I've often said, Chico Mann is one of my favorite musical acts on the planet. The musical brainchild of Marcos Garcia combines afrobeat with latin freestyle and electronic musical styles with other latin musics to create something entirely danceable and inventive. Analog Drift, Chico's second full-length LP, is being released on Wax Poetics Records October 26th. I spoke with Chico Mann creator, writer, singer, etc., Marcos Garcia, about the new album, Chico's rise in popularity over the last year, and what's in store for Chico as they tour the globe and spread their afro-freestyle message:
(Check out my review of Analog Drift here)
Ilusión de Ti by afrobeatblog
Marc Gabriel Amigone: First of all congrats on the album being released on Waxpoetics.
Marcos Garcia: Yea, I'm glad I held out, you know? I've been getting to know the waxpo guys and we've become friends and it's alright.
Marc Gabriel Amigone: So in the last year and a half, things have really taken off for Chico Mann. You guys have toured all over the country, your music is reaching a wider and wider audience, how've you enjoyed the ride?
Marcos Garcia: It's been really good. It definitely has its moments. I'm a one-man manager, booking agent, road manager, band leader, all those things, so it gets stressful at times, but overall it's been really fun. Traveling with David and Caito, we're just havin fun on the road.
Marc Gabriel Amigone: Yea, I saw you guys are going to Australia, that's gotta be pretty fun.
Marcos Garcia: Yea it's gonna be crazy. It's like five shows in five days and it takes two days to get there. It's gonna be a whirlwind down under. It's gonna be really fun because I don't think Australians have heard anything like Chico Mann before.
Marc Gabriel Amigone: Word, and they're really open-minded down there, right so I'm sure they'll dig it.
Marcos Garcia: Yea, hopefully. I went there with Antibalas in the winter, well our winter, their summer, and the response was overwhelmingly positive. So I'm looking forward to receiving a similar energy and response from the audiences down there.
Marc Gabriel Amigone: Word up. So in that regard, you've done a lot of touring in a lot of different parts of the country, you've been out west, you were down in Miami, Texas at SXSW. Have you noticed a difference in different people's reactions and receptions to your music?
Marcos Garcia: Yea, I think it's funny. The West Coast is so open and so down to get down, and then you get to a place like L.A. and people are so reserved compared to San Francisco, I always thought that was really odd. So that was interesting that people didn't want to let loose, and I'm not trying to single out L.A., but it was noticeable you know?
Marc Gabriel Amigone: Kind of like Williamsburg in a way?
Marcos Garcia: Well, you know Williamsburg has a reputation for being too cool for school, but I don't really think so.
Marc Gabriel Amigone: People act like that, but as soon as they're into it they let loose and get down.
Marcos Garcia: Yea, I've never really felt that in Brooklyn.
Marc Gabriel Amigone: Well that's cool. I've heard you talk before about places like Miami and L.A. where there's a large Spanish speaking population you feel like your music can really connect with people. Did you feel that connection in places like Texas?
Marcos Garcia: Definitely in Texas, we played a couple times where it was like man, they're getting it. And Miami was like a totally natural fit. It's one of those things, in Miami there's so many Cubans, that I felt right at home.
Marc Gabriel Amigone: About a year ago, you changed the personnel in your live shows to a paired down ensemble with just the three of you guys without the female vocalists. How has that changed the dynamic of the band and do you think you'll ever go back to having vocalists on stage?
Marcos Garcia: Yea, I don't even think it's been a full year. In regards to how it's changed the dynamic, it's created a completely new dynamic. Having a smaller lineup has changed it a lot.
Marc Gabriel Amigone: Yea, I feel like it's a different band altogether. You guys were way more of an ensemble before, not that you're not an ensemble now, but the logistics and the financials of it all have to be a lot easier to deal with.
Marcos Garcia: Well yea it is because we're smaller, but having three people as opposed to five or six makes our energy really focused and directed, and so the dynamic of the performance is really charged.
Marc Gabriel Amigone: More intense.
Marcos Garcia: Exactly, the punch is greater.
Marc Gabriel Amigone: Word that's interesting. I actually haven't seen you guys with the paired down ensemble.
Marcos Garcia: Yea, well when you see it you'll notice immediately the difference. And I love having the backup singers and having Ticklah and stuff, that was fun but it ultimately wasn't sustainable. To be able to do things like travel and do what I need to do to move forward...
Marc Gabriel Amigone: So Waxpoetics has really contributed quite a bit to Chico's rise in popularity. How did it start and how has it evolved since then.
