July 18, 1982 • Dallas, Texas
Singer, songwriter, musician
In the mid-2000s there was a slew of young musicians climbing their way to the top of the music charts. Some were studio-created products, but others were serious musicians who penned their own songs, played their own instruments, and helped produce their own albums. In the latter category, one young man in particular emerged from the pack in 2005 and was on the verge of hitting it big in the industry. Ryan Cabrera, the personable singer-songwriter known for his halo of spiky, bleached-blonde hair, released his debut album in late 2004 and then hit the road on a whirlwind concert tour. Along the way he connected with fans who responded by snatching up his CD and firmly entrenching it on Billboard's Top 100. According to Linda Laban of the Boston Herald, "MTV adores him, daytime TV is eating him up. Cabrera is this year's mainstream teen pop hero."
Picks up the guitar
Ryan Frank Cabrera was born on July 18, 1982, in Dallas, Texas. His father is a native of Columbia, and although Cabrera speaks only a little Spanish, he was influenced by Latino culture while growing up. As a boy he spent summers and holidays with his father's family in Miami, Florida, and listened to salsa musicians like Grupo Niche and Jerry Rivera (1973–). No one in his immediate family, however, was a musician and it was by chance that Cabrera learned how to play guitar. "I started playing guitar kind of by accident," he admitted on the Ryan Cabrera Web site. While in middle school he was inexplicably drawn to a beat-up guitar he found at a friend's house. One day he picked it up out of sheer boredom and began to experiment. Soon he was picking out chords to tunes by the Beatles.
He eventually began playing with friends and after many late-night jam sessions he formed his first band, a high-school punk group called Caine. "The music was just as bad as our name was," Cabrera confessed on his Web site. Cabrera fronted the band, which he claimed was a horrible mistake, since he was not a trained singer. It seemed that his music career would be short-lived, but then the budding singer had a kind of awakening after hearing the music of the Dave Matthews Band. Cabrera was specifically impressed by Matthews's guitar styling, and considered him to be a singer/songwriter with an edge. As a result, he decided that music was not just a hobby, it was something he wanted to devote himself to. Cabrera remarked on his Web site, "I said okay, this is going to be my life now. I have to start playing this music."
"I sometimes feel I can move mountains with my music."
Cabrera put down his electric guitar, abandoned the fast-driving sounds of Caine, and formed a new acoustic-based band called Rubix Groove. With the help of his older brother, the band began playing gigs in and around Dallas, quickly becoming a favorite with audiences. According to Cabrera they played anywhere and everywhere, from restaurants to fraternity houses to birthday parties. Eventually, however, the band formed a loyal following and landed jobs at top Dallas venues, including the Gypsy Tea Room and the Curtain Club. While still in high school they also opened for such big name groups as Cheap Trick and Third Eye Blind.
Just as learning the guitar happened by accident, Cabrera went solo as a result of chance. For a surprise birthday present his brother bought a block of studio time. He only had enough money, though, for one person to record. While Cabrera was hesitant to record without his band, the opportunity was too tempting to resist. He went into the studio with three songs he had written, and the studio engineer was so impressed he offered to produce an entire album for Cabrera for free. The nineteen-year-old musician jumped at the chance, gathered up two years' worth of songs, and holed up at Deep Ellum Studios to create his first album, the independently produced Elm Street (2001). Cabrera played all the guitars on the CD, as well as keyboards, drum beats, and beatbox (creating beats, rhythms, and musical instruments using the human voice).
Joins the Simpson clan
Elm Street quickly sold out in local Dallas stores, and requests were coming in on the Internet from all over the world. Based on his album's success Cabrera decided to take the plunge and officially pursue a solo career. The first thing he did was quit the University of North Texas, which did not please his parents. But Cabrera was determined to make it in the music business, which meant aggressively focusing on learning how to sing. He found a respected Dallas-based vocal coach and began a grueling regimen of voice lessons. The lessons included exercises to strengthen his abdominal muscles by lifting and holding chairs while he sang scales. Cabrera continued studying for months, both with his coach and on his own, sometimes singing for four or five hours a day.
