Gypsy Roller Bio
Interview by Gen Genocide
GG: Where to start? Let’s start from the beginning. As a child, did you ever stand in the mirror with hairbrush and act like a Rockstar and sing?
GR: (laughter) I started off dancing first, so I used to do that with dance moves a lot, using the mirror to make up my routines.
GG: Did you ever think, as a kid, that you wanted to be a Rockstar?
GR: I didn’t know if I was capable of doing it at the time. I knew that I loved collecting my 45s and my records, and I probably just thought that was too far-fetched of a dream for me to actually do that. Entering a dance contest seemed more realistic to me. I didn’t know if I was capable of that. You have to understand that the household I grew up in was a traditional Latin-American household, so rock ‘n roll was not pumped in the radio at my house. I had to find rock ‘n roll on my own.
GG: How old would you say you were when you discovered rock?
GR: When I really, really discovered rock? Probably the first time was through AM radio. My dad had an early 60s Impala, and that was before you had to use seatbelts. I probably heard some Dell Shannon song on the radio that got me moving. Then while bouncing around in the back seat, not knowing that people could see me through the window, I was really getting into it. When we came to a stop sign, people would just stop and glare and they would point. I first noticed that that type of raw emotion gets attention.
GG: Right, and it does.
GR: I was too young to come up with the idea to do that to get attention because I didn’t know that I could do that. I hadn’t learned that yet. I was just feeling the music. But if you really want to know when I discovered rock ‘n roll? Remember I told you I grew up in a traditional Latin-American neighborhood, and there were no rockers or new wavers at my school. It was mainly late 70s, early 80s kind of gang culture.
GG: So that must have been pretty damn exciting that you discovered rock ‘n roll at that age when most Caucasian-Americans discovered it as toddlers.
GR: Mainly, what would pump through my household was the sad, Latin drama songs my mom listened to while having her wine. This kid that lived next door to me, he was a couple years older, and he came over and said, “hey – do you wanna spend the night at my place because at midnight there is a music TV channel that’s going to come on. They are going to be playing nothing but music with visuals.”
GG: I just have to ask, what year was that? How old would you say you were?
GR: I would say I was probably in the 5th grade, somewhere between ‘80 – ‘81. My family was too poor to have cable, and his TV was one of those console TVs. He was able to hook up cable to it, and I didn’t know what the hell it was. It was like my version of “man going to the moon”. We were staying up past midnight as 5th graders which seemed very exciting me. I was waiting, and all of a sudden it happened, the whole astronaut landing on the moon with the American flag with the MTV theme song playing. Of course, the Buggles came on first, then the other rock ‘n roll stuff started kicking in, like Billy Squire, Rod Stewart, and The Cars. Then Bowie came on, and I couldn’t really register it all. It was almost too much for my little mind to take in. I was like, “What is all this? What does it all mean?” Some of it was scary to me because I didn’t understand it. That was my real first introduction, then I fell in love with it. I managed to fall in love with more of the European stuff that was coming out at that time.
GG: Like what would you say? Bands like Psychedelic Furs and ABC?
GR: Yeah, that was the stuff that drew me in, and it was so foreign in my neighborhood. I felt like I was going into another world, and I was.
GG: Yeah, you really were. So, you did say that it was like going to the moon, because that was MTVs thing.
GR: Yes, and that is also when I started dressing different too, because that had opened up that door. I went to school dressing different, knowing and not knowing what a big fuss it was going to make. The kids were just not having it, and they were saying, “What is this?”
GG: How would you say you dressed? You say you were inspired by the music.
GR: I just kind of mimicked that early 80s era the best I could.
GG: Specifically, how exactly did you dress? I am trying to get a visual.
GR: Oh, I probably wore some tight black corduroys with my pants tucked into my boots.
GG: In 1980 in the suburbs to give a comparison, as you know, just because decades change doesn’t mean things change overnight from 79 to 80. Where I lived, although we were seeing Devo and whatnot come on, people were still wearing SF riding gear, wide leg jeans, triple stitched down the side pants with velour tops. It wasn’t until the mid-80s when the whole hipster phenomenon, where people are wearing skinny leg jeans and the pointy toe boots. But it really didn’t happen worldwide until the 2000s, would you not agree?
GR: There was definitely a backlash of that look in the 90s during that grunge era it was very uncool to be fashionable. I continued to be fashionable through the 90s because that’s all I knew how to do. I didn’t want to try to be something else that I wasn’t.
GG: And thank God you weren’t.
GR: I didn’t want to wear a flannel and look like a lumberjack.
GG: Well, that is so not you, Gil.
GR: I basically said to myself, “When is this going to be over?” In the 80s, I had taken the dressing up thing to such a level, that I got kicked out of school. They took me out of my high school.
GG: For how you dressed?
GR: Yes, for how I dressed. They said I was a distraction, and they took me out. They said kids couldn’t concentrate on their work by the way I was dressing.
