August 1, 2011

Interview: Diego García

With his solo debut Laura, former Elefant frontman Diego García has quietly released one of 2011's strongest and most beautiful albums. Colored with flamenco-style finger-plucked guitars, elegant string arrangements, splashy percussion, and whispery reverb-coated vocals, the recording is both lushly decorated and heartbreakingly intimate. It's also convincingly timeless: place the album on a shelf in between 1970s LPs by the likes of Leonard Cohen, Lee Hazlewood, and Julio Iglesias and it'd feel right at home. Together with producer Jorge Elbrecht of Violens, García has crafted a truly classic long-player in Laura that will undoubtedly be a favorite here for years to come. Check out our interview with García below, and if you dig, make sure to grab a copy of Laura, out now on Nacional Records.

What sort of music did you grow up listening to in Detroit and Florida? How did that compare to the music your parents were listening to? They're both from Argentina?

The senior who picked me up to go to school in the morning was a goth into The Cure, Pixies, The Smiths. I was 15 then. I was also into what was popular at the time. Everything from Green Day, Radiohead, Beck, Smashing Pumpkins, Flaming Lips, REM, U2 and of course the grunge scene coming out of Seattle. I would say a typical diet for a kid growing up in suburbs, USA. No?

Oh, and I was really really into the Violent Femmes... super underrated band in my opinion.

And yes, my parents are from Argentina. It was actually on my many trips to Argentina that I was introduced to the Ramones... they are HUGE down there.

What was the first song you ever learned to play and on what instrument?

I dont really remember, but if I had to guess..... An old folk/country song "Plastic Jesus." I heard it as a secret track on a Flaming Lips record and had to learn it. Or was it a Duran Duran song my guitar teacher taught me at one of my first lessons?

You played in Elefant for about 10 years. The band has a very jagged and sharp indie rock sort of sound. It's almost unrecognizable in tone from Laura. Did you simply get tired of playing in a rock band? Or outgrow it?

Elefant was beautiful. It just felt like its time had passed. With Laura, I was writing to survive. The songs demanded a different approach.

When it came time to record the songs, we found that the lyrics had more of an impact the softer they were sung. The arrangements were created to help support the idea of me whispering lightly in her ear. Hence the wooden percussion, nylon guitar, cello, etc...

In terms of taste, I find food and music relate in a lot of ways. I remember spitting wine out when I was 10 years old: the flavor was just too intense. Now, I love it. Similarly in music, things I once avoided for their complexities, I now crave. Have you noticed your own musical palette change over the years?

Yes.... different things affect you differently at different points in your life... I remember having to read Crime and Punishment in high school and absolutely hating it. I read it again a few years ago and couldn't put it down. In the same way, Fellini's 8 1/2 connected with me the second time around. In both cases, I had a much easier time relating to the protagonist, especially since we are now closer in age. I had a much easier time applying the experience of both works to my life in a 'real' way as opposed to an abstract intellectual one... I hope that makes sense.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, sometimes you have to live life before you can appreciate certain feelings..

I could never have written Laura unless I had lived it.

What sort of music were you listening when you started to write Laura? Did you ever find yourself coming back to your parent's music?

The goal is always to create music that is an honest extension of one's life and experience. It only felt natural to take another look at many of the records my parents played around the house while i was growing up like like Roberto Carlos, Sandro, Favio, and Palito Ortega....I also got into Julio Iglesias's early records.

They were singing about the malady of love in a way I could now relate... it made sense to pick up where they left off.

I was also really into Lee Hazelwood, Scott Walker, Cohen...

Bridging these two worlds, which actually aren't that far apart, was our goal.

The album has an incredibly specific sound: the lush production and string arrangements, the bright and fluid guitar work, your whispery and intimate vocals. Was that the specific sound you had in mind when writing the record? Or was it something that happened in the studio?

We spent 5 years searching for that sound... there was lots of trial and error until we finally hit something that felt entirely original and honest to the songs and to the people involved in the project.

Where was Laura recorded?

It's a bedroom recording that was made at my producer, Jorge Elbrecht's, apartment in Chelsea, NYC.

Can you talk about singing and recording your vocals? If I don't listen too closely, much of the album really does not sound like it was sung in English. But, of course, it is. The words are just so fluid and open on songs like "Under This Spell" and "Laura," that it sounds almost like Spanish.

I would drink a macchiato, have a cigarette, drink some coconut water, find a comfortable chair and start singing until I was completely high from the countless takes Jorge would make me do. And after all this, it was usually when I would be ready to get the take we needed. Danny Bensi (cello) was also in the room coaching me and helping direct the emotions of the performance. They were the most demanding vocal sessions of my life.

It was clear early on that the delivery, while being sung in English, had to feel Latin in vibe... we all thought that would the most honest thing to do.

The guitar playing is pretty astounding on this record. I'm particularly fond of "Separate Lives." The solo in that song is really fantastic, but it's that picked melody in the verse that really hooks me. Who is that playing? Is that Jorge Elbrecht?

Yes, it's all really beautiful. And yes, the guitar playing is all being done by Jorge. He's incredibly talented. My favorite solo on the album has to be the solo on the title track "Laura."

For me, that line captures the entire record.

You've talked about how this album was inspired by heartbreak. Is it ever hard to come back to songs you wrote while in such a dire emotional state? Considering the critical reception for Laura, it seems like you'll be playing these for a while.

Performing is very different than the creative process of writing. I'm very careful in not confusing the two.

Stylistically, do you see yourself ever making another album like Laura? Do you think you've found a sound that really fits you as a solo artist, or will you keep exploring?

I wrote an abundance of material during the time I was writing Laura. The 9 songs we chose to record felt right together, and we purposefully ended the album with the closer "All Eyes On You" to set up the next record, which will have more of an upbeat tempo and vibe. The next album will be addressing all the melancholic joy that comes with reconciliation and healing...

But there will never be another Laura.

Diego García - "Laura" (from Laura)

Diego García - "Separate Lives" (from Laura)

Diego García - "You Were Never There" (from Laura)

Stream Laura in its entirety on Spotify.

Laura - Diego Garcia

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