Article by Jawanna Sawalha
Sitting Editor Eliza Marks
Photographs by Hiba Judeh
Styled and Art directed by Khalid Abdel-Hadi
Digital art-work by Jawad Qumsieh
Cover/promo design Atef Daglees
Make-up by Amer Atta
Hair by Jubran
Behind the scenes video by Ala’a Abu Qasheh
Nabil, the person behind the one man band formerly known as Dinosaurs & Astronauts, has been involved in music ever since he was a child. When he was eight, he used to sing and dance to Michael Jackson songs, and this continued as he got older and learned every step and lyric to popular music.
“I started singing around nine years old,” Nabil said as he fidgeted with his glasses. “I was really shy, though, so I would only lip sync in front of people.” Nabil picked up the guitar before he was 12, marking the “official” beginning of his love affair with music. He started performing with punk bands, and later a hardcore metal band, though he always felt that he wanted to do more melodic vocals and music. “I would grab the acoustic guitar after the guys left and play my own acoustic stuff,” He added. “I always felt like the emotional guy in metal band.”
After years of playing with these bands that didn’t really fit his vibe, Nabil decided to do his own thing. In late 2005, he became interested in the folk genre and began producing his own music, under the band name, Dinosaurs & Astronauts. Nabil started writing and publishing his own songs on Youtube and other online platforms as he had done previously, but this time was different. The D&A music had more emotion and simple harmonies. Nabil is inspired by everything around him, and his music grows from a specific feeling or sensation. He doesn’t search for inspiration, saying “it always comes to me when I’m not looking.” Gonzalez said, as he itched his head, that even in a hard time or difficult moment, he finds “a sweet contradiction in whatever is happening and just writes according to that.” He finds beauty in the darkest places.
The name, Dinosaurs & Astronauts, is a puzzling one. Gonzalez chose this name because he wanted a name that was both meaningful and personal. The dinosaur part came from his childhood fascination with them, and he found the fact that they existed once and now extinct mind blowing. Nabil’s enchantment with isolation led him to include the astronauts in his stage name, as well. He said, “Astronauts go up to space they are isolated and they find themselves up there… They fight loneliness up there and I see myself in them.” These are clearly more than just geeky epiphanies… it’s personal.
Not long after his interview with My.Kali, Gonzalez announced on his social media that he’s “been in the studio for a while, working on his long awaited debut album, ‘Cabin Fever.’” He was going to release it under his name, marking a new personal and professional phase. . He told me over Facebook, “I loved it (Dinosaurs & Astronauts) dearly, but at the end of the day, I’m a singer/songwriter and not a vocalist in a band…and in lots of ways it got people confused. I felt like with D&A, I was me but still I was like batman or the hulk, still hiding a big part of myself. It’s time to break those chains and be who I really am.” Though talk about the album is still in its early stages and the release date uncertain, we do know that the album will contain 10 tracks, including Nabil’s first single, “Noble Beast.” He said, “This album is literally everything to me. I was going around and round in my head with the question, do I want to go down in the books as D&A or Nabil, and I was like, why am I hiding from my name when my music is more than 100% me.”
Whether his name is Dinosaurs & Astronauts or Nabil Gonzalez, I will remain a loyal fan, and applaud him as he continues to make his music more personal.
What is it about the acoustic/folk genre that attracted you to it
What attracted me the most about this genre is the honesty in it, the strong emotions that it carries. I really like how most of Folk acts are not overly polished and retouched for commercial purposes and ‘radio catchiness,’ but are real. It’s an intimate genre that is all about the music and the feeling, and not just made for fame or a good-time.
How did you come up with your sound, a hybrid of folk, indie, and pop?
This hybrid thing happened naturally because I listen to music from different genres and have been since I was a little kid, and I’ve been in other bands long before I was officially D&A. These bands are real different and have different sounds. Some had a short-time life span, and others went on for a couple of years and got local success and attention.
In terms of the Folk/ndie/Acoustic influence, I’ve always been a melodic kind of guy who loves honest, simply-structured songs that focus on voice and emotion. Now, I try to emulate the pop/soul touch that I really admire. Pop music is actually the music that made me want to start singing. I think if you connect the dots, you can see the reason behind my hybrid sound.
Childhood definitely affects a person’s identity, including musical prefrences. Earlier, you said you started singing at the age of eight. Do you remember the first song you sang and what it meant to you at that time?
Yes, first song I ever attempted to sing was ‘Heal the World’ by Michael Jackson. I think I was in 2nd or 3rd grade at school, and I sang it in front of the whole school with a bunch of kids by my side and a choir behind. I don’t really remember being emotionally involved in the song, but I do remember how good the stage felt and how relaxed I felt being in front of a large audience, and n how alive I felt when the song ended and everyone cheered. That was one of the moments were I knew I wanted to do music, perform it or write it at some point in my life.
“I play with words and use metaphors, twist things and turn them. I tend to write my music in a bit of contradictory fashion…”
In your last Tumblr entry, you stated that “It’s a very difficult time” for you musically, emotionally and personally. You’ve only talked about the music troubles that you’ve facing lately. But now, we’re asking you to confide in My.Kali… Personally.
I really appreciate it. But see I can’t really put them ‘personal struggles and difficult times’ into words because they weigh more than words can carry! Probably through music I’ll be able to shed some light on them.
Can you explain your song Noble Beast? What is the story behind it?
‘Noble Beast’ is a straight-forward, angry and emotional song. It talks about a relationship that ended when one cheated on the other, and brings up all the anger, self pity and loathing of the time wasted that which follows. It’s about betrayal. The title, ‘Noble Beast,’ is actually deeper than the song itself. The relationship in the song was like a ticking bomb, and once truth surfaced, it exploded and a beast was born within him. Yet, he remains ‘Noble’ to control his anger and prevent any damage from happening while caging those angry emotions and disguising them with emotional ones. What’s interesting about this song is that it does talk about betrayal and so on, but it’s also about the struggle and the personal war of how one copes with it..
Writing a song and performing it is about connecting with both your personal side and the audience. . Have you ever found that sometimes people misunderstand you or your music?
Oh yes, for sure. Most of my songs are somewhat cryptic; I play with words and use metaphors, twist things and turn them. I tend to write my music internally contradictory, like a song that has a cheery sound but dark or intense lyrics. That’s how I like things, in general. I dislike one-sided art.
What goes through your head when you listen to your songs after recording them?
This sounded better in my head! You know I have a weird, hypercritical approach when it comes to my opinion about my music.
Have you ever found yourself starting a song but not completing it? What might some reasons for this be?
This happens all the time! I actually like to take my time with the writing process. I don’t just sit and say ‘ok now I write a song,’ nor do I like to use bad relationships or positive or negative experiences to write a song. To me, it’s much much profound than that. My songs go beyond this world sometimes.
Who would you say influences you the most regarding your music?
I’m a really big fan of Nick Drake, The Avett Brothers, J.tillman, and Alex Ubago, and am also influenced by other bands/musicians that are not Folk, Indie or Acoustic genre. Personal experiences and other stuff like movies and series have impacted my thoughts, conscious and subconscious, and made their way into my writing in some way.
Do you ever see yourself going back to your punk or hardcore metal roots?
My actual roots are actually pop and some Latin/Spanish music, but prior to D&A, I was in some Hardcore/Punk and Alternative bands. I have respect and admiration to some metal music, but I don’t see myself as leaving D&A behind and going back to doing lead vocals with a metal band. I would definitely collaborate, write, do guest appearances, but I can’t say for sure if I’ll consider being with a metal band. I think it depends on their sound and if I can bring anything to the table and so on. But what I can say is that I would never leave D&A behind.
How different is working with a band from having your solo career?
It’s so much different. When you’re in an official line-up band, I think it’s generally less exhausting because you all back each other up in live and recorded performances. Plus, in a million ways its way more fun if you’re on good terms with the other band members and understand each other personally and musically. The whole singer-songwriter solo career thing is lonely, and at some point, you do search for band members to back you up live and to spice things up.
“You have to know that people always have something to say about anything and everything, no matter what it is, and that is because most of them refuse to be themselves! They choose to follow the ‘majority’ of the crowds and be amongst them…”
Explain what exactly do you mean when you say you like “sweet contradictions”?
It’s when two things or more that have nothing to do with each in end up converging.
Do you think you have a gay following/audience? What kind of response have you gotten from them?
Well, I can’t really answer this because I don’t know my followers. I do know that the majority of my followers live both in Jordan and Spain, and that’s of where I am from/live. I actually hope I have a diverse following of people from around the world, of different colors, sexual orientations, tastes, etc. The responses from them now are kind and very much appreciated.
Are you a fan of music related to your Spanish side? Can you see yourself integrating this influences into your own?
Of course I’m a fan of Spanish music, but not necessarily “Flamenco.” I’m more into the rock, pop and folk sound. It’s always on my mind, but I don’t think I’ll change my path and do a Spanish music project. I might might consider mixingmore Spanish influences into my music.
Many musicians have side jobs in case things didn’t follow through musically. What about you? Is music your full time, or do you have a Plan B?
Good question. At the moment I don’t have a side job, and yes, music is Plan A and Plan B. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t get a day job and be serious about it. I’m just saying that I hope music becomes an “official,” full-time job for me.
Many musicians don’t wait for a cash flow to launch an album these days, and choose to launch over YouTube or other internet platforms. Would the net be an option for you to launch an e-album?
Right now, the whole album deal is a bit blurry and I’m working my way through it. So an e-album is possible, but just have to figure some stuff out.
A lot of My.Kali‘s readers are LGBTQ (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender/Transsexual Questioning). From someone who said “Be true to yourself,” what would you like to say to our readers?
I would like to say to them and anyone else that you have to know that people always have something to say about anything and everything, no matter what it is. They judge mostly because they refuse to be themselves! They choose to follow the ‘majority’ and be amongst the crowd, because they’re too scared and blind to give themselves a moment or two to reflect on who they really are, where they came from, and what do they stand for. ‘Stay true to yourself’ goes to everyone who stands for something that is his/her own and doesn’t need people’s approval to fit into their zombie existence.
Watch the making-of Nabil’s ‘His Acoustic Charm’