Friday, 24 August 2012

Danny Garcia and Matt Costa

Pro-skateboarding guitarist and friend of this column, Danny Garcia, was recently in the UK to record an album with his friend Matt Costa (and half of of Belle and Sebastian) at Mogwai's Castle of Doom studio. Matt's signed to Jack Johnson's Brushfire label, and while he gets used to playing bigger and bigger shows, Danny is finding ways to split his time between skateboarding and musicianship. I caught up with the two of them to talk about music, skateboarding and life.

Danny Garcia and Matt Costa, Glasgow, 2012. Photograph by James Anderson

So what are you up to?
D: It's Matt's record. It's pretty much fully his thing. He lined it up, and figured it all out, and just invited me out. We've been out here for a couple of weeks. We went to Amsterdam, for a week, just to hang out, then hit it here.

Amsterdam can be cool if you avoid the centre.
D: It was crazy. We didn't know it was 'Queen's Day' out there. It's basically their big national holiday. The reputation is that you can do whatever you want in the street, but one this one day people go really crazy. It's packed, and everybody's fucked up. It's pretty interesting! We were gonna leave that day, and we couldn't leave, because you can't move around.

How do you two know each other?
M: Through Raymond.
D: Yeah, through Raymond Molinar.
M: Raymond would always show me stuff that Danny was working on, and he'd be all "Yeah, Danny, he's pretty good", and then we ended up being in the same place at the same time and we just sorta got along, and gradually started hanging out.

Is this the first time you guys have played together?
M: The last record that I'd done was the first time we'd done any playing and recording together. Actually, we played together with Mothers' Sons, a band Danny was in. They're not together any more.


Why did you come all the way to Scotland to record?
D: Matt talked to a load of different producers. I think he talked to the guy who works with the Flaming Lips in upstate New York or something, and he knows Tony (Dougan), so he passed the songs over to him. He thought Tony would dig it, and that it'd work out.

It's a long way to come. It must be expensive to stay here, just because it's where one producer is.
D: Yeah... I think when you get into it, that's the thing though. You get the opportunity to be somewhere else and work with different musicians. We're recording with a few of the guys from Belle and Sebastian - Bob (Kildea), Stevie (Jackson) and Chris (Geddes) are playing too. Matt's a big fan of the music that's come out of this area. He's a big Donovan fan.

Donovan was born in Glasgow, but I don't think many Glaswegians think of him when they talk about Glasgow musicians.
D: Maybe Bert Jansch?

Yeah, more so. I think Bert Jansch fits with what people think of as Glaswegian music more.
But anyway, are you going to be touring this record with Matt?
D: Probably. For the last couple of years it's been pretty easy for me to get in when I want, and get out when I need to.

So it suits your skateboarding?
D: Yeah. It's kind of the other way around. I make music to suit the skateboarding. But I've been concentrating on music more lately.

                               Danny Garcia and Matt Costa, Glasgow 2012. Photograph by James Anderson

Your Habitat shoe is out. Does that mean you're gonna have to be deep into skateboarding as soon as you go back?
D: The Habitat thing was pretty easy. I had a conversation with Joe Castrucci, and I said I didn't want to go crazy with it, and skateboard all day every day... I mean I skateboard every day, but I mean more like doing the whole thing, playing the game, although I still want to be a part of it it. Basically the conversation went, "We'll give you a shoe, and here's the very minimal list of things you have to do", you know? They're not going to pay me a bunch of money, it was a minimal agreement. Which was nice, because that's why I did it. And because I had left éS to free up my time.

So you'd left
éS before 'the announcement'?
D: Yeah. I didn't know if they were gonna can it or not.

So had it been discussed?
D: Yeah... I dunno, I think they were probably struggling, but I always hear that - that companies are struggling. So you never know what's gonna happen. So I'd left to free up that time, and when Joe asked about the shoes I was like "Nah, I feel pretty good right now, where I'm at". But then... Not that he talked me into it! But he kinda talked me into it. And it's Habitat, so it's kinda the same sponsor I've had all these years. It's not a weird shift, or some shock to get used to new people or anything. It was easy.

Easy to skate for your board sponsor's shoe division.
D: Yeah, I'd just dealt with them before. You start stacking up sponsors, and then you have like four or five jobs. Not like it's crazy, but you're dealing with four or five different groups of people, and you have different responsibilities to them, and sometimes they get in the way of each other. It's always been easy riding for Habitat. I've always been off on my own thing, you know?


