Can you call an artist who devotes his first solo album to songs about losing the love of his life and his follow-up record to songs about winning her back anything but a romantic?
Look at the entire career of Diego Garcia, however, and you will discover a song stylist who has unapologetically romanticized nearly every aspect of his career, from his days with the New York indie band Elefant to his current reputation as an unexpected stylistic hybrid of Julio Iglesias and Leonard Cohen. There is even romantic relish as Garcia, a Detroit native born to Argentine parents, recounts his initial fascination with one of his truest loves: the guitar.
"My mom had a guitar that I would see every day when I would open up the closet to get my shoes for school," says Garcia, who performs Saturday at the Singletary Center for the Arts. "It was an old Spanish-style guitar she had from when she was growing up in Argentina. I was drawn to the mystery of it, I have to say. But it wasn't until I was about 15 that my best friend at the time signed up for guitar lessons. So I told my mother, 'Mom, that looks cool. Can I try?' So I got myself a guitar, and I think I learned every Nirvana and Beatles song I could.
"Right away, I was just writing these little songs about a girl I had a crush on. It was really a private thing. Then I went to college. That's where I grew into a songwriter."
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Garcia's songs landed him in New York, where he created a national buzz with Elefant's 2003 debut album. If the band's hot-wired, post-punk music seemed unromantic, the times that surrounded it didn't.
"I was running on pure instinct then, which was the beautiful thing about being a 20-year-old in a rock band," Garcia says. "There was not much thinking going on then, which was a blessing in many respects. I went head first into that sort of rock 'n' roll fantasy. I lived it. I did it. Luckily, I came out standing. But I grew up, and I feel that's critical for an artist."
Growing up for Garcia meant digging deeper into songs by such poetically inclined composer/songsmiths as Cohen and Jacques Brel, as well as the subtle vocal phrasings of singers like Iglesias, Piero and Roberto Carlos. But a serious dose of heartbreak, along with the grand conciliation that followed, proved the contrasting catalysts for Garcia's two career-defining solo albums, 2011's Laura and 2013's Paradise.
"My songs almost always reflect whatever I'm going through to some extent," Garcia says. "Laura dealt with heartbreak after a pretty bad breakup and all these stages you go through in getting over someone. The irony there is that once I thought I reached a sort of closure, four or five years after we had broken up, we found each other again and formed a new love. We married and I went in to make Paradise, which is more of a celebration. It still leaves in all the real things you go through in a natural relationship, reminding yourself not to take it for granted because you could end up all by yourself again.
"I spent about four years making Laura and experimenting with different arrangements until I finally settled on a combination of Spanish guitar, a sort of '70s style production for the rhythm section and very quiet, almost whispery delivery of vocals. That really fits the songs, the message and the mood that I was going for. With Paradise, we held on to a lot of the ingredients. I think they were a little more developed. Plus, there was a lot more to celebrate."