Boomsnake’s Gabriel Rodriguez taps into the spirits

Gabriel Rodriguez was born to an abstract impressionist painter mother and an acupuncturist father. His childhood was filled with trips to avant garde art shows, and his father helped guide him spiritually. These experiences shaped him into a unique mind that gravitated toward music. He grew up in San Diego, Calif., where his guitar playing led him to many different bands, eventually to filling an open space in the pop rock outfit Say Anything, with whom he traveled the country for the first time. After his time in Say Anything came to a close, he played in and out of other bands until finally he put that energy into his own project, Boomsnake.

“I’ve always been a guitar player playing in bands—and no matter what it is, no matter how much I may end up hating the music or”¦how I love the music and wish I could still be with the band, I think that it all led me somewhere,” says Rodriguez.

Rodriguez began Boomsnake back in ’08, while calling Portland, Ore., his home. He would bounce between there, San Diego and New York, all the while writing and recording his music on a small tape machine inside his room. Those recordings would eventually become Give and Take. Shortly after came Vitamins, which was released on limited edition cassette. That’s right, cassette.

When recording the albums and playing shows, Rodriguez would have a rotating cast of musicians come in and add their own parts to the songs. Eventually they would take on a new life and become something else—something like a band.

“It’s been through this process,” explains Rodriguez. “Originally I was just doing everything myself.”

But the addition of band members is what led Rodriguez to re-record songs from his previous records. Set for release Jan. 12, Re/Visions +7 is an EP featuring seven previously recorded songs, redone to capture the growth they underwent on tour. Submerge caught up with Rodriguez to discuss his new EP, touring and becoming a shaman.

The tour that you’re on right now isn’t a supporting tour and isn’t supported by anyone, but rather is full of local bands opening for you. Do you appreciate this more, being able to connect with the local scene of each city a little more?
Definitely. That’s how we’ve always toured. We’ve never toured with another—the band started in 2008 and we toured for eight months, and it was always playing locals’ shows. We’d play basements with five bands, and there would only be seven members and they were all living in the house. It’s that collective community and that seems to be the case for lots of scenes these days. There are these small, Podunk towns, and there are only a handful of musicians.

Your newest release is a redux/revisioning of songs that you’ve already recorded and put out on two separate releases. What was the reason behind this decision? Were you guys not happy with the original recordings or had the songs evolved so much that they became new songs and it felt appropriate to release them on a separate record?
That’s much more what it was. The first two recordings were basically done all by me, and the second one of those was done in my room on a tape machine. It’s always been really minimal. You don’t need more than what you have. So when we started playing as a five-piece and we started getting all these members and it was like, whoa. These songs are actually—this is this person’s interpretation upon that bass part that might have already been there, but it’s how they’re playing it. It was changing. A lot of the percussion changed and I heard a lot more vocals. The songs changed so much that I didn’t want it to be only for the live experience. I wanted it to be on catalog so I could say, “OK, here’s where the band was at that time.”

As minimal as some of the sections in your songs can get, there are others where you accomplish a lot with just vocals, percussion and guitars.
Yeah, well I appreciate that. I’m actually working on a new record right now. I’m recording way too many songs. I bought one microphone, and I just have a little setup. As soon as I figure out how to do it that minimal, then I want to change it up.

Re/visions +7 isn’t even out yet, and it sounds like you’re already working on a new record? Where is the music headed?
Well, to be honest this is the first time I’ve talked to anybody about it except who’s in the band. The concept of the record thus far is, I hear lots of different voices that aren’t necessarily my own. You know, like singing. The concept is, Boo M. Snake is one of the first shamans to ever come—well, he was an African slave and came here, and he was trying to practice witchcraft and was eventually killed. The concept is, a shaman, someone who carries spirits with them at all times and has them on hand. What I’m going to try and do is all the vocals are going to be through the interpretation of six different perspectives—different essences of one person. And it relates, because I feel like too many times artists or musicians have a shtick or a spiel that works for a certain amount of time; but if you’re not constantly reinventing what it is you do, then you get really bored and stale. I wear seven masks every day. If I go to talk to my parents, I’m a nice young kid, and if I go to some punk rock show, I’m going to start a fight. So it’s trying to incorporate all those personifications of yourself into one sound. Instead of thinking, this is a song about my girlfriend breaking up with me—no, it’s a song about being all these different people at one time. Because you can’t be the same person every day, and if you are, God help you.

You mentioned West Africa. Your song “Sampled Demolition” definitely has that sound to it—that Ali Farka Toure sound—and others have a sort of tribal drum sound to them. Are you really influenced by that West African sound?
Culturally I am. Musically I really like Polynesian music and gamelan and kecak as well. Microtones and all that stuff really mess me up. I don’t know anything about music theory; I just know what I like. I hear something and I attach to it, and then I have to know everything about it. It becomes a slight obsession. Like, oh! So they used this and this was done here and at that time? West African music—I like it, but more just indigenous sounds. Truth to a certain people. Like, wow! They’ve been doing that for a hundred years? Not in the sense that I want to take it and westernize it and rip it off, but in a way where it touches me and I actually feel it. It speaks for a people and speaks for a time. So I guess from that sense. What I’m trying to do is hear all that and figure out, what is our time? What speaks to us?

What’s the music scene like in San Diego? Are you comfortable there?
I don’t. I don’t feel comfortable at all. This band was started in Portland, because I was living up there, and then I had to move back to San Diego because I was running out of money. My parents are from here, so I grew up here. I’m comfortable going to shows; I love going to shows in San Diego! It’s the best because I know all the venues. As far as playing shows in San Diego, San Diego is not that nice. It’s kind of harsh. I mean I have lots of friends here, and there are aspects of it that I love. But the music scene is kind of separatist. I feel that everyone is struggling, so they only stick with their friends, and everybody books shows with their friends and if you don’t know them then”¦I’ve never had a problem getting shows, because luckily some of the other guys in Boomsnake know a lot of people. I always feel like there’s some hierarchy that I’m not aware of when I’m playing shows. Not to say that there aren’t great people, I just don’t feel comfortable.

Boomsnake played with Sea of Bees at Old Ironsides on Jan. 20, 2010.