Gabriel Garzón-Montano is a child of music. Raised in Brooklyn, New York, by parents of Colombian and French descent, he was introduced to music while still in the womb. A major influence on his life and his music, his mother went to rehearsals as a freelance mezzo soprano and performed in the choir at the New York City Opera at Lincoln Center throughout his childhood. On Friday, he'll release his debut album, Jardín, and we connected with him while in his home city to hear about his wide-ranging experiences with music, flirting with celebrity and the future.
Unlike most children who grow up in musical households Garzón-Montano's home was filled with 13th century classical music. Surrounded by the music of the canon as he grew up in a house eminating from rehearsals, his mother helming the upright piano, he had knowledge that primed him for uniqueness at an early age. His relationship with his mother greatly informed his relationship to music: "My mother was a musician and a singer, so she was going to rehearsals with me in the womb, and that's when it all started. She was a freelance musician in New York, and would leave for months at a time on tour. She had hair down to her butt. One time she came back, when I was less than a year old, and she went to breast feed me. But she didn't have hair anymore, she had cut it all off, and I looked at her like "I ain't suckin' on that."
As he grew older, he was conditioned to pay attention to the music around him. "What it gave me was a good ear, whether or not I was playing, I was always listening and so when all that stuff is reinforced constantly it becomes part of your conditioning. So immediately I find myself criticizing singers. It gave me a good sense of hearing the language." And as he grew out of playing the violin and more interested in singing and songwriting, he realized that "you have to make a living in life too, so that seemed like a good way to do it." But his story of finding that career path as a musician is certainly not the cookie cutter success story. After making his first EP, Bishouné: Alma del Huila, he felt lost and unsure, letting it sit and collect dust in his iTunest for 7 months before sharing it with friends. It was clear that the project was a manifestation of himself, in the EP's title alone, combining his French nickname from his mother alongside his father's home region in Colombia. Eventually he went on to sell the piece to individual record stores, until Mayer Hawthorne heard it playing in A1 Records in New York's East Village, bought two copies and sent one to his team to circulate. While he was getting management set up, Garzón-Montano sent his music to his longtime friend and classmate Zoe Kravitz for her to check out. After her famous father, Lenny Kravitz, heard the EP as well, he invited Garzón-Montano to open up for his 2014 tour.
But that wasn't the end of the story: "When I asked him 'What's your advice?' He's like, 'Well, get as much PR and exposure out of it as you can.' I barely sold any records, though, but people remembered me a bit. " And while on tour, another star musician caught wind of his EP. This time, it was Drake. "While we were on the road, I got a screen shot of a text from Aubrey [Drake], saying that he was in love with my song '6 8,' that he was waking up singing it and had to work on it with me. And I was like "Woah." And then, five days later, there was already a master of the "Jungle" beats ready for approval." The track appeared on Drake's surprise mixtape in 2015, If You're Reading This It's Too Late.
Admittedly, he acknowledges some missteps after Drake sampled his track. " It didn't open any door because I didn't take advantage of it at all. I didn't make any social media campaign out of it or anything, I didn't come up with any new music, I didn't do anything to ride that, I just was like 'Yup, this happened,' and continued on doing the same thing I would normally do. It didn't give me some sort of inspiration to want to be an A-lister or to want to make more mainstream music, or to want to be more like someone who would be on OVO. It was more like, 'Wow, I can't believe he picked this up, and now, we're going to go back to business.' But I think the for the online music community – it became an interesting thing. It gave him a lot of street cred and gave me a lot of visibility that I wouldn't normally have had." Of course, hearing that Drake is obsessed with your music is affirming, and then to have his sample resonating with Drake fans as well, helped him keep pushing on, "My music has always hit people in a certain way with an innocence and tenderness, calm, serene, beautiful way. People were really responding to that, and I was so happy about that. That was when I really needed to know that I was going to be ok, that my efforts had a reaction with people."
Throughout all of this, Garzón-Montano continued working on his music. Jardín, which is out on Friday via Stones Throw Records, has been a four year long labor of love. Growing up in the city taught him how to make his own using the immediate world around him as his inspiration and outlet. Before and after the Drake spotlight was shone on him, he's continued to use everything from nature, colors, animals, fruits, landscapes, and Saul Steinberg cartoons as jumping off points. He says these inspirations trasnlated to his work on Jardín too, as "The nature thing comes out of becoming an adult in an era where everything seems like it's trending toward the robotic, the artificial and the virtual. So going back to a simpler way is important. And there's a fetishization of the peace of not having a phone on you, and too much stuff everywhere." And if you're wondering about getting inspired by fruit, he's already successfully incorporated "Sour Mango," and "walking like a tangerine" into one of his latest singles, "The Game." Musically, he looks to everyone from The Beatles to Prince to J Dilla to Debussy. "You can hear Debussy a lot in the chords in my music – kind of impressionist chords. When it starts to sound jazzy or classical, it's coming out of that experience." Jardín was a submersive experience, working with Henry Hirsch in the trendy town of Beacon in upstate New York to record the album over 70 days.
The days recording in the iconic former church setting of Waterfront Studios were not fast to pass by. Hirsch is known for not using computers during any part of any process in his music making, working with two-inch tape and getting the most out of Garzón-Montano's performances. "He hates beats – any time I'd bring in any beats he'd be like 'These are fucking stupid. They don't mean anything.' It's really interesting making records with him – he makes sound really beautifully and painstakingly. No technology to make a drum sound. The vibe is very silent, everything took forever, I'd call it "vibe crushing" almost.'" Sticking with it, he continued to create his masterpiece, playing all the instruments, singing and writing the entirety of Jardín. "The final outcome is really on me," says Garzón-Montano, and the recording process is really what's special, "what gives the music a tape-y, warm and live sound."
As he gears up to launch his Jardín release and tour starting at Music Hall of Williamsburg in his hometown this week, Garzón-Montano turns inward for calm excitement for his performances. "When you're in a room full of people who love you, it becomes a very spiritual thing and it's great. Especially when you're prepared and the muscle memory is there and you're calm. And that's where I'm at right now."
- Sour Mango
- The Game
- Long Ears
- Bombo Fabrika
- My Balloon
- 1/26: Brooklyn, NY @ Music Hall Of Williamsburg
- 2/2: Los Angeles, CA @ Amoeba (In-Store)
- 2/3: Long Beach, CA @ Fingerprints (In-Store)
- 2/15: Berlin, Germany @ Kantine am Berghain
- 2/18: Paris, France @ La Bellevilloise
- 2/19: Brussels, Belgium @ AB Club
- 2/20: Amsterdam, The Netherlands @ Bitterzoet
- 2/22: London, United Kingdom @ Jazz Café
- 2/24: Dublin, Ireland @ The Workmans Club
- 2/25: Cardiff, Wales @ Wales Millennium Centre (Jazz Club)