As part of our continuing efforts to help you connect on a deeper level with great artists in a variety of channels, we recently caught up with an Earbits favorite, Gaby Moreno.  Born in Guatemala City, Moreno’s amazing sound has earned her opening slots with Tracy Chapman and Ani DiFranco, to name only one of her many accomplishments.  But enough from us, let’s talk to the pretty lady herself.

An Exclusive Interview with Gaby Moreno (listen to the audio here)

Scott Feldman: Hello. This is Scott Feldman. I’m here with Earbits Online Radio. I have a very special guest with me, her name is Gaby Moreno – very talented singer, songwriter, producer, theme song composer… Gaby, welcome, thank you for coming.


Gaby Moreno: Thank you so much for having me here.


Scott Feldman: The latest record that you put out this year – and first of all I wanna say it’s fantastic…


Gaby Moreno: Thank you.


Scott Feldman: But you were in an industry where labels and managers tell any artist coming up that it’s essential to brand yourself and focus in on what you do best and sell that.


Gaby Moreno: Right.


Scott Feldman: And you have done the exact opposite of that. You sing in multiple languages, I can’t even count how many genres, and it’s awesome. And you’re finding success in it. So – A – was it hard for you to kind of decide “I don’t care what they say, I’m just gonna do it” And B how have you make it work for you?


Gaby Moreno: Well, there was no choice, for me, it was… the thing is that I have been with a label in the past, with a major label, and I was miserable. I hated the fact that I couldn’t write a song without having, you know, in the back of my head, going “Oh, this is not commercial enough. This chorus doesn’t sound like a hit or it’s…” And it was nonsense, you know, you can’t think like that and you’re just, like, you just block yourself and it’s not creative at all.


Scott Feldman: So, I mean, I would say you dabble in soul, jazz, rock, folk – when you were with a major label, were they trying to focus in on, what were they trying to focus in on?

Gaby Moreno: Totally, they were like trying to like, you know… I was with a couple of labels. So, the very first one I was with, when I was 18 – and I didn’t really know what I wanted at that point – I was playing guitar already and I knew I loved blues, but they sort of saw me as a Latin artist. So, they wanted me to do Latin pop music.


Scott Feldman: Right.


Gaby Moreno: And I was, like, “Oh, no, please”. But, thankfully, the deal fell through and I didn’t even didn’t get past preproduction. So I’d never even recorded anything with them. And then, the second label, it was funny cause they wanted me to do like a… Macy Gray thing. It was, like, whatever was happening in the moment they were “Oh, yeah, you should try that”.


Scott Feldman: So, both of the records that you’ve released – they’re really two, right?


Gaby Moreno: I’ve only released two.


Scott Feldman: And were both of those completely independent?


Gaby Moreno: Oh, completely independent. The first one I released three years ago, and the labels… this thing happened like 8 years ago.


Scott Feldman: So it was all before the releases.


Gaby Moreno: Oh, yeah, way before.


Scott Feldman: On this record, I was just reading somewhere, some of the musicians that were involved, you have like: Larry Golding…


Gaby Moreno: I know, yeah, I was just with him today.


Scott Feldman: So, I mean, what does it feel like to have people who are the most absolute best at what they do wanna be on your record.


Gaby Moreno: I don’t know, I’m just so honored, first, to know them. See, this is what’s so wonderful about living in this town is that you sort of… I mean, if you meet the right people, cause obviously, in the past, I’ve met like total dirtbags…


Scott Feldman: They’re out there.


Gaby Moreno: They are out there. But then once you connect with a circle of people and of musicians that are amazing; and then, sort of, you get introduced to all these fabulous musicians and then it’s amazing because… Someone like Larry Golding, you know, he’s a genius, but he’s such a beautiful person, he’s so humble and you just go, like, “Wow”. You would think that he’d be all “Oh, I’m” cause he’s Larry, but no, he’s the total opposite.


Scott Feldman: How do you get into that circle with Larry Golding? Greg Leisz was on the record as well – he’s a monster.


Gaby Moreno: It’s funny, I can tell you exactly how that happened: I started hanging out at this club here in LA called Largo. I was a big fan of John Brian, go see him.


Scott Feldman: His shows are amazing.


Gaby Moreno: I was a big fan, also, of David Garza, just, I don’t know if you’ve heard his music, he’s…


Scott Feldman: I have not actually.


Gaby Moreno: Incredible, you should check it out. And, I mean, he’s been doing it forever, you know, the 80s or something. And he was playing some shows at Largo, and I just started hanging out there and going there. And just like that I started meeting all these musicians that would go there and hang out there, just like me. And I met Jay Bellerose there – he’s a fantastic drummer, you know, he plays for Robert Plant, Allison Krauss and *Rita Montaigne?*. We met him and then we just became really good friends with him and then it was kind of like “Oh, come to my house, let’s have some dinner”. And then…


Scott Feldman: That’s amazing.


