Photo by James BunoanI'm jealous of GB. I'm a guy who was hardly able to mouth "I love you" to the women I've pined for during the past two decades, and sitting before me at In-N-Out Burger in Irvine is a 20-year-old kid who must have written the book on love.
His name is Gabriel Reyes-Whittaker. He lives down the street from UC Irvine, and his life has nothing to do with the Republican Party and a city full of cul-de-sacs but a lot to do with his angle on the loverman game.
His debut full-length, Soundtrack for Sunrise (pushed up just before press time to an October release date on Long Beach's Sound In Color label), is a soul and Latin inflected electronica album that not only makes an eloquent statement on love, but also dares to plunge into its deepest, most narcotic reaches. And more shocking: there's nothing icky about this declaration of love, even with all of the gooey, diva-damaged hand wringing promised by the title of the album's last track, "Love Is the End."
That's because this song captures the rarest kind of emotion. It's love without ego. Its subtle tenderness and honesty starts with a breezy, romantic guitar line that lifts into the strong alto vocals of Race of Angels, the musician who co-wrote the song. And like the best love affairs, it becomes more real because of its flaws: "And the story has just begun/Let our hearts become undone." Before you can say, "Get me out of this soap opera!" ethereal keyboard lines overtake the emotion of the song, and it turns from melodrama to real drama, with bursts of timpani percussion slowly sliding into a warm, lingering embrace. And just to throw a clammy towel onto this kind of vibe, GB—which stands for Gifted and Blessed; his twin sister gave him the name—sits before me at a decidedly unromantic In-N-Out and tells me he's not in love.
"In the past few years, I've dated a lot of girls here and there," he says. "They've amounted to small flings. I always keep some sort of female company, but I'm still keeping my eyes open for 'the one.' If that's even real."
Um, okay. So how did you write this song?
"Love isn't about being a Casanova," GB said, brushing away years of R&B playerdom. "It's about the feeling."
If that sounds like the mea culpa of some guy who looks like Elephant Man, it isn't. GB is a pleasant-looking, six-foot-three Puerto Rican/African-American guy whose presence would be unremarkable on any street corner in Brooklyn or Miami. But he definitely stands out in Irvine's mix of Asian, white and Chicano kids. The big question—to quote the Talking Heads— is how did he get here?
He got a scholarship to UCI after attending magnet school California Academy of Math and Sciences on the campus of Cal State Dominguez Hills. That makes him a good kid, but he has all of the biographical material to make him a wounded, angry rocker like Kurt Cobain or John Lennon.
His mom and dad split up when he was four. He had no contact with his dad, Forrest Whittaker (who worked as a mortician and has no relation to the actor with the same name), until he was 17. His mom, Gina Reyes, took her five kids to the Inglewood area, where she worked odd secretarial jobs and moved the family around eight times before landing an executive assistant gig at 20th Century Fox Studios.
Music started for him in his teens, when he bought whatever instruments he could find and started making mix tapes when he wasn't doing homework or interning for KCRW-FM 89.9. Diego Carlin, who helped produce Soundtrack for Sunrise, said GB is unusually mature for his age: "He's as serious as a heart attack," says Carlin. "He's not a player. He's not a kid trying to get laid, drunk and stoned every day."
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In 1999, KCRW DJ Garth Trinidad played GB's remix of Vikter Duplaix's "Manhood" when Philadelphia DJ/producer phenom King Britt guested. Britt and GB talked on the phone during the show, and Britt made him promise they'd collaborate. GB did projects for Britt such as a remix of Jody Watley's track "The essence" that was released as a 12-inch by Britt's FiveSix Media label in June.
However, GB's trademark sound—beyond some of the hardcore hip-hop and bebop freakouts on Soundtrack for Sunrise—is a breezy, mysterious, Caribbean-inflected dream of congas, loops and some old soul that meditates on what this love thing is all about.
"Beyond the troubles of the world, beyond everything plaguing this planet, for all people looking for love, it's already here," GB tells me, finishing his hamburger. "It's the destination. It's where truth lies."
GB's Soundtrack for Sunrise will be available on Sound In Color Records in Oct. 26. For upcoming local shows, check www.soundincolor.com.