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Tent-talk with Gabriel Garzón-Montano

I met Gabriel Garzón-Montano in the press tent of Lollapalooza, moments after his noontime set in the blasting heat. Though, mysteriously, he was neither sweaty nor flustered by the rush of activity, sitting calmly, sipping a mineral water. His equanimity shone through at all times, consistent with his smooth and well-thought-out music.

Scott Wilson: Let’s get the basics out of the way. Where are you from and where do you call home now? 

Gabriel Garzón-Montano: I’m from Brooklyn, by way of France and Columbia, from my mother and father, respectively. And I’m in Brooklyn now.

SW: How long have you been on tour and where have you been? 

GGM: I’ve been on tour for October, November, and December in Europe, opening for Lenny Kravitz. After that it’s been spotty with four or five day trips until now, and this is my first US tour.

SW: How’s Lollapalooza been treating you?  

GGM: Really good! I was the first artist to play. I played Bonnaroo, but that was a small stage. This one was nice and big.

SW: So, like, the media and iTunes and stuff labels you as a R&B singer. How do you feel about that? 

GGM: You know, black music changed my life, like funk and R&B music, but I equally respect and cherish weirder white music. The classical music and the Radioheads and stuff like that. So I wanted to make a marriage between those two. I feel like, sometimes when something is really funky and groovy it lacks a song, it’s just a vibe. So I wanted to bring that intentional, melodic stuff from, like, The Beatles and that side of things to the black groove side. So when people call it R&B, I wonder if people got my intentions wrong.

SW: I’m thinking specifically about songs like “Everything Is Everything,” which has this groovy feel like Marvin Gay, versus “Naeja,” which is weird and has that Radiohead connection. They’re both great for what they do, but what they do is completely different. 

GGM: I guess people base the thing on the best known tunes. Like “Pour Maman” has an R&B beat to it, but I wanted the voice to be different, kind of stoic. But they hear the beat first.

SW: What kind of headspace were you in while writing your new EP, Bishouné?

GGM: A lot of the songs were written a couple years apart, I think also these were my first batch of really serious songs that I’d have to live with for the rest of my life. It’s not like I have six albums and I have this long history to look back on. Each one comes at me with such a singular experience that each one could come at me with a different thing. Also, I had a wide array of influences: Sly & the Family Stone, Stevie Wonder, and so on.

SW: What king of oldies do you listen to? 

GGM: Oh man, well, you got the Motown stuff. You got the Curtis Mayfield, James Brown, Prince, Sly. Al Green is huge, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin…

SW: What about Chuck Berry? 

GGM: He’s not on rotation. Not because I don’t like him, I just haven’t gotten into him.

SW: Are you going to do anything while you’re in Chicago?

GGM: I think I have interviews. I definitely have some work to do, and then I have a show tonight.

SW: So you’re going to be a busy bug. 

GGM: Yeah. As soon as I get off tour I have one day off, then back to the studio to record some percussion. Like writing charts and stuff. I get to rest in November.

SW: You come back to Chicago in October? 

GGM: Yeah.

SW: How does place affect your songwriting? Do you need to be anywhere special to write? 

GGM: No, I can write anywhere. If I’m around people and I have my headphones on I can be working on beats and not be bothered. When I’m working on melodies I like to be in a booth though. I’m shy that way, when I’m working things out I don’t want people to hear me. Up until recently I was very bothered that people could hear me warming up my voice, so I’d have to go off somewhere. The parts where I play and sing over and over to get it right, I don’t like people hearing that.

SW: How much of the material for Lollapalooza is brand new and unreleased? 

GGM: Two songs. The second and the third from the last.

Garzón-Montano is working on his LP, which will be out soon. Check him out wherever music is checked-out these days.