When he felt confident enough, Cabrera resumed touring, this time as a headline solo performer. Shortly thereafter he drew the attention of Joe Simpson, father and manager of pop super-star Jessica Simpson (1980–), who also happened to share the same vocal coach as Cabrera. Simpson signed Cabrera on with his management company, and the ambitious young singer moved to Los Angeles and into the Simpson home. It was there that he met Ashlee Simpson (1984–), Jessica's younger sister, and a would-be singer and actress. The two became fast friends and eventually started dating.
Joe Simpson took Cabrera to New York, where he made the rounds to all the top record companies. Unfortunately, not one seemed interested. A determined Cabrera returned to the West Coast and devoted himself to writing songs every day for three months. With fifty songs in hand, Cabrera again auditioned for record executives, and this time he landed a multi-record contract with Atlantic Records and a song-publishing deal with EMI Publishing. Now it was time to work on his first album.
Take It All Away
Cabrera co-wrote eleven of the twelve songs that were slated to appear on his CD, and he wrote number twelve on his own. Partnering with such established songwriters as Sabelle Breer and Curt Frasca (who worked with singer Avril Lavigne [see entry]) was a unique experience for the fledgling writer, who felt that his own style matured as a result. Cabrera particularly connected with one of his collaborators—John Rzeznik (1965–) of the Goo Goo Dolls. So when it came time to find a producer for his album Take It All Away, Cabrera tapped Rzeznik, whom he felt would help polish the final product without stripping away Cabrera's own sound. "Johnny brings such a unique quality to my songs," Cabrera commented on the Ryan Cabrera Web site, "and he's able to capture so much more than I thought was possible."
Take It All Away features an eclectic mix of songs, ranging from romantic acoustic ballads like "True" to rock anthems such as "On the Way Down" and the catchy "40 Kinds of Sadness," which became a regularly played tune on radio stations. The album received mixed reviews, with many critics, like Chuck Arnold of People, dismissing it as "pop rock that's as generic as it gets." Still, reviewers noted that the Dallas native had potential, frequently comparing him to John Mayer (1977–), an already popular singer-songwriter. Cabrera welcomed the comparison, but was quick to set himself apart as his own artist. As he told Allison Corneau, "I think each artist that's coming out now kind of has their own sound. John's a little more mellow and my music's more like singer/songwriter with an edge."
Despite reviews, Cabrera's debut album hit the Billboard charts with a bang, eventually making it to the top ten by early 2005; by mid-2005 it was nearing the million mark in sales. Part of the reason for the success of the CD was that Cabrera has a very appealing stage presence thanks to his youthful good looks. When Lizz Carroll of Latina asked about his unique hairstyle, Cabrera laughingly replied, "I don't really have a name for my style, but if I had to, I'd call it the jungle nest of the hedges." Cabrera's shows are also high energy, with the young musician jumping from instrument to instrument and frequently joking with the crowd. Fans were given a taste of the Cabrera road show in late 2004 and early 2005 when he toured extensively throughout the United States. At first he opened for other entertainers, including Jessica Simpson and Jewel (1974–), but eventually he headlined his own tour.
Under the camera's glare
Another reason for brisk album sales may be that Cabrera was introduced to America before his CD was even released. Beginning in late 2004 he regularly appeared on two MTV reality-based shows: Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica, which followed the first years of marriage between Jessica Simpson and husband Nick Lachey (1973–), and The Ashlee Simpson Show, a close-up look at Simpson, who was about to release her own debut album. Because cameras followed every move the celebrities made, and since Cabrera was dating Simpson, he frequently popped up on episodes. As a result, before his album debuted Cabrera's claim to fame was being Ashlee Simpson's boyfriend.
Although Cabrera tired of being asked about Simpson in interviews, he tried to view his appearance on both shows in a positive light. "Anytime people can get to see you, it's a good thing," he explained to Gary Graff of The Plain Dealer. "I think the TV shows allowed people to get to see a little bit of my personality. They could connect better and knew who I was when my album came out." On the flip side, Cabrera was not eager to be put under that kind of scrutiny again. In 2005 MTV did build a reality program around the singer, but it was focused on his music. Called Score, the show had contestants working with Cabrera's band to create a song in order to win a date.