What did you think about the reasons behind why Sole Tech pulled the plug on éS, and about Nike and adidas being in skateboarding?
D: It's interesting. I don't know what to think about that. It's kind of happening now, that shift, into those big brands. I don't know if I like the idea of it, but it seems to be happening nonetheless. I think you can keep peeling the layers back, and find positives and negatives about it. There's multiple sides to that coin. They're supporting a lot of good skateboarders, and keeping them in the game, keeping them around. It's a difficult one.

So you left éS without a shoe sponsor to go to. Was that not difficult?
D: No, it was kinda nice. I wanted to make time to tour, and just play music. I just wanted a little bit of time for myself, and financially I was able to get by. It's nice to get those pay cheques and things, but I'd gotten them for a few years. I wasn't completely well-off, but I was able to get by.

Talking of money, do you predict changes at Habitat now that Dyrdek's bought DNA?
D: I don't know. I wonder. I just had a conversation with Joe, and he said something about how it's back to Carter, Hill and Dyrdek. I think it'll still be a year or so before they fully transfer the thing over. I don't even understand how these things work, or how much change there's going to be. I didn't notice any change when Burton came in, you know? I'm kind of detached anyway. I think it's cool though. I'm backing the story. It's a good story. And I like Dyrdek, so it's alright.

Matt, you're signed to Brushfire Records, which is Jack Johnson's label. How did that come about?
He's pretty big.
M: I met him through Emmett Malloy, who does music videos and films. More music videos, really, but he did some surf films too. They wanted to use one of my songs for the soundtrack to one of their films, which led them to hear more of my music, and then they asked me if I wanted to go on tour. At the time I didn't know what I was getting into, because I didn't know we'd be going and playing these huge outdoor shows. I didn't know how big he was. So anyway, it was after that that he asked if I'd want to put the record out through their label. Up until then I'd just planned to put stuff out on my own. I'd even put it out myself, independently. Before that I'd just done local shows around LA, around Orange County. But it afforded me so much opportunity. Which is what you want when you're making music, but you never expect it to happen.
D: Was the label new?
M: It was relatively new. It was maybe a year or two old. They've expanded a bit since then, they have a load of different artists now.


What's your background in skateboarding?
M: Oh man... I started skating in Florida, when I was about twelve. Eventually I moved out to Huntington Beach which - at the time - was like the Mecca. It was at the time when the park was there, so it was like the meeting point for the whole world. I ended up meeting a lot of people, and I wanted to get sponsored and do the whole thing, and I guess I did. I worked my way through some different sponsors, and filmed a bunch and everything. I think I even met Danny at the Brea park, around by his house...
D: For some reason I thought we first crossed passed at that gap...
M: What gap?
D: In San Diego, the parking lot to parking lot one. Maybe it wasn't.
M: The big one?
D: Yeah, the big one. Have you never been there?
M: Yeah, I've been there. Maybe we did. I don't remember. So anyway, I just wanted to skate a lot. I dropped out of school to skate, and it kinda kept me out of trouble. I eventually broke my leg skating, so I couldn't skate any more.

More time to play the guitar?

M: Yeah... I'd gotten an electric guitar when I was twelve as well, and when I moved to Huntington and was skating a bunch I actually ended up trading my guitar to Brian Sumner for a pair of shoes and a board, 'cause he wanted to learn how to play guitar. The shoes and the board lasted about two weeks... When I finally broke my leg he'd been playing a bunch and he'd got a nicer guitar. Mine was just a janky Japanese guitar, and the frets would fall out if you got too high up. So it was kinda useless. But when I broke my leg, he'd call me up and ask me over to show him how to play certain songs. I think, randomly, he gave that guitar to Jim Greco, and it ended up somewhere, God knows where.
D: It probably ended up at the Whiskey A-Go-Go.

In pieces.
M: In pieces, or burned or something. But yeah. Of all people.


Is there a tour planned for this album? Is that something the label would deal with?
M: Touring and stuff is more at my end, with my manager and stuff. It's up to us to sort that out, but it is much easier when the label's there to help with promotion, and to let people know that you have a record out. That you exist. There's no tour planned, but it's in the works. I didn't get a chance to travel to the UK with the last record. It'd be nice to do that this time, especially since we made the record here.

If you could have a band made entirely of skateboarders, who would be in it?
D: Based on the music or the skating?!

Based on the music! So you can't just say "Cardiel on drums" or whatever.
M: Ha! It could be fun, if it wasn't based on the music...

But look at, say, Blacktop Project. Or 'Blktop Project', as they're actually called.
D: Who's that?

It's Tommy Guerrero, Ray Barbee, Matt Rodriguez and Chuck Treece. And they're awesome.

D: Ah, that's their thing? I didn't know that's what they'd called it. Those are some of the guys that are pretty awesome. Umm... Stefan Janoski can play. He's a pretty creative guy. He plays the same way he skates. He just tries it, and just stumbles into being good. He played a little bit when I was staying with him in Sacramento, and I was like "Just buy a guitar!" He'd kinda mess around with my guitar but we went one day and got him a guitar. He's pretty good. Raymond can play. I'm just naming the Habitat team for you! I don't know Leo Romero that well, but he plays music.
M: I know Don (Nguyen) has a full rock band, they put something out.
D: Don, really? I know Ethan Fowler can play, of course.


L'il Wayne or J. Cassanova?
D: (Immediately) L'il Wayne. Do you know who J. Cassanova is?
M: No, I don't know who that is.
D: Jereme Rodgers. It's like his rap pseudonym.
M: Oh, man. I'm not up to date.

It's so bad you could almost believe it was a joke. If it was somebody else, you might believe he was... I mean, you might think it was a pastiche.
M: Were you about to say "taking the piss", but you didn't? You adjusted it for the Americans.

Ha! Yeah.
D: The music's pretty screwed.

TNT or Rob Welsh?
D: I'd go Rob Welsh. From years ago, I was into that, Mad Circle and everything.
M: "There's panhandlers in the street", from that Mad Circle thing. He was doing this whole Kerouac thing. That was rad. Remember the screen was all green, it looked like night vision or something?
D: What, in 411?
M: Yeah, it was the Industry section. With Justin Gerard in it.

Talking of something like Mad Circle, what companies just now do you think are doing things right?

D: I don't pay too much attention to stuff like that... Slave, I like that. Not so much the company, but some of the artwork's pretty cool. Some of the Roger stuff's cool, I like some of their riders. It's cool how they splice together all the video clips. It's a kinda Workshop vibe.

Timecode.
D: Timecode.
M: There's a Vonnegut short story that springs to mind. A story in Welcome to the Monkey House. Sorry I can't elaborate any more than that!

Hieroglyphics or Gang Starr?
M: Oh, Hieroglyphics. But they're close.
D: I think I listen to Gang Starr more. But yeah, it's close.

 Matt Costa and Danny Garcia, Glasgow 2012. Photograph by James Anderson

What skate videos do you think have really benefited from the music? Or are there any where the music ruined it? Like the Rhythm video, maybe...
D: Yeah, that's the one that popped into my head. But it's funny, because now that I'm 'in' skateboarding, you can be biased towards certain things but when that video came out I was totally fine with it. I was just a fan, and I don't think I latched onto the music, but I still didn't question it. (FTC's) Penal Code is a reference for great music. That turned me on to a load of stuff. But the Rhythm video, it hung around - we're talking about it now, you know? You either want to be offending somebody or pleasing somebody. Maybe you need to go either hard left or hard right.

I thought it was weird at the time, but at the same time I figured they had a reason to do that, and therefore it must be the right thing to do.
D: Yeah, it doesn't always have to agree with you. Skateboarding's so abstract that you sometimes forget you can do whatever you want. Even on a skateboard. But it's human nature that you create these walls, and these rules, almost to a pinpoint where it's like, "This is it." I might not agree with it, but I don't mind widening those rules, and opening it up a little bit.

Everybody just skates to indie now.

D: Yeah. It's just... Rock. And even on your skateboard. Not that I'm backing it, or that I would do it, but it's funny that you just can't push mongo. It's just an unwritten rule. These rules are just kind of created out of the air.

Or like 360 flips, if your back foot's too far off, then you're doing it wrong.
D: Yeah, you're wrong! There's tons of rules like that,
M: Going back to what we were saying, I think a by-product of Penal Code was kids listening to their parents' record collections. They had two Procul Harum songs, right?

Yeah, 'Conquistador' and 'Whiter Shade of Pale'.

M: And Van Morrison. That was how I found out about 'And It Stoned Me', because I was looking for 'Caravan'. I went through my dad's records and I found that. The first time I heard 'Domino' was in an old Sophisto video. It was the first video I bought.