GG: What did your parents say to that?
GR: My mom didn’t understand it. It drove her crazy. She was a traditional Latina woman. As far as her version of American music, she liked Diana Ross, The Supremes and Mary Wells which later developed into the Amy Winehouse phenomenon. You have to understand, too, that the main cruising boulevard was on the corner of my neighborhood, so as a 9-year old, I would walk and see fights with baseball bats. There were stabbings and killings on that boulevard.
GG: So, that also sets the tone.
GR: Yes, that was my reality.
GG: I diver that for a moment. I want to make a comment on that. When you have that kind of background and then discover the dirtier side of rock, the angrier side, like music from Detroit, music from the areas where there were gangs like in New York where Johnny Thunders came from…
GR: My first introduction to me of liking punk rock, was Bowie, and then Bowie turned me on to Lou Reed. I bought Lou Reed’s album specifically because it was produced by David Bowie. I didn’t know who Lou Reed was or the Velvet Underground.
GG: Is that how you discovered Iggy, too? The Stooges?
GR: Yeah. So, that is what started that. Then, through that I found out about Johnny Thunders and The Heartbreakers. I didn’t discover the Dolls first. That first album, I still have it…LMAF. I bought that in the 9th grade.
GG: Wow, so you started young? How old were you then?
GR: Well, let’s see…9th grade – you’re 15? Nobody was buying those records in my neighborhood.
GG: That’s right. I have to tell you, in my opinion, unless you lived in that part of the country where that music was pumping out of, most kids in America at the age of 13 had no idea who he was. In fact, most kids where I’m from, hanging out in downtown Portland in the punk era at the age of probably 15, unless you were older, kids my age had no idea. We didn’t know around here, those who came to be into underground music, about Johnny Thunders until we were probably like 18.
GR: I got that record, and no one had really provoked me to buy it or either record actually. I don’t remember. I really don’t remember. I might have liked the cover. I might have thought that it looked cool and intriguing. All I know is that when I put it on the stereo, first of all - and this is kind of interesting coming from a non-guitarist- I really liked his voice. A lot of people say it’s about The Velvet Underground, too. His voice sounded like, um, well, they say The Velvet Underground spawned a thousand different bands when they heard it, and it made people feel like anyone could make a record if they wanted to. You didn’t have to have prime vocals like Marvin Gaye. You didn’t have to be that technically trained or be that good. You had asked when was the green light that I thought I could sing, and when I heard those vocals, I thought that maybe I could it. So, that was my introduction. I couldn’t find a band to be in in the South Bay because nobody knew about that kind of music. That was the music I wanted to sing. I wanted to sing Velvet Underground. I wanted to sing the Johnny Thunders songs. I wanted to sing the Brian Eno songs. Nobody cared. Nobody wanted to. That’s when I moved over to where you live now, Portland, Oregon. My first band was a cover band like many others because it was the only way you could start playing in bars.
GG: How old were you then, Gil?
GR: I was a late bloomer into playing live music. I was probably in the middle of my 20s. I may have been about 25.
GG: I was exactly 25 when I started to be a lead singer.
GR: I had an idea, but I knew it would be too hard to get a group of people together, to say, “Hey, let’s start writing songs like early Roxy Music”, especially since I was new to Portland. Nobody knew who I was. I knew that would take too long, and it would turn people off. So, the fastest way was to find people who liked similar music. Unlike you who had a chance to play a lot of gigs at the Satirycon, but me, I didn’t. But, that was actually where I found my first band. A friend of mine had invited me to go there one night to see someone from the Spacemen 3. It was a band called either Spectrum or Sonic Boom. They did a couple old Spacemen 3 songs, and when I stepped in there I knew I was in a different element. It was a place I knew people understood music.
GG: Being at Satyricon?
GR: Yah. He introduced me to a couple guys there, and I kinda knew without even knowing them that something was gonna happen. I could tell from the way they were dressed that they were going to understand my way of thinking.
GG: Right, and, I gotta ask you, how were they dressed?
GR: Back then, those guys were more of darker mod rocker kind dudes. Tight pants, Chelsea boots wearing type with a 60s leather jacket with shag hair.
GG: So, this would have been around 1995 ?
GR: Yeah, 95 – 96. So, as you know, I work fast. I ended up meeting up with them the next day. I got their numbers and said, “Hey, let’s meet tomorrow”. Both said they played guitar, and I pitched it right away. I asked what they thought of playing in a band doing like T-Rex, The Stooges, Brian Eno, & Johnny Thunders. They said yes, although they didn’t really know much about that stuff because they were more into 60s garage music.
GG: Uh, huh.
