All right. Good afternoon, everybody. My name is Chris Carter, and I’m the executive director of The Bankhead Theater. And I’m here today with Gaby Moreno, who is going to be joining us at The Bankhead on Friday, December 2nd at 8 p.m. You can get tickets online at LivermoreArts.org and we’re super excited to have Gaby come with the Gaby Moreno Quartet.
And I’ll just say a little bit about Gaby and we’re going to get right in. We’ve got a lot of–I have a lot of questions, Gaby, and I’m definitely looking forward to learning more about you, but I’ll give a quick background for those who are interested. Since moving to Los Angeles from her native Guatemala, singer-songwriter, and producer Gaby Moreno has released seven full-length records and earned a Grammy nomination for her album Illusion, and also received multiple Latin Grammy nominations.
And you won a Latin Grammy, correct, for Best New Artist in 2013. She’s also received an Emmy nomination for co-writing the Parks and Rec. theme song, so I definitely want to ask you about that. In 2006, you took the grand prize in the John Lennon songwriting contest, which is very cool, and you also sing the theme song and voice of a character in the multi-Emmy Award-winning Disney Children’s Television series “Elena of Avalor”, which features Disney’s first Latin Princess, which is great.
And you’ve also shared the international stage with pop music luminaries such as Bono, Andrea Bocelli, Tracy Chapman, Ani DiFranco, Punch Brothers, Hugh Laurie, Buena Vista Social Club, Calexico, David Gray, and many more. So I’m super excited that you’re coming to our stage in just a few weeks and Gaby, I got to tell you, I’ve become a big fan of your music recently.
I have the pleasure of curating all the programs that we do here at our theater and originally when I was working on this season and your name came across my desk and I started listening to your music and I was getting really excited about the possibility of bringing you here. And I guess it doesn’t happen often, you know, I get excited about a lot of the performers that we bring through, but in particular, I love discovering things for myself and I’ve really enjoyed just getting to get going through your catalog and listening to all your music and trying to figure out– how do I define describing your style because you’re a little bit eclectic. So how would you kind of talk about what your style is musically?
Gaby Moreno: It’s always–it’s always so hard for me to describe it, but I came up with a–with a phrase, I think the last few years and I think that pretty much sums it up and it’s “Spanglish folk soul”. So I don’t know if that says anything, but you know, just basically says that I always will sing in Spanish and English; and then that I have –I love, you know, folk music and everything that comes with it, like the Americana world. But then I also love soul music and blues and jazz and those styles. So I don’t know, it’s a bit of like those two worlds.
Chris Carter: But it’s funny sometimes I was, I was listening to some of your music and I kept hearing sometimes I’d hear the Beatles, sometimes I hear like Nina Simone, and sometimes I’d hear a little Bob Dylan. And sometimes, you know, there was just something. It was always a little bit different every time, which I really enjoyed. And I–my feeling is you I heard that you originally started singing just in English or performing in English, and then you tell me a little bit about that.
Gaby Moreno: So, so growing up in Guatemala, I mean, I was listening, of course, to everything that my parents were listening to or that was on the radio that was mostly pop music that was coming from Mexico City. I shouldn’t say Mexico City–Mexico in general, but also other parts of Latin America, of course. And just, you know, yeah I liked it, but it wasn’t something that it was a music that was connecting with me on a deeper level until I, I got I made a trip of my family to New York, and I, I heard blues music for the first time.
And I remember that that was the moment where I said, Oh, my God, what is this? It’s speaking to me in a way that no other music had ever done before. So that’s where it kind of began, you know, that’s where I started writing and playing guitar and really got serious about music, about writing music, about singing and in, you know, in a specific genre.
And I remember thinking, oh, this, this could never sound cool in Spanish, you know, it’s just not authentic. Like, I have to sing in English if I want to start singing the blues or something soulful or jazz. And so for some reason, I, you know, I thought that was what, you know, what had to be done. And I started writing songs in English and, and started finding, you know, finding ways to, like, come here to this to the States and bringing music here.
And I got super lucky, I was–I was signed to a label and then I enrolled in a music school and that was my ticket to come here to the U.S. on a student visa. And, you know, just immediately I started working and exclusively I was singing in English. Yeah. It wasn’t until like years later that somebody said to me, like, you know what, you should like try to unearth some of those older songs like boleros and songs that your parents and your grandparents were listening to and see like you can sing some of that stuff.
