Teenage music prodigy Christian Gisborne of Velvet Starlings catches up with us on his summer vacation at 310 Coffee in Mar Vista, CA to chat about his upcoming debut EP, his love for The Beatles, and the unfortunate decline of music education.
So I heard that you’re working on your debut EP! Care to give us a little sneak peek as to what we should be looking forward to?
Christian Gisborne: Yeah! So it’s going to be a seven song EP, and it’s been in the works since late 2016. It’s long overdue. *laughs* It was mastered by Brian Lucey, who did Cage The Elephant, Arctic Monkeys, The Black Keys, all those guys. I actually just got the news that we’ve been getting radio play for our single “If Life Ain’t Getting You High” on 30 different radio stations and the song wasn’t officially released yet.
Christian: Thank you! One of them is in Japan, and it has a couple million listeners.
How exciting! There are some people that say that if you can make it in Japan or anywhere in Asia then you could make it anywhere because of the sheer passion of the fans.
How was your experience with writing and recording for the EP? Especially with someone who is well versed in the business.
Christian: So when he was doing the mastering, we were sending him the wav. files and then he would take it to make sure the levels were right, make sure it wasn’t peaking or anything, and then it would be mastered for iTunes. Since it was an earlier project, I was also co-writing with my father. I would come to him with songs and other parts, and he would help me arrange them because he has a background in music. For the recording, man, it was really such a great experience. It was the first time I had ever done any professional recording, and we actually recorded it upstairs in my house.
So awesome! And which song would you say was your favorite to write and record? These can totally be two different songs since songwriting is a completely different process than the recording.
Christian: Totally! I would definitely have to choose “If Life Ain’t Getting You High.” That song, especially from the recording side, was kind of everything that I dreamed it would be. We had cellos, reverse drums, just all the weird sounds, rotaries, and speakers. We’d see stuff in the room or bang on some keys. It was a really fun experience!
Cool! And you’re also in the process of releasing a music video for that song. What inspired the concept? I saw some snippets and it looks pretty cool so far!
Christian: It was actually a funny story. I was at a thrift store, and there was this big, ugly suit that was completely multicolored from top to bottom. It was cheap, so I bought it, and my parents said it was the ugliest thing they’ve ever seen. *laughs* It’s really garish with every single color and patch on it. When I got it, I did a little video on my phone with some previous recordings of the song and I chopped it together. That’s when some of the greatest songs are written when the ideas are flowing and all that. It was kind of like that with the vision for the video and the song all coming together while I was doing this little pretend indie video. I was actually able to translate all of those ideas when we got to recording the final product of “If Life Ain’t Getting You High.”
It all started with a suit! It’s so funny because I’ve never actually heard that kind of concept where a piece of clothing inspired a song and video.
Christian: *laughs* Yeah, exactly!
Now you’ve been taking part in the Grammy’s Summer Sessions. How did the opportunity come about, and what have you learned about yourself as a songwriter, a performer, just an overall artist from doing the program?
Christian: It was a great experience! The opportunity came about from someone sending it over to my mom. Normally they have Grammy Camp where you have to pay a couple thousand to go and meet all the people. But this one is free, so you have to audition to get in. I sent them the video along with two songs that I had written, and I had gotten it from that. It was such a great experience to be there with a lot of like-minded kids. They have a songwriting and a production one, but the one that I did was strictly for songwriting. They had some music supervisors and some well-known artists come in, and we got to ask them questions about their experiences in the industry.
That’s really cool that they brought in music supervisors as opposed to just all artists since that’s also a big factor in a music career.
Now kind of going into a few serious questions. Music programs in schools have unfortunately been on a steady decline for a few years now. As someone who is still in school, how important do you think these programs are to generate creativity and keep flowing within the younger generation?
Christian: I think it’s a huge epidemic lately where schools are just cutting all of their music classes. I actually live and go to school in Northern California, and come out here during the summer and the winter for shows or I’ll fly out here if need be. My teachers hate me. *laughs* I go to a school called the Inspire School for Arts & Sciences, so I get all of the music stuff that I want to be a part of because it’s a school specifically for music. But I had also gone to a school here in Mar Vista, and the reason why I left was that the music program was so lacking since they weren’t putting any money into it. I think it’s a really big problem that the music classes that they do have are about just reading and writing music, and are treated a little bit robotically. I don’t personally read music.
