RVA #39 is on the streets now! Here’s another article from the issue, in which Reggie Pace catches up with Angelica Garcia: Richmond’s Latinx star emerging for her widely-loved Latin Pop/Indie sound.
Angelica Garcia is a bold vocalist. Her voice — forged in ancestral Latinx culture and the raging kilns of danceable pop — commands not just attention, but motion. With more shove than invitation, and more strength than seduction, there’s a quality of anthemic pride to her sonic presence. It’s contagious, and you are not immune. Just don’t try to fit it into any preconceived parameters of what ethnic pop music is supposed to sound like.
“I know this is probably just another stupid musician perspective,” said Garcia, “but doesn’t it feel like genres are sometimes like, ‘Hey, here’s another way to stereotype this?’”
While she notes that certain bands are more purist in regards to the genres they fit into, Garcia has found that less concrete adjectives are more effective to describe her music.
“I’ll say, ‘Video game. Nightclub of doom.’ Adjectives, nouns… [It’s helpful to be] more open with visuals when you talk about music.”
Garcia’s boldness isn’t limited to her voice. Her first album, Karma the Knife, was released by Warner Music Group. Shortly after, she decided to take creative control of her career and leave the label.
Here in Richmond, Garcia has been working with a diverse cross-section of acts including Russell Lacy, Mikrowaves, and Piranha Rama. Recently signed to Spacebomb Records, the visual artist, songwriter, and L.A. transplant is gearing up for the February 2020 release of her second album, Cha Cha Palace. For Garcia, making music is all about community.
“I’ve been doing a one-woman show for a while, just because it makes sense for traveling. But when I do play with the band, it’s awesome,” she said.
The band includes a variety of leading local musicians, including pianist Calvin Presents, aka Calvin Brown, as well as Josh McCormick on drums and John Sizemore and Chrissie Lozano of Piranha Rama on guitar and bass, respectively. With these musicians involved, Garcia has found a new “family bubble” filled with distinct voices.
“Putting together my band was like putting together my own Justice League,” Garcia said. “It’s been great, and a lot of them have that same spirit and mentality of community, and everybody helping each other. That’s what helped make this album. That’s why it sounds the way it does.”
For a West Coast native living in Richmond, community takes on different forms. Garcia’s roadmap seems to hit all the stops.
“[My mother] was a pop singer in the 90s,” she said. “When she broke out, she had a charted hit on Billboard. It was a remake of ‘Angel Baby.’ [What] started her off when she was gigging was her tours of high schools. She said, ‘You totally need to do this.’ One of her friends worked for the El Monte School District where I grew up in L.A. We were able to set up one show, and once you have one, you can go to another school. It just became a big tour. It’s so funny playing for kids.”
Garcia played six or seven schools, navigating questionable sound equipment and audiences that were, at times, a bit less receptive than Richmond’s music scene. Some shows happened for school assemblies, and others were less organized — at one school, Garcia’s team sent a list of her equipment, and she arrived to find only one wireless mic.
“The speakers were blown out. I had to go into the soundboard and hook it up in the auditorium, and all these middle schoolers were watching me,” Garcia said. “I was sweating so hard. That’s the thing; it’s like kids read fear. You can’t hide. Then, of course, the looper is so temperamental. It was coming out really crunchy-sounding, and there was one kid saying, ‘My ears hurt!’ [laughs].
“It’s funny because kids are so blunt. And whereas an adult would say, ‘Great job!’ Kids are going to say, ‘What’s that? What are you doing?’ And it made me think, what am I doing? I need to be able to talk about this. Why is it loud? Why is this important? But the ones that really cared, it was super sweet. And it was special.”
Garcia says that playing solo shows, for judgmental high school students and the quietly-critical adults alike, has been a process of learning. She’s balanced her presence as a singer with an overwhelming ambition for musicality.
“I want to recreate as much as I can,” she said. “I do have to be careful, because once you start doing a bunch, it’s easy to forget, ‘Oh, yeah, I’m a singer. And I better fucking sing this right.’ I’ve got to do a good job. When you’re worried about the feedback and and the loop, the sampler and the gate, then you’re not paying attention to how you’re singing.”
With a European tour in the works and a YouTube video for her recent single “Jicama” steadily climbing towards 100,000 views, it would seem Garcia has found that balance. Not just between instrumentation and singing, but between the cultural backgrounds that comprise her identity. It’s essential, Garcia says, to all the creative work she puts out.