And, and I remember I did it at a show here in L.A. at a little club called Largo, where I was doing a little residency with a friend of mine. And, people came up to me afterward and said that–that music is really special.
Chris Carter: What was the first one–was the first song you sang?
Gaby Moreno: It’s a song that I still sing to this day, “Quizas”.
Chris Carter: Yeah.
Gaby Moreno: Yeah. I love that song, I really do.
Chris Carter: I do, too. I think I might have been the first one I heard when I was listening to you. That was the first one that came up.
Gaby Moreno: That’s great. Yeah. And I, I recorded it and I kind of did my own version of it. And yeah, I realized, you know, I can, I can take this music and make it my own. And then also I started writing in Spanish and finding my own, my own voice and my own style with it, you know?
Chris Carter: So when you were growing up in Guatemala, what–is guitar, first of all, is guitar like your primary instrument?
Yeah, it’s been my, my– Yeah, I would say it’s my only instrument. I mean, I play a little piano, I know chords and everything, but I, I’m not comfortable enough to, like, play it on stage. Like I feel very, very comfortable with a guitar.
Chris Carter: Great. Me too. I love guitar, by the way.
Gaby Moreno: So, yeah.
Chris Carter: So as you were growing up in Guatemala, kind of what–when did you start performing pretty early on in life? Or what was your kind of impetus for getting into this crazy industry?
Gaby Moreno: Yeah, I started there at a very, very young age because so my father was a promoter in Guatemala. He would bring artists from different parts of Latin America to do cultures in Guatemala. Pretty big artists, like one time he brought Ricky Martin and he asked me to, like, open for him when I was ten years old just because I was already singing and, you know, he was like, he thought that was a good idea. I actually really enjoyed it. So I remember like at that age, really when I was ten, eleven, I was already singing at festivals, telethons, opening for artists, just anywhere I could and I, and I really loved it. And my mother was–and still is–a radio personality in Guatemala. She still has a radio show, but she’s been in radio and TV since she was very young, too. So so both of my parents were in that world, in the entertainment world, and then that really helped. And they were very supportive and they were always looking for opportunities for me to sing wherever I could.
Chris Carter: Yeah. Were you, were you pretty comfortable on the stage even at that age?
Gaby Moreno: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I remember. I mean, the first time, of course, you know, I was really I think I was nine or something and I was really scared, but then I remember, when I got on stage and I started singing that all that went away. And I remember telling my mom like, Oh, I want to do this again. Please, like that. I would beg them to find other places for me to sing. Like I really, really loved it. And I remember thinking at that age already that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.
Chris Carter: Wow. By the way, just an aside, I’ve been to Guatemala twice.
Gaby Moreno: Oh!
Chris Carter: To Antigua which is a beautiful city.
Gaby Moreno: Nice! So really beautiful there.
Chris Carter: Yeah, it’s a long time ago, but I still remember it really fondly, I mean, just a really beautiful city.
Gaby Moreno: I like it there too.
Chris Carter: Yeah. So, so you moved to the States, you had a couple of records. One thing I saw recently was a video of you performing with the National Symphony.
Gaby Moreno: Yes.
Chris Carter: Kennedy Center. Tell me about that. That was amazing.
Gaby Moreno: Oh, that, that was–Yeah, for sure, up there–one of the highlights of my career. I was asked to do that because Ben Folds was or is, is he still does this, he curates this night called NSO declassified, and he invites two or three artists to sing, you know, two songs with the NSO. A nd I met him because I had I did this show with Chris Thile called “Live From Here.”
Chris Carter: Mm-hmm.
Gaby Moreno: And Ben Folds was one of the guests and so we connected there, and he was very sweet, and we stayed in touch. And then one day he just asked me, he’s like, Hey, you know, I do this thing with the NSO. Would you like to come and sing a couple of your songs? And I was like, Oh my God, this the first time that I’m singing with an orchestra like this, and it was an absolute, absolute dream come true. Really. I can’t even tell you what I felt just being on that stage with that orchestra behind me. And it was just me, just me with my acoustic guitar, no band. So in a really, really incredible experience.
Chris Carter: Well, the song I saw you singing was “Til Waking Light”, which I absolutely loved it.
Gaby Moreno: Thank You.
Chris Carter: Did you write that one?
Gaby Moreno: I did. A couple of years ago. Yeah. That’s, that’s a very–that’s a very powerful song that I, I felt like I needed to put out there. It’s, it’s told from, from the, the point of view of a family of immigrants trying to make their way to the United States just to try trying to find a safe space, trying to find shelter, running away from, you know, horrible things. We’ve all heard those heartbreaking stories. And it’s just something that I that, I felt like I, you know, I needed to put into song.