It takes a very special person to read music. *laughs*
Christian: Well, when you look at all the greatest writers in the world, say, The Beatles or The Who or The Rolling Stones, all of them, none of them really read music. I mean, George Martin obviously knew how to read music, but when The Beatles were going to learn, he told them not to and to keep doing what they were doing. None of the great songwriters know how to read or write music, because you develop this sense of needing to rely on it, and it ends up taking away from what you’re trying to accomplish with the end product. Even with some of the big pop writers of today like Ryan Tedder, who’s written songs for Beyoncé and Adele and Katy Perry, all of those big pop stars, and he doesn’t know how to read music. With these music classes from colleges to elementary schools, they have a really old-fashioned approach to their teaching, and they put an emphasis on aspects that you don’t really see a lot of successful people focusing on. They don’t look at it in the same way that they should be. My school is a more progressive school, so we have classes for recording arts and songwriting, all different things like that.
And it’s interesting that you mentioned your experience with Mar Vista lacking on those music classes because it’s in L.A., the hub of everything that is music. It’s weird that they wouldn’t want to have some kind of emphasis on the arts.
Christian: Yeah, exactly.
Alright, and what initially got you interested in pursuing music at such a young age?
Christian: Well, it started when I was 6 years old. My parents had gotten me a boxed set of all The Beatles CDs with the booklets and everything. I didn’t grow up with cable, but I had a tv that a DVD player in it and a really old Mac computer, so I sat there, downloaded them all, and every day I would listen to The Beatles. *laughs* I strictly devoted my time to them, which I think I was a little delusional because I was 6. *laughs* But I knew all the words to all their songs, and at one point I picked up a guitar and was like “This is a whole new world! Now I can learn how to play all these songs!” From then on I went to listen to The [Rolling] Stones, The Doors, The Who, and a bunch of new artists that I love like Jack White and Cage The Elephant. I love watching music, and I love playing music. It’s everything to me.
Comes very naturally. Now you’ve played some fairly well-known stages like The Study, Gibson Showroom, and The El Rey here in L.A., also South By Southwest, and now you’re going to Sweden.
Christian: Yeah! I’m so excited!
Do you ever feel intimidated when sharing the stage with artists that are older and more experienced?
Christian: I feel like whenever you say something or acknowledge something, it becomes a truth. So when it comes to being nervous in general, I don’t like to admit it, but I am always nervous before I play in front of anybody. I just try not to show it. *laughs* As far as playing with people who are more experienced than me or older than me, I’m nervous, but what’s the fun in taking a risk if you’re not nervous, right? I feel like it’s a challenge where you have to go to greater lengths to impress your audience. Like, when I did the Gibson Showroom, I shared the stage with Robbie Krieger from The Doors, and it was such a great moment for me. A huge thank you to Mark Nguyen from Planet LA Records for that, it was amazing!
So awesome! And that are a few memorable moments that you’ve had performing so far? Apart from Robbie Krieger of course.
Christian: It’s funny because I was literally just talking about this with someone. *laughs* So at South By, we were getting ready to go on in like ten minutes for a show, and someone decided to lock my guitar case to be funny. We didn’t have the key, so I sat there until right before we went on and broke the guitar case. It was a really stressful experience, but I still have that broken guitar case to this day. *laughs* Now this one isn’t as cool, but I played at a talent show in my hometown of Chico. For some reason, everyone wanted to use my mic stand, and right when I was on stage, the mic fell into my mouth and shoved my tooth through my upper lip. I had no feeling in my lip the whole time I was balancing the mic in my mouth, but I look back at the video and it’s funny to look back on that moment. *laughs*
Music is pain. *laughs*
Christian: Yeah! *laughs*
Now in terms of social media, I noticed that you tend to show a lot of support to your label mates. How important do you think showing support to your fellow artists is?
Christian: I think it’s really important, specifically, to Klez and Mawd, they’re both on my label. I still have a poster with both of their names on it from the first time we ever played together. *laughs* I’ve known them for a while and have a lot of respect for them. We all actually played The Study together, Maddie is going to be featured on my record for a song called “Coming Home,” and Klez is coming to Sweden with us. We’re very much like a family. We know each others’ songs and we’ll all help each other out when we can. It’s just really nice to be close with the people on your label, and joint support is something that’s really important.
