Gabriel Black held a watch party for the second episode of HBO’s new series Euphoria. He is a fan of the show’s forward-thinking storytelling, yes, but the actual reason for this watch party came across the screen just over 35 minutes into the episode. Characters Nate Jacobs and Maddy Perez are riding in Nate’s car. Nate tries to apologize to Maddy for being a humongous jerk, she deliberately turns up Black’s song “Dead Yet” featuring Phem on the car radio.
“Wrist tied to your waist, I’m on a chain, I’ll never fly / Is this all we do? Smoke in your room at two a.m.?” blares through the car speakers in the scene. Black and his friends rewound and rewatched it. “That was the very first time I’ve ever had a song on a show,” Black says excitedly over the phone a couple of weeks later, “or put to any type of visual, really, professionally. It was awesome.”
The moment meant a lot to a musician who values the visual aspect of his music. The song did well to illustrate Nate and Maddy’s relationship plateauing—two people stuck in a rut out of habit. While Black had finished the track with Phem long before Euphoria came calling, his personal inspiration for the song aligns with the scene it helped to narrate.
“I was hanging out with Phem, and we were both talking about relationships we’d had in the past that we felt were stale,” the 24-year-old says of the song’s backstory, “and our partner[s] at the time just had kind of given up. It was that and a combination of a few months before I visited friends of mine back from where I grew up, and a lot of the people just seemed like they weren’t doing anything with their lives. They’d just given up on everything. So, that was our rally cry to say we’re not dead yet like those people.”
He adds: “It just seems like a lot of people that I was around, including partners of mine, they’d gotten stuck in going through the motions. I’m not ready for that yet.”
He’s ready to release a new EP this fall, but first, a tour of the long journey he has taken to arrive at this place. Black grew up in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania. His father was an artist, and as a kid, Black picked up drawing from his dad. He took an AP art class in high school, and his dad taught him the more technical side of the craft. But as a young adult, he says he threw out the rules and chose to do it his own way, which is consistent with his approach to his music career.
About two and a half years ago—after attending Northeastern University in Boston and briefly living in New York City as an artist for Immortal Technique’s indie label named Viper Records then eventually landing in Los Angeles where he lives now—Black was doodling in his notebook when he happened to sketch the bald-headed character that he now uses to publicly represent himself.
“I made a little character with a shaved head, and I was like, ‘This is cool. I want this to represent me,'” he explains of his animated persona. “He’s very much so a recreation of myself but probably can do things that I can’t. It was a cool way to protect myself a little bit because my music is very confessional, and I think really open and the opposite of private. So, being able to wear a mask a little bit made it easier to say some of the things I say.”
For one, the character makes it less daunting for Black to sing about uninhibited, dark and heavy things such as this verse from his 2018 album’s title track “beautiful life”: “I might jump off the roof in my Versace suit / Take grandpa’s .22 and go repaint my room.” In his personal life, Black labels himself “a little more open than most” but only to people close to him. Strangers essentially eavesdropping on his deepest feelings do not fit into that category, and so, for now, his drawn character carries that weight.
On a lighter level, the character allowed Black to add an element to his music that is extremely important to him: “I was able to make videos of him doing anything with pretty much no budget. I would just draw things, and then my friend would just make them come to life, and it was a cool way of making visuals for my music that I don’t think I could have done otherwise.”
In December, Black made an animated lyric video of his character riding in a car in outer space around Earth for his track “goodbye.” And then, six months later, Euphoria was his music video for 15 seconds. With this new collection of music and Euphoria as a launching pad, Black looks forward to breaking away from his character to film live music videos with real people” whether or not I’m in them.”
Euphoria aside, “Dead Yet” foreshadows what he calls a “more hopeful” theme listeners can find on Black’s forthcoming EP—title yet to be announced—while still maintaining the core of what his music has always been about since he began making it alone in his bedroom. “It’s still all confessional,” he states. “It’s journal-entry music. There’s no contrived, like, session-made, what Spotify playlist is this gonna fit-type music. It’s not like that. It just never has been for me, and I’ve always kind of detested that. … All my music is, was and will continue to be just entries in a journal. It’s all just gonna be confessional. It’ll remain that way.”