Meet Angelica Garcia, the Latinx songwriter chasing reinvention on her own terms
The Virginia-based artist talks writing from her Los Angeles roots, being inspired by chicha and cumbia, and moving “backwards” from a major label to an indie.
All Images: Caitlyn Krone
Angelica Garcia is coming into her own. The Virginia-based artist arguably already gave that impression on her sophisticated debut album Medicine For Birds, which she released in 2016 on Warner Records. But Garcia’s latest songs shine with an irrepressible confidence – listening to them, you get the sense she’s finally becoming the artist she always wanted to be.
Garcia first hinted at a move away from the country rock and blues world of Medicine For Birds in 2018 with the song Karma The Knife, which is all quirky keyboards and commanding vocal delivery. Earlier this year, she made a splash with It Don’t Hinder Me, which spotlit Garcia’s upbringing in Los Angeles, as well as her Mexican and Salvadoran background.
In September, she continued to embrace Latinx culture with Jícama, a song named for the root vegetable common to Mexican cuisine – and today, she releases an alternative, slightly more stripped-down version of the song that you can stream below.
Garcia is readying her sophomore album for release next year on Richmond, Virginia independent label Spacebomb Records, and will soon embark on a short tour supporting Lola Kirke. She told Guitar.com more about the educational process of recording her new album, her career trajectory of moving “backwards” from a major label to an indie, and her current musical inspirations.
I read that you moved from Los Angeles to Richmond, Virginia.
Yes… I moved to Virginia probably in 2011 but I’ve been in Richmond maybe five or six years. I moved with my parents when I was a teenager and I’ve been in Virginia ever since.
Do you consider it home?
That’s kind of complicated… Yes and no. I definitely love living here and it does feel like a version of home to me but my heart and my hometown is definitely still Los Angeles. It is complicated ’cause I do really love it here, but yeah. I think especially on this album that’s coming out I’ve been writing a lot about how I miss LA.
Was there anything that prompted you to write about where you came from for this new album?
In Los Angeles, it’s a huge cultural epicentre so you have all kinds of different communities from different countries meeting up. But the thing that I mainly miss was seeing Mexican culture everywhere and just Latinx culture in general. Even though we have pockets of it in Richmond, it’s still not as massive as it is in LA. And I guess I just… I wanted to write about that and share that with people here. As a part of just taking down the memories and reflecting on the things that I remembered and what was special to me.
Your new singles strike me as sonically adventurous, particularly the electronic drums on Jícama and the wordless chorus on It Don’t Hinder Me. They both move away from the world of your earlier album. Was that deliberate?
Yeah, it was. With my first album, I was pretty young and instead of super-duper taking the lead on things, I would just listen to everybody else’s opinion in the room first and go, “Oh, okay, that sounds cool.” And the difference is with this one, a lot of these things were my ideas, or they were my friends’, but they would get to play with me.
The producer is someone that I picked out from knowing here in Richmond and seeing his band. He himself is an awesome mix of things. His name is Eddie Prendergast, and plays in a salsa band [Bio Ritmo]. He lived in Miami for a long time, but he also lives in Richmond and plays rock and Latin rhythm music. I realised I’m a mix of all the things that I love, and Eddie would be great for this as he’s a mix of all the things he loves. I know that I come from a super colourful culture and then there’s also the American kid in me that grew up listening to pop music, you know? So yeah, it’s a deliberate blend of things that I like.
Are there any other songs on the album you’re excited about?
Yeah, there’s this song coming up called Guadalupe. It’s really cool. I’m excited because it’s adventurous, but it’s also important to me because of what it talks about and that’s something that I really tried to explore a lot with this record too. Just equal parts: like okay, if I’m going to experiment with actual sounds, I also want to challenge myself to really write about things that I care about, or that mean a lot to me. And Guadalupe’s cool because I’m talking about an icon in Latinx religion, La Virgen de Guadalupe. She’s super sacred. But the take on it is that she’s super respected in this culture and this community, but she’s like a 14-year-old girl.
I was thinking one time like, “Oh how funny, how I see grown men bowing to Guadalupe, but sometimes disrespecting the women around them”. So I guess I meant to kinda empower my sisters and other girls like me. So I’m excited. I’m excited for all of it, but this is the one I’ve been focusing on, I guess. (laughs)
Where did you record the album?
I recorded it all over the place. Some of it was done at my apartment, some of it at Eddie’s house. My friend Russell [Lacy] has a tape recording studio in the woods in Virginia that is really awesome. It’s called the Moonwalker. We did a lot of tracking there. We did a lot of tracking at my friend James [Seretis]’ house, and he has a home studio called La Cocina. A lot of this was done at local studios of really hungry, awesome engineers in Richmond and the very last bits and pieces were pulled together at a studio called Spacebomb. But that’s the label [Spacebomb Records] that I signed to, so they were the last ones to help me round up the very last bits and finally mix the record as well.
What was it like working at a tape studio like Moonwalker? Did that change the way you approached the music?
Yeah, it really did. Because of all the different drum pads and beat machines and things, I wasn’t able to do everything completely there. I did need a computer to do some things. But I definitely think the mentality of the tape studios stood with everything that we made for the record. The whole idea was: you have to make your performance the best that it can be, because if not then you’ll have to delete it and do it all over again. So it really puts pressure on you to get the performance right, and I think that’s super important with recording – to not just say “Oh I’ll go back and fix it later”. Like no, you’re here, do it right the first time. And then that’ll make a huge difference in the next sound you put on, you know? So that was great, especially with vocals too. It really made me commit to whatever character or persona I was embodying to sing something.
What was your biggest takeaway from working in all these environments for this album?