“I started something called #WearYourRoots. The reason you probably didn’t see it more is because I’m not a very good hashtagger.” Garcia laughed. “It came from my song, ‘Jicama.’ It talks about a dichotomy — growing up in two cultures and having one foot in each world. I realized the reason I leaned in so much to my Latinidad, the Latinx side of my identity, was that I felt I missed the most of it growing up and living in L.A.”
Always being surrounded by the food and the Spanish language in L.A., Garcia realized in Richmond that she felt lonely and isolated.
“[I was] homesick,” she said. “’Where my people at? And also, what does that mean? …What does that look like? And what do I do, blend in? I’m from Los Angeles, but all my blood is Latina. My dad’s from Mexico, and my grandparents are Mexican and Salvadoran. But I’ve been in Virginia for almost 10 years now. They’re both home.”
Her new album, Cha Cha Palace, which comes out at the end of February, lies between both worlds for Garcia. The album spans her experiences from L.A. and Richmond, finding a middle point in life that reaches each piece of herself.
“A lot of Cha Cha Palace was piecing together memories of my childhood, and trying to connect with my grandparents, their lineage, and their background,” Garcia said. “It was also redefining what it means to be Latina; how do I delve into my Latinidad, what does that look like on me? I know what it looks like on my mom, my grandparents. What does it look like when I wear it? That’s an interesting thing, too — in L.A., I didn’t have to think about that. I showed up to the club, and everyone was there. It hit me that if I want to connect to my roots, I have to actively choose to be a part of it, connect with my community and create art to honor it in this way.”
While working to reconcile these influences on her life, Garcia drew inspiration not only from her elders, but her younger siblings.
“This is a really special record to me. The entire time, I thought of my siblings — particularly my sisters — and what I want them to hear. I hear the kind of music they put on the radio, and my sister Valeria is 17 years old,” Garcia said. “She’s so brutal. She’ll say, ‘I can’t dance to this. Not gonna listen to it.’ She’s heard all my demos first. I played her the first draft and she said, ‘Yeah, I need to dance to it more.’”
At 25, Garcia isn’t consulting teenage relatives for youthful relevance, but rather out of a sense of familial responsibility. For her, the goal is that they’ll be able to put her music on a playlist with other things they enjoy, and that it uplifts them in the process, telling their story. As for the prospect of wider appeal, Garcia isn’t eschewing it. Instead, she embraces it in terms of a higher calling.
“It’s such a unique and sacred opportunity that people get to hear your music,” she said. “They’re repeating what you’re saying. They’re singing along. To me, that’s a really sacred bond. So I kept thinking, what do I want them to repeat?”
If family comes first, the chosen family of the Richmond music scene is a close second. Garcia sees Cha Cha Palace as the culmination of finding her place in the local community, and employing that community in a fuller expression of her unique artistic vision.
“I picked everybody that played on this,” she said. “This is the Mikrowaves fam. This is the Piranha Rama fam. Even the restaurant fam is in here, from 8 ½. That’s so special. Making my first record, I showed up to this world class studio. Big producer. It sounds really great, but everybody he called in were people that he knew, because I didn’t know anybody in Nashville. So it’s very special to me that I got to pick everybody this time.”
This dedication to stylistic direction is apparent before you hit play on the album. The cover is a photograph of the sprawling collage on her bedroom wall.
“It started off as just a few pictures,” Garcia said. “I noticed as the album was progressing, the collage got bigger and bigger.”
As a visual person, she loves textures — everything from picking colors to mixed media, and blending the old with the new. The pictures that line her room act as a metaphor for Cha Cha Palace.
“The way this album was made, it was almost like a giant collage,” Garcia said. “Some of the songs were tracked in Eddie [Prendergast]’s shed. ‘Karma’ was tracked at Montrose [Recordings]. James [Seretis] tracked some, too, [at Virginia] Moonwalker [Studio]. It was done in all these different spaces; I started working on it before I was signed to Spacebomb. I officially signed towards the end of making it, and they helped me tie some loose ends together, getting it mixed and mastered. Up until then, it was like, ‘I’ll come after my restaurant shift, then I’ll come record at James’s house until midnight, then I’ve got to go. I have to work brunch in the morning.”
As for what’s next, Garcia says that’s less a matter of direction than organic evolution. What’s certain is that it’s bound to be an honest expression of whoever she comes to be.
“It’s almost like my spooky disco-femme self made this,” she said. “It was cool getting to be her for a while. She is me and I am her, and we’re very connected. It’s cool to have it documented, because I don’t know what the next version of her is going to be.”
Words by S. Preston Duncan. Interview by Reggie Pace. Photos by Myles Katherine & Lauren Serpa.