Gabriel Gorman is a Canadian friend from college. A couple years after graduation, Gabe moved to Paris, on whim, hoping for a change and to practice his French. In the intervening years, Gabe hasn’t left, became the frontman for a independent French/English band, called DAD, (they have an album coming out on ObliqSound and a North American tour lined up for later this year), and has pretty much turned Parisian. So, a little while back, I hit Gabe up to ask him how he did it and what it was like.
So, what are you doing in Paris?
I am a musician in Paris, making bucks wherever I can, but working most days on music, writing and things of that sort. I have to make money, so I teach English. In the past, I had a café job and I tour-guided. At the moment, I’m not making enough from concerts to make ends meet, but that’s the goal in the next little while.
Did you move to Paris specifically to pursue music?
No, I moved to Paris to “find myself,” so to speak. I was turning 25, but I felt like that was a significant milestone and I wasn’t depressed at the thought that 30 was 5 years away, but I was motivated. So I felt like it was time to get out of my country, improve my French after spending so many years in Montreal as an inadequate French speaker. I’d made some Parisian friends there, in Montreal, so I figured, “Hey, let’s do it.” So I came here and got a job as an English teacher, and quickly met musicians and started up that way, as an amateur, and then things progressed.
So are you mostly hanging out with French people or expats in Paris?
Almost exclusively French people. Whether or not we speak in French is just according to relationship. But I don’t have a lot of expat friends. When I first got here, really for the first two years, I was adamant about the idea of making French friends, in a funny kind of way. Not that if I met an American or a British person that I liked, I wouldn’t cast them off. But it was really important to me to not fall into an expat crew. It was really important to me to have French friends.
So you definitely immersed yourself with twentysomething Parisians.
Basically, yeah. As best I could.
When you moved, did you think you were going to be there for four years?
The plan was one year. You get this work-travel visa, which is a deal for France and Canada, so I can come to France and get job very easily and not even need to pay taxes, and you’re supposed to stay for a year and then leave. But, to be honest, it was quite difficult when I first moved here. I didn’t speak French, I had two friends, both of whom had their own lives, and it was quite slow. I moved five times in my first three months, just to give you an idea of how difficult it was moving here. It was seven or eight months into my one year where I finally looked around and said, “Ok, I’ve got an apartment, I’ve got a crew of friends, my French is improving and finally I feel like I’m not just the Canadian guy over there, but people accepted me.” That took a lot longer than the one year deadline would allow. And I’d found a good English-teaching job, and I’d joined my band, and I didn’t see any reason to go back to Canada [at the deadline], because things were just getting started. I didn’t want to cut it short.
So, I got a new visa, through my work, and that’s how it continued. During that visa, the band got some label interest, we signed with a label, we started playing much more seriously, and now here I am in France four years later.
So does France feel like home to you?
It does, in a funny way. I would say Paris rather than France. You travel around France and realize Paris is a little bit of anomaly in terms of culture and the style of the city. I often say that I’m not French, but I’m definitely Parisian in the sense that I know this city better than the other two cities that I’ve lived in. I lived in Montreal for seven years and I grew up in Toronto, but I go back to Montreal and I feel like I don’t know the place at all anymore. So, now, in Paris, I’ll refer to Toronto as home but when I’m in Toronto, I’ll refer to Paris as going home. So I don’t know, yes, Paris is my home.
Can you talk some about the band. You guys have a label and a record deal?
Yes, we have a label, called ObliqSound, and we recorded a year ago, and we’ll be releasing the album in September. We’ll be touring America and Canada and things are going really well. We’re in a good spot as a group and have a good idea on where we wanna be in a years time. We didn’t have that two years ago, for instance. So it feels like we’re a professional group, with videos and the album will be out on vinyl and CD, which all make it seem like it’s a whole outfit, which is gratifying, I have to tell you. It’s been a lot of work in the making.
Do you mostly find that the crew that you’re around are fellow artists and musicians, or is a wide breadth of twentysomethings?
Well, there’s definitely a high percentage of musicians, I would say. There are few other artists, but in every group, there are always artists of some kind, but yeah, it’s mostly musicians. But it’s a pretty typical group. Lots of people are just friends of friends or are my friends who have nothing to do with art or music.
I guess I’m just curious what you think you’re friend group might be like compared to what it would be like if you were still in North America? Does it feel like it’s just a Parisian version or if there are notable differences?
That’s a difficult question to answer.
Yeah, it’s kind of abstract.
It is, I can try. I think people are different here in general. There are a billion similarities, but it’s still different. How I imagine, if I was living in the States or Canada, how I would imagine my group of friends, I wouldn’t be able to. Because I wasn’t able to coming here. It’s funny how things work out. What I can tell you about that is I didn’t expect to be here four years ago. And I don’t mean in Paris. I mean anywhere, where I am. I didn’t expect music to be so serious, I was always a serious writer, but how performing poetry become rapping becomes singing becomes being a musician, I hadn’t thought about it much until it just happened. The people I met are the people I’m spending my life with here. How could you predict that?
The kinds of people, I’m very happy with. And to be simplistic about the answer, just to give you a grounding, I was hoping to meet artistic people and musical people, who were interested in culture and were coming at from a perspective that I wasn’t privy to previously. So in some ways, it’s worked out ideally in the sense that I did have an idea of what France would be like. The ideal didn’t work out to perfection but in terms of the kinds of people I would frequent in North America, I think I found a rather close equivalent. Everyone I know is interesting and thoughtful and likes art, which is important to me.
Does the average twentysomething that you know in Paris, do they know what they’re doing with their life? I feel like my peers here in the States, even if they have a path, they’re still aimless.
No, that is not something you don’t come across very often here, I have to say. That is a cultural difference. In my opinion, I find that Parisians are extremely pragmatic. And they are also forced to choose a direction at a very young age. Whereas, I wasn’t forced to make a decision about my direction EVER, except to pick a major in university, and I didn’t have to do that until I was 20. Whereas here, you sort of splinter out into very specific areas of study at 16. So these kids know what they’re going into and if they want to switch, it’s quite difficult, so a lot of them don’t. I don’t meet a lot of Parisians that have no direction. It’s pretty uncommon. Often, at 16 or 17, they have to say “I’m going to study business or I’m going to be a journalist, so I’ll continue with humanities.” So you don’t get these people like me, who stumbled into an English major. I did that because it was what I enjoyed the most, so it seemed the most fruitful in terms of finding what I wanted, and then fucking off for a couple years with dead-end jobs and learning myself, and then coming to France and then finding something that was off the radar. That, in my opinion, doesn’t happen very often in France.
That’s interesting, because I feel like that is what most people I know are like.
Yeah. Especially ones that choose arts in university. I wish someone had explained that to me.
Like, “There’s no path for this. You will wander around throughout your twenties.”
Yeah. I mean, I did. I’m a wanderer. I’ve sort of camped in Paris for a little while and made the best of it and made something I’m very happy with. And, was able to connect my education to, because I take the lyrics to my songs very seriously, but aside from that, this wouldn’t have seemed a possibility. And had I been given that choice at 16, I would have chosen very differently, I think. And that’s how it works over here. They’re quite straight in a funny way.
If there is one singular lesson you can point to having learned about adulthood since moving to Paris, what would you say it is?
I moved here with very little. And I don’t mean possessions, but I had one friend and that’s it. And it’s a really difficult feeling to have no back up. It can be very scary and hard. And that’s not something that a lot of people experience. You don’t get that when you’re just visiting a place. The feeling that, lets say for instance, I have to move. What do I do? I don’t know anyone with a car. I don’t have parents or family or old friends I can rely on. I have to find a solution and it’s up to me to do everything. I move into a new place and my bed doesn’t fit the room – I have to get rid of this bed, find a new one and then I have to go out to ikea. That may not be a great example, but my point is, one thing I learned about being an adult, for me, was that here, I had no one to count on. And things are much different now, because I have reinforcements.
In my first two months here, I was renting this apartment. I was living alone in this tiny place and I left my keys at a party I was at. It was on the other side of the city and the metro was closed. In that situation, what the fuck do you do? If you’re in your hometown, you call up a friend say, “I know it’s late but answer the phone, I’m coming over.” But I had nobody. I called my one friend, who didn’t get the phone, because he was sleeping. So I had to sleep overnight, in the hallway in front of my door, and then go to the house where the party was the next day. I had to remember where it was and bang on the door and then go look through the place to find my keys. Then I went home and passed out. But that was a stressful and terrible experience, but it was educational in the sense that it gave me a strong idea that I don’t have anyone to rely on. That was a shitty feeling. Maybe in terms of learning self-reliance, it was a positive experience, but it was also really shitty. And it made conscientious about that idea, which not many people need to do. Lots of people live places they’re comfortable. I didn’t make that choice and so I ran up against these things. For anyone reading this who knows what I’m talking about knows what I’m fucking talking about.
So to paraphrase, you learned that you can deal with being on your own, but you know you’re on your own.
Exactly. I was on my own. And that was a very adult feeling, in a weird way. And it made me grow up, in a particular way, really, really quickly.