Bookends: An interview with Gabriel Garzón-Montano
Music — 12.10.20
Gabriel Garzón-Montano’s newest album Agüita embodies his unique ability to transcend genres, expectations and the limits of labels. Each track reveals another side to this pioneering multi-dimensional artist proving that contradictions can and should, beautifully coexist. From “Tombs” to “Blue Dot”, GGM fearlessly presents us with an intimate insight into his refreshingly pure creative process; there are no walls to let down when you refuse to live within a box.
In this exclusive interview with Teeth Magazine, Gabriel Garzón-Montano and Grammy-winning musician Anna Wise talk about mind control, healing one’s inner child and the subtle placement of the pinky finger in photographs.
You seem to be quite talented at verbalising your thoughts and ideas.
Well, I have a lot of teachers to thank for that. And it’s pretty much black radicals who have coined the terms of our liberation in language. Which is where our reality occurs, too. At one point. I became quite existential and depressed when I was 12, and it kinda felt like it never went away… But reading has always calmed that down. I feel like teachers like James Baldwin and Bell Hooks have given me frameworks to neatly package things that I felt boiling in my blood and unable to comment on without melodramatic effect. So I do repeat things that I think are perfect from the teachers.
Beautifully said. Is there anything that you have learned from them recently that you want to share?
Oh, hell yeah! Given that I know I’m speaking to a family unit that I love personally. One of my favourite things I’ve read recently was….
“Children seldom listen to their parents…. but they never fail to imitate them”.
I was so excited to speak to you because I feel like I’ve learned so much by watching your older interviews and listening to your music. I’m learning so much now by observing and interacting with your existence. You seem like someone who knows a lot about a lot!
I guess I spend a lot of time grounded. And then eventually….well, this is a question that always comes up: “How has quarantine been treating you?” – and I’m like “what?! I’ve been treating quarantine for a minute.”
I’m like a fish in water right now. I’m not trying to climb the tree anymore. Einstein says that you can’t teach a fish to climb a tree. And we are all geniuses.
Do you have a morning routine?
Smoke a blunt. Sometimes it involves exercise, but lately, I’ve been more hedonistic, to be real. But all in love is fair. And it takes all kinds of things. And I believe the Hunter S. Thompson and David Bowie quote “no regrets here” – and ultimately it’s about having new experiences. So at one point sobriety will become the new high.
I read in a recent interview you said your whole thesis is that culture is up for debate and you are proving that. I interpreted that statement as like a merging and balancing of your masculine and feminine side. Will you expand on that statement?
I think we have the culture of the patriarchy… this notion of culture that says there is a popular culture and an unpopular culture, a hipness and a non. And there’s all this kind of negotiation of otherhood in all these different levels and spheres, and you find yourself on one or the other side of something inevitable in that discourse. So, I was talking about it more globally in terms of global cultures. The African Diaspora and the European kind of rewriting of history in its own image, and all of the ways that that converges, and the way that we all come from Africa, and that we’re somehow confused because of how much time has elapsed, and how certain people have gotten to violently tell their version of the story.
One of the things that were valuable was that my mother was a nudist. So immediately the stigma of the naked body was in another zone for me. Also, I think America is a very infantile and childish culture when it comes to sexuality and intimacy and the ways in which those can be side by side or live together. And I think rape culture is a global phenomenon at the behest of the patriarchy.
I found myself as a young one kissing my boyfriends on the cheek. And by boyfriends, I mean friends who are boys, and when I say girlfriends I mean girls who are friends. And if I have one that I’m perhaps romantically involved or not, maybe I’m just mentioning one of them. I would just enjoy people’s bodies. I enjoyed intimacy. It wasn’t like “I have a boner!” It was just like “I feel good”.
I think the main thing that I found was different about me, or sort of more blank and less like throwing assumptions around was that, yeah, my mother was a nudist. She used to kiss me in the face. I found that I was the most intimate [towards] my guy friends. I wanted to embrace them. They sometimes didn’t know how to act but they wanted the love. Nowadays when I go into a meeting and I hug somebody it’s like, “are you a hugger? Ok great!”. And people have been treated badly for trying to be intimate in these spaces. Also, there’s a lot of lines that we have to be aware of and it takes a great deal of subtlety to be able to navigate them.
Subtlety does not have to be complex.
