Acoostic Sessions: Live musical performances done in and around Montreal. Season three is presented in conjunction with Seratone Studio.
Born to a Senegalese father (whom he never met), and a French-Canadian mother, and having growing up with a Peruvian stepfather, Gab Padilla has a rich amount of heritage flowing through his veins. While acknowledging the one-man melting pot that he is, he still feels like he’s just himself. “I’m just kind of my own thing and that works for me.” It works for us too.
Between growing up back and forth between Québec and British Columbia, looking after his family, starting a new one, touring North America, and “finding his tribe,” it’s fair to say that Gab has lived a life.
The charming, energetic, Gab Padilla hit the Seratone Studio stage to perform “Sidelines” and then gave us his time to talk about his incredible journey.
Gab, you’ve got a lot of cultures running through your veins. Do you identify with any particular one over the others?
Gab Padilla: I kind of feel like a chameleon as far as that goes. I definitely identify with French-Canadian – being my first language, my first kind of cultural influence as far as my family goes. But no, not necessarily man. When I was a child in Quebec City in a borough full of immigrants, I liked to call myself Peruvian because all of my friends were from cool other countries and I was like the “white boy” surrounded by Africans and Latinos and whatnot. So at that time I liked to associate with the Peruvian, but I’ve never been to Peru and I don’t speak Spanish all that well. We only spoke French and English at home, and I’ve never been to Africa either. I associate a lot with the French-Canadian culture. I associate a lot with just straight-up Canadian culture. I feel I’m both of those. I’m proud to be from African descendants, but I wasn’t highly exposed to that culture in my life. I was – I won’t say I wasn’t – but I’m just kind of my own thing and that works for me.
Even with music, you know, I don’t only play one style or associate with one crew. I’ve always been kind of the bounce-around from this crew to that crew type. In life in general… In high school, I wouldn’t just hang out with the music kids, or the sports kids, or the stoners, I was doing all that shit. So I guess the answer, not necessarily one more than the other. I’m proud to have had the chance to be exposed to all those cultures, and I’m looking forward to exposing myself deeper to those cultures.
So those cultures stem from growing up in Limoilou, Québec City, where there’s many many immigrant families. Where do they all hail from?
GP: Well I come from a specific part of Limoilou, which is Saint-Pie-X. They were housing projects essentially. In the 90s you had a lot of people from Rwanda because of the whole genocide that happened there, and Salvador because of the civil war that happened there, and then Congo as well. I think those would be the three. And Bosnia, a lot of people from Bosnia as well. Basically refugees from different wars across the world ended up in the housing projects because of the cheap rent and whatnot. And my family, going through hard financial times at the beginning of my life, ended up there and that’s how I was exposed to all those cats.
And that’s a great cross-section of people right, that obviously leads towards you becoming a chameleon?
GP: Most definitely, yeah. Ever since even kindergarten there was a very mixed classroom, and everybody had their different culture and everybody respected each other’s culture. Everybody’s kind of in the same boat, you know? But it was a really cool childhood experience.
I remember when my family moved to BC when I was 10 years old, kids were all kind of from the same background and it was cool to do the same thing. I remember finding that unfortunate even as a young 10 or 11 year-old kid because I wasn’t used to that. What was “cool” in my elementary school in Québec City was the different cultures and differences, and being different was in.
You moved to British Columbia at 10, where you spent five years, then you moved back to Québec City at 15, and then back to BC at 17…
GP: …And bounced around a whole lot after that…
Can you describe the events in your life that made you go from one place to the other and then back again at such a young age?
GP: A lot of things were going on for me when I was 15. First off, I didn’t like my experience in BC too much – I love BC, what’s up – but being the only brown/black kid you know… We didn’t speak English, might I add, when I moved there.
You learnt English out there?
GP: I learned English out there. “You’re going to English school in BC.” I’m the only coloured guy even in my family, besides my step-father, and well, my dad – what’s up dad!? So it was hard, man.
