Gaby Moreno is a bilingual singer-songwriter from Guatemala City, Guatemala. Starting her career there, she opened for Ricky Martin at age 10, and made her way to the United States in 2001 at age 18. After winning first prize in the 2006 John Lennon Songwriting Contest, Gaby has continued to hone her craft and establish herself in multiple genres. She has released ten albums since her debut independent record Still the Unknown in 2009, and broke through to larger audiences in 2013, winning “Best New Artist” at the Latin Grammy Awards. In addition to 3 other Latin Grammy nominations, her record Ilusión was nominated for “Best Latin Pop Album at the 2017 Grammy Awards.
In addition to her own prolific songwriting career, she has found success in collaboration as well. Among many accomplishments, she co-wrote the theme for Parks and Recreation, has recorded with several other artists including Hugh Laurie and Ricardo Arjona, and has shared the stage with Bono, Andrea Bocelli, Kris Kristofferson, and more.
Gaby’s new record Alegoria was released this year, and her trademark songwriting prowess soars to new heights in both Spanish and English. Vanguard chatted with Gaby about her recording process for the album, how her upbringing has shaped her musical journey, and her use of the Vanguard V13 Tube Condenser.
Q: Besides a rich musical heritage, what have you brought along from coming up from Guatemala? How did that experience contribute to your philosophy of making music?
I started singing at a really young age in Guatemala and I always knew that’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I knew I had to leave my country and come to the US to have a more international career. So I always had that passion and that drive and that’s something that my family instilled in me. I was raised in a very encouraging and supportive environment. Even though my parents were not musicians, they understood this was my dream and did everything they could to make sure I could find new opportunities. So now, whenever I find myself making music, it always comes from a place of honesty and gratitude. I don’t take any of this for granted. I want people to know I’m an immigrant who just followed her dream of making music.
Q: You have a very organic feel in your recordings. Will you tell us about your style in the studio? Are there any intentional things you do during pre-production and in the studio in order to get that vibe?
I can tell you there is no pre-production at all. I know it may be unconventional, but it has worked for me so far. The pre-production is trying new songs out at live shows. Seeing how they make me feel and what reaction I get from the audience. A song like “Nobody’s Wrong”, we had been playing it live for at least 3 years before I went into the studio to record it. It’s not like that with every song, of course. Sometimes I also really enjoy getting to the studio with my core band (drums, bass, guitar, piano), showing them a new song and figuring out the arrangement or structure right then and there. After I record what I consider the foundation of the song, I sit back, listen and decide if it needs any more layers.
Q: You’ve worked with two of my musical heroes, Mike Garson, the great jazz pianist and long-time Bowie collaborator, and Van Dyke Parks, one of the great 20th century American songwriters. You do a lot of collaborating, what do you get from those partnering relationships?
Funny you should mention that. I just sang with Mike Garson last night at his residency in LA at The Sun Rose (where House of Blues used to be) and I’m rehearsing with Van Dyke this week as we will be playing our very first show together since our album “Spangled” came out in late 2019. Two very different but incredibly inspiring collaborations for me.
Absolute legends, both of them. I feel so blessed to continue to share musical moments and learn from them.
Q: Regarding Alegoria – a beautiful record by the way – where was it recorded?
Thank you! It was recorded last year at The Village by Mike Piersante. He also mixed it.
Q: Will you tell us a little about how you approached the production? How did this production differ from ¡Spangled!?
Completely different approach. Spangled was a very ambitious project. One we had been working on with Van Dyke for 10 years. Since it was mostly orchestral, and budget was minimal, we sort of had to piece it together, recording each musician from the orchestra individually and doubling, tripling or more (the violin player recorded 9 different violins!).
I produced my new album “Alegoría” and I just knew I wanted it to sound like a “band” album. It features my amazing rhythm section who have been playing with me for years and years. Sebastian Aymanns on drums and Kimon Kirk on bass. I also wanted it to feature more my main instrument, the guitar. So aside from me playing it, I also invited some of my guitar heroes, like Marc Ribot, David Garza and Greg Leisz.
Jim Keltner came down to play drums on a couple of the songs, too. It was a blast to make this album. Definitely something my soul needed after all the madness that was 2020.
Q: How did the Vanguard V13 get used on the record?
I recorded the song “Lost on a Cloud” as a demo on my Vanguard V13, which is the microphone that I have and use all the time at home.
I loved the sound so much that I kept that demo and just asked Mike Piersante to mix it.
Q: Why did you choose the V13 for “Lost on a Cloud” over the M49 you used for the other songs on Alegoría?
There’s a beautiful warmth, depth and clarity that I feel with the V13. It’s incredibly dynamic and so detailed. Love the highs too. Works perfectly with my voice. There was no need to change it, once I realized that was exactly the sound I needed for that particular song.
(Note – Gaby was kind enough to provide us with a raw audio file of the V13 on her vocals for “Lost on a Cloud”. Listen below:)
Q: What’s next for you??
I’m playing a few shows here in the US (you can go to my website www.gaby-moreno.com to check out all that info) and then I have a very extensive European tour in the fall. 28 shows in 6 weeks! Excited to get back on the road after so long.
I’m also producing albums for a few other artists so it’s nice to wear the “producer” hat when I’m at home and focus on something else that I really enjoy as well.
Congratulations to Gaby on the release of Alegoria. You can listen to Alegoria anywhere you get music. You can hear Gaby’s other work and contact her for your own projects on her website. On a personal note, I finally got to meet Gaby and Sebastian after many years at NAMM 2022 and it was an absolute delight!