That album arrived in September of 2016, and it was extraordinary both for the talents she displayed and the fact that she had the support of Warner Bros. Records right out of the gate. It was an impressive introduction, and since then, Garcia has become one of the city’s most talked-about performers. She’s lit up numerous stages with virtuosic solo sets, layering sounds via voice, guitar and a looping machine. She’s sung with Richmond supergroups (as a guest of Piranha Rama and as a member of Mikrowaves), collaborated with the prestigious Spacebomb Records production house and, as recently as last November, made Washington D.C.’s Black Cat roar as the opener for No BS! Brass Band.
Amid all that activity, she’s been taking control of her recording destiny. Instead of deferring to a label’s idea of what her next move should be, she’s co-produced a set of new songs, alongside Bio Ritmo bassist Eddie Prendergast, at local Virginia Moonwalker and La Cocina studios. “I don’t have the same roadmap that I had on the first album,” she said. “It’s a little nerve-wracking traveling without a map, but it’s also exciting, because you see things you weren’t planning on seeing.”
We spoke over the summer about being her own “ringleader,” about the significance of recording to tape, and about the themes conveyed by the lyrics on her new album.
Were you intentionally trying to break from the way Medicine for Birds was recorded?
Yes, totally. First of all, I had just turned 21 when Medicine for Birds came out… Because I was in the presence of engineers who had been doing this for 20-plus years, and [because] they have their way of doing things and their expertise, I always felt like I should let them decide… I felt like, “I’ll let the experts do their thing.” But what took me a few years to realize is [that] nobody is an expert on your music but you. They’ve been doing this for years and years, but they’ve never had you in the studio before…I think it’s a matter of sticking up for yourself, and that it’s not rude to ask someone to play a certain way or do a certain thing if it’s your record.
What have you taken away from performing with Richmond-based groups like Mikrowaves and Piranha Rama?
It’s been a really big education. It teaches you a lot about your own limitations and your own strengths, and it also at the same time teaches you about the strengths of your peers… If you want this kind of a really cool dark guitar, ask John Sizemore to play for you. You want a really warm, spooky bass tone? Ask Eddie [Prendergast] to play. Kenneka [Cook] can lock in and sing harmonies with pretty much anybody.
A really huge part of my growth this past year, and the growth of the album, has been hanging out at the Virginia Moonwalker studio with Russell Lacy — being at his studio and watching creation happen, and at the same time picking Russell’s brain and learning about how the console works and how certain instruments work. There’s much more to making a great album than plugging a cable in and [saying] “Go.”
Is that why you decided to record at Virginia Moonwalker?
I immediately fell in love with that place. The thing I love about the way that Russell does stuff at Moonwalker is that it’s performance-based. He has a tape studio, [so] we can’t just go in there and fix something… You have to immediately get it right and you have to commit to things. If you kind of like something, we’ll get rid of it and then it’s gone forever and you do it again.
We had to bring in a computer for my stuff just because of all the parts, [but] I still felt like that mentality was there because Russell was there and because it was Moonwalker and it was very much like “We don’t want this to be the kind of record where you go back and fix things. It should just be right.” Sometimes the right move is the crazy move, but it’s better off that way. The vocals on “Karma the Knife,” the first single that came out, those are actually just done on my laptop… I could [have done] it again in a nice microphone, but I kind of like the crunchiness and the attitude in that performance.
I’ve been trying to keep that spirit throughout recording the record… It adds character. We all get bumps and bruises and stuff. Maybe it’s my audio version of “Well, I didn’t brush my hair today, but here I am.”
Where have you been drawing lyrical inspiration?
I wanted to write about my culture and about its representation in a way that’s easy enough for people to understand, but that was still respectful and fun… For example, I have a song that’s coming out on the album called “Jicama.” Jicama is a Mexican root, and a lot of people don’t know what it is. If you try to give it to them they might get grossed out, like “Oh, what’s that? I don’t want to eat that.” But it’s actually just this really neutral tasting root. So the lyrics go, “I see you, but you don’t see me. Jicama, jicama, guava tree. Like you I was born in this country.” It’s [about] feeling like I’m completely American: I was born here, I’ve lived my whole life here, but I have Mexican and Salvadorian heritage, so I feel like in the fruit stand, I’m the jicama instead of an apple. But just like you, I have every right to be here, because I was born here.
I’m not saying “instead of,” I’m saying “in addition to.” I’m here and my first record was Americana-y. I love that kind of music. I love songwriter music. My stepdad is from Kansas, so I grew up listening to Willie Nelson. I grew up listening to country music. But I also am a Latina girl from L.A., so I have this broad spectrum of influence and appreciation.