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Words and photos by Karen Lowe

Back when the world was still relatively sane, I did the most insane thing I could think of and spent two months in America travelling around by myself and staying with people that I had met through QOTSA fan groups via Facebook. This included driving almost seven hours from Phoenix, Arizona to Albuquerque, New Mexico to stay with the band Manhigh.

What’s cool about this place is that all walks of life are welcome here with open arms. We take care of each other here.

Gabriel Gambino, Manhigh

From the moment I arrived in Albuquerque, drummer Ray Gutierrez took me under his wing until lead singer Gabriel Gambino finished his shift at work and we sat there for hours talking shit about our love of music and everything else in-between.

The next night, they took me to a place called The Murder Shack (what a name right?) which is based in the industrial area and is a warehouse set up for bands to be able to practice and play for their friends. It’s invite only and is by far one of the coolest places I’ve ever visited. It was also where Manhigh played their first show back since the tragic loss of their bass player Gabrielle Gambino earlier that year.

The Murder Shack has been a massive supporter of Manhigh. It’s owned by Jeff Chavers (Musnttouchit) who bought the place and installed a full sound stage and concert lighting. “It looks like a concert when you’re rehearsing and we love that opportunity,” both Gambino and Gutierrez said. “We also have the most epic parties here too,” Gambino added. “What’s cool about it is that not a lot of people know about it but the people that do know… it’s like a biker bar for musicians. What’s cool about this place is that all walks of life are welcome here with open arms. We take care of each other here.” He’s 100% right. Everyone there welcomed me with open arms and made me feel like part of the family.

Manhigh formed in 2017 when Gambino quit his old band to take a break from music and spend time with his new bride, Gabrielle. Gutierrez, however, refused to let Gambino quit and encouraged both him and Gabrielle to jam at his place. Up until this point, Gabrielle had never played an instrument before. Gambino encouraged her and started teaching her scales and basic riffs. Gabrielle clearly had no intention of letting Gambino stop playing, as she would record their jam sessions.

Gabrielle had flair and an innate understanding of music.  Within a month, she already knew the band’s songs and was coming to practice regularly. “There was a band from Brazil called The Space Time Ripples coming to America and they asked me if we wanted to play some shows so I agreed to do the entire tour.” Gambino told me. “We only had 15 minutes but we needed like, half an hour.”

“Our backs were against the wall so in a matter of two months, we had 45 minutes including covers of Queens of the Stone Age because we didn’t have enough of our own music. Within four months of Gabrielle learning bass, we were on a West Coast tour with a band from Brazil.” They spent six weeks on the road and, at this point, no one in Albuquerque really knew who they were, but from that point on – they hit the ground running and played as many shows as they could. “125 shows in two years.” Gutierrez said. “We were playing a lot.”

I asked them how they got along on the road. “Well, touring with your spouse…” Gambino laughed. “It was harder for him than it was for me.” Gutierrez chimed in. “It wasn’t all peaches and cream but once we all found our roles… we were there to play rock and that’s what we did.”

“It’s the first two weeks of touring where you really find out what you’re made of. It’s where you find out if you really like the people you are with.” Gambino said. The kind of thing that would also make or break a marriage and for Gabe and Gabrielle – it really cemented their relationship.

While I never had the opportunity to meet Gabrielle in person, she had a larger than life personality and was very much loved by all that knew her. It’s still really raw for both of them – back then when we were speaking in person and almost a year later. Losing someone is never easy but it’s even harder when they are young and it was completely unexpected. It’s still hard for Gambino to speak about her – during our time together in Albuquerque and to this day but you could see the love that he, Gutierrez and everyone that knew her have for the person she was. 

“Before she met us, no one had opened the door musically for her.” Gutierrez told me. “She was a very quick study. I’ve never seen anyone learn so quickly. If you see videos of us, you’d see her come over and she’d hurl insults at me. It was our thing. When things were going well, it’s what she would do. That was who she was. She was a lot of things, but she was at her best when she was playing bass guitar with us.”

“She was an absolute star.” Gambino added. “The life that I had with her was absolutely incredible. It was intense. One of the things I always think about is the shit she got accomplished. I know there are musicians that have been doing this for 20 odd years that didn’t do as much as she did but she owned that shit.”

