How France, Colombia, & Brooklyn Created A Funk Visionary: A Q&A With Gabriel Garzón-Montano

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Blend one part Colombian and one part French, marinate it with a Brooklyn spice, then douse it with boundless servings of delectable funk, and voilà! Your product will be Gabriel Garzón-Montano, the singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist who pulled from his upbringing with immigrant parents, influences of Nirvana and Jeff Buckley, and environment of underground Brooklyn to create a vast, ever-evolving soundscape.

In January 2017, Montano unveiled Jardín on long-time psych-rock staple, Stones Throw Records. The sophomore album release was following by a two-month tour which hit all major cities through North America. Jardín found Montano tracking drums, bass, guitar, piano, and synthesizers and pulling from a wide range of classical influences to craft a sound all his own–one that was successfully translated to an immersive live experience on the tour. 

We got to catch up with Gabriel Garzón-Montano at the sold-out Los Angeles stop of the U.S. run, where he shared more about his background, tour reactions, and a shift in direction in upcoming music. Read more below.

OTW: So let’s start with your name–what is the origin?

GGM: It’s my first name, then my father’s last name, and then my mother’s last name–not her maiden name but the one she chose

OTW: Does it have a special meaning?

GGM: Gabriel is “bringer of good tidings.” It’s like the archangel Gabriel, who told Mary she was pregnant. Biblical origins. And then Garzón, I have no idea what that means. Montano is Italian. My mom’s French, but she chose Montano because it was her great uncle’s name.

OTW: What was your upbringing like, and how did that lead you on a musical path?

GGM: So my dad’s Colombian, and my mom’s French, they met in Brooklyn, both artists. My mom was a singer and also played a lot of instruments. And my dad is a cartoonist, and so they thought it was a good idea that we play instruments early. So I started when I was six with violin.

My mom took me to music school and asked me to point to the instrument I wanted to play. There was some kids plucking it like pizzicato with their thumb and just going over their fingerings, and I thought that looked really cool.

OTW: And how did that progress into a professional career?

GGM: We were singing a lot always, just around the house because my mom is a singer. So when I was six, I started violin and when I was twelve, I started doing guitar, and thinking more about music I was listening to like Nirvana, The Chili Peppers, and all that. And I started playing drums too. 

I started writing some songs when I was twelve, inspired by Kurt Cobain. When I was 15 I started doing more, guitar and a lot more piano. Then I had a funk band starting at age 20, and I was playing guitars and keys in that and writing the music. Around that age, like 20, I started really fleshing out the songs that people know from me. And when I just turned 23, I recorded the first EP.

OTW: How did you land on this particular sound?

GGM: I think it was a mixture of listening to Nirvana and John Lennon and Jeff Buckley, and more singer-songwriters influences, and then doing the funk band.

OTW: Got it, so they came together.

GGM: Which was a response to how downtempo and melancholy the other style was. I was trying to find something in the middle that wasn’t derivative of either. And then infusing my own upbringing–just things that I couldn’t really put my finger on that just make me, me.

OTW: So if you had to put all of that into one description of how the music sounds, what would you say?

GGM: I would say it’s music from nowhere for everybody.

OTW: That works! So you have two albums, Bishounè: Alma Del Huila and Jardín. How did the sound evolve from one to the next?

GGM: I think we just got a wider sound on this one. I included strings and guitars more as a texture. In the first one, it was just keyboard, drums, and bass, and so it left a lot of space. I guess the sound was a little more contained and minimal before, and on this album, it gets a little more lush and layered.

OTW: The album artwork is also very striking, especially when you compare it to the previous one where your face is blurry. Was there a particular reason for that?

GGM: I think people could take wild guesses as to what that might mean. I guess on the first one I wasn’t ready to show my face, I didn’t see that as part of the package. I just had six tracks in my iTunes and no one knew about them. I’m not really hiding anything, but I think it speaks to a directness that I was going towards with the second one. Vocally I think it’s more hard hitting, less soft and distant. An attempt to be direct.

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OTW: Cool, so you opened for Lenny Kravitz in 2014…what did you learn from him?

GGM: It was amazing. Just to take it easy and take care of yourself. No alcohol. Just humidifiers in the room, personal steam inhaler. Warming up two hours before the show.

OTW: How’d you do on that tour?

GGM: I was really nervous because I went from playing 200 people to playing in front of 10,000. I was just scared, I couldn’t control the beating of my heart. I’d be singing and you could hear the heart beat sometimes.

OTW: Wow so crazy! So you’re the main attraction on this current tour–how is that going?

GGM: It’s been great. People are showing up at these shows, you know? I’m like, “What the fuck is Anaheim?” and then there’s people there. People who really deeply connect with the music. It’s my first time seeing that because I’ve traveled around the states opening for people mostly, so now when I walk into rooms where there’s already a love and a place for me to do my thing, it’s really exciting. I think it gets easier once this is the case, to create moments.

OTW: Yeah, are you seeing strong reactions to any particular songs?

GGM: It differs, they all get their little applause. Last night, everyone was singing along with “Fruitflies.” In Anaheim, “Bombo Fabrika” went over really well. “Sour Mango” goes over really well, people sing along. 

OTW: And what are the visuals like?

GGM: Visuals are colored lights and also projectors on three rectangular screens. Sometimes clouds shoot from an airplane. Sometimes just of space or the desert or the sun reflecting something on the water. But all zoomed in so it takes you a second. It really transforms any space we go to, because we don’t rely so much on the house lights–we can black out the house, and it turns us into silhouettes.

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OTW: I love that. So you’re on Stones Throw…how has that that shaped your career? 

GGM: I think it’s introduced me to their built-in audience–I know in California there is so much love for Stones Throw. I felt that transfer on. There’s no doubt that someone listens because of that.

OTW: What else is on your to do list after the tour?

GGM: After the tour, it’s time to write a new album.

OTW: Have you started that yet?

GGM: Oh yeah. It’s a lot more it’s a lot more about my experiences and a lot more personal. It’s stuff that I didn’t know how to write about before. But I wasn’t at the point that I was self-reflecting like that–I was in search of just creating a mood and creating a world by bringing surreal imagery into people’s lives.

OTW: What caused that transition? Do you feel more confident exposing the personal things now?

GGM: I am just doing a lot of work and learning about myself. Stuff that I didn’t really have the tools to navigate before. So it’s going to come out in music.

OTW: What’s something that you’ve learned about yourself?

GGM: I’ve learned that I don’t take criticism well. I overreact to small setbacks. I also judge very harshly.

OTW: What’s something fans don’t know about you?

GGM: I have a beautiful sister named Luna. And she is a federal defender. She works cases for clients on death row.

You gotta come to terms with a lot of stuff when you’re in that position. You have a lot of time to think about

OTW: Definitely puts things in perspective.

GGM: Yeah so when you talk to somebody, and they’re so enthusiastic in asking you about your life, it just sounds like somebody chilling on their front porch. I mean not everyone is like that, but some people are really incredible. And she doesn’t really sweat the small stuff, at all. And I know it’s because she’s constantly reminded of what she has.

OTW: That’s awesome. Last question: who’s at the top of your Ones To Watch list?

GGM: Space People. They’re opening on the tour, and they’re great.

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