GR: (laughter) It was funny because back then I used to buy a bunch of bootleg videos. It’s a known video now, but I showed it to one of the guitarist. I played this bootleg of 1973 David Bowie Special. Remember that ? The one Bowie had, he took and used the hour for himself and called it the 1980 floor show. I said that’s the type of stuff I wanna do. Well, he was a mod rocker dude, and I remember him saying, “Oh man, you’re taking it too far. They’re wearing makeup and s***.” I said, “I know...but that’s what I wanna do!” (laughter)
GG: Oh Lord, so then what happened ?
GR: Well, I had to kinda finesse them into getting what I wanted to do, so “Well, never mind about that…just concentrate on the music.” They then agreed to learn these songs, and I had to meet them halfway by doing some 60s garage covers. I remember most of the set list. One of the songs was “Shadows of Night” and another was “Desdemona” by John’s Children. We agreed to do “No Fun” by The Stooges, Johnny Thunders, “Pirate Love”, “Needles in a Camels Eye” by Brian Eno, and “Life’s a Gas” by T-Rex.
GG: Oh, that’s a great tune. I can totally see you doing that song. I can hear you singing, “Life’s a Gaaaassss” extending the gas. What did you guys call yourselves?
GR: We were named the Pinups. We had the drummer from The Prime Evils named Dane. He had to Ramone’s shag to a T. He’s the one that took me back to Satyricon to see The Real Kids. One of the players had a stroke on stage that night and collapsed.
GG: What year was that ?
GR: Probably 97 – 98.
GG: Well, I love that guys called yourselves the Pinups. Ya know, Bowie had that album called Pinups full of covers.
GR: I figured if it was going to be a covers band, and the British people used to call covers Pinups. I said, “Hey, if people get it, fine, if not, whatever.” I looked at it as a “training in the battlefield of rock ‘n roll”.
GG: How did people respond to you doing that ?
GR: It was still in the 96-era which was still heavily grungy. It was either grunge or punk which were the favorites of the time like The Weaklings. In doing those type of songs, it gave me an excuse to dress up on stage. Think about it, Eno, Bolan, Thunders….they were all flashy male dressers. I think I must have subconsciously thought, well, if I do these songs then I can wear whatever I want. We did get some flack from some people, saying like, “Who do these guys think they are”? And looking back, I was probably the most flamboyant in the band, but being a lead singer I could get away with that.
GG: I remember when I met you in Medicine Hat, probably 99 – 2000. I can’t believe I didn’t know you before then because I was at Satyricon all the time. But, I do remember seeing you before I met you.
GR: Yah, that was the 2nd band which morphed into The Fringe. We got a 2nd guitar player named Don the Mod who looked like bass player from Elvis Costello and The Attractions. HE was a very sharp dresser, 3-button suit, nice tie and great hair. He couldn’t play as well, but he looked good so I slapped him up on stage anyway. That was when we started writing originals.
GG: I remember meeting you before seeing you on stage, and you had this force about you. We had exchanged words, and I believe you were wearing velvet pants, 60s garage boots, and a hat like Keith Richards would have worn.
GR: It was a 68 Keith Richards, Brian Jones style hat.
GG: And I remember you had on a bolero jacket. I remember you looked like a glam rock matador, and being Latin didn’t hurt. I was taken aback, thinking, “Who is this skinny little dude with a persona larger than the room? He’s not one of us.”
GR: I purposely went down that era to mix the glitter gaucho look because the punk rock thing just didn’t look good on me. It didn’t fit me. I didn’t want to pretend that because it wasn’t me.
GG: It worked, because it was fascinating. I remember you wearing royal blue velvet.
GR: I had a lot of velvet pants.
GG: Where did you find those pants ?
GR: Well, it’s no secret that people like Sylvain Sylvain from the Dolls, those with a slender frame, could get away with getting clothes from the ladies’ department. There were still thrift stores and vintage clothes stores where it was all mix and match. I had the balls to venture over to the female side because I didn’t want to spend hundreds of dollars getting things tailored to fit.
GG: You just made it work. What was your impression of Portland when you first got here? It was mostly all grunge, and when I met you in 99, it was still really grunge. Maybe not so much the music, but it was the way people dressed.
GR: Yes, it was grunge and very emo-Indie rock.
GG: Yes, in 99 it was the weepy rock, which is what I called it.
GR: It was boring to me. I hated it. Yah, they had the depressing lyrics, but I got that from Lou Reed’s “Berlin” album, the most depressing album ever.
GG: I got that from Conny Island Baby.
GR: I didn’t need kids from Olympia telling me how depressed they were. I wasn’t buying it, and it wasn't stylish. It was so boring to me. I just ignored it.
GG: what about bands like Nirvana? When that was out it's crazy, I didn't even want to hear that. Was that similar for you ?
GR: Nirvana ? Well, for one thing I wasn't captured by it like the world was. I understood he was doing something a little bit different at the time but there's always someone doing something different. It's just some people don't get recognized, and he happened to be one of those people. Not to say, that has lyrics for not poetic, and his songs weren't hooky....I don't remember being mind-blown by them. the thing I hate most about Nirvana are all the bands that formed from them with that mountain man voice.
