Peter Brian Gabriel (born February 13, 1950, in Cobham, Surrey, England) founded Genesis while as a student at Charterhouse School with bandmates Tony Banks, Anthony Phillips, and Mike Rutherford.
Genesis quickly became one of the most talked-about bands in the UK and eventually Italy, Belgium and other European countries, largely due to Gabriel's flamboyant stage presence, which involved numerous bizarre costume changes and comical, dreamlike stories told as the introduction to each song. Some of his most famous costumes are "The Flower" (worn for "Supper's Ready", from Foxtrot), "Britania" (worn for "Dancing with the Moonlit Knight", from Selling England by the Pound), "Old King Cole" (worn for "The Musical Box", from Nursery Cryme) and "Rael" (worn throughout most of the performance of the album, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway).
During "The Knife", a popular live song from the Trespass album, Gabriel would perform a stunt that, two decades later, became a fixture of hard-rock and heavy-metal concerts: stage diving. On one occasion, he broke a leg leaping into the crowd - but managed to climb back up onto the stage and finish the performance. Gabriel occasionally would fall backwards into crowds during his solo shows (notably shown in his concert film, Po, during the song "Lay Your Hands on Me") and allow the crowd to pass him around, but stopped crowd surfing as he got older.
Backing vocals in Genesis during Gabriel's tenure in the band were usually handled by drummer Phil Collins, who eventually became the lead singer after Gabriel left the band in 1975.
His first solo success came with the single "Solsbury Hill", an autobiographical piece expressing his thoughts on leaving Genesis. On it, he says "My friends would think I was a nut . . . ", alluding to his decision to begin a period of self-exploration and reflection, while he grew cabbages, played the piano for long hours, practiced yoga and biofeedback and spent quality time with his family.
He famously refused to title his first four solo albums, since he wanted them to be considered as issues of a magazine instead of individual works; they are usually differentiated by number in order of release, or sleeve design. Yet, his fourth solo album was titled Security in the U.S., at the behest of Geffen Records.
Although early on he achieved critical success and some commercial success (e.g. "Games Without Frontiers" from his third album and "Shock the Monkey" from his fourth), Gabriel achieved his greatest popularity with songs from the 1986 So album, most notably "Sledgehammer" and "In Your Eyes".
Gabriel's song, "Sledgehammer," was accompanied by a visually stunning music video, which was a collaboration with director Stephen Johnson, Aardman Animation, and the Brothers Quay. The video won numerous awards at the 1987 MTV Music Video Awards, and set a new standard for art in the music video industry. A follow-up video for the song "Big Time" also broke new ground in music video animation and special effects.
He has collaborated with singer Kate Bush several times, notably Bush providing backing vocals for Gabriel's song, "No Self Control", and Gabriel's appearance on her television special. Their duet of Roy Harper's "Another Day" was discussed for release as a single, but this never came to pass. Another duet, the song "Don't Give Up" from So became a hit, however.
He also collaborated with Laurie Anderson on two versions of her composition, "Excellent Birds" - one for her album, Mister Heartbreak, and a slightly different version called "This is the Picture", which appeared on cassette and CD versions of So. In 1987, when presenting Gabriel with an award for his music videos, Anderson related an occasion in which a recording session had gone late into the night and Gabriel's voice began to sound somewhat strange, almost dreamlike. It was discovered that he had fallen asleep in front of the microphone, but had continued to sing.
In 1989, Gabriel released Passion, the soundtrack for Martin Scorsese's movie, The Last Temptation of Christ. Many consider the album to be the climax of his work in world music. Following it, Gabriel recorded Us in 1992, an album in which he deals with the pain of his life problems of the previous years. He metaphorically talks to the river: "River, river, carry me on to the place where I come from. . . . Bring me something that will let me get to sleep. . . . Bring me something to take this pain away". He also digs inside, trying to unearth the things inside of him that cause him trouble in the song "Digging in the Dirt". He fights to get through to his daughter in "Come Talk To Me". The result is one of his most personal albums, followed by a world tour that consisted of two stages: a round one and a square one, united by a bridge that he crossed riding a boat.
In 2000, he followed Us with the music to OVO, a soundtrack for the Millennium Dome Show in London, and Long Walk Home, the music from the Australian movie, Rabbit-Proof Fence, early in 2002. Gabriel has been interested in world music for many years, with the first musical evidence appearing on his third album. This influence has increased over time, and he is the driving force behind the WOMAD (World of Music, Arts and Dance) movement. He created the Real World Studios and record label to facilitate the creation and distribution of such music by various artists, and he has worked to educate Western culture about the work of such musicians as Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Youssou N'dour. He has also recently been interested in multimedia projects, creating the Xplora and Eve CD-ROMs. He has a long-standing interest in human rights, and launched the Witness program to supply video cameras to human rights activists to expose abuses.
Gabriel's song "We Do What We're Told (Milgram's 37)" from So refers to Milgram's experiment, and in particular the 37 out of 40 subjects who showed complete obedience in one particular experiment.
He was one of the founders of On Demand Distribution (OD2), one of the first online music download services. Its technology is used by MSN Music UK and others, and has become the dominant music download technology platform for stores in Europe. OD2 was bought by US company Loudeye in June of 2004.
Additionally, Gabriel is also co-founder (with Brian Eno) of a musicians' union called Mudda, short for "magnificent union of digitally downloading artists".
In June, 2005, Gabriel and broadcast industry entrepreneur David Engelke purchased Solid State Logic, a leading manufacturer of mixing consoles and digital audio workstations.
Recently, Peter Gabriel has been working with video game companies, Cyan Worlds and Ubisoft, to aid in the sound production of their latest video games. The 2003 videogame, Uru: Ages Beyond Myst, featured the song "Burn You Up, Burn You Down" in several portions of the game. The song, in a different mix, features The Blind Boys of Alabama (who also collaborated with Gabriel on the song "Sky Blue") and was on a press release copy of Up, but deleted before the album's actual release.
The 2004 release of Myst IV: Revelation (developed by Ubisoft Montreal) featured a song called "Curtains", originally a B-side from the single to "Big Time" from So. The song, slightly remixed from its original version, is also often called "Portal to Serenia" or "Portal to Dreamworld". Gabriel also perfoms a large voice acting part in the game.
Peter Gabriel s Scratch My Back (2009) album project is the first part of a series of song exchanges in which Gabriel and other leading artists reinterpret each other’s songs. To help craft his recording of the album’s eclectic array of cult favorites and classic tracks, Gabriel enlisted former Durutti Column member John Metcalfe, composer, arranger and the expertise of producer Bob Ezrin (Pink Floyd’s The Wall , Lou Reed’s Berlin) and engineer, mixer and producer Tchad Blake (Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Tom Waits).
Gabriel describes this as a very personal record with twelve songs performed only with orchestral instruments and voice. He made the choice not to include guitar or drums. The album’s richly diverse sounds include the sparse romance of Lou Reed’s “The Power of the Heart”, the powerful musical journey of David Bowie’s “Heroes” and an epic arrangement of Arcade Fire’s “My Body is a Cage”. Gabriel and his collaborators recorded the album at George Martin s Air Lyndhurst Studios and the Real World Temple with further editing and mixing at his own Real Worlds Studio in Wiltshire. The Scratch My Back release is one of the most creative and engaging records from an iconic artist in a long time. The marketing focus is to penetrate Peter Gabriel’s core fan base as well as fans of all genres and in all demographics given the scope of artists being covered as well as its depth of composition.
New Blood (2011) is a continuum of Peter’s previous Scratch My Back album - the song-swap project where he covered the songs of others, all to an orchestral backing. Thanks to the precise arrangements by John Metcalf and Peter, the treatment was so successful that Peter very quickly knew where he wanted to take it next, and work began to apply the same principals to his own songs. Great care has been taken - and much discussion shared - in deciding what songs were included on New Blood. It wasn’t simply a case of giving the big numbers an orchestral re-rub. Indeed, some of the big hits are missing in favor of lesser-known material. But the intention wasn’t a deliberate obliqueness; it was more a case of finding the songs that would be enhanced by the massed strings, brass, woodwind and percussion “The orchestra provides different dimensions to the music that weren’t there initially,” confirms Peter. “Rock artists work slowly in studios, building up layer by layer, and one of the great, powerful advantages of an orchestra is all these musicians playing at one moment with all sorts of colors and personalities.” And in front of orchestra, taking center stage when necessary, retreating into the shadows when not, is Peter’s rich voice. Retaining its trademark emotive power, it returns to lyrics written 20 or 30 years ago, reinvesting them with new meaning and heightened poignancy. New life, new blood. A musical transfusion. The songs live on.