We escape the confines of safety and go deep with Gabriel Garzon-Montano on his second album Aguita
You’re holding a box. It’s square, rigid, predictable, mathematically sound. Simple. Safe. Bland. Boring.
Boring in that each side is the same, and it can only fit so much before another identical side closes in to exist as its lid. There’s kinda nothing else to its makeup to explore really, so you’re left with the satisfactory level of knowing exactly what to expect.
Carry this sentiment into the craftsmanship of art, to find zero question or mystique in compartmentalising genres. Sure, it can and does indeed work for many an artist, but not for the drive of Gabriel Garzon-Montano; he escaped these confines well before that lid locked down as he led his own quest for variety and self-discovery. A quest told throughout his second album Aguita.
Emitting a plethora of wonderful soundscapes through production, arrangement, vocal techniques, live instrumentation and terrains of rich melodies housing jungles of percussion and fleeting characters, Gabriel Garzon-Montano‘s Aguita champions three leading personas – the charmer, the pondering creative and our Latino heavyweight who resonates with the Spanish history of the Garzon-Montano family.
A huge plunge forward in the desirability of his artistry, Gabriel Garzon-Montano‘s Aguita celebrates self-expression, the rebellion of conservative nature and the absolute human essence for exploration when pulling out the creative animal from within.
A rich body of work to be devoured in its entirety, we spoke with the genius that is Gabriel Garzon-Montano on Aguita.
You’ve previously stated that you avoid aiming for your music to fit into a specific genre. As a result, your music touches on many styles, whilst existing as its own entity. Do you think that if everyone treated songwriting with the same mentality, that certain works would come out sounding differently, or even more free?
That’s interesting, because I guess the amount of freedom that I’ve had so far, I could synthesize into something that I thought would be helpful, or digestible even? Or like, something that could start a conversation and have an actual point was hard to be that meandering with it, and expect people to want to buy in. It also begins to hint the idea of just not using words, and just making phonetic sounds… I think if language could be thrown out, I could engage in that very easily, but once you start to introduce the whole mindset of speaking English or Spanish, or French and the way that that has come up in my life, it’s too specific. For me to negotiate all three at the same time, it would just be a different brand of contrived; but I think since everything is a performance, and we’re all very pre-emptive and agenda-based creatures, I think I just need to find more fluency in every language I speak. Not even linguistically, just every way of expressing to see what that would look like. I think it would end up being multi-media, also.
I guess you’re taking away a pressure from it, because you already have so much going on in your music. Is that right?
Yeah! And one modality kinda frees me from everything I grow bored of in the other one. So if the whole album was just ‘Blue Dot’ and ‘Fields’, I would just be like, “ohhhhhhhkay, drop a cinder block on me now. This is just too much soup for me.”
But then when it comes as this like clouds-are-opening moment of like, “ahhhh alright let’s go back into the beats”, right? That for me is really cathartic and exciting, when I want the next song. It’s cooler for me than like, “damn are we on track 7 right now? Damn, three more like this?” I imagine that’s kind of the vibe for people anyway. Unless it’s like an absolute gem, one of the classics – and there are plenty of those going around for sure.
A profound motif to your composition is the diverse and textural soundscapes laid out in each song. If you were to separate each layer, you’d end up with tens of individual characters. What is your process of arrangement?
Great question – first time someone has asked that. In general, from birdseye view? I would say that songs that have chords and melody, that resemble more of a like pop, folk or R’n’B song, that whole troubadour tradition, it’s really coming from playing an instrument, being a guitar or a piano. Once I find an area of intrigue, then I’ll start adding my voice. Once you have that, then I want to pick it apart. Let’s say ‘Moonless’, it comes out of this block of like [in varying tempos] “flaaaaah, flaaah-flaaah, flaah-flaaaaaah”. I was like, okay, let’s break that apart so there’s a lot of air in it, and you don’t have to have every note playing the whole time, just kind of outlining the chords. That was based on a drum machine pattern, so I was looking for a click track for the song, which I found on a CR-78; and that gave me a queue as to not box the listener in.
