Interview: Ricky Rebel

To say Ricky Rebel is a master of reinvention is an understatement. The singer, who was born and raised in Los Angeles, has come a long way from his boy band days to become an award winning solo artist with his own unique voice and style. Vada caught up with the out and proud Rebel to discuss his journey through the music industry, his transformation from Ricky G. to Ricky Rebel, and what he ultimately wants to accomplish as a recording artist.

Where are you from?

I’m from Los Angeles, CA. Growing up in LA groomed me for the industry. I’ve been in show business since I was 11 years old.

What are your earliest memories of music?

My first memory of pop music was when my brother gave me a Madonna album. I was never the same after that. I listened to it every day, memorized every lyric and all the dance steps from her videos on MTV.

Did you grow up in a musical family?

My dad’s side of the family has some beautiful Latin singers. They sang mariachi music at all of our family gatherings. My mom side had all the professional dancers. I like to think that I got the best of both the gene pools.

When did you realize you had a gift for singing?

My mom knew right away that I could sing. I used to sing with perfect pitch when I was just a child. I loved singing and dancing to movie musicals. I always played the girl parts unless I felt the guy part was cool enough.

What were your musical influences growing up?

Growing up, I idolised Madonna, Michael Jackson and Prince.

When did you start realising you might be gay? How did you feel?

I was a late gay bloomer, around 19 years old. Up until then I had only been in relationships with women.

How did No Authority come about? How did you meet the other members? When did you guy decide to officially become a group?

I auditioned to be in a pop group. We were called The Boys Club back then. We had good chemistry together. We later changed our name to No Authority, made a couple of demos that got into the hands of Michael Jackson’s people, and he signed us to MJJ Records (SONY). It was all very surreal.

Where did the No Authority name come from and why did it stick?

I came up with the name. At the time, I had a real problem with authority and people telling me what to do. I guess some things never change.

How did the touring opportunities with Destiny’s Child, 98 Degrees, Aaron Carter and the Simpson sisters come about?

The first tour I ever was a part of was the Aaron Carter Tour in Europe. Aaron was like a Beatle in Europe. It was my first taste of fame. There were screaming girls everywhere. After the shows, fans even tried to push over the tour bus. I liked the crazy fandom.

The second tour was the Nickelodeon ‘All That Music and More Festival’. On that tour I opened for 98 Degrees, Destiny’s Child and Jessica Simpson. Ashley Simpson was a backup dancer for her sister, so we got to be friends while on tour. She’s a really sweet girl.

You were signed to Michael Jackson’s MJJ label for a short period of time. How did that occur? What was that experience like?

Michael Jackson’s label sent an A&R representative to scout talent. When he heard the demos, he immediately sent it to the president of the label, Jerry Greenberg, who then sent it to Michael Jackson. The first time they told me Michael Jackson wanted to sign us, I almost died. MJJ was one of my musical heroes.

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What was the one piece of advice Michael gave you that helped you become the artist you are today?

Michael Jackson told me to stay away from girls because they ruin bands. I took that to mean that in order to be successful you have to keep your eye on the prize.

No Authority then made a switch from Michael Jackson’s label to Madonna’s label? Why did that happen?

Madonna’s label, Maverick Records, wanted to release our album in time for us to go on tour with Britney Spears. Apparently, it was a million dollar deal between SONY and Maverick. I was excited to be signed to Madonna’s label and, on top of that, open for Britney Spears.

Why did you leave No Authority? Are you still on good terms with any of the members today?

I personally stayed in the group up until the very end. There were political differences between the label and our manager at the time. I’m still on good terms with all the members. They will always be my musical brothers.

You left the band to become the lead singer of another band. Why choose to do this instead of going solo?

I did go solo for a couple of years before starting my first rock band, Harlow. The music industry was crumbling at the time due to the internet and was drastically changing. So I decided to stretch myself, musically speaking, and put a band together. The first time I played with a band I had this incredible feeling in my body. There is really nothing like playing with a live band. Before that I had only done track performances.