Gaby Moreno: You know, that’s how I met other of his friends, just kind of like that…


Scott Feldman: Fantastic. So you’re co-producer on the record, right?


Gaby Moreno: Yeah, and it’s funny cause there’s no… I wouldn’t say I’m like a real producer.


Scott Feldman: Don’t be modest.


Gaby Moreno: No, no, no. I’m not, I’m just being honest.


Scott Feldman: Okay.


Gaby Moreno: What I did was I had these songs. I did bring in an amazing arranger – Paul Bryan – he’s a producer, but he came in and he arranged, like, 5 of my songs for horns and strings… And I had never done that, so I was just going like “Here, take my songs.” And he made it sound, I mean, unbelievable, just having those live strings and horns just brought it to another level for me.


Scott Feldman: Did he do that horn arrangement on “Mess a Good Thing”?


Gaby Moreno: He did, yeah, and “Sing Me Life”, all that, he did all that. And I just kind of played it with my guitar and I sent him a little demo and then he asked me to come over to his house and he plays me just the midi version and I’m just going like “Oh my god!”


Scott Feldman: How long have you been playing guitar?


Gaby Moreno: Since I was 15.


Scott Feldman: And do you play a lot on this record or is it more the session guys?


Gaby Moreno: No, well, I play, I actually have to record while I’m playing, like playing and singing live. I feel weird if I don’t have my guitar and I’m singing.


Scott Feldman: So, are these songs are cut live?


Gaby Moreno: All the songs are cut live.


Scott Feldman: It’s amazing.


Gaby Moreno: So, basically, it’s always me on rhythm guitar now, like, of course, the solos and all that it’s Greg Leisz, Mark Goldenberg is in it too, on a couple of songs. But it’s all live, even with the strings; it’s funny cause we were in this little studio and we brought in the section quartet.


Scott Feldman: It worked, it’s viby, it sounds amazing.


Gaby Moreno: Yeah, that’s kind of what I was going for. I really, I’m not a big fan of overdubbing and all that, it seemed a little percussion part or whatever. But all of us, especially drums, base and me, that’s how we did it, it’s always live; that’s how we did it with the first records.


Scott Feldman: Cool. When I first heard about you it was right around… it was the first record “Still The Unknown”, right?


Gaby Moreno: Yeah.


Scott Feldman: So you were already kind of buzzing in LA. You had gotten some love from KCRW, which you’re continuing to get. Weren’t you just got on “All things considered” MPR?


Gaby Moreno: Yeah, MPR has been wonderful this year for me. I think, before, I don’t know if they had featured me too much.


Scott Feldman: So, I guess, my question is, how did you find them, how did they find you? You came here in 2001, you were an unknown Guatemalan artist, obviously very talented…


Gaby Moreno: I’m still unknown.


Scott Feldman: That’s not true.


Gaby Moreno: Well…


Scott Feldman: You’re sitting in a room with two big fans right now.


Gaby Moreno: You’re so sweet. Yeah, but, let’s see… with KCRW, I think I sent them a demo, just like that. I had this book called “Indie Bible”, I swear, and I just started sending out my demos.


Scott Feldman: I had the same one.


Gaby Moreno: I started sending out stuff to people. And then, all of a sudden, I get a call from a friend and they’re like “You’re being played on KCRW!” I’m like “What? Ok…”


Scott Feldman: And that’s a game changer, like, especially with the hipsters in LA… they love that scene, I mean. And people do know you; at least in this town, I can’t speak for like your fan-bases elsewhere.


Gaby Moreno: I don’t… well, in Guatemala, yeah.


Scott Feldman: Do you have a big fan-base in Guatemala?


Gaby Moreno: Yeah, fan-base… well, I’m known there because I’ve been singing since I was a little girl there.


Scott Feldman: Is there, like, a vibrant music scene where you grew up?


Gaby Moreno: In Guatemala? Yeah, there’s a lot of… it’s mainly rock bands; there’s a lot of rock bands.


Scott Feldman: And did you come here specifically to pursue music?


Gaby Moreno: That’s why I came because I was looking for something else. I was interested in doing that kind of music that was going on there. I was really interested in blues and jazz and, you know, the American genres that… I had to be here. There was nowhere else…


Another person: Why LA?


Gaby Moreno: LA because it was closer to home, one, I like the weather, two, and because, of course, I had to come here with some sort of Visa so I… I was actually thinking about going to Berkley, but it was way too expensive and I couldn’t afford it, at the time. So I enrolled in Musicians Institute, in Hollywood, which was, you know, fairly affordable. And I could get my student visa, so I came with that.


Scott Feldman: And what did you study at MI?