Chris Carter: It’s a great song. And I loved how you sing it in English and Spanish throughout the song. There’s something about that style that I think is just not many people do that, which it’s just a great tribute to you, and that was a great call on that song. So kudos to you.
Gaby Moreno: Thank you. Thank you.
Chris Carter: By the way, Ben Folds was here in September. We had him.
Gaby Moreno: That’s right. He sent me, he sent me a photo of this giant poster with my face on it. And he’s like, Who is this? And I was like, Oh, my God, where are you? What is this?
Chris Carter: Oh, that’s awesome.
Gaby Moreno: Yeah.
Chris Carter: Yeah. He was great. We loved him. He performed with the, for our Gala with the Symphony. But to be honest, you know, I had I’ve–we have about 50 to 60 shows a year here that we present. And I think just based on listening to your music, your, your performance coming up is one of the ones I’m most excited for. So, I–
Gaby Moreno: Thank you, that means so much.
Chris Carter: Very, very happy to, to have you. Can you tell me a little bit about your kind of, your process for songwriting or your creative process? Like how do you come up with your ideas for these songs? Are you always writing lyrics out or does the music come a little bit easier? How does that work for you?
Gaby Moreno: For me specifically, the music seems to come first. I’ll always be with my instrument and I’ll have like an idea, a musical idea, and then I’ll start humming a melody and then the music sort of dictates what I want to write about. The music dictates the mood, the emotion, like if it’s going to be an introspective song, a sadder song, or just, you know, something a bit more fun or whatever. Usually that’s, that’s what I would say, like 80% of the time that’s how it happens. Sometimes though, I’ll have an assignment. Someone, someone will be like, Hey, we need a song about this. And so like, okay, so it’s, I”ll come, come up with, with that idea, with the lyrics first and then think about the music.
Chris Carter: I see. Is that hard to do or is it starting to become a little bit easier for you?
Gaby Moreno: Um– it’s a bit of a challenge I would say. It usually happens when it’s movies, when I have to write songs for movies or, you know, or a TV show or something like that, something specific, you know, which I have I have done recently. But it’s yeah, I mean, it is a challenge but is a good challenge. I like that. Yeah.
Chris Carter: Well, you did write or you co-wrote the theme song for the Parks and Rec show. How did that come about?
Gaby Moreno: But that was it was a little easier because it was instrumental,
Chris Carter: Yeah.
Gaby Moreno: You know, no lyrics and only 30 seconds. So I was like, okay, that’s doable, that’s, that doesn’t sound that hard. But that came about, I mean, this was like, Oh my God, 12 years ago. Oh, yeah, 2009, 13 years ago. Oh, my God. Time flies anyways, I remember I got an email saying that, oh, we’re looking for, for a song for this new show.
And it’s an email that they sent out to a bunch of different composers and songwriters, and I think it was like 200 or something that, that went out. And so I remember sitting there with my guitar and thinking, Ah, you know what, I’m going to give it a whirl. Like I knew deep down in my heart that I was not going to get it, but I was like, you know, just for fun, I’ll just give it a try.
And so I, I came up with the idea just with my acoustic guitar, but I was reading the description and the reference that they sent. You know, we sent different references of different songs, and it sounded like they were looking for something a little more orchestral. And so I, I contacted my friend Vincent Jones, who’s an incredible keyboard player, and I went over to his place and I showed him my idea and then he just kind of like went to town with all the orchestral elements. and, and, and then we finished it together and we sent it in and never expected in a million years that we would get it. It was…
Chris Carter: Wow!
Gaby Moreno: …really a huge surprise where we got the call and said, Oh yeah, by the way, you guys got it.
Chris Carter: So like when you’re surfing channels, if that’s, if that show comes on and you just sit through it and watch it or at least the beginning?
Gaby Moreno: I watch it because I am so honest to God, it was one of my favorite shows. Like even if I hadn’t even if I hadn’t gotten the theme song, I would tell you the same thing. I love that show so much.
Chris Carter: Oh!
Gaby Moreno: I watched it. I watched every episode when it came out and I–and when it’s on, I’ll watch it. I’ll keep watching. When I’m on the plane, like if its on, I’m like, I’ll watch it and then you know and then I’ll finish it and then I’m seeing the credits roll and I see my name was like, what is life? You know, like what is? This is so surreal.