Marcos Garcia: Well, how did it start. Let me think, Amir came up to me at a Sharon Jones and Dap-Kings concert at the Beacon Theater and and was like yo give me a call, we want to talk to you. And then that was my first interaction with Waxpo.
Marc Gabriel Amigone: And when was that?
Marcos Garcia: Um, whenever Sharon Jones played the Beacon Theater, it was a while ago, but I didn't follow up with them for a while. It was actually Linh Truong who was actually gunning for Chico Mann over there, keeping the buzz happening in the office over there. I already knew Andre at the time, but I didn't really know Dennis, so you know, I had never met the folks over there other than Andre in passing. Over time things developed, it was months before we signed a record deal. There was kind of a courting period.
Marc Gabriel Amigone: And then they released the one track on the 45 with the Africa Issue.
Marcos Garcia: Right, and that was like a good faith gesture, like, yo. It was really nice actually. I gotta say. And I'm really happy that they're local, I can drop in on them, go out for a drink, it's nice. They're my friends, I count them among my friends for sure.
Marc Gabriel Amigone: A lot of people identify you as your credibility outside of Chico Mann as a guitarist for Antibalas, but what have you done in your musical career besides Antibalas and Chico for people who don't know?
Marcos Garcia: Well, I play with Ocote Soul Sounds too. I'm not sure what you mean, like what have I done in my life outside of music?
Marc Gabriel Amigone: Well, a lot of people for your marketing line say Marcos Garcia, guitarist from Antibalas, but have there been any other projects or bands you'd like to let people in on?
Marcos Garcia: Well, dude I've played with a lot of bands. One of my favorite bands I've played with is American Watercolor Movement, that was before Antibalas. That band broke up a couple years ago. It was one of my favorite things to do. It was like an art rock. Really cool stuff, but you know I've dedicated my life pretty much to doing Chico Mann full-time. Antibalas is kind of a part-time gig right now. We'll do Antibalas when it comes up but it's not like it used to be. There definitely was a time when Antibalas was full time and Chico Mann was part time. Ocote is also, when they go on the road, I'll be in on that.
Marc Gabriel Amigone: Word, that's cool.
Marcos Garcia: I've actually been trying to create Chico as its own entity, and I don't really use Antibalas in any of my promotional materials. I also don't want to be perceived as riding on the coat-tails of Antibalas. I have my own thing, it's quite distinct. But people tend to want to reinforce that association which is fine. I love Antibalas, so that's cool but that's not ever something that I try to use to further myself.
Marc Gabriel Amigone: Exactly which is why I asked the question, if people don't know you from Chico Mann than they know you from Antibalas, or Ocote but I know from knowing you as a person that you've done a lot of projects over the years, so it's limiting to put you in one sentence, Antibalas and then Chico Mann.
Marcos Garcia: Right, another thing is I've also assumed this identity as Chico, so that's fine to be known as that. It's kind of the role I play on TV. It's funny when we were in Australia with Antibalas and we played a show in Sydney, after the show and I was walking outside and some guy came up to me and said. 'holy shit Chico Mann, I didn't know you played in Antibalas!' And I thought that was really hilarious. I was like where are we right now and how does this guy know Chico Mann?
Marc Gabriel Amigone: That's hilarious. So would you describe Analog Drift being released on Wax Poetics as a milestone for your career?
Marcos Garcia: I guess so, yea. I haven't really thought of it that way. Regardless of the status of the album ie. where it's been released, I think of the album as the milestone. Finishing that album was a crystalizing moment in terms of the musical statement I'm trying to make. The things that I touch upon on that album are looking back and then looking forward and it's positing this idea of afro-freestyle, you know, electro-afrobeat, and it's kind of pointing towards this next album that I'm working on right now. It's something sonically totally different. Wait a minute, I guess I don't need to be talking about my next album right now while I'm promoting this one. (laughs)
Marc Gabriel Amigone: Haha, well, I was going to ask about that eventually.
Marcos Garcia: Regardless of the status of this release, I'm always thinking about the next one, or working on it, or developing the concept. Analog Drift points toward this next album.
Marc Gabriel Amigone: Word, which leads me to my next question, which is Analog Drift is worlds apart from Manifest Tone Vol. 1 sonically, what do you think has allowed that evolution to occur?
Marcos Garcia: Well it's been a really natural progression and a really organic evolution of my production aesthetic and my musical practice governing this musical landscape along with people hearing it for the first time, I just maybe stumbled across it for the first time.
