Search The Line of Best Fit
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Angélica Garcia and the whispers of intuition

20 March 2024, 08:00

Angélica Garcia tells Sophie Leigh Walker how she recalibrated her sound by transforming grief into an act of universal healing.

The English language, for Angélica Garcia, feels like a sword fight. It is a game of tact and precision; cool and emphatic, with sharpened edges.

But Spanish? “Spanish feels like writing poetry and looking out a window as it’s raining outside,” she says. “It takes longer to carve a sentence, but it’s very beautiful and dignified. It’s like tasting very good food: it just stays with you; it sweeps across you.” And what about Spanglish? “Well, Spanglish is a fuckin’ backyard party that’s lit.”

Gemelo, the name of the pop auteur’s third record, refers to the twin self: an aspect of ourselves that exists beyond the limitations that we experience in our incarnated life. But duality doesn’t always imply harmony. There are parts of Garcia’s life that sit like oil and water. One moment she speaks with a solemnity that feels almost like a kind of clairvoyance, the next, she taps into the slang and vivacity of a girl born on Californian soil, but whose blood runs both Mexican and Salvadoran. She is a woman, but she is queer; she is 29-years-old, yet childless. Pulled by tides of traditions while swimming against them, her life has been defined by being both and yet neither. Gemelo marks a reckoning. Garcia untangles her roots, dismantles the cycles which help and harm, and calls upon the spirits of her ancestors to create a record which is the ultimate reclamation of power.


Gemelo was born from major losses. “It’s a process of transforming grief,” she explains. “It begins at the moment that grief strikes, and then it ends with a song that’s about being grateful for being human, for having lived. It’s about how personal grief is, how intrusive, how volatile it can be. It really pulled me apart in a lot of ways, and put me back together.” That’s why there is a rawness to this record: we begin with an open wound. In the midst of the global pandemic, she ended an engagement and made the decision to leave her home in Virginia to return to her family in LA. There, she began to reflect on the source of these personal fractures that stretched beyond her and behind her, far into the past.

“I found, during the process of making this album, that I couldn’t always trust my mind,” Garcia shares. “Sitting in silence, having lost all these things, I was really starting to pay attention to my body. I remember reading somewhere that ‘anxiety screams, and intuition whispers’, while trying to process this grief. I realised that the quiet voice within my body was the one actually guiding me in life, and that is the one I wanted to speak through this music.”

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Photo by Carlos Garcia

To amplify that gentle voice, she had to silence the conditioning that was drowning it out. “I felt like I didn’t fit - and I was trying so hard to. And then I just started to realise that I’m not fucking happy,” she insists. “I was trying to be a good girl, a socially acceptable girl, a good daughter and granddaughter, a good musician. A good everything. I was giving my power into other people’s definition to whatever ‘good’ was. And you know what’s fucked up? Sometimes, they conflicted with each other. Sometimes, it was a whole-ass paradox. It was like, ‘What do you want, dude?’”

Her previous album, 2019’s Cha Cha Palace, was an ode to her hometown of El Monte in the San Gabriel Valley and her Latin lineage – an attempt to lean into her identity. “I so badly wanted to connect,” reflects Garcia. “It was an offering to the culture that raised me, but it had also brought up some painful realisations about the ways my culture has also left me out.”

Her relationship with the Spanish language is just as tangled, and the decision for Gemelo to be performed entirely in her mother tongue was not an easy one. As a child, before she could even speak sentences, she learned prayers in Spanish with her grandmother. “But then you go to American public school, and everything’s English – then you get embarrassed. There’s a shame in speaking Spanish because our parents and grandparents had tried too hard to assimilate as immigrants. But then, as I got older, it became painful not to speak Spanish: you can look like a whole-ass Latina, you can eat the foods, be a part of the culture, and then, at the same time, not removed from it because you don’t speak the way they do.” When she showed her grandparents Cha Cha Palace, even though it was a vibrant collage devoted to their lives – with “Jícama” making Barack Obama’s end of year music list and reaching international acclaim – they couldn’t understand it. “I was like, ‘Man, I made this for myself, for the Latinx kids, for the familias, and there’s a whole side of this lineage it won’t connect with because it’s not in the right language,” Garcia reflects.


