Interview: Singer-Songwriter Gabriel Bernini Talks Tweedy and Tunes
You know that inimitable ability Jeff Tweedy has to warp words and weave them into wild, nonsense narrative that sounds like soft poetry when he pairs it with twangy guitar and percussive punches? Turns out there’s a Tweedy twin out there.
Born and raised in Massachusetts, Gabriel Bernini recently relocated to Los Angeles, taking his jangly pop-rock tendencies with him. Though he’s only got a few releases under his belt, Gabe’s bursting at the seams with original material you’d be totally unsurprised to find brewing in the back of Tweedy’s mind, so it’s no wonder that he’s one of Gabe’s biggest inspirations. In every warbling strum and ghostly drone and jam-packed lyric, the influence pops out, though Gabriel Bernini is entirely his own artist.
Back in February of this year, Gabe released his latest full-length, Record For Bailey, a brief half hour excursion into his soft-and-sweet jangle tunes. It’s as perfect a collection as they come, so much folk-rock goodness stacked in layers. Record for Bailey opens with “New Years,” a lazing track smacking along in slow-motion for a long two minutes decked in jangling percussion and flavorful riffs. On “Meet Cute,” things pick up with a sugary sweet quick-tempo that evolves into a pop-rock romp detailed by the kinds of tiny jarring noises that make unexpected appearences throughout Wilco’s discography, another nod to Tweedy’s influence on Gabe. The real proof of the Tweedy twin, though, is “Someone In My Shoes,” an anxious, fuzzy rock track chugging along with urgency. It’s got that distinct stamp of Tweedy-ness to it — the vocals are hushed and resigned, just falling out of the mouth, and there’s that effortless rhythm work and clever wordplay, too.
One of the standout tracks of Record For Bailey is “Small Town Mystery,” a moment of bluesy newness. It’s drowsy and thumping, so much twang packed tight into a punchy folk ditty. “Calling It Art” boasts some more Tweedy vibes, steady with impressive rhythmic precision, but this time there’s the slightest, itty-bitty note of Old 97s’ outlaw-country power. Among the influence lay Gabe and his warm timbre traversing the thin blanket of vocal texture he’s capable of. On “Streets Of Valery,” Gabe crafts a delicious moment of candied retro-pop. It’s old-school classic, emblazoned by searing guitar work and dreamy melodies and percussive thumps far below the surface. Later, “1-10” offers the most beautiful moment on the whole record. It’s one of the most minimalist compositions — or maybe it just feels that way because of how slow-going it is, mapped out by smacks of blooming drum beats and zig-zagging lazily as Gabe sings lush lines like “How ‘bout if I count as the time passes by? / 1 up to 10 / I love you more than you have ever been.” Record for Bailey ends with “Andy, Angel and I,” a perfect conclusion because it encompasses everything that’s come before it — it’s got the jangle, got the twang, got the softness, got the sweetness.
A prolific poet and multi-instrumentalist already, Gabriel Bernini intends (thank god) to continue bestowing listeners with his one-of-a-kind brand of hook-laden lyricism and stripped-back pop-rock flavored by a little bit of that good ol’ Tweedy twang.
The Music Mermaid: First, can you tell The Music Mermaid a little about yourself and your music?
Gabriel Bernini: A little about myself -- I've been playing in bands since I was really young and started touring when I was 17. I toured playing keyboards with the bands LuxDeluxe and Deer Tick and have been working on my solo project for the past year. I went to school for film and like to work on short film and comedy video projects. I grew up in Northampton, MA and just moved to LA two months ago!
TMM: Before moving to LA, you were based in Massachusetts, two totally different music scenes. In what ways have each location influenced your work?
GB: The music scene in Northampton, MA was very inspiring and motivating for me. It's a very comfortable place for artists and musicians to work and be surrounded by a great community without the struggle of living in a big city. For me, seeing a great show always involves a light to heavy dose of jealousy [because] that jealous feeling really gets me in the mood to work on new music and new show antics. I think everyone really feeds off of each others’ energy in that way. So far LA has been really great for seeing shows but I almost don't want to play here until I can play the Rose Bowl. I'm thinking this time next year.
TMM: Your newest release, Record For Bailey, dropped a few months ago. What was the production process like for that album?
GB: I made Record For Bailey on my own in my basement in Easthampton, MA in the fall of 2018. I'd been working on a record called Sweeties all summer when I accidentally started writing Record For Bailey. Sweeties has faster rhythms, more electric guitars, and is generally more produced sounding, but Record For Bailey is much more influenced by Bob Dylan records and The Band's album, Stage Fright.
I had a show booked in February that I was advertising as a record release show. At first I thought it would be the release for Sweeties but I finished Record For Bailey so quickly that I felt like it would be more exciting and relevant to put that one out instead. It also lyrically represents more of where I'm at currently so that's always nice.
TMM: You’ve got some Jeff Tweedy in you. I can sort of picture him pushing people out of the way to get his hands on songs like “Hiding Undercover” and “Only Way To Say Goodbye.” Ultimately, though, these songs are all you.
GB: Jeff Tweedy is my favorite living songwriter ever since Bobby passed in that motorcycle accident in ‘66. Wilco has absolutely shaped my musical palette as well as my standard for live concerts. I also weirdly grew up across the street from their management company, Margherita Management. With my old band, we used to bring them our newest records and posters for our upcoming shows. They were always super nice and got us into a couple Tweedy shows when our tour dates would match up.
TMM: What’s the songwriting process typically like for you?
GB: Back to Jeff Tweedy, after reading his book, apparently we have the same songwriting process. I usually play acoustic guitar and sing gibberish until I find something compelling, then the gibberish usually turns into whatever I've got going on inside. Writing songs is a really great way to process your own insides. Whenever I'm feeling my most fiery I put all that fire into a cool song and get it out of my head for a while.
TMM: You mentioned in an interview with Holy Crap that you collect vinyl -- what’s the most surprising record you own, the most listened to record you own, and the most important record you own?
GB: The most surprising vinyl record I own is probably my original first pressing of Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash by The Replacements. I got it for $10 from a college radio station that was selling all their vinyl. I bought it without knowing much about The Replacements and then gained a huge appreciation for [the record] as I became a bigger fan and realized how great of a find it was.
My most listened to records are Bob Dylan's Blonde On Blonde and Jimmy Cliff's Harder They Come soundtrack. Both of those records fulfill the soul in a way that makes it impossible to get bored of them. I can listen and sing along to them everyday and feel great about it.
The most important record I own might be the copy of Revolver that my Aunt Maryanne gave me as a child. Growing up she was the perfect age to be part of Beatlemania and she later gave me all her Beatles records and posters as an incredible Christmas gift. The copy of Revolver is pretty messed up at this point but I still prefer listening to it over other copies I've found over the years. The way "She Said She Said" comes off of that copy is transcendent.
TMM: Who are three musicians you think the world needs to hear ASAP?
GB: Three amazing groups more people should know about -- Sun Parade, Dari Bay, and Carinae.
TMM: What has been your most memorable music moment so far?
GB: My most memorable music moment so far was playing with Big Al Anderson of NRBQ at a New Years LuxDeluxe show. NRBQ being my favorite band of all time, I would have been beyond thrilled to just watch Big Al take a crazy guitar solo from the crowd. Playing along with Big Al while he takes a crazy guitar solo was almost too much to handle.
The Music Mermaid: Finally, what’s next for Gabriel Bernini?
Gabriel Bernini: Sweeties is on the way! Looking forward to Rose Bowl 2020!