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."
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."
Cabrera put down his electric guitar, abandoned the fast-driving sounds of Caine, and formed a new acoustic-based band
"I sometimes feel I can move mountains with my music."
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).
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.
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,"
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.
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."
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.
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).