The Spanish musician lets us into his songwriting world, one where plants are vital for creating a less sterile ambience
Based in London, Spanish songwriter Gizmo Varillas has recently released his third album, Out Of The Darkness and it’s one which shows the continuing evolution of his sound and style. Just as 2018’s Dreaming Of Better Days was a step forward from the bedroom artist behind debut El Dorado, the new record is his most expansive yet.
Assisted by a cast of other musicians, including the legendary drummer Tony Allen who sadly passed away on 30 April this year, it’s an album which showcases Varillas’s ability to amalgamate influences, rhythms and genres into something which we’re calling “world pop”; a sound that’s instantly gratifying and has dense layers which reward repeat listens.
Here we learn all about his essential writing gear…
1. POETRY BOOKS
I love the idea of picking up a random book and opening a page to see what I find. Sometimes I’ll land on one that really catches my attention and that becomes the spark for a new song. I have a collection of poetry books that I read now and again while I write because it opens up my horizons. If I’m ever passing by a charity shop, I’ll always pop in and see what books they have and pick one or two because I love the adventure of discovering something new that surprises me.
As a writer, you need to find the things that inspire you – so that you can keep productive. This method is great when you have no idea what to write about and find yourself staring at the walls. It gives your mind a starting point, something to think about. That process in itself will help you write that next song. It’s important to write anything that resonates and feels true. Poetry is a great way to connect with your deeper self.
2. MIDI KEYBOARD
MIDI keyboards are like magic to me. The fact that you can play a harp on a keyboard by loading up a virtual instrument blows my mind every day. From harps to marimbas, flutes and steel drums. You name it, every instrument has been sampled and programmed to be playable on a keyboard.
Nowadays these are real instruments, recorded and then put together into an easy to use package. This is a big game-changer for me because it allows me to arrange my music in a way that was not possible before. As much as I’d love to have a marimba, it’s just not possible to fit one in my studio right now!
The MIDI keyboard makes life easier, it’s efficient and gets your ideas down much faster. It has become an integral part of my songwriting process as I can load up pretty much any instrument and it gives me a wider palette to work with.
3. VARIETY OF INSTRUMENTS AND PERCUSSION
While having loads of virtual instruments is useful for writing, I think that having real instruments to touch and play is an essential part of songwriting too. While some people can imitate the bass sounds on their keyboards quite convincingly, there’s just something about having the instrument in your hands and playing it for yourself.
When you play you become the instrument. You are channelling the music and whatever you play in that moment. There’s a special connection. If I ever have the choice between the two, I’ll always go for the real instrument because it makes the music so much more human. There is beauty in the imperfections. They tell a story.
Making the most out of the technology that we have is quite important these days as it makes my life easier as an artist. For the past couple of years, I often go to Spotify for inspiration and I always find hidden treasures and gems that I would not have found on my own. It’s such a great source of inspiration for me and I have found so much music thanks to the precise algorithms and playlists. It also has really obscure tracks so it is my go-to for discovery.
The environment in which you work will influence your work and how you write. When I started writing, I surrounded myself with loads of plants in my studio and so it felt like I was in a jungle. It was very important for me to set the scene in my own surroundings. Because creating music is like painting an imaginary landscape. When you build your studio, you start to accumulate loads of gadgets, cables and microphones and it all becomes a bit too sterile. I need to counterbalance that with plants, connecting back to nature.