Usually what I’ll do is pitch poles in different areas. Drums, bass and then something very high up, leaving room in the middle. Once I know how the vocals are going to sit, I can cocoon it in other things, but in general I’ll know. I think I like to take away from the middle as much as possible, to leave room for the voice. For rap, it’s different, but still in the same in leaving enough room for the vocals. Mid-range stuff has to be very concise. One lead line, something for your harmony, you have your bass and then your things that are exciting above, and that’s it. As I go about it more and more, it’s just the process of subtracting information.
So the smaller moments that you might put into a song where it could be a piece of percussion that weaves in and out, rather than the heavier items like the melody, do they get considered last? How do you know that all of these elements will ultimately flow?
I do add them last. If it’s not something that is immediately discernible as one of the characters, then yeah those come at the end. Usually when we’re recording to tape and I know where their entrance is, I’ll start from there and just go all the way. At the end, I start removing things. A fifth time around, I’m not gonna have these bells, and then deciding, “Ooh those are fighting with these, oh and those pretty much should never exist at the same time”. You create those rules and then you can start looking for the form. A lot of the time the coolest parts can only happen at one time. If it seems like you’re just trying to show something that is just too ornamental to be essential, but when it’s in at the right time, it creates depth that is very reassuring.
There’s three strong, distinguishing characters born out of this record. Are they to be interpreted as three individuals, or three parts to one being?
Three parts to one being, but they can also be considered as three individuals I think, as the discography grows, and I keep adding onto the piles for each one, and introducing new ones. I look forward to a duet between two of them on the next record where they both appear in the music video as themselves; where I treat them as two halves of me but show how complete they are or appear, and dialogue with that.
There’s something quite circus-like or Alice In Wonderland-esque about the production throughout the record. As a listener, it feels like an invitation to a wicked nature. What do you think motivated this theme or motif?
All the most digestible, and easy and saccharin aspects of pop can only come in so many doses for me, they’re essential. Otherwise, you don’t have this motivating structural strength, or this tried and true vehicle to set the idea upon.
I love Prince because he’s sour, or Sly Stone because he’s sour, Andre  because he’s sour, John Lennon because he’s sour – I prefer him to Paul any day. There’s a dissonance and a playfulness, and a reverence that you find from everywhere, so I think it’s that. Even though we know it creates tension, it has to be there because it just creates the sweet moments that creates peaks out of those, there’s a valley of the more sinister thing like you said.
I’ve just always liked funky music – the dirty, funky music. Stuff that really has the grease on it, the clean-cut can only go to a certain point. It’s about choosing which things you have in place. Certain things are non-negotiable and you can’t obscure them, otherwise you’re hiding.
You’re being honest about the art itself.
Yeah, there’s like an inner-motivation to make things go “oooooh”. Whatever I find interesting. Once I start watering in the mouth a little bit, that’s when it’s like “okay, here we go”.
I love Lil Wayne, too; he definitely represents a challenge for the rap listener at the time of his entrance to his hyper-expressive vocal performance that you just didn’t really see before. That’s what it is – that sour Mephistopheles energy.
Furthermore, with “Aguita” translating to “little water”, these stark elements are perceived as quite dry and dehydrated. What hydration are you wanting your audience to gain whilst learning with the album? What elixir are we lacking?
Self-acceptance and just the command that you can find out of that, I think it’s just the water that we need for sure. That to me is what it means to water the flowers, to give it space to do its thing. A lot of the time, I’ll find something of myself and say, “[Gasps] I don’t want that!” or “I don’t like that”, I feel this way about it, so then I shut down the party. So it’s like, now that’s an indicator of where to go. For me, that’s like watering the places that are most dry, actually.
Sometimes I think that the richness and the diversity of the sounds, there’s definitely something flowing through space and time there. I think that there’s a fluidity that embodies water in the way I’m choosing to transform and abide by specific laws for each sound.
Your voice has the capacity to draw the listener into quite a trance when holding long notes as a resounding energy. How important is that vocal aspect to songwriting for you?
Mmmm… I think it’s a great thing to do when you don’t have a lyric [laughs], it’s like you pull out the scarf and start waving it, and people are like “awwwww!” and then you get to the next part. Maybe that’s a very cynical, funny way of making myself laugh right now, but I think there’s some truth to that. It definitely is something like “okay, well I don’t want to find a word to say when the melody is this slow”. I don’t want it to be like, “yoooooouuuuuuuu” or like [laughs], “it was a looooooooooonggg daaaaaaayyy” [laughs].
I think it’s also the desire to have a violin or an orchestra or something playing, but you just know that you’re going to sing it with the most care. There’s no other person or synthesiser that’s going to care as much as you in that moment. Then you’re just like, “well this is the most beautiful synthesiser that exists”.
It’s so complex, the human voice. If someone could program that every time, you’d be like yeah that’s the shit. It’s amazing it has that affect, but if you use it all the time you’ll cheapen it. It’s also very comforting for me, just personally, but I don’t want to rely on anything that feels too comfortable.
I love how you started that answer, like it doesn’t have to be that deep all the time, I just do it to fill a void [laughs]. That’s awesome.
Right? ‘Cause you have to keep it moving all the time, otherwise it never finishes and it’s like “Ahhhh! It’s never going to be ready” and that’s tired. Sometimes that’s all the music needs, just a moment sometimes. It doesn’t have to be always firing, but some things absolutely do.
Your heritage is celebrated throughout Aguita, with Spanish language used both lyrically and in your composition. Was there a reason these particular songs were written in Spanish, just as the English songs were written in English?
I think it’s because of the reference records for those styles of music. But also just because I really enjoy the way I feel when I sing a track in Spanish. It seemed like such a succinct way to offer that whole side of myself that I’ve not shown in one slither previously. It’s such a nice peak. I feel like the less is more, and the less information, the better. So just working that, and going from that to singing songs that are more peculiar or just of their own moment personally. I feel like that would benefit from having the strength of training of like having to compete with these more commercial offerings. It really does trim all of these nonsensical dillying and dallying that happens sometimes when people with not enough skills are trying to be totally original.
You see this with acting. Sometimes people just go through this mould of like being this goofy comedian or like a very problematic type cast kind of person; but then they take that and they leverage it and they bring some artistry to bear and all of a sudden they’re winning Oscars or whatever, at the end of the day they begin to surprise you with their depth and you’re like, woah! The patience kind of moves you, by seeing all of these journeys. To me, it just had to be that way.
You can’t sustainably build trust by being avant-garde or by being excellent at something that no one knows you’re good at [laughs]. You have to raise your hand in the classroom and talk about some shit that everyone is going to be like, “Right! 5+5 is 10”. You can’t just be like [in a mocking voice], “There’s this thing I’m thinking about, the theory of like relativity mixed with like how hot you have to heat a banana to get it to this thing” it’s like yeah, I’m sure that’s amazing but I can’t really try to even build a life that’s dignified around that. I know that, it’s not the world for that or the time, so I was like alright here’s an idea.
You don’t feed them carrots all of a sudden, I tried that. I was left with a bunch of carrots to figure out what to do with. You give them the carrots with some mashed potato sliced real thin, and start deciding whatever you want to put in there. After a while, they just come back because they know there’s at least going to be some mashed potatoes.
So yeah, I think there’s this little game of trust in typicality and enigmatic expressions in pop that you can see every body interfacing with all the heroes and heroines. It’s about engaging with that and knowing that shows how you still see yourself as you. That’s the crucial part. That’s where people lose the things that just immediately give them a gut feeling, because they think in that moment they’ll be able to abide by that decision, or like that impulse to remain true, and I think that’s total bullshit.
Everyone’s got something to say, but it’s weird to navigate. I think about Jim Carrey a lot, actually. Just a weirdo, who really loves challenges and is one of the most commercially viable products; just like Prince, right? Just the amount of energy, and the 500% commitment of those performances. Imagine that being like a 12-hour a day thing for a year, or three months or a month. Pretty incredible. That’s a whole day going crazy type gig.