It takes being present.
Absolutely. And not allowing the programming to take over. I know I keep using that word, but I absolutely believe that we, especially in America, are being brainwashed and programmed. Your existence is beautiful.
Aww, well thank you. Yeah, I guess at some point as an adult, to your question about femininity and masculinity..…you have this notion that certain expressions belong to certain cultures, right? So then you get big brands with the advent of humanity and humanitarian thought being a hip selling point or a profitable moment in someone’s branding. A monetary moment now, a necessity out of fear of cancellation, right?
A defensive measure. A reluctant shift.
Then you look at the people in the top positions of those companies and it’s still almost all white and mostly male.
Right. But you have a lot more apologies coming from them because it has to be so. And some people mean it and some people are doing it because they want their business to thrive. So you get big brands going, “we want you at this pride event” and I’m like “fantastic” – and then I’m like “Wait? That’s not how the world sees it.” Because I don’t like having sex with men. That’s not what I choose to do. Even though it’s not off-limits. It’s just I’m not trying to be the dude in the Dave Chapelle joke with the hot pants on saying, “I don’t know what’s going on, but I definitely want to get in this car.” You know, I want to separate myself from that. And so, there’s a mystery in my presentation that is so hilarious to me. And it’s completely to this point.
I just did a track called “By Law” with these guys from Colombia. And it’s a street song! It’s all guys from the street. And I’m the last verse. And one of my lyrics is: “She said Papi I want action, we’ll talk later, and I went home and built a lego”, or whatever, you know just funny moments. And then the other guys on the track – I was talking to Kevin this morning – he sent me the initial mix, and he’s telling me how one of the other guys was like, “Isn’t he gay?” So you have all these moments. And the way that he describes it is: “Oh no, he speaks out on behalf of women” is the way that it was phrased. And just the way people explain things or like the quick little moments we have.
And we realise how little reading is being done behind stuff. Or like how little realisation of one’s own mother. And this is not to throw anyone under the bus. I’m not criticising what he said to him. I’m just talking about this whole event like being a thing. It’s not like there’s an uproar here. I’m very happily participating and engaging, but it’s a great moment where your comment section is just full of men with the drools and then your concurrently hopping on a track that’s like “we slay these women by law.” But, you know, just being valid in that space because of the way I sound or appear, and then being valid in a space that is antithetical maybe philosophically in terms of like the meta gesture there, ideologically is interesting.
So, I don’t know, I’m just delighting in interacting with all of it. Because I think the alpha male aesthetic is sexy. But sometimes it’s just not as powerful as a three-quarter jacket, a high waistline, and some heels! And you know, you see the Latinx community embracing this, you see Bad Bunny doing this. But in extremes. It’s going all the way. He’s not gonna be found in the middle. He’s on record saying he’s looking for different loves, not just the flowers! That’s to say, I’m not the only man wearing heels. And nobody questions it. It’s all about the attitude I bring to it. Because it’s not about the heels. It’s just the fact that [wearing heels] is what’s giving me the look in my eye. So people don’t even know what’s influencing them, but they think they can name the elements and have some mastery over it. The culture is so fucking transient. Have I not just proved it there? If you listen to my record and you think it’s three artists I’ll have proved it again.
Are you saying that to say that the debonair leading man, the wistful impressionist, and the Latino Urbano hitmaker personas were something you introduced to allow palatability for people who might not otherwise be able to accept such a diverse sounding album from you?
No. That was a byproduct that I was excited about, incidentally. But, mainly, it was because I was tired of jumping up and down to like Travis Scott and Quavo records, and not having one. I wanted one. And then listening to Björk and being like fuuuuuck. But it’s like… wait a minute! That’s me!
Why would I make work that is not reflective of my interests?
I understand. So, what would each of these characters (the debonair leading man, the wistful impressionist, and the Latino Urbano hitmaker) cook for their friends at a dinner party? What would their signature dish be?
Ok. Alright. Umm, the one I have the most trouble with is the American one. Because that’s where I find myself the least but that’s where I’ve spent the most time.
And that’s where I found myself at the age of 28 and saying like I want to love me. But I need to find a direction to shoot that arrow, you know? Like, where is that centre? And just understanding myself as such a cultural item through just being on your shit all the time and being interviewed and existing in the space of like: me, me, me, me. My music. And just taking a step back and being like, “well where is your not so quiet dissatisfaction coming from?”