That was Andy Howell's company?
M: I don't know... Jamie Thomas was on them, and I think Drake Jones was on 'em. They had that 'Get Thy Bearings' song on the video too, way before it was on Reynolds' part in the Baker video. I thought that was, like, a reggae song! Eventually when I got that record, 'Hurdy Gurdy Man', I was like "Holy shit, this is that song!" and I freaked out.

Plan B videos were good for music. Like the Steve Miller Band in Virtual Reality, that was rad.
D: Plan B got me turned on to Cream. Jeremy Wray in Second Hand Smoke.
M: It's a crazy one, but Aerosmith for Rodney Mullen! I remember loving that!

Why do you think that people are so pedestrian with their music choices these days?

D: It's hard now because everybody has to pay for everything. It's trickier to get what you want. Video makers these days can't even get half way with it. It's just "Shit, we can't use Cream". Even if they have permission, they're just scared to do it. These big companies like Nike are so scared of lawsuits. Even if it was agreed they'd need signatures, they'd need pictures of the artist signing it... They're so scared to do it that it's not worth it. Like, "Who cares if it's a good song? We just don't want to get sued".

You skated to a Françoise Hardy song in one of the Habitat Field Logs. Are you a fan?
Are you a fan of any music that people might consider 'exotic'?
D: I didn't choose that song, I didn't know we were gonna do that. But I listen to a lot of British stuff, sixties British stuff, and a lot of American stuff, and a little bit of South American. The Brazilian Tropicalia thing.


You're South American.
D: I was born in California, but my Mom was born in Peru, yeah.

Is there any music you love that you'd never skate to?
D: Probably most of the music I listen to. I've never been able to have the ability to hear songs in the skateboard video context. I don't think like a video editor, things just appeal to me sonically. Most of the music I like wouldn't be proper for skating.

John Lennon or Jim Morrison?
M: John Lennon.
D: John Lennon. I never got into Jim Morrison. It's cool, but I never got down with it.

Sonic Youth or The Sonics?
M: I don't even really know The Sonics.
D: The Sonics are a garage band, sort of like a 'Nuggets' band. I never really got into Sonic Youth.
M: I'd say Sonic Youth, because I've heard of them. Just from Ed Templeton.

What do you guys think of composed music for skate videos? Obviously there was the Flip video, but it goes back to Mr. Dibbs doing the music for the Habitat section in Photosynthesis. Do you think there's a future in that?
D: Yeah, why not? Especially if it was skaters. I've even talked about doing it. It'd be fun to really do it. I've never gotten the chance to make music for a video, it's always just the case that you get a call one day before they need it. If you're a skateboarder who is a musician, and understands a little bit about the video thing, it might be interesting to see. If they took it seriously and had time.

You skated to one of your own tracks in a shoe ad, didn't you?
D: Yeah. But once again, everything that's ever been in a video, they needed it so quick. Usually I don't even 'do' it, I just find something that I've recorded already. I've never actually had an opportunity to actually spend time with it and think about it.


Do you think there's too much music available, on things like Soundcloud? It was much easier to be selective with MySpace.
M: Yeah, but I think the ratio of good and bad is still going to be the same, because it's still humans making it. There's always going to be taste, and there's always going to be reaction to things that are popular, or other things that have been done. The idea of what constitutes 'music' is the same thing that makes humans human. It's something that comes from us. Even if it's just pushing a button or something.

Do you think there's more of a nobility to being a musician than to being a skateboarder? A lot of people would.
D: Like it's a hierarchy? No, I don't think so. Maybe it's more romantic. But it's the same thing. You're just playing with a toy, you know? That's really it. You're trying to create something out of this piece of wood, and people connect to it, and that's why they'll back you. Somehow they connect to it because they do the same thing. Who knows? It's a funny idea when you step back and look at it.
M: For me, personally - yes. I remember skating with people who were just really natural at it, and I always felt I had to work extra hard to do some things that maybe someone could learn in a day. As far as songs go, I feel a lot more comfortable doing it.

Skateboarding's dangerous, and it's hard. Do you think that's an equivalent value to the emotion that goes into writing a song?
M: Obviously there's an artistic side to skateboarding, but it's more of a physical strain than music. Physically, you could be really dexterous and play lots of crazy scales, but writing songs takes a much more introverted approach than skateboarding. I find that anyway. But there are so many parallels. It has a different validity to each individual. I definitely have less anxiety when I'm about to write a song compared to rolling up to a handrail!