GG: Didn't Kurt die in 93 or 94? So, that music was still going on and this town up until 99, but what I also was going to add is that when you moved here there was also a lot of power pop. a lot of that was just Pop-homogeneous. You couldn't really tell 1 banned from another; I know I couldn't. And, what I was into, which is why I connected with you, I was always in too late sixties garage since 1988 like Chocolate Watchband, and The Seeds., but also still a lot of 70's Rock including The Stooges. I remember I was like 19 when I discovered The Stooges and it changed my life. So, when we’re talking about bands that change your life, is there a definitive band but once you discovered it, it just changed your life ?
GR: I love Bowie, and I love Ziggy Stardust, but I cried when Lou Reed died. He was the Godfather of everything.
GG: Wow - even over Bowie. They were together at the same time.
GR: Bowie coming out to be a legitimate songwriter was like Hunky Dory in 70 - 71. So, look at the body of work that Lou had before that, starting from 66...the Banana album, the Andy Warhol album, sister Ray all very borderline punk rock. It's very street. You can hear the clicking of the Chelsea boots walking down the streets when you hear those songs.
GG: Yes, they are very visual, his songs. I find it interesting now from what you've told me about the evolution of your taste, because it really should a lot of light on my song choices that you chose to cover for album you picked Wild in the Streets. I'm so glad that you picked that song, because that song blows me away and I love singing on it with you.
GR: And it's loosely related to Lou Reed.
GG: Yes, and what I really want to say is that more than any song on our album, that song and the song, Debris, it's very icy visuals when you listen to those songs.
GR: Those are my favorite songs. Like a Dylan song is all about visuals to me.
GG: I think the more senses you can have involved when you hear music, and when you have in your mind a visual going along to the beat it makes that sound much more powerful and visceral. I didn't realize until you told me, and it makes so much sense that Garland Jeffrey's and his song, Wild in the Streets, that he and Lou were friends and influenced each other because their music is very visual. It's dirty, it's gritty with gray skies. It's a kind of depression but that also has a romance with it, but not in a weepy way like emo rock, but in a tough "I can still handle it" way. There is strength and masculinity to that. It's not an, "oh, feel sorry me, my life is ending and I think I'm gonna do a big line of heroin, although they did plenty of that back then in New York, too. It's like watching a film that you wanna be a part of, be a fly on the wall.
GR: It was almost like an audio version of a Martin Scorsese film.
GG: Yes, like Mean Streets. And, it's no surprise that Scorsese sets his movies with the background situations and geographically how a lot of it is in New York barrios.
GR: Society would be surprised to know how much that type of life really exists. It's an everyday life. Like when I first moved to San Francisco from Oregon after my divorce, and if you have money and you're living in the Emerald City then you can turn a blind eye to the realities of the street. When you don't have money, things I saw were like someone shooting up at 10 o'clock in the morning, doing a trick in the back of a car by the train station, smoking crack on the bus. And that is an everyday situation once you're doomed and you have to take public transportation, that is shit you see every single day.
GG: There is a certain sublime beauty of that to me in my eyes. Those are the films I like to see because I am in touch with that side of life and the human struggle in a way that is more apparent outward to sea whereas those that are sheltered, they may have an anguish they can't even define because deep down their soul knows they are being deprived of a larger reality. What I want to say about that is but I don't think it's a coincidence those movies cross-overed into the soundtracks that we like and Martin Scorsese films. Martin Scorsese was really into rock and roll, and really into the Stones. He also understands the visuals and his movies go so well with the music in the streets.
GR: Which is why he took so much time in the late 70s to direct the Last Waltz, right?
GG: Right, and then he did Shine a Light of the Stones. so, like the people that are sheltered in the world and choose to be that way or they are just not aware they are insulated. Don't you think there is a strong correlation between that and radio-ready McDonald's Pop? I call it that because it's drive and get your s*** and go kind of music. Maybe if you had lived on the streets or exposed to that gritty side of life, then maybe those people would understand and appreciate that music more. I say that because this is a stereo type, but there is also some truth to that. You know, the jocks of the world, peroxide lawns of the world type people, you don't see them into the lifestyle of Johnny Thunders or Lou Reed or Stooges or any of that.
GR: Yah, they aren't seeking out a Garland Jeffrey's album (laughter).
GG: Yes, none of that. I think that's why a lot of it has been considered Underground compared to bands who are cookie cutter, flavor of the month on the American Music Awards. Back when we were kids, of course they had what was popular but they also had an appreciation for bands like
GR: There was still that grand-finale, when you thought it was over and they'd announce, "oh no it isn't over yet..we've got Rod Stewart!" He'd come out and kick his legs and do some hot stuff and it was a big deal. It was like they were still true entertainers back then.