It was a small town, Castlegar, close to Alberta. Really kind of redneck culture, which I learned a lot of. I mean trucking, drinking beer, campfires, and lakes are a lot of fun, but if you’re artistic…
It was different…
GP: I was so different from any of those cats. I just didn’t fit in nor wanted to. I already knew I wanted to do music for a living, and that was not going to happen there. I mean, you work in the mill, and there’s a beautiful life you can do, but it just wasn’t me. And on top of that, my father and I have always had a really hard relationship. It’s all gone now – much love to him – but we had a hard relationship my whole youth. So I wasn’t comfortable at home, I wasn’t comfortable in my town, I knew I wanted to do music, I hated high school – I actually stopped going for a little while – and I put all those together. I was spending my summers in Québec City already, so I was used to kind of living on my own. I’ve always been very independent, and I just saw a door open and I just kicked it open and told my parents straight up, “I’m moving back. I’m signing up at the high school.” And by moving back to the Québec schooling system I was going to lose a year of high school too because you stop at Sec 5 as opposed to Grade 12. Everything put together was just it for me. I was like, “I need to get the hell out of this town, I need to get the hell out of my house, and I need to go somewhere I can do music and have fun.”
Like I said, a lot of beautiful things came out of Castlegar. Snowboarding, skiing, and learning English, and that whole culture was beautiful. I spent a lot of time playing guitar, and admitted to myself that I loved rock ‘n’ roll. Because in Québec City, in that housing project, if you’re dark, man, you listened to hip-hop. You’re in the 90s you know? You’re not that far from New York, so all that music is coming in. And I remember as a kid secretly kind of liking rock but not even being able to admit it to myself, you know? And I let go of that when I moved to BC because kids were listening to country and AC/DC and metal like Pantera. Where I was from in Québec City, not so much. But yeah, I added all those together and saw an opportunity and my parents – my mom, I’ll say – let me go, which was hard on her. So that’s how I initially left.
So you head back to Québec City, but eventually you left again for BC?
GP: I didn’t have a good relationship with my father, at that time. I have to specify because it’s not the case anymore. But nobody at home really had a good relationship with my father. So after I left, six months later my mother was getting a divorce. So the family was going through a hard time. I finished high school. I was working shitty jobs. I had some gigs in Québec City, but come Christmas time I was working a shitty job and it wasn’t going too well, and I was going (back to BC) for Christmas. I got there and the family was all broken up, and I just decided to stay to kind of support and be there. My mother, going through a divorce and kind of like a mid-life crisis, had decided to sign up at a music college, in the contemporary music program in Nelson. And she loved it. She kept talking to me about it and I was like, “Fuck that!” you know, rock ‘n’ roll, I’m not going to music school! But I ended up going to a few classes with her just to hang out, and they were all kids my age, and I loved it.
That’s what made me move back to BC, was to go to that school for music and to be around the family. I knew I wasn’t going to finish the program – I knew I was going to drop out. But I needed to know something about harmony and… You know, I’ve always kind of been the one starting the projects and it was hard to explain something when you don’t have any bases. So I was like, “I need to be able to communicate with musicians I want to hire, ’cause this is ridiculous.” When it’s like, *mimics playing* “It kind of goes likes that man…” So I did a year at that school. First semester I was going to classes a lot. Second semester I was a ghost. But I played a lot, and my playing went up a lot, from the learning and the opportunity to just play all the time.
So after BC the second time, you start traveling around and touring Canada, the U.S., all these different places where you described “finding your tribe…”
GP: I’ve always been very adventurous, very eager to live, you know, and eager to travel, and in Castlegar or in Québec City, I was an outcast, man. “Like what? You want to travel? Who does that?” You know, you just do your thing, get a job… And once I started hitchhiking, bouncing around, busking and whatnot, and particularly when I ended up in Banff, Alberta – which I never thought I’d live in – I just met my tribe, man! A bunch of of crazy, eager-to-live people who just want to have a good time, all the time. And I remember the first night at the youth hostel; I showed up with my guitar, my last 20 bucks – I had barely enough for a night – and it was just, “Hey mate! I’m from… I’m going to England tomorrow… I’m going to Thailand…I just got back from fucking…” And I was like, these people are awesome! And that was… That’s my tribe. It’s not so much musicians – I mean, I met a handful of musicians. It’s just people who are eager to live, no matter what, with no limits… Semi punk-rock slash just adventurous, you know? Travellers. That’s my people. It was so nice to meet them, to meet people like me. I was going to do my thing anyway, but it was nice to find the people that could identify with that, and know I wasn’t the only one out there.
You play a lot of different genres of music obviously, but the blues is your love?
GP: The blues is my first love… And 90s hip-hop, and you know, a bunch of shit. But yeah, the blues will be the first love. When I first picked up a guitar, my mother showed me the twelve-bar blues and that always stuck. I’d leave for a little while and then I’d hear a blues record again and be like, “Man, this is awesome!” And it stuck with me, most definitely.
So how does someone play the blues “properly”?
GP: Blues has got to come from deep within man… It has to come from your soul, you know? It’s not something you think about. If you’re thinking about it too much, you do something else. Initially I think that’s it. You’ve got to be able to close your eyes and get in that zone and have it come out of you. On some more practical terms – learn some licks. You listen to records, your favourite records, and try to emulate what guys are doing. Learn some licks and then you figure out kind of your own way around the neck as opposed to conforming to a certain way.
And now you find yourself in Montreal. How does this city influence you now and what has it given to you? Why Montreal?
GP: Montreal!? Cheap rent! Straight up, cheap rent man. My first apartment here was cheaper than my fucking rooms out west so… cheap rent. And a super artistic, influential city. I grew up next to it all my life, so I feel at home here. The architecture, the crazy streets… French is my first language so whenever I’m gone for a long time I miss my unique little Québecois culture and poutine you know, so put all that together man, it was just the place for me. It’s my favourite city in Canada, and I’ve done most of them.
I knew, or had heard of, a lot of support for up-and-coming artists in Montreal. You know, grants – I haven’t gotten one yet so hit me up on that! And the city’s helped me out to professionalize myself as a musician. I’ve got a lot of experience on stage in different cities, but none of that was ever documented. I just recently released my first EP – Roadburns EP. I found myself in Montreal, I ended up in a few workshops that taught me a lot about being a DIY musician and social media and whatnot. I mean, I learned what a hashtag was at a workshop I did for free, or next to free, in Montreal for up-and-coming artists, so that’s definitely how the city has helped me out.
And now you have a son…
GP: Now I have a son! Who would have thought?
How has life changed for you in that capacity?
GP: It’s great. He’s awesome. My partner, she’s awesome. I want to add that that’s the last thing I thought would happen in Montreal – having a girlfriend, and then a kid. She’s solid. A solid, solid girl. She understands and supports what I do and doesn’t want me to be doing anything else.
Not only are you known for playing the style of music that you did for us today, but you can also be found spinning in clubs throughout the city. What are some vinyls that should be in everyone’s collection?
GP: Okay this one’s not realistic – I don’t even have it. But Time and Place by Lee Moses is a gem. I don’t have it. I only saw it on Discogs and it’s like $300 for the full LP. If you find it, don’t get it – tell me where it is and I’m gonna go grab that shit! Or any of the 45s – singles – like “Bad Girl” that came out from that recording. It’s just brilliant, brilliant soul music that was not that recognized and he died in like ’71 or something. So that’s a definite one.
Man, there’s so many. Any of the Pete Rocks, like “They Reminisce” – what’s that album, I can’t think of it right now, I have it… “They Reminisce Over You.” Any of the Primo shit. Or singles from Big L. You should have every James Brown you can get your hands on as well. 45s, LPs, whatever. You should have all the Pink Floyds, all the Led Zeppelins, getting into the rock stuff. The old Johnny Winters for the blues stuff. But the must-have is Time and Place by Lee Moses. But YOU must not have it, I must have it! *laughs*
Gab Padilla, thanks for hanging out man. It’s been fun.
GP: Thanks Coost! This was cool. Cheers.
Check out past seasons of Acoostic Sessions here.
Words – Zac Strevens
Cameras – Zac Strevens & Gabriel Alvarez
Editing – Zac Strevens
Audio – Simon Petraki
Direction – Zac Strevens