You wouldn’t believe it, but Austin, Texas musician James Bookert is a shy guy.
The guy who qualified for Warped Tour skateboarding, battled it out against Rebel Wilson and Anna Kendrick in Pitch Perfect 3 and has been rippin’ banjo on stage with trash-grass superstars Whiskey Shivers for years is shy. On the face of it, that doesn’t make any sense.
But when you catch the bittersweet heat of his new solo project San Gabriel you’ll begin to hear a side of Bookert he hasn’t had the courage to reveal until now and you’ll understand this is where his quieter thoughts have been hanging out, checking out the party scene from a safe distance along the back wall.
His first single “Another One” opens to bleary maroon skies, where “summer time has come and gone/ and I’m wondering what went wrong.” There’s a melancholic hum to Bookert’s voice that draws you in close, inviting you to slow dance alone at your own birthday party in an empty room of streamers, wilted balloons and half-eaten cake. There is a weightlessness in accepting your loneliness and that release of not caring how sad you are is the mournful joy San Gabriel is trying to capture in his lo-fi, sad party blowouts.
His upcoming single “Cruel,” out December 5, follows that same party to its late-night conclusion, with sinewy strands of synths streaking over a digitized midnight sky.
It’s a departure from Bookert’s regular gig as bano player in Austin, Texas’ rough and rowdy Whiskey Shivers, but that’s kind of the point. For over a decade the band has seared stages with their trashing bluegrass-inspired music, their raucous energy even catching the spotlight in Pitch Perfect 3 as the band Saddle Up, who faced-off against Rebel Wilson, Anna Kendrick and the Bellas. San Gabriel gives Bookert the opportunity to showcase a more subdued musical energy, one that has space for introspection, vulnerability and groove. He recently teamed with Good Wolf Live for his first solo performance and his goal is to record a whole album playing all the instruments.
It’s a daunting task but one that has the musician excited to embrace and flow with. He may be shy, but James Bookert as San Gabriel is a wallflower that’s beginning to bloom beautifully.