And so she started to write her poetry in Spanish - although it was a road paved with errors. “There’s something so controversial about the properness of Spanish,” she says. “You have some Chicanos who are like, ‘It’s the language of the coloniser, fuck it’, some Chicanos who only know the slang, and others who insist on it being spoken with proper grammar. I’ve realised that it has to do with people feeling respected.” At one point, she had to entirely re-record Gemelo after playing it to Spanish speakers. Yet, even as she had different translators working with her on the lyrics, they each brought their own distinct interpretation to this prismatic language. Even in its finished form, there are still parts that are technically incorrect, but those mistakes are expressions of a cultural truth that resonate with the children of immigrants who must make a home in the grey areas.

“Baby me has really grown,” Garcia smiles, reflecting on the progression from her 2016 debut, Medicine For Birds to the arrival of Gemelo. She began a young woman in her bedroom armed with a guitar, Americana rhythms – and that collar-grabbing voice with scores to settle. Now, her voice is a force over which she has absolute command: she draws from it a wellspring of colour, texture and emotion which transcends the parameters of language. Working with producer and close friend Carlos Arévalo of Chicano Batman, his instincts for psychedelic, free-form channelled through a pop lens meant that he understood when Garcia demanded “elemental” sounds for Gemelo. “I wanted beats sounding like dirt getting kicked in your face, or synths that sounded very watery and cavernous, or rigid like rocks,” she explains. “I commend Carlos for putting up with my crazy ass ideas – ‘It has to feel more like lava!'”

Gemelo is her first album signed to Partisan Records, an independent home for artists who break glass ceilings with story-driven sounds. IDLES, Fontaines DC and Blondshell have all found an avenue for expression under the label. Partisan's Zena White remembers the day Gemelo cut through the noise. The label’s co-founder, Tim Putnam, instantly asked to hear the record in full; when they sat down to listen, they were captivated by Garcia’s latest incarnation. But Partisan wanted her to make a significant, but unexpected change: “At that point, there was still a song in English, and we felt it broke the spell.”

Garcia was immediately receptive to the change, actively welcoming feedback and collaboration. “And so, from the very minute that we started talking to her, we just knew she was a special person,” shares White. “We’re always investing in the artist, and the art is a by-product of the person. It can make things hard when you make a decision to go into a partnership as a label to know if you’re going to be aligned, but with Angélica, it was clear she was listening. She had a very strong vision, and we had to be involved. We love storytelling – the label is called Partisan for a reason. We’re not following trends, we’re working with meaningful art that hasn’t reached its full potential, and we build audiences around that… Gemelo was a real departure from what she’d done before, and we wanted to work with her to reset what those expectations of her are. That, in itself, has been a journey.”

Garcia’s music has evolved past the personal, toward something that captures what we go through as humans collectively. Through this record, she has found a way to refract the isolation of her grief and build a legacy of togetherness. But it wasn’t a place she arrived at easily. The artwork for Gemelo is her face which emerges, unadorned, from the darkness that surrounds her. “I had this whole panicking thing, because something about the cover was just setting me off,” she reflects. “I loved the photo, so I didn’t understand what it was. I thought about it, and I realised the problem is my anxiety about my face being this big on the cover. I’ve never just shown a photo of myself; there has always been some kind of character or theatricality attached to whatever story I’m trying to tell. But for Gemelo, it’s just me. I have to be comfortable being this vulnerable. It’s a very honest photo of me.”

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Photo by Carlos Garcia

I ask her how it felt, making the choice to be alone. What was it like to sever herself from her relationship and her life built in Virginia? “I still have to figure that part out,” she says, her eyes vacant as if she steps out of the room, gone elsewhere for a moment. “I chose myself consistently, even though it was extremely painful, especially when I felt crazy, or unattractive or like I didn’t have my shit together, or whatever. But I continue to choose myself.”

The lesson she has learned about the nature of loss: “It remains with us.” The second track, the euphoric "Color De Dolor", explores the way pain changes the landscape of our everyday lives: “Aunque nunca cortaré con mis dolores / Yo los pinto lleno de colores”, or “Even though I will never sever the tie with my pains, I paint them full of colours.” It was the first song she wrote for Gemelo. “We can’t separate ourselves from the grief we know very personally, but we do have a choice to take it and paint it in our own colour,” she shares. “I think that is the biggest lesson I took. There are hard nights, but it’s within my power to transform that hard night into something beautiful anytime that I want to. I’m never disempowered. I am always empowered to make that choice.”