GG: And they were respected, people like Prince.
GR: We don't have so much of that any more. We are losing it.
GG: There was a time when you came to Portland and brought your stage presence moving across the stage and everything you did; nothing was just put on...it all was so natural for you. No one was doing that at the time as the front person. I think people Kama whether they want to admit it or not, can always appreciate a naturally born, good performer. One who is not hiding behind a guitar or keyboard, like you as the singer, you better be able to do something up there besides just sing. But even back then, people didn't really even care if you did that or not. If you were a lead singer and didn't have an instrument to play, people excused it if the singer looked angry and the audience could hear your voice. So, when you came out and were doing your thing, I thought, "Thank God we have someone who knows how to do that". Now, I think times are turning, and then this new wave of young kids around age 22, like back in early 2000 in Portland, started dressing kind of glam like Johnny Thunders or like the Ramones. Even on the punk side, like someone who would have been in The Dead Boys, like glammed up punk. When I was in my twenties it was grunge, and you wear your long johns shirt if you're a dude like Pendleton plaid doing layers after layers, or just a t-shirt with tight jeans and Converse. So, to see what you did, it wasn't as weird as it could have been since there was a new wave of 20-somethings when the first wave of people started moving here started seeing this new generation showing up at Satyricon, and you know we ruled that place, that was our generation. It was like "You've better pay respect because I've been doing that shit way before you, and I did that in the early 90s." in 1989 at Satyricon, people like Sam Henry and Andrew Loomis and other people, a lot of them are dead now, were kind of doing that Thunders look and some continue to do it. A lot of them were junkies and that went hand-in-hand. So, you had that on the grunge look. But Johnny Thunders kind of look was not as rampant as it is now.
GR: It was like a puppy version of Johnny Thunders.
GG: Yes, and now you can buy this stuff on the internet and it's so easy to get.
GR: Our generation had to go to the library.
GG: You had to do your research. Now, you can be instantly, store-bought cool. Easy breezy, doesn't take a lot of work. So, to add to that, what that brings is an attitude of uncool, gilded turd in a sense that they don't have to do the work. They don't have the true inner grit of what these songs mean. They don't know what they meant to the people when they came out and what it meant to the artist. They don't have to live the life. These could be kids that one day were just mainstream lovin' shit, then they got the memo that...oh this is cool, and they wanted to be different, like we all do, if we have a desire for self-identity.
GR: Yah, and those are the people who aren't doing it 5 years from now. But us, here we are, at the recording studio a few weeks ago still doing this stuff.
GG: You just said what I was trying to say. I had met people back in 2000 when I was like 31, so these kids were around 21 who had that look that I've been doing since the 80s. Then fast forward 10 years, they look like everyday people and have become "grown up", and now they just are indistinguishable from others. It's kind of shocking in a way to us, because it's hard to imagine that is the same person who used to wear black all they time would have identified her as liking a certain type of music. Like right now, they're wearing conservative clothing with generic hair. These are the people who don't go to shows anymore, some had kids and settled down. It's not that they don't even listen to that music anymore, but they are just living a more conservative lifestyle. They are more mainstream in their appearance and how they go about their life. I guess you and I never grew up, Gil. (laughter)
GR: Well, I think being a natural entertainer, like yourself, those things go hand in hand. I don't think you can be a grown up and be a natural entertainer. I'm not talking about someone who doesn't pay their bills and don't hold their own weight, but when you hit that stage you tap into that hungry soul, and you tap into a different universe. That universe doesn't include a 9 - 5 reality. You're thinking about something else. It's hard to put into words.
GG: That's probably why it's been so hard for me to say what I'm trying to say.
GR: Ok, so let's see here....that first band was the cover band, The Pin-Ups, that turned into The Fringe. Both were what I call it the cute-era. Most people had a good look, and they were very stylish dressers, but the sound wasn't really honed down yet. The Fringe turned into The Strand and Ron Wesely joined that band.
GG: I feel so lucky to have him on 4 songs on our album.
GR: Yah, he took it to another level. After The Strand, I kinda felt like I could morph it only so many times from The Pin-Ups to The Fringe to The Strand. I felt like I really had to do something different. So, then when you and I started working together at JackPot, it was around 2001 - 2002. At that time, I was thinking "Where am I gonna go from here?", and that project ended up turning into Champagne Cowboys. The first name was way too long...it was "Goodtime Gil and the Champagne Cowboys". I shortened it because I didn't like that long name. It was getting under my skin. There are still some flyers back when the band played out with that name. So, that started changing a little bit like your band, The Viles changed into The Nightmares. Then, that band The Nice Boys formed in Portland.
GG: That's right...they were Portland's little darlings. I find it funny that the Weaklings before The Nice Boys were Portland's underground scene darlings, then that band became The Darlings. I wonder if they were renamed because of that certain reason.
