Diego Garcia, the former frontman of acclaimed garage rock band Elefant, may have been born in the wrong era: he wears his heart on his songwriting sleeve. But more likely he’s just continuing a tradition of strong songwriting, albeit with a romantic sensibility.
On his solo debut album, ‘Laura,’ he explores his Latin roots with a sound that conjures the spirit of 1970s troubadours like Sandro, Jobim and Jose Jose. It is the fusion of these Latin influences with the era’s “anglo” visionaries, artists like David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, and Bryan Ferry, which makes this project truly special.
Minor keys, cello, nylon classical guitars, light drums, and wooden tambourines help create a vibe of tenderness and intimacy on “Laura”. With lush string arrangements, delicate Spanish guitars, and distinctly Latin flavor, the album is worlds apart from Elefant. What remains a constant is the romantic within.
Garcia’s new album was inspired by the loss of love. His music was a means of healing and closure and “Laura” is a musical diary during four years of torn feelings over the break up with the love of his life (don’t worry there’s a happy ending).
MundoVibe’s John C. Tripp spoke with Diego Garcia just a few days after the release of “Laura” on on the first birthday of his daughter.
MundoVibe: Congratulations on your solo debut and it’s a beautiful recording. It’s very heartfelt and I love the arrangements. And considering the sound that Elefant was it’s sort of a contrast. I wonder if you could just discuss how you came up with this sound for “Laura”.
DG: Yeah, it is very different from Elefant but at the same time I think one thing that is sort of constant in both projects is the theme of love. I think my songs or my message with Elefant was a bit more innocent and young I guess. This was a record more about growing up. So there’s that constant, but as far as arrangements go it couldn’t be more different. You know, I was really looking to create a sound — this might sound funny — that I could grow old with. It just feels a little strange becoming a man, growing, and still pretending you’re a punk. It’s sort of how I felt at least. And I also felt the message this time around was so intimate that the instrumentation had to be delicate. The cello, the nylon guitar, the rhythm section being kind of quiet and not over bearing was important so I could whisper whatever I had to say into her ear, you know? So, I think that’s a big reason. Also it was important for me to capture my story, my background. You know, I think after having been around and making music you realize the most important thing in the world is to — if you’re going to do anything special is just address who you are and to be as true to your story as possible. Obviously art allows you to play with those limits but in my case I did want to capture my roots. My parents are from Latin America but I was born here and I grew up here. So I think that’s also very present in this new record and in my solo career which wasn’t so much so in Elefant where I was just expressing my anglo roots. There was a quote of the painter Matisse on the wall at the show I just went to at the MoMa that said “as an artist you have to change” And especially when you’ve achieved what you’ve wanted to achieve in a certain style. You have to change it up or it’s not what it’s about.
MV: In terms of the subject matter of the songs on “Laura”, they are about a relationship that may have passed, or you’re struggling with. This clearly was personal. Was it hard to open up or was this something that was cathartic for you?
DG: Absolutely, it was very healthy. It’s a heartbreak record right? What inspired it emotionally was separating or breaking up with what I know can say was the love of my life. Now I’m in such a different place but at the time — these sessions, where I would sit down with the guitar and step away from the insanity that was my life are very clear in my head. There were moments of enlightenment, which is such a strong word, but there were flashes of peace and tranquility and feeling very grounded. So, when I look back at those sessions where I would sit with my guitar, whether it was my room or my place in Chinatown, it very was about capturing my feelings at the time. And those feelings change constantly when you’re getting over someone. This record really was a meditation on all of those chapters you go through and yes, it was very cathartic — that process. I never intended to record the songs, it wasn’t my motive. I wasn’t thinking about a record, the motivation was just so real and the irony is that what I realized in that process was the importance of closure to start over. I think closure is something that takes time really. The songs didn’t give me the closure, that would be so ridiculous to say. But it was a four or five year hangover. You can only have that closure if you’ve spent enough time thinking about what it takes to be in a relationship and to realize that it’s not about you, it’s about someone else. It’s about being selfless, so what I’m saying is the songs capture my feelings. That song ‘Inside My Heart’ would be the most symbolic of the idea of closure and how that closure led me to a place where I could start over again. And then make the album.
MV: I had written down the lyrics from ‘Inside My Heart’: “you will always live inside my heart” because I think all relationships, even when they’re over, years later they’re still a part of you.
DG: Yeah, absolutely. And I think the rest of the lyrics are important. There’s a line — “and I wish you all the happiness” right before the chorus and that’s what I’m talking about. You’re not really over someone until you take yourself out of the equation and just hope that they find someone to take care of them because you obviously couldn’t at the time.
MV: You made reference to your Argentinian parents and, of course, a lot of music of South America is acoustic and is singer-songwriter based. Is that a strong influence?
DG: Musically it was very important for me to create a sound that is my roots. I had grown up where that music was around, whether it was my parents playing it or hearing it when I visited Argentina. It was in my brain no matter where I turned. I made a conscientious decision to really get into it while I was writing these songs. And I’m glad I did because it wasn’t hard, I easily connected to that late ’60s, early ’70s romantic music. This is a loaded analogy that freaks a lot of people out but early Julio Iglesias played a very important part — his early stuff and the production also, it’s so great. And early Neil Diamond. So musically I wanted to go back to those days and I found it very easy. I realized ‘Oh my God, I’m sort of in the wrong era’. I easily connected to those Argentine romantic artists like Sandro and Piero. They sang about love, they didn’t sing about girls. They sang about the violence of love, they sang about the power of love — it wasn’t so much a ‘first kiss’ kind of song or ‘I want to hold your hand’. It was about ‘I’m going to kill myself’ in a very sort of macho way. And that was sort of where I was at. It crept its way into the sound.
MV: These are great pop songs like the first single “You Were Never There”, it’s very memorable and humble. Were you going for a pop sensibility on “Laura”?
DG: Yeah, absolutely. At the end of the day it’s easy to be weird and to be dark. The goal was to make feelings, to create a vibe. I was trying to make, first and foremost, a style album that captured a vibe. That was more important than anything but I think giving it structure is as important and it just happens that I think the songs that can reach the most people and be the most powerful are structured in a pop formula. Whether it’s a traditional ‘A-B A-B-C’ intro outra kind of structure or you can take that and kind of deconstruct it, you know? I never even think about it, I love pop. A song is a song and it shouldn’t go on forever, it should be to the point. The challenge is to create a vibe so that was much more of my objective — to create a world for the listener.
MV: Did you want to create an entire album that’s a singular experience as a concept?
DR: Because for these songs the motivation was not to make an album it allowed me to just capture my life at the time. They’re really true extensions of what I was feeling over the last four or five years but the songs that ended up on the album were just the first nine we recorded because we ran out of money. I’m being completely honest. It’s not like we recorded 18 songs and then we picked nine. I’d play a song for George, the producer of the record who basically co-created the thing with me, and he would say ‘yeah, let’s do that one’ and I’d play another and he’d say ‘no, I’m not feeling that, let’s do this one’. So, there were a bunch of songs that didn’t make the record — not because we recorded them and they don’t fit. It was just like ‘let’s do these nine’. It was very instinctual. Now I can look back and say this is a love story, this has a beginning, a middle and an end. It’s not necessarily in that order but it’s all there in these nine songs and I can’t tell you how happy I am that life was on our shoulders when we made this. We made this all on our own with money I had out of my pocket. This was done without a label, without A&R. This was done with my wife, believe it or not, the one who inspired all of these songs and came back. This was a natural thing and in return I think it created something that I’m very proud of. I think people are taken back by how honest I am about this record. It’s so true, it’s so sincere to what I was. I just feel like if you’re not into it, you’re not in the mood for something sweet. You’re either not in the mood for something sweet or you are. It’s like that to me. There was nothing else behind it.
MV: One thing about the era we’re in is we mask things in irony. We’re afraid of being true with our feelings and when you hear something like this it’s really refreshing.
DG: Thank you. It means the world to hear this now. I’m thinking of the next one already.
MV: There’s a great end to the story because you are married and you have a baby. So I guess love prevailed.
DG: Yeah, you can say that. You know, life is still life. It’s still very real but it’s a real that is so gratifying that it’s not about me, it’s about two other people now. And I guess that’s the big difference. What happens with my music now. I hope I don’t turn into like Chris Martin who starts thinking about the speed of sound (laughs). No knock on him but I already have an idea for the next few records. In fact I think this story that I went through is just a part of it and trust me, when we do get back together all of that energy is just so dangerous.
Purchase from Nacional Records (Label)
Diego Garcia Tour Dates
Tue May 31World Café Live
Philadelphia, PA, US
Sat Jun 04Anthology
San Diego, CA, US
Sun Jun 05Saint Rocke
Hermosa Beach, CA, US
Tue Jun 07Detroit Bar
Costa Mesa, CA, US
Wed Jun 08The Echo
Los Angeles, CA, US
Thu Jun 09Hotel Utah Saloon
San Francisco, CA, US