We recently had a very interesting conversation with Gilbert Neal. As he has just released his 5th album, “The Mayor of Estes Park”, the main focus of our conversation was in relation to its release, it’s origins, and his story.
Twist Online : Tell our readers briefly about your career
in music so far.
Gilbert Neal : I started as a bass player/musical director at a Dinner Theater in Buffalo New York when I was 18. I learned how to sight read and also what a good musical demands. It taught me a lot about songwriting listening to Sondheim night after night. That crew of musicians and actors would do lots of fun stuff & beauty pageants, variety shows, things like that. Jazz vocal ensembles part of our act was me improvising lyrics to ideas suggested by the audience. I learned so much about not just playing but NOT playing.
Twist Online : What is the story behind the album’s title, “The Mayor of Estes Park”?
Gilbert Neal : When I was a new father, I would take my daughter out to a local park, well-to-do people and their au pairs and stuff. I was always there with my gregarious (some would say ‘creepy’) nature, holding court at a picnic table listening to Russian girls trying to comprehend my jive. Anyhow, one of my friends gave me that sobriquet and it’s funny to me. Relevant always.
Twist Online : After four independent releases, you have now been signed to Wampus Multimedia. What differences did this make when working on this album in comparison with your previous work?
Gilbert Neal : Number one is having a champion. That’s the most important thing. Mark Doyon gently guides me through the do’s and don’ts of my ambition. Wampus handles distribution but not touring or promotion. Mostly guidance. It’s more important to me that someone said ‘yes’.
Twist Online : The complete song-cycle is a pure piece of art. But any particular song or songs you would call “must hear”?
Gilbert Neal : The pairing of “Queenflower” and “Coitional” is the real centerpiece of the record. It’s basically the concept of something disgusting. Impossible. Sad and joyous at the same time. It’s great music. I can’t say more than that.
Twist Online : On “The Mayor..”, tunes, moods, and themes vary from song to song, which is unique in comparison with most contemporary works by other artists. How do you carry off such contrast and variation in your song writing ?
Gilbert Neal : Stevie Wonder, XTC, Steely Dan, Leonard Cohen all do this. You can tell it’s them but they vary their palette enough to be interesting. That’s what I strive to do. Every song is a specific incident in my life that, I hope, has a degree of universality to it. I hope, because that’s never my aim.
Twist Online : What was the inspiration behind writing “Four Chords” as plaintive wit?
Gilbert Neal : We are susceptible to magic in our youth. That song is about how radio is wonderful and magical. A beckoning force to anyone able to feel the resonance within. But then you wait for it to grow up with you, and it does not. I’d argue that music is now more science than whimsy. More marketing research than a living, growing thing. Radio sucks. It didn’t have to, and it doesn’t have to. Is my point.
Twist Online : Your songs are “devotional”, “confessional”, and contain “anger” as well. How much of your own personal feelings do you put into writing your songs?
Gilbert Neal : As I said, every song is a real story from my life. ‘Devotional’ is like a maudlin prayer that opens the drama. A solo cello played by Ariana Dewar of the Raleigh Philharmonic
Orchestra, which has space and depth. And also contains the melodies of two of my songs. One is the song that follows, “God’s Board Game”, but also a song from my second album, “Our Deepest Apathy” called “Love’s Sick Parade”. Both melodies are pretty jagged and both songs are of a piece. No one would ever care, I guess, and no one knows until now.
Twist Online : Some of your songs are touching and sensitive, or tackle issues with clever criticism. That requires a brave heart. Do you face any criticism over touching upon such issues?
Gilbert Neal : Sadly, no. I’m an atheist, socialist, left-wing nut job. I think many of my songs would be good fight songs, but I guess I have to call a song “Fight Song” to make it even occur to folks. See above question.
Twist Online : Any particular reason behind having so many songs (15) on the album? That’s far more than what we normally see.
Gilbert Neal : Don’t forget that three are shorter than 2 minutes and are instrumental. If this WERE a musical, people would use it as wardrobe change music.
Twist Online : If our readers want to download/buy “The Mayor of Estes Park”, what are the options?
Twist Online : We are sure this album is going to win you more fans and followers. Where can people follow you for updates?