Marc Gabriel Amigone: Right, there's no model off of which to build an afro-freestyle band.
Marcos Garcia: Well there are elements, I did an interview yesterday where I started getting into all the different fundamentals of how you build my sound. All the different styles that I work within. Then I thought better of it after he left, and thought, oh my god, I just gave away my trade secrets. I emailed him today, you can't use any of that. My friend was like, you told him everything? I mean, I'm friends with the guy who was interviewing me so it was really easy to tell him this is what I do, but that doesn't mean I want to share this with the world.
Marc Gabriel Amigone: Right that's like giving away your secret formula.
Marcos Garcia: Yea, there's elements that are pretty fundamental. I feel like the guys in Antibalas, and the guys in the band, they understand it, but it's definitely not something I want to give away the blueprint of.
Marc Gabriel Amigone: Well I think listening to it you can hear it. If you've heard Latin Freestyle, and you've heard afrobeat, and you've heard certain Cuban musics, you can figure it out on your own without getting the exact recipe down. It's kind of like tasting something.
Marcos Garcia: Exactly, but most people, I'm sure there's plenty of people who can hear that clearly but most people I don't think can.
Marc Gabriel Amigone: Right, I'm sure you're introducing freestyle to a lot of people and afrobeat through Chico Mann which is not just those things but you're still introducing those ideas to some people.
Marcos Garcia: Right and a lot of people have that experience where it sounds so familiar to them, and its because all these elements are incorporated but most people can't, they'll be like this reminds me of, and they'll connect it to something in their past. In the interview yesterday, I was breaking down the nuts and bolts of everything, like afrobeat and how it intersects with freestyle, like I was getting all scientific with it, and I was like oh my god what am I doing?
Marc Gabriel Amigone: So when do you expect to release you next album, or would you prefer to stay focused on Analog Drift for now.
Marcos Garcia: Well it's hard to stay focused on Analog Drift because it was an independent release, and now it's going to have a life for the general public, which is what I wanted all along. That's why I held out, you know putting it on Itunes or doing anything major with it. I have no idea when the next album will be released or finished. As soon as I go on the road that will stop the production, and then when I get back it will take me a while to get back into it. So I don't know. I can tell you wholeheartedly that doing that creative work is one of my greatest joys. I love to discover aspects of this musical landscape that I've kind of encountered in my life. And I want to just keep discovering these landscapes and textures. It's the whole idea of what could've been and now is.
Marc Gabriel Amigone: Yea that's gotta be a very gratifying feeling, that Analog Drift is being released on a record label and you're touring Australia with Chico Mann that's gotta be a good feeling.
Marcos Garcia: Yea with this kind of momentum anything's really possible.
Marc Gabriel Amigone: Well do you have any specific goals or are you going to continue to make good music and let the rest take care of itself?
Marcos Garcia: I do feel to a certain extent that things will take care of themselves and yes, that I'm going along for the ride, but there's also a self-direction going on from the beginning. I've really envisioned what I want from my career and what I want from my life and I've been focused on building that over the years, building my musical catalog, building my studio. I eventually want to move into a new spot and build a dream studio. I'd like to start producing other artists. I'd like to get more production experience under my belt and as I get older and I have more miles on me. I feel like what I need to do in the future is start shaping the sound of other artists by doing production. Over the years I've met so many talented people that I would love to say this singer would sound great over a Chico track, and I've already started to do that a bit, and I think that's going to happen over time. That's kind of the natural evolution of things, you know, I can't be on the road forever.
Marc Gabriel Amigone: And that's the best way to transition.
Marcos Garcia: I love going on the road, and I don't anticipate not doing that anytime soon. but I would love to be able to pick and choose a little bit more when I go on the road so I can make more time for the studio, because I love being in the studio. I love doing shows and performing, but it's the travel that's so tiring. And being in the studio can be exhausting as well, but when you stumble across the right take or the right melody, whatever it is. It's a magical thing.
Marc Gabriel Amigone: Absolutely. Well I know you produced one track off of Planet Rump's EP which dropped the other day, as well as provided guidance along the way.
Marcos Garcia: Yea man, they're great. I'm glad you introduced us and put us together. They're so sweet, I love those guys. I just listened to the EP last night, it just puts a smile on my face. They're so great.
Marc Gabriel Amigone: I know they have such great potential, I wrote on my blog, download this EP now so when they blow up in five years you can say you knew them now.