Free to Rock
David Garza performs his repertoire of independent music Friday night at Levitt Pavilion
By Carl Kozlowski 07/10/2014
David Garza has experienced the rock music merry-go-round as both an independent artist and as one who was spun through the major-label hype machine. But more than 25 years into his career, the 43-year-old Texan says that now might be his happiest period, since he’s able to call all the shots on his career, an experience that gives him what he considers the greatest gift a performer can want: freedom.
Garza will be bringing his fun mix of rock, pop and Latino music styles to the stage of the Levitt Pavilion Friday night as part of its summer concert series. And with a busy mix of touring, recording a new album and composing documentary film scores on his schedule, he says this might be one of the best times he’s ever experienced.
“I’m on just a little tour now, but there’s some really magical gigs in the hill country of Texas, then doing a few shows opening for Los Lonely Boys on the West Coast at places like the Greek,” says Garza, who splits his time between Los Angeles and Austin. “I’ve got a new record in the fall that I’ve been recording in Mexico City and I’m working on a book of words and paintings that I’ll self-publish because it’s exciting to do what you want to do.”
Garza scored his first big break before he even finished high school, when he was hired to open for Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians’ Dallas hometown concerts right as they were exploding in 1988. He developed a passionate fan base in Texas, where this writer saw him rip the roof off with his highly energetic and catchy songs at countless shows during five years of college in Fort Worth and Austin.
Blessed with the looks of Lou Diamond Phillips at his “La Bamba” peak and a multi-octave voice that has often been compared to the booming power of Robert Plant, Garza quickly became a star across the Lone Star state. Aside from his charisma and musical abilities he also employed the “single bill theory” on his way to selling over 30,000 copies of his self-released tunes on the way to a contract with major-label Atlantic: he’d sell cassettes for $5 and CDs for $10, under the principle that paying with just a single bill of money makes people feel like they’re getting a great deal.
Yet while he was thrilled to have a shot at the big time, with a spot on the high-profile HORDE Tour and a Best Buy ad focusing on him and his first single, Garza’s time with Atlantic ended after three albums that never clicked with buyers on a widespread scale. However, his 2001 release ”Overdub” was picked as the album of the week by The New York Times.
“It’s a like a quaint term now to be called ‘indie’ or ‘major label.’ There’s a third category that I call ‘free’,” says Garza. “Even when you’re on an indie, you’re still beholden to people’s ideas where it ought to be going, but when you’re young a person likely needs guidance on who to play for. But as someone that’s looking to paint with all the colors available instead of just one or two, I feel I’ve never been happier than now.”
While he has long since come to terms with letting Atlantic go, Garza speaks with passionate enthusiasm about his career-long relationship with BMI, the royalty-monitoring service that is a collection service for musicians worldwide, which is sponsoring Garza’s show as part of a summer-long arrangement with the Levitt.
“They’re like family, because I’ve been with them since 1989, before I released cassettes all the way through the majors and now,” says Garza. “They’re my advocate around the world, making sure my royalties come in a timely fashion. It’s how I stay alive as a musician, and that allows me to spend my days improving so I can be the best musician for my people.”
Garza considers the Levitt Pavilion, which he first performed at in 2012, a “dream gig” because he sees it as being “part of the community, with a beautiful breeze under the stars and a lot of fresh energy that makes it more than just an outdoor shell but a place you feel the history of all who have played there before.”
He’ll be leading a trio on Friday night, backed by former Soul Coughing upright bassist Sebastian Steinberg and drummer Jay Bellrose, who has played on the collaborations of Robert Plant and Alison Krauss.
“I was a pretty quiet kid and found music, because it’s the language of misfits and a language we all speak,” explains Garza. “We all enter through that door in different ways — by playing in church and then people want you to be involved in ministry as kids. At a very young age I realized music was medicine, and I’d see a 93-year-old woman with Alzheimer’s and she would light up when I’d play music and she recognized it. It’s a crazy power and I was very young when I discovered that. Music is like religion: people are rushing to claim it, but it’s most powerful when it’s free.”
David Garza performs at 8 p.m. Friday at Levitt Pavilion in Memorial Park, 85 E. Holly St., Pasadena. Admission is free. Visit levittpavilionpasadena.org.