One of those things that she got to achieve that so many musicians would kill for the chance at is recording at Rancho de Luna with the one and only Mr Dave Catching. “He’s my fucking hero.” Gambino said. “So generous. He sat with us and he gave a shit. The first time we went there, we were there for three days and we became better musicians because of those three days. I went there to learn from him. It wasn’t really about the recording.”

“He liked us.” Gutierrez exclaimed. “If he doesn’t like you, you can’t go there. We got there and we are sitting chatting with him and Gabe said, ‘look Ray – it’s Dave Catching.’” They even got to cook New Mexican food for him and just hung out. “He’s just the most generous guy. So generous.”

Gambino admitted the first thing he said was, “you know you’re Dave Catching right?” As a QOTSA fan, it was definitely one of the highlights so far.

The local scene in Albuquerque is a pretty cool scene and my only ‘regret’ of the trip is that I didn’t get to see more of it. From what I was exposed to, the people there are really lovely, genuine people who love to get out and support their mates as much as possible. It’s very similar to the Perth scene which is why I think I felt so at home there.

Gutierrez is older and has been around on the scene for a long time. He even had a small record label and helped bring music to downtown Albuquerque. “It became what it is now because there was a community itching to happen.” It’s something he is clearly passionate about and something he loves to talk about.

At the time, they weren’t sure about what direction to head in. The loss was still so raw and the energy and love Gabrielle brought to the table isn’t something that can be easily replaced. The plan then was to re-work the songs so that both Gambino and Gutierrez could fill in the sound. “If we get a new bass player, it has to happen organically.” they said. “It has to feel right.”

“I was going to take a lot more time off” Gambino said. “We played a memorial show for her and I wouldn’t have felt right if we didn’t do it. I don’t think she’d be happy if we didn’t either.”

“I sat down and had an intense conversation with her and we made a promise to each other.” Gutierrez added. “I’m an old piece of shit I told her but no matter what – whoever dies first leaves a sign and whoever’s alive needs to keep going. She left a sign for me. She left a clear sign and here we are. Him and me.”

Fast forward to today and both of them have kept that promise to keep playing; to keep doing what they love and even have new music to share with the world.

During lockdown, Manhigh headed into the studio and recorded new EP (.6667) with Red Gorilla Studios LLC who did an excellent job that really showcases Gambino and Gutierrez’ strengths with an underlying subtlety.

The first track, Lost My Friendsis a beautiful song that really tugs at the heartstrings without being over the top. It manages to bring all those emotions that you feel when you get the news that you’ve lost a friend. The sadness, the anger, the frustration, the loss and even the happiness you feel at having had them in your life in the first place. It brings them together in such a way that not one emotion is outshining the other.

Instead of leaving you feeling sad though, there is a thread of positivity weaving through. It’s an acknowledgement of the pain and suffering left behind but also a determination to pick up the pieces and just keep on moving through life albeit forever changed.

Hi Tonite is the kind of quality that we have come to expect from Manhigh. It’s another brilliant song and really highlights the vocals of Gambino. In this song, it feels that he is channelling Chris Cornell himself as well as aspects of Mark Lanegan and Alain Johannes whilst remaining true to himself.

The power and fullness of this song dictates that it deserves to be played loud. As a two-piece act, it’s often hard to create a full sounding track that translates well to stage and both Manhigh and Red Gorilla Studios have achieved this with these songs.  For me, it’s one of those hard-hitting songs that penetrates into the depth of your soul and stays with you long after the music has ended.

To round out the EP, Manhigh have thrown in their version of Little Monster (Royal Blood). Covers are always risky, especially with a band like Royal Blood, but in the hands of Gambino and Gutierrez, they have shown the song the love and respect that it deserves while twisting it to suit their style.

Gabrielle Gambino’s presence is definitely felt in these tracks – even if she is no longer here to kick some serious arse on the bass. While Manhigh are now physically a two-piece, they will always have that third member watching over their shoulders and making sure they don’t stray too far from the path.

Listen to (.6667) here.