Former Bam Bam and total rock & roller Gabbie Torres immerses herself in a swaggering mix of influences, from Suzi Quatro and Selena to Brian Eno and Johnny Thunders

Redemption in rock and roll is a cliché, but like all clichés, it is grounded in truth. It’s also not just for big rock stars, but also for everyday people who find the strength to overcome their demons through electric guitars, power chords and a good beat.

It’s just past 10:00 p.m. on a sweltering summer night in New York’s East Village when she bounds on stage, clad in a silver spandex metallic cat suit and bright red sunglasses. Gabriela “Gabbie” Torres doesn’t just take the stage – she owns it. Performing under the name BBQT (pronounced Bar-B-Cutie), Torres is a swaggering mix of the influences she wears on her sleeve – Suzi Quatro meets The Kids. I’d throw in Nikki and the Corvettes, as well. BBQT is on the first leg of an East Coast tour in support of their first LP, Let’s Go!

PKM: Let’s talk about your music. How would you describe your sound?
Gabbie Torres
: This is gonna sound so dirty, but…it’s like one of those mechanical dildos that go super, super fast…into your ear!

Born and raised by a single mother in Washington, D.C., Torres has spent much of her life on the outside looking in. Her mom immigrated to the United States from Guatemala in 1974 at the age of 17 and found work as a live-in housekeeper for a wealthy family in Georgetown. Growing up half black/half Latina, part of a working class family in a wealthy community gave Torres a unique perspective on the world. Making her way through Catholic school in D.C., she describes her teenage years as rough and rebellious. Drugs were an off-and-on struggle for Gabbie. It started with prescription pills in high school and by the time she’d moved to Long Beach, California, at age 21, she’d developed a taste for heroin. Her time in California was spent learning guitar and shooting dope.

She moved back home to Washington, D.C. in 2009 in an attempt to get straight and get back to playing music. She formed the Bam Bams, an all-girl group who played bubble gum pop music. Between writing songs and playing local gigs, the band wrote and recorded an album’s worth of material.

But her addiction made her difficult to deal with and unreliable. By 2012, the Bam Bams were a duo (with Ivy Bam Bam on drums). During a West Coast tour, Ivy had had enough. She quit the band, stranding Gabbie in San Francisco. Gabbie made it back to D.C. and spent the next two years in the throes of the addiction – strung out, homeless and sick. After discovering she had Hepatitis C (of which she is now cured), she’d had enough of choosing heroin over playing music. With the help of her mother and a friend, Gabbie quit cold turkey. That was August of 2014. And, since then, she’s never looked back. She picked up her guitar and practiced on drums and bass – not wanting to have to rely on anyone else to make the music that was in her head. She moved to NYC in 2015, to concentrate on BBQT, a solo vehicle for her own material. She released a handful of singles and last fall she moved to Austin to cut her first album.

She just wrapped up her first East Coast tour, playing with Alex Briscoe on lead guitar, Sal Go on rhythm guitar, Matt Clinksales on bass, and Jake Berry on drums.

I met up with Gabbie before BBQT’s recent show at Bowery Electric to talk about her background, her music and her perseverance.

PKM: I want to start with a couple of questions about your background, which is by turns unique and very familiar. You are a first generation American and daughter of a woman who came to this country alone and struggled to make a better life for herself. Did you feel like an outsider, growing up in the wealthy DC enclave of Georgetown? 

Gabbie Torres: I did a little bit. In terms of race, of course. I also grew up learning how different the mentalities of people who have money and those who don’t.

PKM: You’ve struggled with addiction for quite a long time. How did you get through it and get back to your love of making music?

Gabbie Torres: Drugs have always been glamorized throughout the times yet at the same time so frowned upon. Aristocrats were the ones getting their fix back in the day because they had the money.  It’s so easy to cop stuff now but we associate drugs and alcohol with vagrants. I do understand this though. If you talk to some people who haven’t experienced drug use to an extreme (or at all beyond recreational) you will hear things like, “WOW. You MUST be a total loser to fuck with that drug” or “that person must steal or be a terrible person”. Being a full-time drug user is a lot of work and a lifestyle you take on whether you want to or not. The way shit is now with more people overdosing than being murdered, has to show people that it’s more than just a habit of social pariahs. There are people in pain that’s deeper than the body can hold. I realized I had to stop beating myself up. We all make mistakes. I decided to immerse myself in music to celebrate and deal with life and use it as my medium to make art I can really be proud of.

PKM: Let’s talk about your music. How would you describe your sound?

Gabbie Torres: This is gonna sound so dirty, but…it’s like one of those mechanical dildos that go super, super fast…into your ear!

PKM: Who are your musical influences?

Gabbie Torres: For putting things together aurally, for a sonic experience and for recording, I’d say Brian Eno. I love his method of producing. Suzi Quatro of course. I just love her attitude. She just wanted to emulate her hero, Elvis. I relate to her story a lot in terms of how she grew up, etc. Selena has always been an inspiration for me in terms of performance and loving her fans. I was into UK/Euro punk growing up, so I have a soft spot for Blitz (4Q? one of my faves). I love Johnny Thunders, all his solo stuff, his stuff with the Heartbreakers, early GG Allin (Jabbers) and Belgian punk – The Kids.

PKM: What about your onstage aesthetic, your particular look?

Gabbie Torres: Ah, of course, Suzi Quatro, Selena and a little bit of Whitney Houston! Those were my heroes growing up. Two amazing female pop performers and one kick-ass, female rock-and-roller. They were sexy without even trying. Nowadays you have to grind and hump everything in sight to be sexy.

PKM: Power Pop versus Glam?

Gabbie Torres: It’s what you hear. People who are prone to certain sounds will hear certain things. I play rock ‘n’ roll, however you wanna label it as a sub-genre, it’s still gonna be rock ‘n’ roll to me.

PKM: I sometimes describe your sound as great music to listen to driving to the beach with the windows down!

Gabbie Torres: Oh, that’s cool! I like that! Driving to the beach to cause trouble!

PKM: BBQT is really a solo project for you. Are you like Chuck Berry in that you hire musicians in different towns to play with?

Gabbie Torres: I don’t really hire musicians. I ask my friends if they would like to join me on tours. I have friends over the years who I haven’t played music with so it’s kind of like checking off a bucket list.

PKM: Where do you find inspiration for your songs?

Gabbie Torres: Life I guess. I like to think the people in my songs as characters; they’re all just characters. Pieces of me go into them, of course…the songs aren’t necessarily autobiographical. I used to write about heavy shit that was happening to me all the time, but that reflected how I played. I figured if I changed it up, lyrically and thematically, it would change the music up as well and it ended up happening that way.

PKM: What is “The Cat Suit Army”?

Gabbie Torres: I want to encourage everyone to wear cat suits because I think everyone should be their own little rock-and-roller.  All the time. Do crazy stuff. Put on a cat suit, it gives you a super-hero feeling.

PKM: What’s next for BBQT?

Gabbie Torres: I’m planning for West Coast in the fall after that, who knows. We’re doing some recording as well in July. And some other stuff too, but I can’t tell you all my secrets!


You can order the BBQT album here: