Singer/songwriter Gabe Kubanda has been in the music business for nearly 15 years. Since parting ways with his band, Letters Burning, in 2011, he has been working on his solo career. Dubbing his sound “acoustic pop,” Mr. Kubanda has released two albums to date; 2011’s ‘Let’s See What Happens…,’ EP and his most recent release, 2015’s ‘Flow, Fail, Prevail.’
Released in March, ‘Flow, Fail, Prevail’ is filled with up-beat, pop-y originals, acoustic covers and remixes. The album mixes infectious dance-pop with smooth vocals. Single “Don’t Be Lying” has all the pep and forward momentum of an early-to-mid-2000s pop-punk song. “You Got It” juxtaposes sweet harmonies in the chorus with a steady dance beat in its verses. “Sugar” uses steady drum hits to support its mechanical movement. Mr. Kubanda’s falsetto in “Crawl” is slinky and flawless before launching back into dance-pop. “What It’s Worth” and “Ready for the Letdown” have an added element of jazz to them. The most unique track on the album, “To Be Continued,” features spoken vocals from Mr. Kubanda’s friends, family and fans in what he describes as a “roast” of sorts.
A video for “Don’t Be Lying” was released on May 29. The video features scenes of ladies watching a hologram of Mr. Kubanda play guitar using futuristic tablets interlaced with scenes of him singing and playing outdoors.
In 2011, Mr. Kubanda founded the Epic Proportions Tour with Peter Sotos. The tour brings music and the arts to high schools and colleges, as well as military bases, around the country. Its EduMusication program shows students how to be successful in the arts through lectures and live performances from pro touring musicians.
I had the opportunity to correspond with Mr. Kubanda via email to discuss his music, ‘Flow, Fail, Prevail,’ single “Don’t Be Lying,” the Epic Proportions Tour and playing for the troops.
Elise Yablon (New York Rock Music Scene): How did you get into playing music?
Gabe Kubanda: Both my parents were “hippie coffee shop” musicians and would always play records in the house. They encouraged me to take piano lessons (which I hated at the time). My dad taught me a bit on the drums, and my mom taught me a few chords on the guitar. I think I really learned to love singing in church, and in choir class, but it took me a long time to get comfortable with the sound of my own voice. I hated my natural voice, so I used to try to sing like Aaron Lewis of Staind, Chino from the Deftones, and Creed, haha.
EY: How did you develop your solo sound?
GK: I think it came as a result of playing electric guitar in different rock bands growing up. So I kind of adapted a weird style of combining chordal patterns with melodic hooks on the acoustic. I wanted to mix in falsetto elements like Justin Timberlake, Matt Bellamy from Muse, as well as those really catch “Ohs” and “Whoas” that Claudio does in Coheed and Cambria. Since it’s just me, I really focus on making each song catchy and unique, so that it sticks with the listener, like a pop single does.
EY: What inspires you to write music?
GK: A melody in my head at 4am, a random thought while I’m driving, a scenario, an observation. I’m pretty empathetic as well, so sometimes I may be compelled to embody a circumstance that happens to someone else, and I insert myself into that mindset when I write. Overall, it’s about sharing experiences, and since I’m a pretty quiet guy, my inner feelings and deep thoughts tend to come out through song.
EY: You released your first full-length album, ‘Flow, Fail, Prevail,’ in March. What was the songwriting process like for the album?
GK: Oh, it was weird, because as soon as I left my last band and went solo, I started developing the Epic Proportions Tour. So for the last four years, I’ve done three tours a year, and haven’t had much time at home to really delve into the creative process like I normally would. But in some ways it turned out better, because I would write bits and pieces of the songs while driving through random cities, in hotels and people’s basements. “Don’t Be Lying” was mostly written on last year’s summer tour, while we were staying with some friends in Chicago. They heard the impetus of it, and said “That should be your next single!” I guess they were right!
EY: In a press release, you said that “Don’t Be Lying” “is about how we tend to either hype up our lives and stories to others and then believe how “great” we are, or how we downplay our worth, telling ourselves that we can’t go on, or can’t make a difference, and start to believe that as well.” Does this come from a place of experience?
GK: Oh totally. The second verse especially is really personal to me. Someone close to me passed away from a heroin overdose, and some of the lyrics came out of the conversations I had with that person. The other thing was that I was noticing so many slashed wrists of fans when they’d come to the merch table on tour. I really felt for them and would take their wrist and Sharpie my autograph with a heart over their scars. But it really wears on you when you keep seeing those wrists day after day after day, and I just want to tell them all that they are loved, and there are people that can help them through their pain.
EY: You released a video in May for “Don’t Be Lying.” How did the idea for the video come about?
GK: I had this random thought of what the near-future would look like, and what music fans might want from their favorite band. They might desire a more personal connection with the artist. So I got together with Matty Steinkamp who has done some amazing videos, and he came in with a bunch of great ideas, and we fleshed the whole thing out. It was a really fun process.
EY: One of the songs on the album has vocals from some of your fans and friends. How did that come together?
GK: Oh man, here it goes, haha: I wanted my fans to have an actual part in the creation of my music, and wanted to put their words and thoughts into an instrumental song I had written. It was part of my album funding campaign: You pledge, and you could have your voice on the album. But when the time came to record, a number of my fans were too shy, or didn’t know what to say. So I extended the invite to some of the bands and crew I’ve worked with, and of course, it went off the rails, and turned into a total roast! But it was way too funny, and I just had to keep it all on the track. I definitely plan to do one of those on each album going forward.
EY: How do you feel your sound has evolved since your debut EP, ‘Let’s See What Happens’?
GK: I’m able to convey my feelings and ideas more succinctly, and I was really able to take some risks and bring in a lot of flavor into this album, like the swing-inspired song “What It’s Worth,” or the hip-hop-inspired “Getting Money Getting Paper.” I also had an amazing producer, Bradley Amick, who really got the vibe of the songs, and made them shine.
EY: You’ve gotten to play for our nation’s troops. What was that experience like?
GK: Really freaking humbling and inspiring. Because no matter what we think of the politics in our nation, these men and women are actually doing something for their country and are willing to go into harm’s way to protect this precious freedom that allows us all to go about our daily lives. It lets me be free to write songs and sing! So I consider it an extremely high honor to be able to play for our military.
EY: Tell me a little about the Epic Proportions Tour. How did the tour start?
GK: An artist manager friend and I were commiserating in Vegas on my birthday a little over four years ago. I had just been offered a role on VH1 “Rock N Roll Fantasy Camp,” and was really thinking hard about leaving my old band. He had a lot of great ideas, but was not enjoying managing bands. So, we decided to pool our contacts and resources and make something really special, so that as our tour grows, we could also grow the fanbases of these amazing bands that were not able to get out of their town before. It was really rough the first couple years, driving around [in]an old school bus that ran on used veggie oil. That bus ended up getting destroyed when a semi ran us off the freeway and flipped it three times! We all survived, but it was very scary ordeal. But it just kept evolving and getting better, and now we have a full tour bus, we are launching overseas next year, and things are moving very quickly. We’ve done over 350 shows in less than four years, and it’s been quite a ride.
EY: Are there any plans yet for the Epic Proportions Tour this Summer/Fall?
GK: TONS of plans, muahahaha: Our fall tour kicks off in LA on Aug 24th, and will run all the way up to Seattle, over to NY, down to Texas and back. That will be three months long, and we should be releasing the names of the bands that will be touring with me this time, they are all really amazing musicians, and I can’t wait! :)