But being signed to a label is similar to filming for a section. Now people are expecting something good from you.
M: Oh yeah. The expectations are always being raised.
D: It's internal stuff. It's always made up by yourself. You kind of give yourself those pressures. It's nice to do that, but I find the with the people who are a little more carefree, it comes out more naturally. Delivering something with less anxiety seems to be a little bit nicer. More natural.

So how does the satisfaction vary between writing a song and learning a new trick?

D: It kinda is the same thing. It's that funny sense of accomplishment. I don't know why the hell I strive for it. Most of us need a little bit of that every day, whatever it is we do. I get the same feeling if there's a big load of dishes and I finish the dishes. I just feel that I can go to sleep at night and feel comfortable. It's the slight obsessive compulsive thing that everyone has. I little amount is healthy, a crazy amount not so much.

It's a healthy thing to have if you're a musician or a skateboarder. When you need to discipline yourself to get stuff done.

D: That's the thing. I've seen it in people where it's so too much. If you're so obsessed with making music where you stay in all day, it's like being in jail. There's a certain point where I feel bad for people who are so obsessive, because they're kind of imprisoned in that obsession.

Danny, do you see yourself - at the moment - as a professional musician?
D: I don't know. I don't think so. Trying to make a living off it is kinda tricky. Any time I'm doing something like this, I'm paying for it. I spend a lot of money, you know? Skateboarding kinda allows me to do it. I could do it, but I don't know if it could be a living. I mean, that's a living for a really small amount of people. 

Do you think you will, eventually?
D: It's kinda hard. I don't know. I mean, I could do. I don't have any ties, you know? I'm single, I don't have a family, so as far as going out on the road, I could do that. To make it as a musician you have to constantly do that. It just depends if you could be away most of the year. I guess I could do it for a little bit.

But you were just talking about the parallel between being a professional musician and a professional skateboarder. Would that not make the transition easier?
D: Yeah, maybe. Maybe with the lifestyle. Yeah, it's really similar, so it's just a matter of if I want to do it. Maybe that's why I find myself playing with the idea, and being here, experiencing it. I'm benefiting from my skateboarding, which allowed me to do it; and benefiting from being able to do it because of my friend doing it. It's the experience that I'm comin' after.


What things inspire you to make music, besides music?
M: One thing I'll say, is that when I was growing up, watching skate videos, that was the first time I actually 'placed' music with movement. I think that spending so much time watching sound and motion together played a lot into how - when I started writing - it was more of a visual thing than it was an aggressive thing, or whatever. I was always going to this visual place for it. I think that had an impact on why I started songwriting.

A visual sound...
M: Yeah. That was the goal.
D: I've never thought about it like that. For me it's the feeling of accomplishment, the need to get something done, day-to-day, and feeling kinda good for the day. Not just to get it done and out the way, but to feel good about something. Almost posterity too, for some reason. To log these things, and have 'em. Just like how you would take a picture.

That's the skateboard mentality talking.
D: Yeah. I would go out and shoot a photo, just because it felt good and it would put me in a good mood.
M: It makes your place on the Earth feel worthwhile for a little bit longer.
D: Because we're humans, everybody's doing something all day. Pecking away at something, whatever the hell it is. Everyone's got their own version, but that's my version.

The basic need to create and evolve.
D: Yeah, that's it. Especially to kind of pass along some sort of tradition. And to live longer. We all know we're going to die, so in a weird way, I think that informs the way we act sometimes. We're going to die fairly soon, so in a weird way you're always trying to live a little bit longer by fuckin' painting on walls or things like that. Trying to communicate longer.
M: For me it's almost like a barometer of who I am. Like I'm getting to know myself every day. Placing yourself and gauging yourself. If I don't have it I almost have a self-crisis. I need it to reflect myself, almost like a mirror. Even just to know how far you've come. It's the closest thing to perceiving yourself from the outside, and a lot of times it helps you learn what you need to improve about yourself in other parts of your life. Interpersonally, or maybe things about yourself that you've neglected in the past.
D: Gaining perspective, and being able to look at yourself objectively.

Who inspires you musically?
D: There's been a lot, and it changes over the years.
M: I like Dando Shaft a lot. I've been listening to them a lot lately. We're gonna go see some Chopin today.
D: I get into stuff sonically, like the way things sound, and sometimes I get into songwriters. Sometimes you just get into the attitude of something. It's usually American music of the last hundred years. That's what I always go back to.



Danny's solo album - as Reverend Baron - is available on Amazon, iTunes and Spotify right now, and it's great.

 Thanks to Danny and Matt for the drinks. See you guys next time. Massive thanks to James at North Colour for taking the photos.

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