I think that every studio that I went to taught me a great lesson in recording. I almost feel like in a way that this record was sort of like a boot camp for me. (laughs) Like of course, I learned how to work a board and the basics of a tape machine at Moonwalker, and at Cocina, my friend James helped me to put samples on the sample pad. So I feel like every place that I went to had a little lesson in either recording or just general musicianship that I was able to take along with me. And I’m super grateful to everyone that I’ve recorded with for this record. Montrose Recordings and American Paradox are two others… There were a lot of studios.
You released your last record on Warner Records. What was it like parting ways with a major label?
I think I was just super young and [was] like, “Hey guys, I can’t do this like this, I gotta do it this way” and thinking back now, maybe that was super headstrong. But honestly, I think my heart was in the right place. I knew that I wanted to do things on my terms and in my vision. And the reality of working with a huge company is if you’re a new person, sometimes it’s really hard to stick out, especially when the other people in Warner Bros. were like Björk and Prince. So you just don’t feel quite as important sometimes.
But that’s not a reflection of your own worth. And I get it – I understand that it takes time and experience to grow into the artist that you want to be. And in many ways you’re always growing, you don’t stop growing, you know? But I actually think it was really great timing that that happened when it did, because being on my own was the best lesson that I could have ever gotten. In a way I feel like I did things kind of backwards: Like most people worked small and then they get to the really big labels. My story was the opposite. I signed to a major label when I was 19. It was kind of funny, but yeah I’m glad. I feel like I’ve been earning my stripes in my own way.
Where were the differences in vision between you and Warner? Was it in terms of the kind of music you wanted to make, the shows you wanted to play, the people you wanted to work with?
It’s kind of all of the above. Warner Bros. is such a huge machine. Labels that size are so massive, and they have the power to do all these things. A lot of the things that they do are massive, and they’re grand gestures. I think what I couldn’t articulate at the time but what I was feeling, was that I felt like I needed to grow and earn the trust of people and play small shows. I just felt like I couldn’t go from zero to massive in a way that wasn’t genuine, you know what I mean? I think that with my favourite musicians and people that I respect and look up to, a lot of it is [comes down to] this trust.
You have trust that this person, no matter what, they’re gonna put out great work or they’re gonna give it their best shot. And I felt like I had to build that trust with people. So even though they had the power to get me to open for huge crowds, or they had the power to put me on the map, like on a big magazine or something, I still feel like I had to earn the trust of the people in a more personal way first. That’s the funny thing about starting backwards. I wanted to 100 per cent just be a pop star in the traditional sense.
What were you inspired by for your new record?
Inspiration is so funny because I feel like inspiration comes from the seasons. So wherever you are in that season as an artist, that’s where you take inspiration from. I know that lately I’ve been inspired a lot by chicha and cumbia music, so I feel like if I were to shift anywhere in guitar next, that’s where I would lean towards. I know that initially my first inspiration for guitar was a little more traditional “songwriter-y”, like everybody from Willie Nelson to Neil Young. I was a super huge Jack White fan growing up. But now I’ve started to branch out into really loving world music. I always loved Mississippi John Hurt and his style of fingerpicking. Yeah, I don’t know, I have a lot of love for different genres for different reasons. But yeah, I’m definitely pretty fixated on chicha and cumbia music right now. (laughs)
Why do those genres speak to you?
I guess something I really love about chicha and cumbia and even some African music is that it’s all about the part: The strength of individual parts all kind of locking in together, and sometimes the beats do different things, but when they all lock in together then it sounds very harmonious. And plus old chicha guitars just sound cool, they sound like super psychedelic and awesome, but they’re also ‘playing’ like these very tropical rhythms which I loved, and that remind me of home. I have this thing where I love the past, I love old things so that resonates with me in that way too.
I guess I identify a lot with those interlocking parts because of the way that I do vocal looping too, so that’s kind of another way I do that live on stage. The other cool thing about chicha music is that – I always thought, “Oh great guitars like have to shred, or completely do crazy shit”. I guess I realised sometimes there’s strength in knowing when to play and when not to play.
Moving towards gear now: You mentioned that you do vocal looping on stage. So what does your live rig look like?
At the moment, I’m doing a one-woman show kind of thing. And I’ve been kind of narrowing that down. But I play guitar: I have an electric plugged in, I have sample pads, I have a beat pad, and a looper hooked up to my microphone. If I can manage it, I have maracas and a güiro and stuff, but sometimes it’s really hard to use your hands to play the beat and then also try to play maracas. (laughs)
What guitar do you use?
So the guitar I take with me is from The Loar, and I’m actually sponsored by them. They’re a really awesome company from the Bay Area in San Francisco. I play an archtop thinbody cutaway guitar, it has a P90 pickup and it’s called the LH-302T. I really like that guitar, it’s one of those guitars that sound beautiful whether it’s plugged in or not. And I guess that’s nice because as much as I have beats, samples and all these electronic things, as much as I have that presence on my record, there also is an organic side, there’s a tape side. Nice to have a guitar that you plug in and still feels very warm, you know?
Were there any instruments or gear that helped you get some cool sounds on the new record?
Eddie has just been collecting so many instruments over the years and I can’t even remember their names. Half of them had them scratched off, so you don’t totally know what this is. But there were so many cool keyboards that he had in his house. I also know that he had an actual 808 machine, not just an app or a thing on Ableton. Like he had the big, dinosaur 808 machine – so that was super cool. I was like, what? There’s still these in existence? That’s awesome. So we got to use that. I played violin on one song, which is really funny because I don’t play violin, but it was cool because we were able to use it for a beat. Yeah, just a lot of things. I really leaned into the keyboards and beats on this record a lot. It was really fun.
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