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Ones to Watch: Angelica Garcia

Born and raised in Los Angeles, indie-pop artist Angelica Garcia made the move to Richmond, Virginia after graduating high school. While her first record Medicine for the Birds was heavily influenced by her new home, she returns to her LA roots with her newest release Cha Cha Palace. Though her run at SXSW and both her US and UK tours were canceled due to COVID-19, Garcia is still making waves with an appearance on NPR Music‘s Austin-100 and a recent Tiny Desk Concert performance.

We talked to Garcia about Ranchera music, recording a song with her grandmother, and how she felt about former  President Obama including her song in his Best-Of  2019 Playlist. This week, we caught back up with the pop star for a few #StayTheFuckHome selfies and to see how social distancing has impacted her flow.

First things first, how are you doing? Where are you riding this whole thing out?

Well, I’m in California at the moment. I’m staying with my mom at her apartment. I was actually supposed to be on tour by now. I decided that rather than going back to the East Coast where I would basically be alone,  I was like, “Okay, I’ll just stay with my mom.”

How has staying at home impacted your creativity?

Although I really miss going out and having experiences, staying in one place has inspired me to follow through with song ideas that I had left unfinished. A lot of introspection has happened during this time, so making music and flushing out lyrics has been therapeutic. I finally began to weed through old voice memos and develop ideas I’ve been saving. Recording is like ritual right now. I’m grateful for that.

What does your typical day “in the studio” look like now?

Now it means opening my laptop and singing into the built-in microphone. I usually document ideas in waves. First I’ll focus on building a song’s structure. Once I hit some kind of wall I’ll take a break to paint, journal, or have a meal until I get another idea. I feel like I have the tabs open at all times because you never know when inspiration will strike. If I’m really stuck I’ll go down a YouTube rabbit hole or something to get my mind going.

What have you been listening to?

I’ve been listening to a lot of old music right now, like Ranchera music from the 20s and 40s. I’ve also been listening to old soundtracks, old records. They make me feel more at peace.

When did you start singing and writing music?

I started singing when I was a child. My family was very musical — my mom, my aunt, and my uncle all sang Ranchera music as children, and they would perform at rodeos and clubs around LA. So as a child, I just always heard them singing together. So naturally, I just kind of joined the harmony. I didn’t actually start writing my own music until I was probably like 16 or 17.

So your first record, Medicine for the Birds, it was more of a Southern rock feel. What inspired you to switch directions for your sound for your newest album Cha Cha Palace?

Medicine for Birds was very inspired by first moving to Virginia.  I think it naturally kind of drifted that way because I was inspired by my surroundings.  It was also really driven that way when my producer was Nashville-based; so a lot of the tones and things are like Nashville sounds because of him.

As the years passed and the longer I’d been in Virginia, I was really starting to miss home. I felt like there was a whole side of myself that people didn’t know about. There was a little side of my identity that I wasn’t showing. And it was frustrating because even among my friends, I felt that. So I started making an effort to reconnect, and also document the histories and the memories of my family home.

Also, the longer I spent in Virginia, my grandparents were getting older, and my family was going through different hardships, and I felt like I couldn’t be there. In many ways, the family home changed. So I guess in my mind, Cha Cha Palace is almost like documenting it the way that I remembered it growing up. I did that through textures, tones, subject matter, and even including my family members’ voices on the album.

Your grandma sings on the cover of Jose Alfredo Jimenez’s “La Enorme Distancia” on Cha Cha Palace. How did you decide to have her on that? 

Well, she actually decided. She came to visit me one summer. She’s really old and kind of grumpy. I was just trying to come up with things to entertain her because I don’t have a TV. I might as well just show her what I do. So I set up my looper and I made a little loop beat, and I handed her the microphone and was like, “Alright, let’s just see what she does.”

That’s the song that she started singing, which was really powerful. She has a tumor in her brain, so it makes it kind of difficult to talk with her sometimes because she doesn’t remember everything. It was really special that the first thing that she remembered, or the first thing that came to her was to sing to me a song about the great distance and how it doesn’t matter how far away we are; our souls are still connected. I thought that was too special to not include and I just started playing guitar over it.

Your music is very much a hybrid genre, which is pretty common these days. But how would you describe your music?

I guess I would say like, indie-pop moments of rock and certainly a lot of Latino rhythm.

President Obama put your song Jicama on his Best-Of 2019 Playlist. What was your initial reaction when you saw that? I would lose it. 

I woke up to my phone just going crazy and I was super tired because I had a late-night flight the night before. I just felt my phone buzzing like crazy, and I thought something bad happened. I thought somebody died.

I was like, “Oh, god, what happened?”

Then I saw what happened; I just remember looking down at my phone, seeing that, and watching my hands shaking

Yea that’s not something anybody thinks is gonna happen.

No, no, they don’t tell you how to handle that. Like you can’t pitch Obama, he just decides.

Who were some of your musical inspirations growing up?

This question is always so hard because it changes so much. I mean, when I was a kid, I would have said things like the White Stripes and Janet Jackson. As an adult, I would say M.I.A., Chavela Vargas, even Francis Bebey. Humans are multifaceted, right? So I feel like different artists speak to different sides of my personality as an artist. So it just depends on what you were asking. If you were saying singers I would say as a child I heard Selena. I heard Ranchera music. I heard Aretha Franklin a lot when I was a kid.

Who have you been listening to a lot lately?

I’m on a Donna Summer kick. Literally, I’ve had this Donna Summer album on repeat for like three months. I’m not gonna lie. It’s just like a compilation of her hits — but the transitions are so good, it’s on non-stop. As for new people, I really like Rosalía.

To you, what does it mean to “hustle?”

To me, it means using every opportunity to advance yourself; I like to think of that in a personal way. What can I do to make myself a better guitarist? What can I do to make myself a better performer? That’s part of why I was like, “Yeah, fuck it, I’ll take a music theory lesson.”

What can I do to be a better creative? I think that means challenging yourself. If you’re a musician, the most obvious one is to just practice right? But if you’re talking about staying in the mentality of going and advancing yourself, you need to be reading up about industry practices and looking into managing yourself, and knowing as much as you can about managing yourself — whether that means finance or networking, or anything.

Knowledge is the true power. I say that because I feel like any kind of weird scenario I’ve ever been in in the past, was always because somebody knew something that I didn’t know. And to be real there, a lot of people gatekeep. The more you know about your path and what you can do to avoid certain circumstances, the better. What you can do to prove yourself as being really competent or strong or forceful in your field is going to help you excel. Then before you know it, I think the work starts coming to you. And that’s kind of like the goal that I think everybody has. It’s like to be hit up for things instead of having to be like, “Hey, check me out,” you know?

So I mean, obviously, with everything going on, it’s hard to know what’s next, but you said you’re working on an album, or you want to start working on an album — do you have anything that you’re excited about this year?

My tours both got canceled — so I’m pretty bummed. I had a Tiny Desk come out at the end of April. I’m just gonna use this downtime, because we literally do have to be separated from each other, to just be on my own and work on my third album, and that excites me too.

I think that it’s funny; like once you get into the promotional cycle of an album, you do kind of lose that time to start to create because you spend a lot of your time telling people about something you just made, whether that’s a performance or an interview or anything. So I’m excited to get time to make things so quickly.

Images Courtesy of Dannah Gottlieb and Angelica Garcia

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