Peter Gabriel Biography
Gabriel was born in Chobham, Surrey, England. His father, Ralph Parton Gabriel, was an electrical engineer, and his mother, Edith Irene Allen, from a musical family, taught him to play the clarinet at an early age. He attended Cable House, a private preparatory school in Woking, Surrey, then Charterhouse School (Godalming) from 1963.
Gabriel founded Genesis in 1967 with fellow Charterhouse School pupils Tony Banks, Anthony Phillips, Mike Rutherford, and drummer Chris Stewart. The name of the band was suggested by fellow Charterhouse alumnus, the pop music impresario Jonathan King, who produced their first album, From Genesis to Revelation.
A lover of soul music, Gabriel was influenced by many different sources in his way of singing – mainly Otis Redding and other soul singers, as well as Family lead singer Roger Chapman. In 1970, he played the flute on Cat Stevens' album, Mona Bone Jakon.
Genesis drew some attention in England and eventually also in Italy, Belgium, Germany and other European countries, largely due to Gabriel's flamboyant stage presence, which involved numerous bizarre costume changes and comical, dreamlike stories told as the introduction to each song (originally Gabriel developed these stories solely to cover the time between songs that the rest of the band would take tuning their instruments and fixing technical glitches). The concerts made extensive use of Black light with the normal stage lighting subdued or off. A backdrop of fluorescent white sheets and a comparatively sparse stage made the band into a set of silhouettes, with Gabriel's fluorescent costume and make-up providing the only other sources of light.
Among Gabriel's many famous costumes, which he developed to visualize the musical ideas of the band as well as gain press coverage were "Batwings", for the usual opening number, or "Watcher of the Skies".
Other costumes included "The Flower", and "Magog" which were both alternately worn for "Supper's Ready", from the album, Foxtrot.
"Britannia" was worn for "Dancing with the Moonlit Knight", and "The Reverend", worn for "The Battle of Epping Forest" from Selling England by the Pound.
"The Old Man" was worn for "The Musical Box", from Nursery Cryme.
"The Slipperman", and "Rael", were worn during "The Colony of Slippermen", in which "Rael" was the protagonist of the album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.
Backing vocals in Genesis during Gabriel's tenure in the band were usually handled by bassist/guitarist Mike Rutherford, keyboardist/guitarist Tony Banks, and (most prominently) drummer, Phil Collins, who — after a long search for a replacement — eventually became Genesis's lead singer, after Gabriel had left the band in 1975.
Gabriel's departure from Genesis — which stunned fans of the group and left many commentators wondering if the band could survive — was the result of a number of factors. His stature as the lead singer of the band, and the added attention garnered by his flamboyant stage persona, led to tensions within the band. Genesis had always operated more or less as a collective, and Gabriel's burgeoning public profile led to fears within the group that he was being unfairly singled out as the creative hub; in addition, the band had begun to feel confined by the reputation (and fans' expectations) attached to their famously elaborate theatrical performances.
Tensions were heightened by the ambitious album and tour of the concept work The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, a Gabriel-created concept piece which saw him taking on the lion's share of the lyric writing. During the writing and recording of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, Gabriel was approached by director William Friedkin, allegedly because Friedkin had found Gabriel's short story in the liner notes to Genesis Live interesting. Gabriel's interest in a film project with Friedkin was another contributing factor in his decision to leave Genesis. The decision to quit the band was made before the tour supporting The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, but Gabriel stayed with the band until the conclusion of that tour. Although tensions were high, both Gabriel and the remaining members of Genesis have stated publicly that Gabriel left the band on good terms, supported by the fact that he officially left eight months after telling the band it was time for him to move on.
The breaking point came with the difficult pregnancy of Gabriel's wife, Jill, and the subsequent birth of their first child, Anna. When he opted to stay with his sick daughter and wife, rather than record and tour, the resentment from the rest of the band led Gabriel to conclude that he had to leave the band. "Solsbury Hill", Gabriel's début single as a solo artist, was written specifically about his departure from Genesis. The song also charted on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1978, reaching the Top 70.
Gabriel refused to title any of his first four solo albums, which were all labelled Peter Gabriel using the same typeface, but which featured different cover art. They are usually differentiated by number in order of release (I, II, III, IV), or by sleeve design, with the first three solo albums often referred to as Car, Scratch and Melt respectively, in reference to their cover artwork. His fourth solo album, also called Peter Gabriel, was titled Security in the U.S. at the behest of Geffen Records.
After acquiescing to distinctive titles, Gabriel used a series of 2-letter words to title his next three albums: So, Us, and Up. His most recent greatest hits compilation is titled Hit; within the two-CD package, disc one is labelled "Hit" and disc two is labelled "Miss".
Gabriel recorded his first self-titled solo album in 1976 and 1977 with producer Bob Ezrin. His first solo success came with the single "Solsbury Hill", an autobiographical piece expressing his thoughts on leaving Genesis. Although mainly happy with the music, Gabriel felt that the album, and especially the track "Here Comes the Flood" was over-produced. Sparser versions can be heard on Robert Fripp's Exposure, and on Gabriel's greatest hits compilation Shaking the Tree (1990).
Gabriel worked with guitarist Fripp as producer of his second solo LP, in 1978. This album was leaner, darker and more experimental, and yielded decent reviews, but no major hits.
Gabriel developed a new interest in world music (especially percussion), and for bold production, which made extensive use of recording tricks and sound effects. Gabriel's interest in music technology is considered by many people to be the spark of his success as it inspired his third album. The third album is often credited as the first LP to use the now-famous "gated drum" sound. Collins played drums on several tracks, including the opener, "Intruder", which featured the reverse-gated, cymbal-less drum kit sound which Collins would also use on his single "In the Air Tonight" and through the rest of the 1980s. Gabriel had requested that his drummers use no cymbals in the album's sessions, and when he heard the result he asked Collins to play a simple pattern for several minutes, then built "Intruder" around it. The album achieved some chart success with the songs "Games Without Frontiers" (#48 U.S.), "I Don't Remember", and "Biko".
Arduous and occasionally damp recording sessions at his rural English estate in 1981 and 1982, with co-producer/engineer David Lord, resulted in Gabriel's fourth LP release (Security), on which Gabriel took more production responsibility. It was one of the first commercial albums recorded entirely to digital tape (using a Sony mobile truck), and featured the early, extremely expensive, Fairlight CMI sampling computer, which had already made its first brief appearances on the previous album. Gabriel combined a variety of sampled and deconstructed sounds with world-beat percussion and other unusual instrumentation to create a radically new, emotionally charged soundscape. Furthermore, the sleeve art consisted of inscrutable, video-based imagery. Despite the album's peculiar sound, odd appearance, and often disturbing themes, it sold very well. This album featured his first Top 40 hit in the U.S., "Shock the Monkey", as well as the song "I Have the Touch". The music video for "Shock the Monkey", which featured Gabriel in white face paint and a caged macaque, held the #1 spot on "MTV" for 9 weeks. Geffen records forced Peter to give his fourth self-titled album a name in the US - Security - to mark his arrival on the label and to differentiate his fourth album from the other three.
Alternate versions of Peter's third and fourth albums were also released with German lyrics. Peter Gabriel 3 consisted of basically the same recording overdubbed with new vocals, while Security was also remixed and several tracks were extended or altered in slight ways.
Gabriel toured extensively for each of his albums. Initially, he pointedly eschewed the theatrics that had defined his tenure with Genesis. For his second solo tour, his entire band shaved their heads. By the time of Security he began involving elaborate stage props and acrobatics which had him suspended from gantries, distorting his face with Fresnel lenses and mirrors, and wearing unusual make-up. His 1982–83 tour included a section opening for David Bowie. Recordings of this tour were released as the double LP Plays Live.
The stage was set for Gabriel's critical and commercial breakout with his next studio release, which was in production for almost three years. During the recording and production of the album he also found time to develop the film soundtrack for Alan Parker's 1984 feature Birdy, which consisted of new material as well as remixed instrumental tracks from his previous studio album.
Gabriel achieved his greatest popularity with songs from the 1986 So album, which produced three UK Top 20 hits ("Sledgehammer", "Big Time", and "Don't Give Up" — a duet with Kate Bush). The album also produced three Top 40 hits in the U.S., "Sledgehammer", "In Your Eyes", and "Big Time" (Gabriel's most recent Top Ten hit), as well as the single "Red Rain". "Sledgehammer", peaked at no.4 in the UK but was a #1 hit in the U.S., knocking Genesis' "Invisible Touch" off the top spot. The ballad "Don't Give Up" was about the devastation of unemployment. Gabriel co-produced So with Daniel Lanois, also known for his work with U2 and Brian Eno.
Gabriel's song "Sledgehammer", which dealt specifically with the themes of sex and sexual relations, was accompanied by a much-lauded music video, which was a collaboration with director Stephen R. Johnson, Aardman Animations, and the Brothers Quay. The video won numerous awards at the 1987 MTV Music Video Awards, and set a new standard for art in the music video industry. A follow-up video for the song "Big Time" also broke new ground in music video animation and special effects. The song is a story of "what happens to you when you become a little too successful", in Gabriel's words.
Gabriel played a prominent role in supporting Amnesty International at this time, appearing on the 1986 U.S. A Conspiracy of Hope Tour and on the 1988 worldwide Human Rights Now! Tour.
In 1989, Gabriel released Passion, the soundtrack for Martin Scorsese's movie The Last Temptation of Christ. For this work he received his first Grammy Award, in the category of Best New Age Performance. He also received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Score - Motion Picture.
Following this, Gabriel released Us in 1992 (also co-produced with Daniel Lanois), an album in which he explored the pain of recent personal problems; his failed first marriage, his relationship with Rosanna Arquette, and the growing distance between him and his first daughter.
Gabriel's introspection within the context of the album Us can be seen in the first single release "Digging in the Dirt" directed by John Downer. Accompanied by a disturbing video featuring Gabriel covered in snails and various foliage, this song made reference to the psychotherapy which had taken up much of Gabriel's time since the previous album. Gabriel describes his struggle to get through to his daughter in "Come Talk To Me" directed by Matt Mahurin, which featured backing vocals by Sinéad O'Connor. O'Connor also lent vocals to "Blood of Eden", directed by Nichola Bruce and Michael Coulson, the third single to be released from the album, and once again dealing with relationship struggles, this time going right back to Adam's rib for inspiration. The result was one of Gabriel's most personal albums. It met with less success than So had done, reaching #2 in the album chart on both sides of the Atlantic, and making modest chart impact with the singles "Digging in the Dirt" and the funkier "Steam" which evoked memories of "Sledgehammer". Gabriel followed the release of the album with a world tour (with Paula Cole or Joy Askew filling O'Connor's vocal role) and accompanying double CD and DVD Secret World Live in 1994.
Gabriel employed an innovative approach in the marketing of the US album. Not wishing to feature only images of himself, he asked artist filmmakers Nichola Bruce and Michael Coulson to coordinate a marketing campaign using contemporary artists. Artists such as Helen Chadwick, Rebecca Horn, Nils Udo, Andy Goldsworthy, David Mach and Yayoi Kusama, collaborated to create original artworks for each of the 11 songs on the multi-million-selling CD. Coulson and Bruce documented the process on Hi-8 video. Bruce left Real World and Coulson continued with the campaign, using the documentary background material as the basis for a promotional EPK, the long-form video All About Us and the interactive CD-ROM Xplora1.
Gabriel won three more Grammy Awards, all in the genre of Music Videos. He won the Best Music Video - Short Form Grammy in 1992 and 1993 for the videos to "Digging in the Dirt" and "Steam" respectively. Gabriel also won the 1995 Grammy for Best Music Video - Long Form for his Secret World Live video.
After five years of not releasing any new music, Gabriel re-emerged with OVO, a soundtrack for the live Millennium Dome Show in London in 2000, and Long Walk Home, the music from the Australian movie Rabbit-Proof Fence, early in 2002. This soundtrack also received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Score - Motion Picture.
In September 2002, Gabriel released Up, his first full-length studio album in a decade. Entirely self-produced, Up returned to some of the themes of his work in the late '70s and early '80s. Three singles failed to make an impression on the charts — in part because almost every track exceeded six minutes in length, with multiple sections — but the album sold well globally, as Gabriel continued to draw from a loyal fan base from his almost forty years in the music business. Up was followed by a world tour featuring his daughter Melanie Gabriel on backing vocals, and two concert DVDs, Growing Up Live (2003) and Still Growing Up: Live & Unwrapped (2004).
In 2008, Gabriel contributed to the WALL-E soundtrack with several new songs with Thomas Newman, including the film's closing song, "Down to Earth", for which they received the Grammy Award for Best Song Written for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media. The song was also nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Original Song - Motion Picture and the Academy Award for Best Original Song.
Gabriel has worked with a relatively stable crew of musicians and recording engineers throughout his solo career. Bass and Stick player Tony Levin, for example, has appeared on every Gabriel studio album, although not the soundtracks Passion and Long Walk Home, and has performed on every Gabriel solo tour. Guitar player David Rhodes has been Gabriel’s guitarist of choice since 1979. Prior to So, Jerry Marotta was Gabriel's preferred drummer, both in the studio and on the road. (For the So and Us albums and tours Marotta was replaced by Manu Katché, who was then replaced by Ged Lynch on parts of the Up album and all of the subsequent tour). Gabriel is known for choosing top-flight collaborators, from co-producers such as Ezrin, Fripp, Lillywhite, and Lanois to musicians such as Natalie Merchant, L. Shankar, Trent Reznor, Youssou N'Dour, Larry Fast, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Sinéad O'Connor, Kate Bush, Paula Cole, John Giblin, Peter Hammill, Papa Wemba, Manu Katché, Bayete, and Stewart Copeland.
Over the years, Gabriel has collaborated with singer Kate Bush several times; Bush provided backing vocals for Gabriel's "Games Without Frontiers" and "No Self Control" in 1980, and female lead vocal for "Don't Give Up" (a Top 10 hit in the UK) in 1986, and Gabriel appeared on her television special. Their duet of Roy Harper's "Another Day" was discussed for release as a single, but never appeared.
He also collaborated with Laurie Anderson on two versions of her composition "Excellent Birds" – one for her 1984 album Mister Heartbreak, and a slightly different version called "This is the Picture (Excellent Birds)", which appeared on cassette and CD versions of So. In 1987, when presenting Gabriel with an award for his music videos, Anderson related an occasion in which a recording session had gone late into the night and Gabriel's voice had begun to sound somewhat strange, almost dreamlike. It was discovered that he had fallen asleep in front of the microphone, but had continued to sing.
Gabriel sang (along with Jim Kerr of The Simple Minds) on "Everywhere I Go," from The Call's 1986 release, Reconciled. On Toni Childs' 1994 CD, The Woman's Boat, Gabriel sang on the track, "I Met a Man."
In 1998 Gabriel appeared on the soundtrack of Babe: Pig in the City, not as a composer, but as the singer of the song "That'll Do," written by Randy Newman. The song was nominated for an Academy Award, and Gabriel and Newman performed it at the following year's Oscar telecast. Many who saw him on that broadcast didn't recognize him, as his hair had greyed and thinned since his most recent tour several years earlier. He performed a similar soundtrack appearance for the 2004 film Shall We Dance?, singing a cover version of "The Book of Love" by The Magnetic Fields. This cover version was recently used in the series finale of ABC's Scrubs.
Gabriel has also appeared on Robbie Robertson's self-titled album, singing on "Fallen Angel"; co-written two Tom Robinson singles; and appeared on Joni Mitchell's 1988 album Chalk Mark in a Rainstorm, on the track "My Secret Place."
In 2001 Gabriel contributed lead vocals to the song "When You're Falling" on Afro Celt Sound System's Volume 3: Further in Time.
Gabriel collaborated on tracks with electronic musician BT. The tracks were never released, as the computers they were contained on were stolen from BT's home in California. He also sang the lyrics for Deep Forest on their theme song for the movie Strange Days. In addition, Gabriel has appeared on Angelique Kidjo's 2007 album Djin Djin, singing on the song "Salala."
Gabriel has recorded a cover of the Vampire Weekend single "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa" with Hot Chip, where his name is mentioned several times in the chorus. He substitutes the original line "But this feels so unnatural / Peter Gabriel too / This feels so unnatural/ Peter Gabriel too" with "It feels so unnatural / Peter Gabriel too / and it feels so unnatural / to sing your own name. "
Gabriel has been interested in world music for many years, with the first musical evidence appearing on his third album. This influence has increased over time, and he is the driving force behind the WOMAD (World of Music, Arts and Dance) movement. He created the Real World Studios and record label to facilitate the creation and distribution of such music by various artists, and he has worked to educate Western culture about the work of such musicians as Yungchen Lhamo, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Youssou N'dour. He has a long-standing interest in human rights, and launched WITNESS, a nonprofit which trains human rights activists to use video and online technologies to expose human rights abuses. In 2006 his work with WITNESS and his long standing support of peace and human rights causes was recognised by the Nobel Peace Prize Laureates with the Man of Peace award.
In the 1990s, with Steve Nelson of Brilliant Media and director Michael Coulson, he developed advanced multimedia CD-ROM-based entertainment projects, creating the acclaimed Xplora (the world's largest selling music CD-ROM), and subsequently the EVE CD-ROM. EVE was a music and art adventure game directed by Michael Coulson and co-produced by the Starwave Corporation in Seattle; it won the prestigious Milia d'Or award Grand Prize at the Cannes in 1996 and featured themes and interactivity well in advance of its time. Xplora and EVE can no longer be played on modern PCs, due to changes to their operating systems.
In 1994, Gabriel starred in the Breck Eisner short film "Recon" as a detective who enters the minds of murder victims to find their killer's identity.
Gabriel helped pioneer a new realm of musical interaction in 2001, visiting Georgia State University's Language Research Center to participate in keyboard jam sessions with bonobo apes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. (This experience inspired the song "Animal Nation," which was performed on Gabriel's 2002 "Growing Up" tour and was featured on the Growing Up Live DVD and The Wild Thornberrys Movie soundtrack.) Gabriel's desire to bring attention to the intelligence of primates also took the form of ApeNet, a project that aimed to link great apes through the internet, enabling the first interspecies internet communication.
He was one of the founders of On Demand Distribution (OD2), one of the first online music download services. Its technology is used by MSN Music UK and others, and has become the dominant music download technology platform for stores in Europe. OD2 was bought by US company Loudeye in June 2004 and subsequently by Finnish mobile giant Nokia in October 2006 for $60 million.
Additionally, Gabriel is also co-founder (with Brian Eno) of a musicians union called Mudda, short for "magnificent union of digitally downloading artists."
During the latter part of 2004, Gabriel spent time in a village in eastern Nepal with musician Ram Sharan Nepali, learning esoteric vocal techniques. Gabriel subsequently invited Nepali to attend and perform at the Womad festival in Adelaide, Australia.
In June 2005, Gabriel and broadcast industry entrepreneur David Engelke purchased Solid State Logic, a leading manufacturer of mixing consoles and digital audio workstations. SSL is among the top 2 or 3 recording console manufacturers in the world of recording.