Gaby Moreno: At MI, I enrolled in the vocal program, but that was around the time where I was with a label so, yeah, I was kind of… I didn’t do the full-on program, I just got, you know…


Scott Feldman: So I already said your record is completely genre defying…


Gaby Moreno: There’s a lot going on. Oh, yeah, and I think I didn’t answer your question. It was just about doing all these different styles and… It’s weird, it just feels so natural to me. I love, like I said, I love blues, but at the same time, I have a fascination for music from the 1920’s and 1930s, and Edith Piaf and all that music. So, it’s really weird, but I try to blend it all in together. And then I was listening to a lot of old records… I don’t know if you know Roberta Flack?


Scott Feldman: Yeah, sure.


Gaby Moreno: She has this record called “First Take” and that’s when I kind of had the… Cause a lot of people had told me “You can’t do that, you can’t do that many styles. You gotta choose one.” I’m like “Why? Says who?” And then I was listening to that record and I’m going like “Man, the first song, a song called “Compare to What” is like a total funk tune. And then she goes into the second song, which she sings in Spanish, it’s called “Angelitos Negros” and it’s like a total different thing. And I’m going… and that’s what I love about listening to those old records. Even The Beatles, was, you know, “Revolver”, they just had all these… And, so I said, why not? I mean who’s saying… who’s putting the rule here?


Scott Feldman: So what genre does the “Parks and Recreation” theme song belong to?


Gaby Moreno: That was funny cause I wrote that on my guitar and the way I wrote it, it sounds like a folk song.


Scott Feldman: Oh, really, cause it doesn’t sound folk…


Gaby Moreno: No, I play like…


Scott Feldman: Were you just submitting for that amongst the other composers and you just got chosen?


Gaby Moreno: Yeah, it was crazy, cause I had never in my life done anything for TV and it was like a long shot. It was really one of those when you go, like, “Yeah, right”. And then, I get a call “You’re in the final 60’. I’m like “Okay”. And then, you get chosen and you go like “What?”


Scott Feldman: Was that a game changer for you or not really because it’s kind of…


Gaby Moreno: It was, it sort of puts you on the map and, not to mention, it’s great on your resume…


Scott Feldman: Sure.


Gaby Moreno: And it’s helping me pay my bills.


Scott Feldman: I was gonna say financially.


Gaby Moreno: Yeah, totally.


Scott Feldman: I think I saw on your website, you have some European tour dates coming up?


Gaby Moreno: I do, yeah, I did a tour in January in Maastricht, Holland.


Scott Feldman: Are you headlining? Are you supporting other artists? What are you up to?


Gaby Moreno: Headlining, but, you know, not that big venues.


Scott Feldman: Cool.


Gaby Moreno: Could be like 200 people, kind of.


Scott Feldman: And how long are you going out on the road for?


Gaby Moreno: I’ll be… until September… almost a month, I leave August 11th and go to Germany, Holland and France.


Scott Feldman: Cool. Have you done a world tour, so to speak, before?


Gaby Moreno: Just Europe, U.S., and Guatemala. I’ve never been to Latin American and I’m dying to go, it’s like… most of my songs on this new record are in Spanish so, I’m like…


Scott Feldman: Much more so than the last one…


Gaby Moreno: Yeah, way more.


Scott Feldman: Was that a conscious decision or just kind of…


Gaby Moreno: Yeah, it kind of was, yeah, because on the first record I… it’s only like 2-3 songs, there’s a bonus track that’s in Spanish. But there’s this track that… it was actually one played on KCRW, “Amapola”, it’s a cover, it’s actually a really old song…


Scott Feldman: It’s a cover?


Gaby Moreno: Yeah, it’s a really old song that my grandmother used to sing to me. And I got sort of a lot of attention from it and a lot of people were coming up to me and saying how much they loved the Spanish song. And I said “Well, maybe I should be writing more songs in Spanish”. And I did, and then, in the end, I had like 6 songs in Spanish and 4 in English.


Scott Feldman: You think while you’re here you could maybe grace us with one of them?


Gaby Moreno: Of course, yeah, I will.


Scott Feldman: So, Gaby, what are you going to play for us today?


Gaby Moreno: I’m gonna play this song off my new album called “Daydream by Design”.


Scott Feldman: Sounds great.


– SONG –


Scott Feldman: Well, thank you so much, Gaby. That was amazing.


Gaby Moreno: Thank you very much.


Scott Feldman: Anything you want to leave the Earbits listeners with before you leave?


Gaby Moreno: Anything musically?


Scott Feldman: Verbally, musically, anything you have to say…


Gaby Moreno: Verbally?


Scott Feldman: Anything you wanna plug? Buy my music, come see me live.


Gaby Moreno: Yeah, if you like what you hear, find me on the net, I’m there and my music is on iTunes, and every little bit of support I appreciate so thank you.

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