Chris Carter: That’s awesome. So fun. And you’re also are part of this Disney show as well, right? So you sang the theme song.
So, “Elena of Avalor”. I sang the theme, the theme song. That’s not my song, I just, I just sing it.
Chris Carter: Yeah.
Gaby Moreno: I feel so honored to have been asked to do that because I’m a true Disney, Disney kid at heart.
Chris Carter: Yeah.
Gaby Moreno: And yeah, it was really fun to do that, I also, I was also asked to, to voice a character in the show. So that was the first time that I got to do that. So that was that’s really cool.
Chris Carter: Do you think you might do more of that, the voiceover?
Gaby Moreno: I mean, if I get, if I get called, I’ll do it forever. Yes.
Chris Carter: Okay. It was fun then.
Gaby Moreno: Oh, yeah.
Chris Carter: Oh, good. And then have you been you’ve been touring a lot lately or what’s what have you been doing lately?
Gaby Moreno: Oh, yeah, I just got back a week ago. I was on tour for six weeks. I was in Europe.
Chris Carter: Mm hmm.
Gaby Moreno: Really, really extensive European tour. It was really fun. I got to go to Paris, London, Madrid, Barcelona, a bunch of different cities in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, even Slovenia. Ireland. Oh, my God. It was amazingreally, really fun.
Chris Carter: What was your favorite spot?
Gaby Moreno: Ooh, that’s a hard one. They were all so different and fun. But I got to say, Paris was really amazing. And London too, just because I hadn’t played those two cities in like, I don’t know, eight years or so.
Chris Carter: Yeah.
Gaby Moreno: It had been a while. Yeah. So it was amazing to go back there.
Chris Carter: Wow.
Gaby Moreno: Yeah.
Chris Carter: Well, from Paris and London deliver more. So we’re looking forward to that.
Gaby Moreno: Me too.
Chris Carter: What should we expect? Like the people that are going to come to this performance, what are you planning?
Gaby Moreno: Well, for sure, going to be playing a bunch of songs from my new album that just came out this year back in April. It’s called Alegoria and songs like “Til Waking Light” are on this album.
Chris Carter: It’s a great album.
Gaby Moreno: Thank you.
Chris Carter: Wonderful job.
Gaby Moreno: Thanks so much. And also I’ll be doing some songs from previous albums as well as some covers like “Quizas, Quizas”, you know, things that I that are just now part of my repertoire. I always do those songs. Yeah that’ll be fun and bringing my band you know we’re a quartet with drums, bass and a guitar player.
Gaby Moreno: My dear friend David Garza is an amazing, amazing guitar player. And then on drums, Sebastian Aymanns, bass, Kimon Kirk. They’re all incredible musicians and so lucky to get play.
Chris Carter: Well, we’re really looking forward to it. My last question I love to ask people what they’re listening to right now. Is there any anything that’s kind of got a good rotation on your, your iPod or whatever?
Gaby Moreno: Oh, man, I’m always listening to Lee Hazelwood.
Chris Carter: Yeah.
Gaby Moreno: He was an incredible singer-songwriter from the 1960s.
Chris Carter: Mm-hmm.
Gaby Moreno: And, and also Harry Nilsson.
Chris Carter: Okay.
Gaby Moreno: I love–I love them. And that’s something that’s just constantly…
Chris Carter: Alright.
Gaby Moreno: I’m constantly going back to that to those guys. Yeah. Well, as well as like Nina Simone. Ella Fitzgerald.
Chris Carter: Yeah. Well, you have some of that in you. I can hear it. So, you know, I like I said, I’m really looking forward to it. We have this great space. The acoustics are really wonderful for someone like you, I think you’re going to really enjoy it.
Gaby Moreno: Can’t wait.
Chris Carter: Great.
Gaby Moreno: Yeah. It’ll be my last show of the year too.
Chris Carter: Well, well-deserved rest afterwards too.
Gaby Moreno: Yeah. Yeah.
Chris Carter: So. All right, well, I want to say thank you again, Gaby Moreno, for joining us. And she’ll be with us at The Bankhead Theater on Friday, December 2nd at 8 p.m. You can get tickets online at LivermoreArts.org and come out and enjoy the show. It’s going to be a great one. I will be there and I’m very much looking forward to it. So thank you very much for your time, Gaby.
Gaby Moreno: Thank you. Thank you so much.
Chris Carter: Thank you.