Cabrera and Simpson were definitely an item during the filming of Simpson's show, but since then the couple has parted ways. Cabrera claimed that they remained close friends, but because of their hectic schedules it was nearly impossible to have a relationship. As Cabrera told Larry Rodgers of The Arizona Republic, "We decided the best thing to do, so nobody gets hurt, was just be friends and do our music thing for a while. It's the best way right now because I've been on the road for 2 and a half years."
Just a dork
Cabrera spent most of 2005 promoting his album, making television appearances on programs like Last Call with Carson Daly, and playing to sold-out crowds across the United States. He even performed at the inauguration of President George W. Bush (1946–) in January 2005. One day he hopes to write film scores and maybe even try his hand at acting. In the meantime, more than anything he enjoys touring. For Cabrera it is all about performing live. As he remarked on his Web site, "When people come up to me and say how something I wrote or a performance I gave changed them or moved them in a great way, it truly makes me feel alive." And although he has thousands of screaming, young fans, the singer-songwriter remains modest about being a heartthrob. "Before I was just a dork," he told Teen People, "but now I'm a dork with a guitar." Cabrera's second solo album was released in the fall of 2005 with a simultaneous tour to promote the album.
For More Information
Arnold, Chuck. "Review of Ryan Cabrera 'Take It All Away'." People (September 6, 2004): p. 46.
Carroll, Lizz. "De nino en Dallas." Latina (February 2005): p. 63.
Graff, Gary. "Making His Connections: Friends Helped but Cabrera's Fans Take It from Here." The Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio) :p.4.
Laban, Linda. "Teen Pop Star Ryan Cabrera Strikes Up the Bland." Boston Herald (February 22, 2005): p. 42.
Liu, Marian. "Now a Headliner, Ryan Cabrera Can Play As Long As He Wants." San Jose Mercury News (December 1, 2004).
"What's Next: The Hottest New Stars in Music, Movies and TV." Teen People (February 1, 2005): p. 95.
Campo, Lisa. "Ryan Cabrera: Ready to Answer the Tough Questions." The Maroon: Life and Times (March 18, 2005). http://maroon.loyno.edu/news/2005/03/18/LifeTimes/Ryan-Cabrera-897075.shtml (accessed on August 10, 2005).
Ryan Cabrera Web Site.http://www.ryancabrera.com/ (accessed on August 10, 2005).
Before the release of Ryan Cabrera's third album, You Stand Watching, the young singer was mostly known for two things: being Ashlee Simpson's ex-boyfriend and his hair. Managed by Ashlee's father Joe Simpson, Cabrera's career may have gotten a boost because of his connection to the Simpson megamarketing machine, but the Texas native proved he is a strong songwriter in his own right when he chose to write and self-produce his 2005 album You Stand Watching.
Born and raised in Dallas, Texas, Cabrera, who is half Columbian, joined his first rock band (Caine) while still in high school. After graduation, he attended the University of Texas at Dallas for a year, where he traded the electric guitar for an acoustic and fronted the group Rubic's Groove. In the short time Cabrera was in Rubic's Groove, the band played shows with such acts as Cheap Trick, Third Eye Blind, and Ben Harper.
In 2001, Cabrera recorded and self-released his first solo album titled Elm Street. The local success of his independent album caused Cabrera to focus on his solo material and eventually quit Rubic's Groove. The response to Elm Street was so positive that he signed a deal with Atlantic Records in the same year. Work soon began on what would be Cabrera's major label debut. He enlisted a team of songwriters to help pen the pop-rock ballads and called in Goo Goo Dolls' front man Johnny Rzeznik to co-produce the album.
In August of 2004, the album Take It All Away was released, debuting at number eight on Billboard's Top 200 album chart. The disc went gold a month after it was released. "… Cabrera proves himself to be more than just another pretty face with a lot of industry money behind him," wrote All Music Guide's James Christopher Monger. "He's got a great voice, a knack for incorporating Beatlesque key changes into otherwise mediocre melodies, and a healthy, irony-free take on angst that will earn him a raging sea of young women to wade through…. He pines for loves both past and present like a deer on the highway faced with the field, the median, or the truck."
A video was shot for the single "On the Way Down," in which family friend Ashlee Simpson played his love interest. The filming of the video was caught on tape for Ashlee's MTV reality program The Ashlee Simpson Show. The resulting romantic relationship that evolved between the teenagers was also caught on film. To promote Take It All Away and his newfound crush-worthy status from appearing on The Ashlee Simpson Show, Cabrera took off on lengthy tours opening for Jewel and Jessica Simpson, among his own headlining dates. Simpson and Cabrera also did a series of high school concerts together in October of 2004.
From 2004 to 2005, Cabrera and Simpson's relationship was on and off again. And before he knew it, it was time to record and release another album. With teen magazines doting on his every single word and critics at their most caustic, Cabrera could have easily felt the stress of the dreaded sophomore jinx. "I didn't really feel any pressure in following up Take It All Away until people kept mentioning it," Cabrera said in his EMI biography. "'You know, the second record is the hardest one to do.' Hey, thanks a lot! But when I got to making the new album, I forgot about all that stuff and just tried to write and record the best songs I possibly could."
Cabrera's on-again off-again relationship with Simpson and the harsh glare of the spotlight took its toll on Cabrera but only fueled his songwriting process. "Just because I look a certain way, people think I'm pop crap. I want to prove that I'm not," he told Teen People. His new album would demonstrate that. "These songs are more grown-up. People know the relationships [I've had] on TV, but they don't know about the ones they haven't seen." By early 2005, Cabrera and Simpson finally called it quits on the relationship front.
Written in the spring, Cabrera booked time at El Dorado Studios in Los Angeles in June of 2005 to record his new album. He decided that this time he would produce the album entirely by himself. "It was just easier," he said in his bio. "Instead of someone else coming in and hearing my music, and then saying where they thought it should go, I was able to say, okay, this is where I think it should go. Plus, I loved producing the last record with John, but never really got the credit for it. This time I thought, 'I'm going to do it by myself and whatever happens, happens.'"
With help from various session musicians, many of whom played on Take It All Away, Cabrera and the players laid down tracks at the studio while Cabrera would often record his vocals at his home studio, whenever he felt like it. At one point he ended up with strep throat but decided to keep recording. "I actually got some of the coolest vocal takes on the record while I was sick," he said in his bio. All in all, it took a total of 21 days for the entire album to be recorded. "I didn't want to spend ten years producing a record," he continued. "I wanted the songs to be themselves, instead of worrying about all this crazy slickster production. I was interested in maintaining the dignity and the hearts of the songs, letting them breathe and become what they are."
In September 2005, Cabrera released his sophomore major-label album, You Stand Watching. The album's first single "Shine On," received praise from Billboard, who wrote, "The song has much going for it: crafty guitar work, lush harmonies and a vocal performance that glistens with confidence and fortitude." Cabrera once again appeared on a popular reality television show in the winter of 2005, when he signed on to host the new MTV show Score. In the dating reality show, Cabrera helped two wannabe songwriter/singers pen a song in order to win the affection of a member of the opposite sex. Cabrera's band would then perform with the contestant to play their newly written song. After a winning song was chosen, Cabrera would then switch from host to performer to play one of his own songs.
Elm Street, self-released, 2001.
Take It All Away, Atlantic, 2004.
You Stand Watching, Atlantic, 2005.
For the Record …
Born Ryan Frank Cabrera on July 18, 1982, in Dallas, TX.
Played in rock group Caine in high school; self-released debut solo album Elm Street, 2001; signed with Atlantic Records; released Take It All Away, 2004; released You Stand Watching, 2005; hosted television show Score on MTV, 2005.
Addresses: Record company—Atlantic Records, 1290 Ave. of the Americas, New York, NY 10104. Website—Ryan Cabrera Official Website: http://www.ryancabrera.com.
Billboard, September 3, 2005.
Teen People, November 1, 2005, p. 54.
"Take It All Away," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (February 1, 2006).
EMI Official Biography, http://www.emimusicpub.com (February 1, 2006).