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The truest form of myself: Gizmo Varillas on how vocal training helps him express himself through his music

Gizmo Varillas

With over 100 million streams on Spotify, a first album that's just gone vinyl, viral success on TikTok and Instagram and releases featured on Netflix shows I Used to Be Famous and Special, you might think that all of the success enjoyed by singer-songwriter Gizmo Varillas represents the end of a journey.

Think again.

"I'm still on the way toward being able to express myself as much as possible," Gizmo said. "That's why I decided to learn more about my voice and how it works. I wanted to know my limits and how far I can push myself. I've found that the more I learn about the voice, the more I can express myself the way I want to."

Gizmo first burst onto the global indie scene following the release of his widely acclaimed 2018 album Out of the Darkness, which while subtly dealing with issues like depression, anxiety, stress and mental health, is actually about hope and making it to the other side. It’s about transformation, from dark into light.

Planning to debut a new sound for his fourth album, due out in spring 2024, Gizmo fully embraced this ethos of change and self-discovery. To achieve this goal, he set out to systematically train his voice to gain access to its many nuances.

"I knew I could sing softly and I knew I could sing loudly" said Gizmo. "I wanted to explore all the shades more, get more consistency with my voice and be more confident."

Through one-to-one lessons and workshops with Stefan Holmström, Gizmo has dived into vocal anatomy and physiology and worked consciously on the craft of his voice. He's revolutionised his own understanding of how his voice works, what it's capable of and how he can make the specific sounds he wants depending on the emotion he wants to convey.

"Your voice and how you choose to use it will have an impact on the emotional delivery of the song and lyrics," Gizmo said. "So, when you have a softer, breathier touch, it's more intimate. When you have more contact, you'll sound more confident, more reassured. It seems obvious, but it is something that didn't even cross my mind before I started working with Stefan. And for me as a singer-songwriter, it's amazing to have that awareness."

As part of detailed, targeted training of specific parts of the voice, Stefan and Gizmo worked both in the coaching studio and the recording studio on close mic in order to appreciate the subtle control needed to realise Gizmo's artistic vision. As a result, Gizmo feels comfortable using a wider variety of dynamics and he's genuinely excited about experimenting.

"It's given me a lot of freedom of expression," said Gizmo. "For example, I might choose that I want to be soft and delicate in a song and there's an intention behind it. Before it was the norm, it's what I could do - breathy or belt - and there was no middle ground, no shade, no contact. Having done these lessons with Stefan has opened up a creative palette of what I'm able to do with my voice."

Gizmo's ability to express himself more fully comes from a combination of greater awareness of the emotions he wants to express and having a vocal toolbox at his disposal to be able to share those emotions through his singing. His "go to" at the moment is to have contact, which he feels is closest to his true voice, then choosing to add in degrees of breathiness or to belt.

"I'm really grateful that I can tap into a whole new world," he said. "It's opened up my artistry."

One of the ways Gizmo is able to test boundaries, as well as prepare his voice for songwriting and performance, is through a tailored 11-step daily warm-up routine, which he and Stefan created together.

"I've found my voice through doing these exercises," said Gizmo. "Doing it consistently helps the voice really build up and gain a natural power. If I've done the warm-ups for a couple of weeks, my voice is already sounding good. It already has a different tonal quality than if I hadn't."

The warm-ups and thoughtful vocal development work paid off when Gizmo recorded his latest album.

"This album is the truest form of myself and it's thanks to what I've learned about the voice. I got to really know my voice and I surprised myself with how I was sounding. My voice has never sounded like that before. By improving my craft, I'm able to express myself more authentically."

For Gizmo, it comes down to the power of knowledge.

"It's all about knowledge and figuring out what I can do and how to do it, rather than everything just being instinctive. When you don't have any knowledge of the voice, you just sing and see what happens."

He added: "I originally came to Stefan for singing, but lessons have given me confidence with everything regarding the voice. It's been a holistic approach. I feel empowered."

Catch Gizmo Varillas on tour

Tickets are selling fast for shows at Clwb ifor Bach in Cardiff on 25th April and at the Hope & Ruin in Brighton on 26th April. Grab yours while you can!

Gizmo Varillas is a UK-based Spanish singer-songwriter whose genre-elusive sound accessibly merges his refreshingly varied musical influences and endless list of instruments he performs. With a timely message that resonates with many, he creates powerful combinations of simple but profound Marley-esque lyrics driven by Paul Simon melodies, John Frusciante guitars and an ever-evolving roster of Latin and afro influences it is hard to keep up.

Stefan Holmström is a professional opera singer and voice teacher who works with a diverse range of clients. He offers online and in-person vocal coaching and workshops from his studio in central Brighton in the UK. As an Estill Master Trainer (EMT), Stefan uses Estill Voice Training (EVT) as a baseline for safe and sustainable voice use.


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