Why did you leave Harlow?

There were some good points to being in Harlow. I learned how to use the full range of my voice. Jay Baumgardner (Evanescence and Linkin Park) mixed my album and Randy Cantor (Ricky Martin) produced the album.  I did interviews with EXTRA, Access Hollywood, etc. But I still wasn’t making authentic music my way.

On top of that, I was working with a homophobic jerk who even locked me into a room to spout Bible verses and tell me that I was going to Hell. Needless to say, I needed to move on and I did. The experience taught me to be strong and it gave me something to rebel against.

After you left Harlow, you disappeared for a few years. Why did you decide to lay low?

I took the time to produce my own record. I wanted to write and produce my own music. I learned that the best way for me to be an authentic artist is to craft my own songs. That way everything I create will have that rebel touch. I took the time to find and hone my own sound.

Is this when you decided to start the transition from being Ricky G. into being Ricky Rebel?

Absolutely. I literally became Rebel the day I decided that I was good enough on my own and that I didn’t need someone controlling me and telling what to sing, how to move, how to write, how to love, etc. Rebel was born out of a sheer need to tell my story and to live out the version of myself that I have always dreamt of being.

Why did Adam Lambert invite you to raid his closet when you needed a stage outfit?

I needed something to wear for a show at The Roxy. Adam Lambert was kind enough to let me raid his closet as long as I re-feathered one of his jackets. He and I have very similar tastes in fashion, so I was able to find a bunch of clothes that I liked. It was a very generous thing for him to do.

Why did My Chemical Romance invite you to be in their videos?

I used to wear boots and spandex leggings all over Hollywood. One day the casting director for My Chemical Romance approached me. She plopped a picture of Showpony on a table and said, ‘This is you.’ So I went to the fitting, tried on the outfit, and they cast me in their video.

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It ended up turning into multiple projects. I did a photoshoot for their album art work, I was featured in two of their music videos (‘NA, NA, NA’, and ‘Sing’), and I opened for My Chemical Romance at their CD release party at the House of Blues. That was the biggest thrill of my life. The crowd was so loud and insane. I felt like Michael Jackson.

Gerard Way was very hands-on during filming. It was great being able to work with him and see him in action. He knew exactly what he wanted and where he wanted it. He taught me to really take control when it comes to my vision as an artist. Gerard is a genius.

During this time, you changed your name to Ricky Rebel? Why did you decide on the name?

I have always been a Rebel, from the day I was born. I live by my own rules, question authority and social norms. When it came time to come up with a new name, Rebel just made sense to me.

Was this break the time period when you decided to be an out gay singer? What made you comfortable with that decision?

When I made my ‘It Gets Better’ video, I saw a lot of other people who were really affected by what I had to say. I got encouraging letters from fans saying that I saved their lives. That gave me the courage to be myself. It gave me an audience to fight for. A reason to put down my guard and just be real.

Why did you decide to dye your hair blue? How has this changed your life?

I decided to dye my hair blue because I was ready for change. Everywhere I go now, people smile at me and say, ‘I love your hair.’  Having blue hair has definitely made it easier for me to talk to perfect strangers. It’s allowed me to better connect with the people around me which consequently has had an effect on my writing.

Why did you decide to change your style and who did you look to when you decided to change your look to fit your new name?

I started getting into high fashion. I knew that I wanted a sleeker image. I bought tons of runway fashion magazines and did my homework and basically surrounded myself with the most stylish, fashionable people that I knew. I have done enough research now to know exactly what I like and what I don’t like. I had to learn what works for me and what doesn’t. Fashion is an ever evolving exploration. I use fashion to tell my story.

You resurfaced with an album in 2012 called Manipulator. What was it like getting back into the studio after a three-year hiatus?

I had been in the studio the whole time. It took me awhile to actualise the record. It’s basically a collection of songs that I had been writing to bust out of the Harlow shell. I had been producing and writing these songs long before they actually were released.

Where did the inspiration for this album come from?