GR: I like to think about persona, and I come up with the band names. I cannot play in a band with a bad band name. I've put my foot down and turned down playing in those bands. I came up with Champagne Cowboys, and I think I got that from Bobby Neuwirth. He is a very unknown folk singer who was Bob Dylan's best friend. He got Janis Joplin the Bobby McGee song. I read in an interview with Bob Neuwirth, and he was referring to somebody - are they the real deal or not? Then, he said, oh no....he's not the real deal, he is just The Champagne Cowboy. As you know, the real cowboy is the real Fred Neal folk singer, Greenwich village-thing, and this other guy over here is just the champagne cowboy. I thought to myself, well, we are going for a kind of modern day rock 'n roll glitter thing...I guess plastic is the word that I am thinking of. Like back in the mod days, if you weren't a real mod, you were called a Plastic Mod. So, I thought, well, we can be champagne rock 'n rollers.
GG: You mean like fakers?
GR: Tongue in cheek, like a fake glitter band. Champagne Cowboys were going for a weird divide of like, do you wanna be T-Rex or The Faces.
GG: That's funny you say that, because it was really split down the middle.
GR: Yah, we had all that slide guitar by Nate. That was really his main role.
GG: I always thought you were the Puerto Rican Mick Jagger with a little Marc Bolan thrown in there. Playing behind an instrument is just not you, Gil. That would just not be right. You need to move. You need to glide across the stage. And yes, Marc Bolan had some great stage presence and great glam moves with that guitar, which people have tried to emulate him, even currently, kinda funny. I have to say you are someone who should not be behind an instrument of any kind You have such a great voice, and it's a wonderful tone, wonderful snotty, syrupy, with no scratch or gravel like my voice or Rod Stewart's voice. It's kind of like if Johnny Thunders was laying on a beautiful Chinese bed with incense all around and lots of scarves but no guitar. You just have that kind of nonchalant enthusiast snottiness.
GR: I think I morphed my upbringing with my love of rock 'n roll.
GG: It is dirt mixed with glitter.
GR: Yah, it's a good 50/50 mix. I think i have that in my persona as an everyday person. I'm very much in touch with my female side as much as my male side. Now, there is a borderline. Someone like Jobriath - he was a little over the top. I feel as if I've always had a very good split down the middle with it, as to when to go into that flamboyant side yet knowing when to bring it back to the masculine side. It's a fine line. I don’t do that on purpose…it’s just the way it is.
GG: That’s why our next album is going to be called Glitter Stiletto Dear because you’re so in touch with both sides, it’s visually romantic. You’re like a romantic gun.
GR: Wow, that would make a great album title.
GG: The best video I’ve ever seen that captures that “romance in the street” feeling is “Waitin’ on a Friend” by the Rolling Stones. When I think about your music, I think about that video.
GR: Bringing it back to stage personas, I really think in a theatrical sense. The “Champagne Cowboy” name is a very visual, theatrical name and coming out of my divorce I was really thrown into a lifestyle that I didn’t want to particularly be in at the time, but I romanticized it and called it “The Gypsy Roller”. That was the name I adopted to ease the pain of the reality of my situation but that lifestyle ended up making a very freshman first Gypsy Roller album out of it. The name was “Champagne & Rock ‘n Roll” and I ended up getting recognition from Europe. Ironically, out of all the bands I was in out of Portland, OR, I never got recognized outside of the States.
GG: Well, Portland is so insular in reality anyways.
GR: Exactly, I was just talking to a friend about that and how in Portland you can get stuck in a bubble because Portland wants to make you believe it’s the only hip city in the nation, or maybe even in the world. So, when I finally left Portland and shut everything down, it gave me a moment to broaden my horizons and ask myself what other music is out there besides the Portland music scene. That’s where I discovered the Jacobites, Kevin Jr., Dave Kusworth, The Chamber Strings and Nikki Sudden. I basically locked myself in my brother’s spare bedroom and didn’t speak for 6 months. I was trying to think about how I got there and how I was going to get out of it.
GG: So, you were basically in larvae ?
GR: Yes, I was in a rock ‘n roll comatose state.
GG: Yet again, another great rock ‘n roll title for an album….Rock ‘n Roll Coma (Laughter). What do you think got you out of your depression because it’s not an overnight thing.
GR: I think one of the first things was acceptance. The acceptance of my situation because I was coming down so hard on myself as being a failure with regards to my family. Being separated from my children didn’t help either, but when I finally acknowledged that I wasn’t going to change overnight, it started to get better. Part of that therapy process was recording that first album, which took me three years, mind you. Keep in mind, it didn’t take me 3 years to record because I had a glamourous lifestyle with lots of money….it was recorded in 3 different studios and once it was finished, two of the engineers had went MIA because they were going through their own personal demons and were nowhere to be found. They had 95 percent of the album in their possession, and I could not retrieve the tracks back from them. I was in limbo.
