do to get a rush; I definitely get tattoos to get a rush. Every tattoo that I have marks a chapter in my life.
WC: Do you have any favorite tattoos?
GDL: Both of my favorite tattoos are on my forearm. One says, "Every scar is a healing place", followed by a fast forward sign—which means onwards and upwards and moving on. The tattoo behind my [right] ear, which says, "Let it go", is a way for me to let go of my hardships and resentments. The one on my chest, which says, "errare humanum est", is latin for, "to error is human"—it’s about coming to terms with the fact that nobody’s perfect, we make mistakes, learn from them, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
WRITTEN CITIZEN's Features Editor Christel Langue arrived at The Bitter End around six PM—about two and a half hours before Gabe was set to perform. It was a Monday… January 12th. The Bitter End is a legendary rock club—the first ever in New York City. When Langue arrived, Gabe greeted her with a warm hug and smile. They walked past the dimly lit bar to the even darker back area where he was warming up. An a cappella group was practicing their set, which would take place before his. Gabe’s keyboard was set up with a leather notebook and seltzer resting on it; a guitar was lying nearby. Gabe was puffing on his vape and checking his phone when Langue interrupted to get a quick five question interview. He was "kind of nervous, but more excited", and very focused.
The night started out with a calm feeling. Gabe would sing to himself, chat with close friend Brian, practice on the keyboard, and check his phone periodically. In the midst of everything, Langue noticed Gabe starting to write something in his little book. His friends then started to roll in, and by a quarter past seven, the a cappella group started their set. Most people got into it—Langue even caught Gabe letting go and dancing to the 'groovy' music. By now, the room was packed, and Gabe expressed feeling a little bit nervous, but [still] more so excited.
The amount of people who came to show support for him was heartwarming. He started his set a bit later than expected, and shared memories on stage. The last time he played at The Bitter End was about a year ago with his high school band. He brought his little notebook on stage and shared the significance of it: "This was in my Christmas stocking and it says 'A Penny for Your Thoughts' with a little penny in it."
The set wasn’t very long, and by the end, he left the stage with a smile. There was a warm feeling in the room, a look of gratitude, and the constant question of "Thanks so much for coming! Did you like it?" Hugs, smiles, pictures and commentary were all being exchanged or taken. You could see the gratitude on Gabe’s face that this many people showed up. It was endearing.
WC: What are some of your goals for 2015?
GDL: I guess my main goal is to be able to share my music with the world. All I care about is sharing the message that’s in my music—I want the people that listen to my music to be able to relate to it on a personal and emotional level.
WC: What is the primary inspiration for your EP and what is the theme?
GFL: I’d rather not share the inspiration behind this EP, but in regards to theme, it’s about moving forward and accepting that there are things in our lives we cannot change, but staying optimistic and learning that we can grow from life experiences. I’ve learned from mine, and I think most people need that message in their lives.
WC: Any tracks you’re willing to expand on with us?
GDL: My song, ‘Sitting On the Curb’:
I’m a terrible insomniac, and I’m usually up until three or four in the morning. I remember over the summer—it was such a nice night out. I was sitting on the edge of the sidewalk smoking a cigarette, reflecting on everything that’s happened in my life and everything that’s happening now—it was like self-discovery. In that moment, for some reason, I understood so much more about myself than I ever had until that point. After I was done with my cigarette, I sat there and kept thinking; it was almost like a revelation. It was a beautiful thing. I went straight back indoors and started playing the song on the piano. By twelve PM the next day, I still hadn’t slept, but I’d written the entire song.
WC: Any date as to when we can buy this EP?
GDL: My EP is due for release sometime this spring. We’re hoping to get it done by April or early May, but there are a lot of other variables. I don’t want to rush anything—I’m a bit of a perfectionist.
WC: What’s the title of the EP?
‘Every Scar Is A Healing Place’.
WC: So, what's next for you, Gabe?
GDL: I’m currently working on my first EP [as stated earlier]. I’ve shot a couple of live acoustic music videos, which I’m planning to release on YouTube in a couple of weeks, and I’m playing gigs here in New York. Hopefully, I’ll go on tour when my EP comes out; I’m just working on music. Aside from my family, cat, and friends, that's all I truly care about. I want to touch other people through my music, and I want to assert myself as a musician and make my own mark in this world as an artist. There’s no guaranteeing that it’s going to work out for me, but I have a good feeling that people will be able to appreciate what I’ve been working on, so I hope you guys will like the album when it comes out.