I bring up the idea of psychogeography, a theory of French philosopher Guy Debord which describes the effect the 'soul' of a location might have on our emotions and behaviour. Having wandered from Virginia to California and New York City over the years Gemelo had been spirited into being, Garcia – by nature, if not by circumstance – is more attuned than most to the spiritual qualities of a place. “Wow, yo!”, she enthuses when I tell her about it, writing the term down on a sticky note. “I love this! Okay, that’s awesome. I’m going to get into this for hours, I hope you know.”

Without knowing its name, it’s a concept with which she understands intimately. She tells me of rural Virginia and the miles and miles of woodlands that surrounded her home: “Richmond is insane, I’ve always felt that it had a very, very intense energy. It’s an ancestral thing. I think it’s the first part of the country where you have this triangle of three peoples experiencing each other for the first time, all together. You had the native peoples, like the Powhatan tribe, you had the colonists, and then you had the enslaved peoples all in the same vicinity. When you consider these people and their individual powers, and all the terrible things that happened there - all the construction and deconstruction - it makes that area of the US so intense. You feel it in the woods, you feel it in the architecture...” It's a spiritual charge that only strengthens with time on the scarred land.

"The quiet voice within my body is the one actually guiding me in life – and that is the one I wanted to speak through this music."


She contrasts Richmond with Los Angeles, where history has been razed, rebuilt and glossed over. Hibiscus, street vendors, barking dogs, babies, grandmothers, birds… these are the textures which make up the city’s tapestry for Garcia. When she returned home in the pandemic to her mother’s house, she was situated right next to the freeway. “It reminded me of the loneliness of the city and how brutal that can be,” she reflects. “Freeways are insane to me, too. You have thousands of people travelling all day long with their happiness, their grief, their frustration, right next to you. All day. And all that energy has nowhere to go other than to… shoot out. I don’t know if that makes sense, but sometimes it feels like the earth can absorb things, but these urban landscapes can’t. If you think of sound travelling, it’s going to be absorbed by soft things, but if it’s metal, it will ring out and feed back.”

One of the forms of grief Garcia had to deal with was that when she returned home, it was not the same place as it was in her childhood. She was awake to things that she was once too young to grasp. “As you get older, you start to see the people you look up to as people. I started to realise, ‘There’s no wonder I have problems as an adult’ – it really started to illuminate that it didn’t start with me, but was passed down. So now, I’m going to do everything I can to stop it. No shade on them, of course, because they did everything they could and worked so hard. We’re all human. I remember waking up in the middle of the night of the night, and I heard this voice yelling at me, and it said, ‘Nothing can take away your power. Your power is something you give away; it cannot be taken from you.’”

And so she decided to move to Bedford–Stuyvesant in New York City, in the first attempt to break these deeply unhappy cycles. “Every single woman in my family has had to give things up,” she says. “They had to give up their dreams, they had to give up something to have a family and have children and to become nurturers and caretakers. So many of my Latina friends, we’re conditioned to go look after our grandparents, to check in on mom… I do enjoy taking care of people, I am that girl, but I had to go, ‘Okay, we do that sometimes when it’s appropriate – but it’s not our default’. I’d already gotten so far, and I wasn’t going to give up anything now. I kept thinking of my little sisters, my half-siblings, and there was this weird pressure to do it for the next generation and prove that things can be different. You could say that Gemelo, more than processing grief, was actually me taking care of myself.”

Garcia decided to make an altar in her bedroom to honour the dead. “I know sometimes in Western culture that sounds like, ‘Woo!’ - but it’s only the same act as taking flowers to a gravesite. You’re just honouring the people who came before you, and so I started to make a point during this time to light these candles and honour my ancestors.” She was writing names in her journal, and what would become ‘Juanita’ poured onto the page, fully-formed, in an act you could describe as mystical.

Her mother told her that she had a spiritually-inclined great-great grandmother of the same name. "Juanita", it would seem, was an act of communion. I ask Garcia what Juanita symbolises in the song; pop infused with ferocity and fluid, cumbia-inspired rhythms. “Oh man, I think I’ve been trying to decide myself, honestly,” she answers. “But I think it’s actually about longing. Sometimes, as people, we have a deep longing for something we don’t understand. When you have that in you, it transfixes you; you become consumed by it. You start to question, ‘What is this thing that’s pulling me? What is this force that is magnetising me and I’m just limp against it?’ That’s what ‘Juanita’ means. You start to realise, ‘Maybe it came before me? Maybe it is a past life?’”