Do you feel like there’s sort of a competition between you and the people on your label?
Christian: I definitely feel like there is a competition at times. We’ve all played a lot of shows where we’ll be on the same bill, and we’ll end up trying to one-up each other. *laughs* I mean, we do always try to feature on each other’s sets, but there can definitely be some competition going on. I actually do like a little competition, because it causes you to go further and makes for better material.
I definitely agree, and L.A. is notorious for that. *laughs* If you could choose three artists to go on your own personal world tour with who would they be and what would you name your tour?
Christian: Aww man! That’s a really good question!
You can raise anyone from the dead if you want! *laughs*
Christian: Oh really! I can raise anyone from the dead? I thought I would have it set, but raising anyone from the dead changes the whole game! If I could raise anyone from the dead, I would bring back all of The Beatles members and make them like each other again definitely. *laughs* Bring back Keith Moon and John Entwistle so we can bring back The Who. And then maybe The Doors, bring back Jim Morrison. Yeah, I’d bring back The Doors, The Who, and The Beatles all in their prime at like age twenty. That would be great!
Yes, it would! Legendary! Now you already mentioned that The Beatles were a huge influence for you when you first started getting into music, but which artists and bands have influenced you as a musician or as a songwriter?
Christian: For those, they would be different bands for sure. The number one is absolutely Jack White and anything he’s involved in, whether it’s The White Stripes or The Raconteurs or Dead Weather, even his solo stuff. He’s like one of the last, if not the last, rockstar that’s brought so much change to the record industry. He’s brought back vinyl with Third Man Records, where you could go and record there in his little booth and it comes out as a vinyl you can keep. People call him ‘The Willy Wonka of Music,’ so definitely Jack White. I also like Arctic Monkeys, Cage the Elephant, but I would say mostly a lot of bands from the 60s are what influences me. Like The Doors, The Who, The Animals, The Kooks, all of those.
It’s definitely a good mix of old and new for someone so young. What do you hope your audience away from your music?
Christian: I’d say, for this record at least, I just kind of want to get it out there and have people enjoy it. I can’t say what’s going to be happening in the future, I don’t know what I’m going to be writing about, but this record is first and foremost a fun record. Like with “If Life Ain’t Getting You High,” I chose that as a single because it’s a fun and sarcastic song. Plus it’s really fun to play live, and really hope that it translates well to my audience when I play it. Nothing beats that energy of being on the stage, having a crowd of people that are getting engaged and vibing over your set. It’s such a great experience and I love being able to get that on the record itself, especially with how everything is so digital and ‘perfect’ sounding where it loses its human element.
I definitely agree that sometimes you lose that human element where it sounds like it’s coming from a box or everything sounds the same. It’s really good to hear that you’re trying to keep the live instrumentation going with the music you release.
Christian: Exactly. Thank you.
So what other fun things should we expect from you apart from the album and Sweden?
Christian: Yeah! We’re going to be doing a bunch of shows in Sweden. After we’re done with that, we’ll be releasing our music video and hopefully releasing another video in the near future. Really just releasing the record, and we just added five more shows to our time in L.A., so I’ll be having my band fly back out here. And even though you’re not supposed to say it when you’ve got a record coming out, but we’ve actually just finished the next record. Because we’ve been playing live so much, I was able to go in and play all of the instruments to get it done in five days or so. But yeah, keep an eye out for this new record coming out soon!
About 310 Coffee:
While the Westside may have its fair share of coffeeshops, Mar Vista itself tends to have its searches wrapped up with the Culver City and Venice shops. But look no further, because 310 Coffee is here to provide the Mar Vista (and surrounding) community with a tastefully advertised array of delicious caffeinated beverages and beautifully displayed mouth-watering pastries.
310 Coffee’s warm, minimalistic exterior translates to its interior and then some. Right when you walk through the door, you’re immediately greeted by friendly staff, and welcomed by the aroma of freshly brewed coffee. Whether you’re stepping in for a quick espresso pick-me-up, or staying awhile to sip on your cold brew (or in my case, an iced white chocolate mocha), your stay will absolutely be a pleasant one. Especially when puppies come in to brighten up customers’ days even more.