GG: Oh no, how awful of a story. What are the odds of it happening with just one engineer let alone two at the same time? What a nightmare.
GR: That’s why I found it funny when people would ask me, “Why do you still want to release this record?”, and I would laugh saying, “You have no idea what it took to record this album.” But, I knew I had tapped into something, and that’s why I waited for the tracks to come back into my possession.
GG: Well, concerning your latest album now, what is the label that you are signed to?
GR: It’s a label out of Paris, France called Alive & Kickin’.
GG: That’s a perfect label title for you because you are literally still alive and kicking even after what you’ve been through 10 years prior. Let’s talk about your new album. I listened to it, but I don’t recall all the song titles. What I really want to say is that your voice has held up over the years, which is a great thing. There are more nuances in your voice which you would hope for in a seasoned singer. Your delivery is definitely right on time. It’s not just about being a good singer or having great tone, it’s all about the delivery. What are your favorite tracks and who wrote the songs?
GR: As far as the songwriting goes, they were written split down the middle by myself and my good friend, Allen Davis, who also produced the album and ironically is from Portland, OR.
GG: Did you guys ever play live in LA or other parts of the West Coast ?
GR: Yes, we did play in LA and lots of shows in the San Francisco Bay Area, but this was mainly about the recording. We could have played more live shows if we wanted to, but other people in the band were committed to other projects. So, bringing it back to how the current album was recorded, Allen had about 20 thirty-second riffs he composed and asked me to come up with verses and choruses. We ended up recording about 10-13 of those tracks and kept 10 for the final album which is self-titled, “Gypsy Roller”. In talking about my past and my glitterati persona, he wrote those riffs with that in mind which already gave it that 70s glitter stomp feel. One of the first songs that was written was titled, Lost in Some Old Melody, which is one of my favorite tracks. It sounds like a cross between Pulp and Bowie’s Moon Age Day Dream. It’s over the top and very dramatic.
GG: Well, we all know you love the drama.
GR: (Laughter) Yah, that song sounds like it could be the soundtrack to Liz Taylor’s X, Y and Zee movie with lyrics like, “I was searching for my life, passed out on a disco floor, tears that cried, there must be more”. You can’t get any more drama than that.
GG: (Laughter) You know, we’ve all had that moment. And yet again, it’s all so visual. Having that be so visually descriptive, without a lot of words, says something to me about you as a songwriter. You’re really tapped into how to hone it down and get to the meat of the matter, and when one can do that, it doesn’t take too many words to express it. In other words, you’re not one to mince words. Your lyrics are not fussy, and I like that about your song writing.
GR: Lost in Some Old Melody is really just a drunken stumble of bar-to-bar and dance hall to dance hall in search for some deeper meaning other than your current state of affairs.
GG: So, when your lyrics go to a cinematic state, that is what makes your song writing go from great to stellar.
GR: As far as performing these songs live, that was always the one that sent shivers up my spine.
GG: I could totally understand why you would love performing that song live. No matter what singers say, they always have their favorite song to play live.
GR: That song in a nutshell embodies my transformation from Portland to San Francisco.
GG: So poignant. So, basically that song is you coming out of the larvae or Phoenix rising, if you will. I like that vision.
GR: Exactly. Another song that comes to mind which is not as heavy as that one is a subject we talked about earlier about this new, younger, cookie cutter rock ‘n roll generation, and that song is “Rock ‘n Roll Stroller”.
GG: Which is a great song by the way. That’s a hip swinger.
GR: But if you listen closely to the lyrics, I think most people it’s a nod to a true rock ‘n roller but it’s actually calling out all the fake posers of rock ‘n roll. Actually, that song is written about two people – one is from Portland and the other is from San Francisco. Because, let’s face it, every major city has a version of that type of person.
GG: Oh, that annoying fucking person that thinks they are a rock god, but really has no chops.
GR: Correct, no talent. Well, the first lyric is “You’re stepping out, looking so hard. Getting high on momma’s credit card”, kind of sets the tone. (laughter). Then, onto the second verse, “You hit the club, your hair is alright, your vintage clothes are so Saturday night. You hit the stage, hoping for fame, yet your songs all remain the same”. Have you noticed that bands which fit that description do have songs that all sound the same?
GG: Oh, but of course, this homogenous “jumping on the bandwagon” type of band.
GR: But music-wise, this song is a nod to the glitter band. It’s got that classic glitter shuffle drum beat.
GG: Absolutely. I didn’t realize before you came to live in Portland that you were a dancer. I always wondered when I used to watch you do that infamous James Brown slide across the stage with those quick turns that you did and never losing your balance and being so fluid. Even in your everyday life, there is a certain rock ‘n roll grace and sexuality that you express so effortlessly. So basically, if your lyrics are fluently spewing out like an easy birth, then that most likely means that you can also perform it live just as svelte because it comes off so naturally. That’s a problem with these new bands. They don’t’ come off sounding so natural. You also have paid your dues and gotten to the point that you can pick and choose who you want to play with.