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Photo by Shervin Lainez

The video for "Juanita" is indebted to a Latin love story from a past incarnation. There’s that duality again: rendered in black and white, Garcia is both man and woman – or, as its Puerto Rican-American director Sonia Malfa said – both “king and queen”. She continues, “It’s bigger than a love story, though. The reason it’s so intense, these longings and desires, is because it came before us.” With Gemelo, she has also started to experiment with movement, recalibrating pop music as something you feel in your body. When she worked at House of Yes, the iconic nightclub in Bushwick, she would sometimes be allowed to dance on the platform, speaking in a language we are all fluent in.

Garcia believes that if you want to connect with the ancient, to cultivate a relationship with the past, you have to actively make space for it in your life. “There’s all kinds of shit nowadays that makes you want to forget where we come from, that makes you want to scroll forever,” she says. “Once I started to observe patterns occurring in my living family, it made me start to think, maybe this is an old-ass curse, or an old lesson and the spirits have been desperate for one person to figure that our and see this whole line behind them and go, ‘Hmm, I don’t have to do that.’”

She imagines it as a domino effect of grief, where one trauma begets another. “No one is immune to sorrow, or grief, or pain,” she elaborates. “We all have to go through that shit. But if we at least have an understanding of the success and the pitfalls of the people before us, then it enables us to move forward with that lesson and be the best person we could possibly be.”

To further the motif of twinship on Gemelo, the record is divided into a side A and a side B. The first half ends with a prayer for release, the ultimate admission of vulnerability: “It was like, ‘I don’t know how to do this myself, so please help me. If I relinquish control, I need guidance and protection.’” We transition to “Y Grito”, plunged into a sink-or-swim terror. “It’s like, ‘Okay girl, you wanted to learn, so here we are. Your time is now.” If its opening half is a spiritual enquiry, then this is a call to action.

“It speaks to how you truly find out what kind of person you are in those moments,” she says, charged with the same emphatic passion mirrored in vocals; to sit still, do nothing as she speaks, feels like a kind of self-betrayal. “It’s all easy to say what you’re gonna do when you’re chill, but when shit hits then fan, that’s how you find out what your real values are. What kind of person are you? Who are you? After all this time crying, it was like, ‘Okay, who are you Angélica? Are you this person or not? It’s time to answer’.”

“El Que” arises as a challenge, carnal and reactionary – or, in other words, “Oh fuck, we’re here.” She imagines it as a wiser version of herself, out-of-body, passing wisdom to her corporeal self below. “It’s almost written like a monologue,” she notes. “It’s like, ‘Look, the situation is tender. It prefers you to be. It prefers you to be confused; it prefers you to be disempowered.’ It’s about an awakening, almost like an exorcism where you can leave behind that dark attachment, face that shadow.” It transitions from a place of stillness to rapid-fire motion, a desperate bid to wake up her flesh self.

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Photo by Carlos Garcia

The final track of Gemelo, “Paloma” arrives at a sense of peace, hard-earned through this baptism of fire. “It’s about how every human is a tiny mirror, and we all reflect the divine,” she shares. “And we do this in the ways that we love and care for each other.” In her mind was an image of a white bird, a comforting symbol that made its presence known to her as a child from a perfume bottle of her grandmother’s with the bird perched on top. “Paloma” draws on jubilant drum beats and hand-claps and gang vocals to elevate that sense of communal joy. “The dove has always been a symbol of peace,” notes Garcia, “but I wasn’t thinking of Noah’s Ark and shit, I was just imagining a flock of birds flying across the people I love. It felt intuitive.”

I ask Garcia how Gemelo has changed her. She closes her eyes, as if consumed by some private communion with something only she can feel. The words she chooses are measured carefully, but with the kind of conviction that makes you hold your breath as she speaks them in case you break the spell. “I’m the most empowered version of myself that I have ever been in my entire life,” she tells me. “And I’m not anywhere close to being at my ultimate goal. I don’t even know that I believe in goals anymore, to be honest. I believe less and less in them.” Without opening her eyes, she begins to cry. “Oh my god, I’m so emo! I’m just so grateful to Gemelo because grief is such a brutal teacher, and I’ve seen it debilitate so many people that I love in my life where the end of the story is reached when it shouldn’t have been. But I’m so grateful that these messengers chose me, for these synchronicities that allowed me to share it. It was the right thing to do.”

On the other side of it all, the paradoxes of Angélica Garcia are free to exist in imperfect alignment.

Gemelo is released on 7 June via Partisan Records

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