Diego Garcia Goes Solo

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After a few years, when you don’t hear about a notable artist you’ve come to know and love, you often wonder where they’ve gone. Typically, they’re up to something. Case in point with Diego Garica — lead singer of New York City-based band Elefant and man about town. Rest assured, Diego’s been hard at work at a new pursuit: crafting music solo. Diego first came onto the music scene around the same time I started to write about music. Back in 2003, he was one of the first artists I ever interviewed. We’ve remained friends through the years, and he’d give me updates along the way about new work. One night in particular, back in January of this year, I bumped into him at the Bowery Ballroom after seeing The Sword perform. Within seconds, right in the middle of Bowery’s beer-drenched floor, I found a set of headphones on my ears. “Jessica, you have to hear this new song I just recorded tonight,” said Diego.

One month later, a similar encounter occurred and he played me more songs. Impressed by the change and new direction of sound versus what I’ve always known with Elefant, I asked, “What’s this?” He responded, “My solo recordings.” Instantaneously, I knew this new body of work was something special: Diego’s best music to date.

Jorje Elbret — formally of Lansing Dreiden and now lead singer of the band Violins — is producing Diego’s solo work in a studio that Diego doesn’t call a studio, but what he describes as a “laboratory” of sorts on 16th Street. The new music and its recordings are string-based — acoustic guitar and cello to be exact. One of Diego’s friends, Danny Bensi (known from the band Priestbird) has been his partner in crime, playing cello alongside Diego over the past five months. Diego is recording all of his new material without a label. “I don’t want to compromise. I want to follow my gut, and a label — and all of that support and distribution and marketing — I know, will come eventually.”

Over tea, coffee, and calamari at Pastis, Diego sat down with me to formally talk, for the first time, about his solo work, setting the record straight and sharing what’s to come. (Specifically, a private performance for Karl Lagerfeld. Not so bad, eh?) Again, right after hello, Diego put a set of headphones on my ears and played me a track that only he and Jorje had heard: “In My Heart,” a tango-flamenco based melody filled with warmth. When the headphones finally came off, we talked about his new direction.

When I first heard your new music, I instantly felt I was hearing you again, like you went back to being “Diego” … This solo record is from a malady of love, specifically and inspired by Laura, my ex-girlfriend. I think it’s a running script, and I think I know how it ends, and that’s that. That is what this album is … it’s about closure.

Have you played any of the new music for Laura, since she’s the muse? No. Nothing. I’m accepting the fact that my story with her doesn’t have a Hollywood ending. I think that’s just the way it is. I’m accepting the fact that she was someone very special to me who defined what love is, yet it’s over. There’s closure with her finally, with this album I’m writing.

It’s more revealing as well versus Elefant’s music. There’s maturity and wisdom in the lyrics. It’s not light. Especially in the song “In My Heart” — that tango vibe, which as everyone knows is a very mature dance. Yes, I think so. When I made the first Elefant record, I was singing for my sisters and my mother. They were my audience in my head, and I think there’s a reason the results came out the way they did. On this solo album, I’m singing more for my grandmother. I’m singing for an older soul, and I’m channeling something older. I am going into the studio with Elefant though in August — going back to that reckless innocence of just picking up a girl at a train stop and driving to the ocean. It’s a light vibe. I feel a bit balanced in a sense making this heavy and longing album with my solo work, knowing that in a month or two, I’ll be singing about “candy” and “girls” with a smile on my face. I wouldn’t say this solo album is full of smiles and happy … it’s soulful as fuck.

What artists have inspired you from that tango era? There’s one that no one will know, and your life will be changed like mine was if you listen to him. His name is Pierro. He was an Italian immigrant to Argentina, who was just amazing. Just insane. I had to order the record through Mexico City.

Where have you performed your new music? We’ve played a few pop-up shows here in New York — this bar called Smith & Mills in Tribeca, and I just went out to Los Angeles for three weeks and performed out there as well. I’m also performing at Galerie Gmurzynsk in Switzerland during Art Basel. There’s a dinner in honor of Karl Lagerfeld due to his previous work with the gallery. It’s great because with the new music is the same vibe of the gallery — old school Europe. Danny and I will be wearing tuxes and performing the cello and acoustic guitar. It’ll be very elegant and appropriate for the music.

Who approached you to perform? When we got back to New York after Los Angeles, we ended up playing at the Four Seasons in the Grill Room, and this woman who came decided to have us perform at the gallery opening for Karl. It was us or Kanye West.

So, essentially, you beat out Kanye West to personally perform for Karl Lagerfeld? Yeah, I guess you could say that. After performing in Elefant for so long, I am very lucky to have a great network of friends and people I know from that experience. So, this gallery opportunity is just one example of that privilege. I’m looking forward to sharing this new music, not just with Karl, but with everyone.