The Student News Site of Oregon State University



The Student News Site of Oregon State University



San Gabriel on “Over My Shoulder” and recording music in a liquor store

Matthew Blissard

I had the pleasure of interviewing San Gabriel, the bedroom pop solo project of James Bookert, via email as he toured through Oregon.

GALBRAITH: You recently released the song “Over My Shoulder.” What inspired this song?

SAN GABRIEL: It’s hard to say exactly what it’s about. I think of the way I write as kinda mining my subconscious mind and whatever comes out that I like goes into the song. And then later I can reflect on it and be like, oh wow, that’s what I was going through at the time. I think the song probably sounds most like the end of a relationship, which in some ways I guess it was. At the time I was grappling with quitting my then-band. We’d been touring together for about ten years, and we’d built a pretty substantial following in that time, but there was a lot of substance abuse that I wasn’t comfortable with. I think that was me knowing that I had to leave the band, do my own thing, knowing that I’d look back and miss it, even though it was the right decision for me.

GALBRAITH: What is your song writing process like?

SAN GABRIEL: I’m always writing. I used to only write a few songs a year, but a friend of mine was like, “James, you need to show up to work.” At the time, I was writing at least 1, but usually more like 5 things a day. Just constant writing and recording at the same time. At the time, I was working at a liquor store, and I’d just be sitting there at my computer with my guitar recording all shift, so it was a great way to pass the time in a way that was engaging.

GALBRAITH: Your music was recorded in a liquor store. What led to this musical project?

SAN GABRIEL: Well, I’ve always played a lot of instruments. I started on piano, then guitar, then trombone in high school. I was in bands in high school, and our house was where everyone came to play, so we always had all these instruments laying around. I grew up mostly playing guitar, but then I got really, really into banjo for a long, long time. And I found my way into a band, and we did that for about ten years. Which was a total party. We were a punk-rock bluegrass band called Whiskey Shivers. We toured constantly, and it was so fun. We toured through 49 states, and somehow ended up in the movie Pitch Perfect 3, which was insane.

But, like so many bands that experience some level of success, substance issues crept into the picture, and that’s not really something I’m super into. I had some friends that owned a liquor store, and they asked if I’d be interested in filling in shifts when they needed someone. Which for whatever reason sounded like it’d be super fun. And honestly, it was awesome. The very first day, I took my banjo to work, and posted a video of me playing an Elliott Smith song to Instagram, thinking, if the boss was like “hey don’t bring your banjo to work” I was just gonna quit. But they reposted it on the store’s Instagram and that was that.

So I just kinda went from there. Part time turned into full time. I was still playing shows with my old band. Eventually I got Ableton and a new laptop, and a synth, then bought a bass, and would bring my stuff in and write/record during my downtime at the shop. I was just going to work every day and recording, it was really pretty rad.

GALBRAITH: How did you find your sound? 

SAN GABRIEL: Compete trial and error. Just trying stuff. I made some surf sounding stuff, I wrote a slide-blues record. The funny thing is, I’d been a banjo player for so long, that I really don’t know what I’m doing, and knew even less then. I basically started as a complete novice watching YouTube videos. But eventually I found some synth sounds that I really liked, and drum sounds I liked. Coming from the bluegrass world, I’d always loved vocal harmonies, so that was a thing. And then I added in guitar and just knew I had something that really resonated with me.

GALBRAITH: What are some other artists that influence your music? 

SAN GABRIEL: So many! Built To Spill is easily my favorite band. But I loved Modest Mouse, Pinback, American Analog Set. My teenage years were spent growing up in Tacoma, WA and all of the music coming out of there was so cool to me. I also grew up listening to a lot of 80’s music so my production kinda harkens back to that era. We listened to a ton of Michael Jackson as kids. Cindy Lauper and The Clash were records that my dad played for us as infants. Talking Heads, all sorts of good stuff.

GALBRAITH: What’s your favorite song to perform? 

SAN GABRIEL: There’s one called “Life in the Past Lane” that will be out sometime in March. It has a really cool arpeggio synth line that’s really fun to play.

GALBRAITH: You toured in Oregon recently. What is your favorite thing about the PNW? 

SAN GABRIEL: I’m currently splitting my time between here (Portland) and Austin, and I love it here. I love the weather. I love the rain and the cold and all the really cool trees. The people are interesting and friendly. I lived in Tacoma as a younger dude, and was in love with the PNW music scene as a kid. I remember hearing Modest Mouse on the radio and having my little mind blown. Honestly the whole K Records scene up here was always the coolest thing to me.

GALBRAITH: What actor would you cast to play yourself in a movie about your life? 

SAN GABRIEL: Joseph Gordon Levitt.

GALBRAITH: What hobbies do you have outside of music? 

SAN GABRIEL: I love skateboarding. That’s always been a huge part of my life, and honestly a huge influence on the music that I listen to. I like cycling, and it’s become something that’s so relaxing, and a great way to explore the city and get out and see new things.

GALBRAITH: What would be your walk up song? 

SAN GABRIEL: [My] walk up song would definitely be the theme song from The Lion King.

You can find San Gabriel on Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, YouTube, and his website for more.

Was this article helpful?
Leave a Comment
More to Discover
About the Contributor

Comments (0)

All KBVR-FM Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *