On the Eve of His First US Tour, Gepe Looks Back at the Chilean Pop Revolution

Photo by Claudia Valenzuela

One of the first and most prominent names to emerge from Chile’s now fabled indie music scene is Gepe, the alias of multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter Daniel Riveros. His music has always defied categorization, aligning itself with Chile’s rich folk tradition while also successfully integrating a plethora of Latin rhythms like bachata and cumbia. His ability to musically shapeshift has breathed new life into the perception of Andean music and made him one of the most collaborative artists of his generation, a track record that includes works with Javiera Mena, Alex Anwandter, Pedropiedra, Carla Morrison, Julieta Venegas, and Wendy Sulca.

Gepe’s star has been on the steady rise since 2010’s Audiovisión, the first of three studio albums produced by famed Chilean hitmaker Cristián Heyne. Subsequent albums GP and Estilo Libre would also go on to become commercial and critical successes, leading to extensive touring and radio play, solidifying Gepe’s place as a bonafide Latin indie star. Now, Gepe is setting his sights on North America, embarking on a tour that will briefly take him back to Mexico, and a cross-country journey through the United States.

Before he sets foot on US soil, we spoke with Gepe to discuss the upcoming tour, his place in Latin music, and what the future holds for Chile’s vibrant up-and-coming musicians.

You’re about to embark on your first U.S. tour, which must be really exciting for you and your team. How did it all come about and what do you have in store for us?
Yeah, we’ve had U.S. dates before, but they’ve all been one shots, like when we’ve played in LA, or at LAMC [Latin Alternative Music Conference] in New York. But this time, we have dates in San Diego and Seattle, [we’re] also trying to make something happen in Chicago, and it’s all very exciting considering the U.S. is a huge country with an extensive musical tradition. We’re really happy to make our way up there and try to take over.

Photo by Claudia Valezuela
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Are you in any way changing your show for American audiences or can we expect the full Gepe set up?
Oh no, we’re bringing the full show. I like having full instrumentation and the Chinas dancing at every performance, whether it’s in Chile, Colombia, or the U.S. We might change it if it’s an acoustic session, but otherwise I believe our stage setup is as much about the musicians as it is the dancers, and we have nothing to hide or worry about. The music speaks for itself, and I feel that what we do on stage will come across very clearly to U.S. audiences.

Do you have any expectations or reservations about the tour?
You know, I’ve played New York and LA before, and it’s clear those cities have a large Latin presence, but I honestly don’t know what to expect from audiences in places like Philadelphia or Seattle. It’ll be a surprise, but that’s my favorite thing about touring new cities, plus getting to know the audience a bit and feeling out the vibe is always cool. But we’re going for it, and if there’s a place for Gepe in the U.S., this is how we’re going to find it.

“My intention isn’t to save our roots, or anything of the sort; that isn’t my role.”

This tour is in support of your latest album Estilo Libre, which featured many different musical genres. What is your process for composing and how do you go about adapting these influences?
For this album, and even my previous one, I made a conscious decision to bring in the music I listened to as a kid. This was the music that obsessed me at the ages of 5, 8, and 10, when I was listening to a huge range of genres. I was just as into Guns N’ Roses as I was Juan Luis Guerra, Gipsy Kings, Bryan Adams, and Carlos Vives.

While writing for this album, I opened that door to my childhood and teenage years and let it all pour out, and that’s where you get songs like “Invierno” and “A La Noche,” which have an almost 90s Latin feel to them. I don’t think the album sounds very contemporary, but it’s very personal work in that all this music helped to shape whom I would later become in life and as a musician.

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GP, your previous album, ventured into reggaeton a few times. Wouldn’t you say that’s pretty contemporary?
Yes, but that’s a little bit different. I’m not sure if reggaeton is just everywhere now and it saturates me, but I find it has great rhythmic potential in how simple and catchy it is. I’m interested in all aspects of Latin American music. I love vallenato, cumbia – the music of the Andes in general I find fascinating. I’m very drawn to music from Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia, and I feel very close to it as well. There is wonderful nostalgia in Andean music, where you feel like you need to sing about something that is lost and isn’t coming back. I strongly identify with that feeling.

“Hambre” and the rest of your music have definitely put the Andean spirit back in the spotlight.
I’m really pleased with the reception the song has gotten, and it started an important conversation about a Latin American voice that goes beyond the Andean and indie, and I think the video, which we shot in Bolivia, added a whole other dimension to the project…But my intention isn’t to save our roots, or anything of the sort; that isn’t my role. I’m trying to make music that I love, like pop, experimental or hip-hop, through the music that I know best. I definitely feel like I have a hand in bringing the attention back to the music of this area. I don’t think it’s strictly Chilean, since we all have similar traditions. For me, it’s about telling Latin American stories and exploring what brings us together and keeps us apart.

What’s your dream collaboration that hasn’t happened yet?
There’s one band I won’t stop naming until they agree to work with me [laughs]. Café Tacuba – I’d love to work with them; it makes a lot of sense to me. It hasn’t worked out yet, but I’m confident that someday we’ll make it happen.

“It was an eye-opening time that allowed us to approach music with less prejudice and free ourselves from the tyranny of rock ‘n’ roll.”

Over the last decade, the Chilean music scene has become very storied in our current generation of Latin indie. As one of the first and biggest stars to come from that movement, can you tell us a bit about the early Santiago days?
I was part of the Santiago underground of the late 90s to early 00s, and it was about two or 300 people who all went to the same shows at the same three or four venues, most of which aren’t even around anymore. But in those days, the underground scene was really prolific, and we were part of some [really] special moments. I remember instances where Javiera Mena would play with a 10-piece orchestra, followed by an experimental pianist and then a rap group.

For me the pinnacle of that time was a band named Tobías Alcayota, a trio started back in 97 that completely changed the way I perceived music. I saw them play dozens of times and their sound was always different and evolved organically and intuitively. It was an eye-opening time that allowed us to approach music with less prejudice and free ourselves from the tyranny of rock ‘n’ roll. I have nothing against rock music, but at the time, it was the only music seen as valid, and everything else was considered irrelevant.

But then came groups like Dënver, Pedropiedra, Ases Falsos, all making different music but starting from the same place. Practically speaking, we still don’t have a crystalized style, which I think is wonderful. And it’s all happening again, with the new tiny underground scene, where a lot of new ideas are happening and gaining traction.

Who should we be listening to from this current wave of underground musicians?
There are so many great groups coming up right now. Playa Gótica is one I love. Patio Solar, Amarga Marga, El Cómodo Silencio De Los Que Hablan Poco. Also, this really interesting rap group called Los Liricistas is getting some attention. It’s all starting again, in the small venues with the small fan bases. It’s exciting to think about what might be coming next.

Gepe’s North American tour kicks off on April 23 in Mexico City. For more information, click here.