Just how personal people can feel, or how private and childlike in these very mainstream, very homogenised, very violent spaces. Those are all moments that I really look for as a reference points.
Theo Bleckmann is the only collaborative artist on the record. Why him and only him?
It’s just another way of adding an impossibility to whatever collection to appear on? Further emphasising how different it is? Theo sent me some music that just moved me in a way where I was just like, “wow, okay. I haven’t been in this space.” Everyone wants to build and collab and send beats and all that, right? It’s all the same shit, a lot of the time.
Theo sends these vocals loops, no drums on them, there’s no like annoying things that I can’t make my own; which is usually the case. It was just one of the first collaborations that I finished, so I put it on the record.
I’m obviously aware of all the cognitive dissonance and presentation and marketing, that’s just all for fun. To me, that makes me happy to see Theo on a record. And mainly just the gap between what it takes to know how to program those drums and to nestle him into that atmosphere and the Bjork references and everything. For me, it was a flex for those who know, and for those who don’t, I like for people to wonder. I want people to be surprised by things. Any opportunity I have to surprise, I take.
It’s not like that there was only one person worthy of being on this record, it was just that this was a moment that I shared with someone who actually made me want to go all the way in the way I would with my own piece. That’s what actually separates some projects – people who actually want to do them, or people who just want to get in a room with you, or just want the credit or the money, whatever it is.
So when he sent you his part of that song, was that not intended to be on the album? It wasn’t like “Hey Theo, can you do this for my record” was it the other way round of “ah this is cool, I’m going to put it on my record”?
Because of how speculative it is to work with somebody, I would never promise them a spot or anything, or even point to the specificity of “[this] is for [this]”. That already begins to give you those limitations that I’m rallying against, this like compartmentalised thing. I just said, “let’s do them! Make some shit!”
He sent me nine, so I just took all of my favourite parts. I was taking a bath, so dried my hands and *click*, and coloured [that] little section in purple, or red or pink. I put them all together and left the BPM at 120, and that was it. I said “let’s just do a song” and he was all “what do you want from me?” “I dunno, let me start chopping up some things and we’ll see what I can write over it”.
It’s so simple, it’s nice.
Yeah, the project-based thing is just even more of a commissioned type vibe I would say. Maybe some people are like that, but in general every time I try and get two people where it’s like “this is what we’re doing” they don’t like it. They want to feel like only present motivation is propelling the piece forward, because then it’s going to be good; it’s actually going to be really exciting to behold, so that’s exciting to make.
It’s really hard to make something and be bored, or dread it in order for it to be good. But there was definitely so many moments like that throughout the making of the record, because of how analytical and cold I had to be, and then really hot and flashy and emotional. Going back and listening to it was like “fuuuuck, that’s not worth a dime. Alright, let’s try it again.”
It gives you a project though. Like trying to just make all indie music was just killing me! It was absolutely destroying my soul, like I was never going to be good enough. I knew it. I was always going to be, “Mm who’s that guy with three names?” Oh but round up all the best R’n’B albums of the year, and everyone says it’s R’n’B until that moment? Damn. And no one recognises all the classical music in it, until that makes it not enough? It was kinda like, forget it.
I’ve always delighted in how people are like “ahhhh, it’s like almost there, but there’s something-“. This album is perfect. Just when you thought you had me, ‘Mira My Look’ just comes to fuck you. That was scary to put that on the album [laughs], I was like “Eeeehhh”. I mean I like it, that’s what I’m doing right now. Everything that is uncomfortable is happening right now, so for it’s like a great bittersweet type thing. Like when I read a [certain publication’s] review, ugh God… I love how they just made all these albums and really investigated all these styles of music before writing it. It’s an interesting thing to see how all of that presents in a heartbeat.
Sometimes it can be discouraging, but I have all of these beautiful conversations with people who are so moved, that’s what it’s about; because they know what the fuck they’re looking at and that’s all that matters. Whatever it means to them I know is something new, and that is the most you could ask for.
Gabriel Garzon-Montano‘s second album Aguita is available now on Jagjaguwar via Stones Throw.
Words by Hannah Galvin.
Photo credit: Undine Markus.