I had a falling out with a lot of my childhood friends. I was painfully going through my own rebirth. Manipulator is a collection of songs that are me at my most rebellious. I was rebelling against homophobia, my own demons that said that I couldn’t do it on my own, and fake people in Hollywood promising me the world but delivering nothing on their end.

It was a dark time, but I think I came up with some really cool music. ‘Geisha Dance’ is about a geisha assassin who kills her men after they pay her for having sex with them. It’s set to a really poppy, upbeat track. I love the juxtaposition. ‘Geisha Dance’ spent 10 weeks on The Mediabase Chart, the same chart that powers ‘On Air with Ryan Seacrest’. So I’m definitely proud of that record.

Another track called ‘Straight Jacket’ spoke openly about my sexuality and equality for the LGBTQ community. It’s a gay anthem, sung by an openly-gay male singer, for gay rights, before it was popular to do so. Again, it was the rebel in me fighting for justice and equality. The video is quite powerful. There isn’t a single image of me in it. I put together a collage of men beaten for loving other men. It’s kind of hard to watch but the video has a hopeful resolution.

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You won Artist of the Year at the RAWards the same year. How did that make you feel?

Winning Artist of the Year at the RAWards solidified my belief in my own music and my show. I knew that I had finally found the right combination. I finally had supportive people who shared my vision and, because of that, we won artist of the year. It was definitely a milestone.

You released The Blue Album this past summer. Tell me about that.

The Blue Album is a collection of songs that I wrote during what I call ‘the blue years’ of my life. During the blue years, I found true love, got engaged, broke up, dealt with deep sadness, found love again and wrote 30 songs in the process.

The album is about the cycle of life. One loss leads to another victory. There is life after loss. I used my creativity to weather the storms and I have this beautiful album to show for it.

Why did you decide to call it The Blue Album?

Blue is such an enigmatic colour. It can stand for healing elements like the ocean, the sky, the heavens. Feeling blue also means that you are feeling sad and depressed. I wanted to write an album that reflected all of these emotions. The first part of my album is the light-blue side. It’s great music to dance to and workout to. The second half is the dark-blue side where I deal with the heavier feelings of loss and rage that I went through during the blue years. It’s like the blue of the flame. SUPER HOT!

What is the message behind The Blue Album? What do you hope fans will take away from listening to this album?

The message of the album is that life is cyclical. When you feel like all hope is lost, there is something beautiful just around the corner. Nothing is forever. We can use art and creativity to heal ourselves and others. I hope that I am able to heal people going through a breakup of any kind. Loss of a loved one, loss of a relationship, just loss in general. I am hoping through my music, that I can heal some broken hearts or at least give my fans the courage to love again.

What’s next for Ricky Rebel?

I’m a fashion contributor for Us Weekly. I’m also performing in front of 500,000 people on October 31 at The West Hollywood Halloween Carnaval which is the biggest outdoor Halloween party in the world. Kelly Mantle from “RuPaul’s Drag Race” will be joining me onstage to sing one of my favorite songs off “The Blue Album” called “Boys And Sometimes Girls.” I am also performing on the main stage at the Palm Springs Pride Festival on November 9. My team and I are working to secure a US tour and a residency in Vegas.

What is your ultimate goal as an artist?

My ultimate goal as an artist is to be the greatest entertainer that I can possibly be. I am hoping to perform for the rest of my life on the biggest stages in the world. It is my ultimate love. Connecting with the crowd, there’s just no other feeling like it. I want to feel it over and over again. I want the crowds to keep on getting bigger and bigger. That is my ultimate goal.

I also want to be an example to any gay boys – or anybody out there for that matter who thinks that they’re not good enough to make it – who can look at me onstage and say, ‘If Rebel can do it, then so can I.’ Someday we are going to have a gay president and I want to be an artist to help make it happen. Rebel the darkness, shine your light!

Ricky Rebel’s latest album, The Blue Album, is currently available on iTunes and Spotify. You can also check out his website at rickyrebelrocks.com.