Angelica Garcia: Transcending Traditional Boundaries

Richmond, Virginia, is certainly not among the first locations that come to mind when discussing new musical trends or up-and-coming internationally-flavored young artists. However, the city is home to a burgeoning new music scene, due in part to the presence of Spacebomb Records. Angelica Garcia, a rising Latinx artist on its label, is one artist that is helping bring both critical and commercial attention to the region.

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With Mexican and Salvadoran roots in the San Gabriel Valley east of Los Angeles, Garcia grew up to the strains of indigenous Southern California sounds like ranchera and Mexican banda music before she headed east to Richmond – where the move is typically made in reverse. The graduate of the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts has also found herself influenced by American artists far older than she – people who set the tone when it came to writing songs that have lasted for decades. 

Garcia cut her debut album, Medicine for Birds, in Nashville with mega-producer Charlie Peacock (Civil Wars, Switchfoot), which led to opening slots with Delta Rae and Lydia Loveless. On her new album, Cha Cha Palace, she takes new chances with a more modern, studio-driven sound that differs from the blues-rock label she had been tagged with by some.          

Her first single from Cha Cha Palace, “It Don’t Hinder Me,” was released in the summer of 2019. At that time she told American Songwriter that it was “a song about being proud of where I come from. I went to a magnet school that united different sectors of Los Angeles County, everything from Pasadena to West LA to El Monte and more inland. The school mixed kids from different backgrounds. Back then I often saw myself as not being cool like the kids of screenwriters and stars. This song rebukes the idea that you have to come from glamour or money to be cool. My ‘beautiful’ and ‘cool’ version of LA is the immigrant household of my grandparents.”

Now in her mid-20s, Garcia is still an ardent fan of the non-Latino songwriters she came to love when she lived in LA, particularly Neil Young, Willie Nelson and Jack White. Garcia says she might not always have a lot in common with them in terms of style or song structure (for example, the almost free-form opening track “I Don’t Believe in Death” from the new album), but she did learn one important thing from them: “I think the lesson they taught me was about how to be a good wordsmith, and I really appreciate how they do that,” she says. “Making every word count. They really inspired me when I was younger.”

As far as more modern acts, Garcia says she is a fan of Australian neo-soul quartet Hiatus Kaiyote. “I really like … the way [lead vocalist] Nai Palm writes very decoratively, like a floral-like sound, from a very interesting perspective,” she says. “But coming from my background, I love a lot of different kinds of music.”

To reflect her roots on the new album, she included “La Enorma Distancia,” which is written in Spanish, and “Llorona” and “Agua De Rosa,” which are written partly in Spanish. “Two of the songs on the record that are in Spanish are actually old traditional Mexican folk songs,” she says, “and they go back to my grandparents and to my whole family because that’s the music I was brought up around when I was a little girl.”

Garcia is known as both an acoustic and electric guitar player, but she plays a major role on the ivories on the keyboard-heavy Cha Cha Palace. “I actually do a lot of the keyboard work on the album, but when it came to writing, my main writing instrument was actually my looper,” she says, referring to a pedal or rack-mount device that records parts and plays them back in a repeating loop, making it easier to compose additional parts. “The textural instruments are pretty much myself and my producer Eddie Prendergast, and Eddie played bass and worked with the beats, manipulates the beats.”

Garcia is breaking new ground, not only mixing languages but blending styles from different eras and cultures in a way not seen before. 

“When I started making this album I became really immersed in the community of musicians that live in Richmond,” she says, “and this was the first time I saw a real interesting blend of Latino music and rock ‘n’ roll here locally. This record is a bit of a collage in a way and was made completely different than my first album. Growing up in Southern California and my family life definitely influenced who I am as an artist, but living in Virginia has helped define my sound.”

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