Our little secret is neither little nor secret any more. Since our last conversation with songstress Gaby Moreno where she presented us with her debut album, Still the Unknown, the Guatemalan musician has added many tour dates, live shows and now a sophomore album to her trajectory. Illustrated Songs is Moreno’s 12-track album that, as the singer herself explains, is a throwback to the way that music was made some years ago when the sequence of the songs were carefully mapped out to create an overall inviting musical story- an art form then known as an album.
In this early morning conversation, Moreno vigorously talks about the grandeur in this album where influences of soul and Spanish ballads explode in a synergy of musical pieces that impeccably represent a young artist with a rich, old soul that understands that music making is all about going big, or going home.
Gaby Moreno: Forty or fifty years ago musicians would think about the sequence of an album. Now, people are more focused on making singles because they think entire records won’t sell. But I put a lot of thought into my releases so people can have that experience of hearing an album in its entirety.
We tried different sequences like placing a song with strings here and then another with a left and a right turn there. I even included an interlude just to give the album that whole vibe of really telling a story. We also wanted to find something that would make a nice connection between the two musical worlds that are prominent in Illustrated Songs: soul and Spanish ballads, and the interlude does just that. It was inspired by Francisco Gabilondo, a Mexican composer that performed under the name of “Cri-Cri: El Grillito Cantor”. He, along with the songs I grew up listening to like Los Panchis and Aretha Franklin, inspired me. Those are my two worlds.
The first album was very organic with not a lot of instrumentation. So for my second release I really wanted to dress it up with a more orchestral and cinematic sound. I wanted horns, strings and wood rings, and I was definitely hearing all of that in my head as I was writing the songs.
But what’s interesting about Illustrated Songs is that all the songs were recorded live, there were few overdubs. Most of it was played live with strings and all, so it was definitely a big album in that sense. On “Mess A Good Thing”, for example, we had a total of 12 people playing! We had horns, strings and a rhythm section. It was amazing.
We had Conan O’Brien’s horn section on the album as well. That’s how big this project was! They’re so talented and just really fun to be around. We also had my traveling band, a guitar, mandolin, string, horn and woodwind arrangements, and legendary jazz musician Bob Mintzer, who is an amazing bass clarinet and saxophone player. A lot of work, heart and soul went into this album and I just hope people really hear this album from beginning to end. I’m very proud of it.
Also in Illustrated Songs, I sing about something that is very important and dear to my heart, which is immigration. “Ave Que Emigra” I wrote based on my experiences as an immigrant coming from Guatemala. It talks about leaving everything behind: my culture, my family, and about feeling overwhelmed in this monster of a city. I wrote it around the time that the issue with immigration laws in Arizona surfaced and well, it’s really for anyone who has migrated from one place to another in search of a better life. It’s not just about Latin immigrants. It can be about anyone. Immigration is a general topic and not just about Latin people.
“No Regrets” is a bossa nova song I began to write in Spanish and then switched to English in the second verse just for the fun of it. It’s a song about waking up and thinking you have the entire day to sleep or do whatever else you want to do. It’s about living life to the fullest with no regrets. I’d like to think that’s what I’m doing right now you know, no regrets.
I love doing bilingual albums. I have people approach me all the time telling me how much they enjoy my Spanish songs. Even if they don’t understand the language of the words, they understand the language of the music and that’s what matters most. French, Italian, Spanish or English, in the end it’s the music that moves you. If you can sing it in two or three languages you can reach more people. But I don’t do it just for that reason. Expressing myself in two languages is part of who I am. I can’t deny that nor do I want to.
Illustrated Songs will be released independently on April 5, 2011. You can catch Gaby Moreno in all her grandeur on April 29th for her official Los Angeles CD release celebration, and meanwhile, stream some of her current songs here.
“Illustrated Songs” (2011)
- Mess a Good Thing
- Y Tu Sombra
- Mean Old Circus
- Ave Que Emigra
- Sing Me Life
- No Regrets
- Daydream By Design
Photo credit: Shanila Menendez