GR: And I like being in that place.
GG: Well, you’ve earned it.
GR: Let me tell you something. Being away from Portland for those years, I left in beginning of 2008 and then coming back in the year 2016 I was able to come back and hand pick this beautiful plethora of seasoned players. That alone speaks volumes. Both parties’ crafts are equally honored.
GG: Don’t you agree that that has to be earned ? That is not something that you get overnight.
GR: Definitely, it has to be earned. You cannot prance into town and demand that kind of respect without earning it first.
GG: And for people like you and I, this has never been about money. If we didn’t do this, we would feel empty inside.
GR: We were born to do this.
GG: I’ve played at least 500 shows, and if you do the math over 20 years, that is quite a bit of shows. You are definitely one of the most passionate performers I have ever seen live. That is a powerful place to be as a performer when you are able to do that.
GR: But I have to say, being older now and still being accepted in a very competitive music town like Portland and being away for so many years…it meant a lot to me.
GG: And you were only here for about a week, and it’s not like we went that many places, but you were highly recognized everywhere we went. It made me feel so proud to see that, because I thought, this is what he should be getting.
GR: Let’s not forget how extremely competitive it was in our era of rock ‘n roll living in Portland. It definitely was not easy. To stand out in Portland scene, it meant a lot. That town would not give a nod to just any Joe Shmo.
GG: NO ! And back then, it just wasn’t good enough just to have your friends show up. It was really about winning over that stranger that walked into the club.
GR: I never had a huge supply of friends back to count on a lot of people showing up at my shows, nor do I now have a huge amount of friends. I have a small amount of really good friends. I managed to still be a performer without having a lot of friends and a DJ for multiple night clubs without having a huge amount of friends. That got to say I’m doing something right.
GG: But that means a whole lot more. Just like being at Satyricon back in those days, there is always that element of surprise which I think is needed in night clubs of today. It says a lot more being an entertainer to be able to entertain an unknown crowd every week because you never know what’s going to walk through that door. I’d like to close this interview with just a few generic questions just for fun. What was your first concert ?
GR: Well, first of all, you have to understand that I had a poor upbringing so I didn’t get to attend any shows in my teens. However, my first concert ironically was Stephen Tin Tin Duffy, which is a Dave Kusworth connection which I didn’t know back then, but I know now.
GG: And what is that connection ?
GR: Stephen Duffy was in Dave Kusworth’s first band, The Subterranean Hawks.
GG: Stephen Duffy is a songwriter that is from Birmingham, England which is also the birth place of Dave Kusworth and the hometown of one of the most popular bands, Duran Duran. Ok, so we are just going to continue going down the line here. Don’t ask why, but what was your first record ?
GR: (laughter) That would be two 45’s – Andy Gibbs “Shadow Dancing” and Parliaments “Flashlight”.
GG: Ok, moving on…cats or dogs ?
GR: I love them equally both, but as far as blending in with my everyday lifestyle, I would have to go with cats.
GG: What is your favorite animal, and if you could be an animal what would you be ?
GR: (laugher) Um, I’m going to have to get back to you on that one.
GG: Ok, favorite color ?
GR: That would be green.
GG: Favorite cuisine ?
GR: It’s hard to name just one. Obviously, I like Latin dishes.
GG: But outside of that ?
GR: I would have to go with Japanese. I like the whole aesthetic of a Japanese restaurant but mainly because of the elegance and cleanliness of it.
GG: Correct. It’s a beautiful way to eat. Beach, desert or mountains ?
GR: Well, I’m definitely not a desert dude. I would say I’m a combined beach and mountain dude.
GG: Do you have a favorite actor, and if so, who ?
GR: Off the cuff, I would have to say my favorite male actor would be Al Pacino. My favorite silent era actor is Rudolph Valentino.
GG: What about an actor from the 50s-era ?
GR: I’d have to say Liz Taylor and Marlon Brando.
GG: How about favorite front person ?
GR: Well, there are so many.
GG: Then name your top three.
GR: David Bowie, Marc Bolan, Johnny Thunders and Jim Morrison.
GG: Favorite current actors and actresses ?
GR: I like Johnny Depp as a current male actor, and I would have liked to see River Phoenix be a current actor. As far as movie making, my favorite female is Sophia Coppola.
GG: Favorite fairy tale ?
GG: Favorite Disney villain ?
GR: The evil queen from Snow White.
GG: If you could sit with any classic character from Sesame Street and sit at a bar and have a drink with them, who would it be?
GR: (laughter) I’d like to party down with Grover and Count Von Count, however I would like to see Oscar the Grouch yell at David Johannsen…I will never forgive you for doing Buster Pointdexter. (laughter)
GG: Cut! That’s a wrap!