So yeah, it’s just perception. It’s a scholarship. It’s respecting and venerating a tradition and then executing it to that effect. Is it good music? Is it an expression that’s valid? Yeah, it is. My only rap song, my first trap production, my only attempt at a 3-minute pop song that was gonna vie for a spot on mainstream radio, it got me all sorts of meetings and all sorts of people saying “You are a peer now.” The absolute first one! And so, it’s like now when I’m speaking to people in the Latinx space in Mexico City, or people in Bogota, everyone’s referencing Bad Bunny and J Balvin. They’re speaking about an exciting new artist in that space who’s also going to be allowed to sing songs in French, to sing songs like “Bloom.”
It seems like you’ve been able to analyse and study all the aspects of a music career, the music, the image, the business, the ethos, and come up with something that is uniquely you and works uniquely for you.
Right, and it’s just all the things, that I go, “Oh fuck I wanna make that”, and everyone asks me what’s my advice for other people. My advice is to become a transcription of your favourite things and bring all the most mouth-watering moments to bear and you’ll probably be happy with it.
And then my heart, because I’ve been really focusing on listening to my heart and doing what my heart wants, and not allowing the analytics of my brain to get in the way of what I feel I want.
That’s so beautifully said. That’s exactly the gesture of the album. It’s like the generosity of that idea. I will give myself infinite permission to follow my heart.
Jon [Bap] introduced me to Prince because growing up in my house it was “Prince is demonic”.
Haha! Yeah, he is! Hail Satan!
I’ve been having casual Prince school and it’s only been in the past few months that I’ve been like, “I love Prince. Prince is life.” I think that you have been able to get a feel of his essence. The same way you say you study, but you put your own flavour to it.
Totally. I mean, the cover for his album Lovesexy. That was the reference. Down to the pose of the pinky. Definitely print that.
What techniques besides zooming out to the pale blue dot do you utilise to raise your vibration? When I got your new album and saw the last song is “Blue Dot,” I was so excited!
Yeah, the bookends of the record are “Tombs” and “Blue Dot.” “Blue Dot” is almost like the atom of the embryonic moment, and “Tombs” is the final resting place. They beget each other. It’s like I put the chicken up front and the egg last.
I guess inadvertently…it was tidy for me because of the sounds. Let me think about the first thing you’re gonna hear and the last thing. So “Tombs” starts the most mysteriously, and it’s like the twinkling of a star. I was like ‘oh that’s a good start because it starts with one sound and then slowly builds.’ And then “Blue Dot” has the longest fade. And it absolutely would slow down the middle of the album but at the end, it serves as a total palette cleanser and just sends you off to sleep or wherever you need to go.
So what other techniques do I use other than the pale blue dot? Being in nature, dancing, and singing and just vibrating quite literally is the way I do that. If I put on music, I immediately feel better. I’ll sometimes stand in silence not knowing how to pack for a trip, and then I’ll put on music and it’s like doo dat doo dat doo dat! All of a sudden I know what to do. That’s powerful. I feel really animated by those things. Just funky music. Or just soft music. Whatever it is. I feel like it’s the same reason people throw on the TV right? Some people are more visually inspired.
Some people want to feel accompanied by a guiding presence of love or confidence or assertiveness or just flow.
Which song did you finish first for the album?
Oh, the very first….I think “With A Smile” might be the oldest one. Those chords came in 2015 and the melody came 2016. “Tombs” was like.. 2018. “Blue Dot” late ’17 early ’18. That kind of started the direction of the album. That ties into the whole conversation of me not making music that is reflective of my interests. I feel like an un-funky person trying to be funky. I have imposter syndrome. I am so boxed in by what I think is expected of me and the decisions of a 23-year-old. The same way that I am emotionally attached to my traumas when I’m 6 like you said, or I’m 8, and definitely when I was 17 and my mother passed away. I see a lot of my coping mechanisms as a 30-year-old are literally going straight back to a reactionary 17-year-old discourse.
And it’s like saying, “No! You will not shut this door! I will shut this door!” And a lot of people find themselves there in romance, and everything, you’re just running away from or towards your parents.
You can listen to Gabriel Garzón-Montano’s full album Agüita in its entirety below: