In dreams with David Garza
Tuesday night at the Continental Club, David Garza steps onstage immaculately suave. Hair slicked backed, black sport coat and shirt unbuttoned to his chest, he surveys the crowd with his head hung down as he tunes his acoustic guitar. With a flick of the head, Garza slides the sound check into the opening song.
The cold January air rifles through the back of the club each time the door opens, but the room is slowly warming, bodies beginning to move. The crowd crawls closer, drawn to the sweep of Garza's soulful, staccato voice, slowly closing the wide swath of dance floor in front of the stage. Garza's dark eyes constantly dance across the room with each passing song, his half-cocked smile cutting into his steep cheekbones.
As if by some mysterious cue, rhythm returned back to him from the crowd, Garza suddenly knows he has them. He drops the jacket into his guitar case on the side of the stage and trades his acoustic for a cherry-red electric. The girls now lined at the front of the stage begin to move with the propulsion from two drum kits, and the room seems to darken, their eyes closed, fingers flitting and hips swaying. Guys stand to the side watching the seduction in each caress of a note, themselves also moving now.
As Garza breaks into "Discoball World," nothing exists beyond the dance floor. The swirl of blissed-out brothers and dreadlocked white girls envelopes the room. Garza's eyes glint with a mischievous flash, the thrill of manifesting this euphoric enclave, before disappearing behind closed lids and the song's closing fevered plea:
"Can I dance with you, baby? Can I dance with you?"
"Why are people at a live show?" asks Garza, 37, the next day over lunch. "The way I see things is, they're at a show to be moved, physically, spiritually, emotionally – on an intellectual level, maybe, maybe not. Most people are there to have their asses moved, so if you free their ass, their mind will follow. It's the natural progression. If your body believes it, then your mind's going to be more receptive."
Sitting at the counter of the Frisco on Burnet Road, Garza dashes Tabasco sauce onto his french fries as the waiter refills his coffee mug. The clatter of plates and thick air of grill grease spills out from the kitchen. Garza melds easily into the diner aesthetic, an appreciation for anonymous camaraderie and places where even the middle of the day just feels like a runover from the night before.
Yet he never seems completely at ease, either, pivoting in perpetual motion atop the bar stool, eyes glancing furtively around the diner. He's simultaneously guarded and free-flowing when he talks, expounding quietly in quick spurts as his ideas jump with a stream of consciousness that mirrors his music.
"What one cannot help is the pace of your song, of your story, whether it's a wonderful story or not," Garza offers. "You can't help your pacing. It's the pace my mind moves at. I'm not going to slow it down.
"I just want the song to keep up with the thought," he continues after a brief pause and a bite of his grilled cheese sandwich. "Sometimes eight bars go by, and you can take people eight different places versus keeping them in one place. Words have power that way, especially when it's involved in shaking an ass and moving. Then people aren't listening to the words; they're hearing them, but they're not listening to them. Especially when you're in a crowd, you're not sitting there analyzing."
Garza digresses into constant contradictions, but with a Whitmanesque nonchalance that understands all perspectives to be true. He denies he's a storyteller in one statement and insists upon album narratives in the next. He extols the digital-music revolution but frets that music has become simply ones and zeros.
It's not surprising to find Garza's mind jumping across contradictions given that his music revels in unlikely connections unwound through both trembling tenor ballads and excited alliteration spun atop throbbing beats. Few artists manage the streetwise scat and hyperintellectual allusion Garza unloads, lines such as, "I saw you, and my heart skanked in kinky ragga beats, like some Sly and Robbie crossed with Shelley and Keats," from the title track of his new album, Dream Delay.
"The jiving is a gift, and talking trash, you know, basically ranting," he shrugs. "But you can read too much, get too involved in the world of words, and music is beyond – way, way, way beyond – the world of words. The hard part is shutting up long enough to let the music do its job, to just lift you up. If anything, you can choke a song with words.
"You can convey a lot through words, but lyrics aren't necessarily words," he adds. "You can't take too much at one time, because you just want to feel it, you know?"
There's a certain Zen rationality to his outlook, Garza a dweller on the threshold catching glimpses of something bigger, grander, through those moments when communication and understanding break down into possibilities more affective. His songs are likewise populated with outsiders searching for that instant of connection, from the "extra virgins" and "laptop loners" of "Discoball World" on 1998's This Euphoria to the "border brooders" that "club rhythms and cannibalize rhymes" in Delay's "Minority Boys Got $." The conduit of connection always returns to the music, even as it's accepted as fleeting, intuitive, and intangible.
"It's the chase, the journey," Garza insists. "We're not going to get it, so we might as well have a good time getting there in our minds. That thing is what we can't control, the thing that we are all struggling and stuttering for words to convey that can't be conveyed in words. That's the musical language or language of cinema or the language of having a child, of skateboarding or skydiving or whatever. Something that is an action that is not in the prison of the world of words. It doesn't matter if they're in Spanish, Italian, English, or whatever; they're still all boxes."
A Strange Mess of Flowers
Garza has always wandered a restless path. Born the fourth of five children in Irving, Texas, he grew up on a soundtrack of mariachi music and conjunto cut against the Beatles and Hank Williams. He was already a North Texas notable when he landed in Austin in 1989 on a music scholarship to the University of Texas.
Garza spent more time busking on the campus' West Mall than in its classrooms, fronting the aptly named trio of freshman music majors Twang Twang Shock-a-Boom. He eventually left school and the band to light out on a successful solo career, touring incessantly across the state, packing clubs, and unloading thousands of recordings from his van. Garza rated as the No. 2 Musician of the Decade by Chronicle readers in the 1990s, second behind only Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Not surprisingly, the majors soon came calling. Garza signed to Atlantic, releasing This Euphoria and then Overdub in 2001. The compromise and glacial pace of the major label system chafed with Garza's DIY independence, and he lashed back in songs such as Overdub's "Say Baby": "If they ain't down with your dub lingo, if they don't hear no single, when you're trying to get on the radio, don't sweat when you quit yourself and go solo."
"One thing that I know to be true is that equating the recording with a dollar sign is the worse idea for any musician ever," Garza declares. "That's something that the managers and the industry people just don't want to believe, because what else are they going to sell them?"
Garza has always maintained an absurdly prolific recording output, yet Dream Delay marks his first disc since 2004's 4-CD set of personal favorites, A Strange Mess of Flowers. Instead, he's released a string of EPs online, seven in the past five years.
"It's immediate, and it's free," he says of the digital downloads. "It's a real offering. It's a gift, and to be able to do this is a gift. I have more than enough songs, so why let stuff sit there? If you've got it and it's fresh, serve it. If it coincides with your dream album project, great; if not, so what? At least it gets to be of use to people instead of just sitting there.
"It's an amazing time, because I don't feel like I'm part of the music industry at all," he continues enthusiastically. "It's a blast. It feels like no one's a part of the music industry; everyone's just here. But really, the writers, the musicians, everybody on all sides are going to just have to relax. That's the key. Everybody's freakin' out about what's going to happen next, but we don't know. I won't starve. You can always sell some guitars or whatever."
Between Garza's relentless touring and slew of online offerings, Dream Delay was recorded on the 17,000-acre retreat of Sonic Ranch studios, 30 miles southeast of El Paso. Garza laid down nearly all the instrumentation himself, serving as his own producer, but he had a specific sound that he wanted already shaped in his mind, his vision for the album sprung forth almost fully formed.
"This record just came to me," he says. "In 2004, I knew the story; I knew the line and the arc and the crux of this. I knew what happens. It was like a cool dream that I would find myself daydreaming about. I knew then that this record has to be called Dream Delay; it has to have a song about the dead French dudes, has to have a song about the bass. It just does.
"So I just followed that. It's my Quadrophenia, my Tommy. Why else make an album? Songs are songs. You can put them on the Web, on your MySpace, but the album as a whole? Maybe it goes back to the story thing. This album is my story."
What exactly that story may be is difficult to decipher, but Dream Delay moves within a familiar set of themes for Garza. From the opening track "2 Sinners in the Garden" to the closing Rufus Wainwright-esque piano ballad "Loveless," the album pursues that moment of freedom and connection, the ecstasy of release and security of love. It's in the constant movement toward that ephemeral, seemingly unattainable paradise that glimpses of beauty are allowed to emerge. In a sense, it's the same story Garza's been chasing his entire life.
"You just have to move faster," says Garza with a flash of a smile. "That's the trick, move faster than the speed of boredom."
Lullaby of Barland
At the Continental Club, they're still moving. Nowhere does the man onstage seem more comfortable than orchestrating a pulsing groove that runs through the crowd like an electric jolt.
For 3½ hours every Tuesday night, this is the world David Garza spins. The unchoreographed set list is predicated upon the scene unfolding before him, an anticipation of what will connect, what will move the asses. It's a spell that can't last and is more precious for its frailty.
Up front, the girls just keep dancing.