Finding an original, authentic, and exciting sound in today’s oversaturated culture can be a challenge, but 22-year-old Calista Garcia has managed to find hers. The folk-pop singer-songwriter illustrates her inspired music in her newest album, Confessions, released earlier this year on May 26. Between her experience on NBC’s The Voice and writing her own musical, Garcia possesses an intuitive understanding of music’s effect on us. Join contributing writer, Margaret Adams, as she delves into Calista’s background, Confessions, and why exciting, fun music is imperative to the health of our minds and bodies.
Calista Garcia started writing songs and playing live music around the age of 10, so she understood the significance of music in her life early on. Acquiring mastery of multiple domains, including songwriting, singing, guitar, piano, ukulele, bass, mandolin and harmonica, she first came on the music scene through her appearance on The Voice.
“The Voice feels a bit like a different lifetime ago, I was only 17 when I filmed it, and just didn’t really know who I was yet,” wrote Garcia. “I met a lot of incredibly talented and kind people in the cast. I learned a lot about Studio City, and how television’s made, and it’s given me some great opportunities that I’m super grateful for.”
Garcia’s appearance on season 16 on the competition singing show also aided her understanding of her own position as an artist:
“That being said, it also taught me that I’m a songwriter first, and have an aversion to being boxed in,” she wrote. “Maybe the biggest lesson I learned that’s helped me out a lot in my life and career is that if something doesn’t align with you and your values, it’ll never really come through. You don’t have to give all your energy to every opportunity to get in front of people, the things you feel aligned with are your real inroads. And that’s been really freeing.”
Garcia’s repertoire also ranges to musical theater, as she composed two of her own folk-rock musicals. Her last musical, “Crystal Skies,” premiered in April 2018 and was a 2020 semi-finalist for the Eugene O’Neill Musical Theatre Conference. I asked Garcia what the difference between writing a song for an album and writing a song in the context of a musical is.
“I think the keyword is what you just said: context. There are benefits to both,” Garcia answered. “I first wanted to write a musical because I loved concept albums, and throughlines in storytelling. I think there’s such a richness to it. In some ways, it’s easier to just write emotionally without having to think of parameters. And then sometimes structure and clear cut prompts really help. There can also be a lightness to writing to a plot about people who aren’t me, I don’t have to dig into my memory or emotion to dredge up some deep catharsis, I can just try to be clever/funny. And that’s good, too.”
Across all of her projects, Garcia’s sound originates from similar inspirations, but she cites an intuitive aspect of femininity as a current fascination, along with the chaos of carnival aesthetics and her home of New York City. .
“There’s been so much over time that I’m going to stick with what’s inspiring me at the moment,” wrote Garcia. “I’ve been into the idea of “feral femininity”, and many of my favorite artists right now are the ones who tap into it: Florence, Sinéad O’Connor, Patti Smith, Fiona Apple, etc. I have three film kid brothers, and I’ve always gleaned a lot from movies I like, particularly Guillermo del Toro films. Anything vaudevillian or carnival-related is really exciting to me right now. And some of the biggest inspiration is being in New York right now. Everywhere is loaded with meaning and nostalgia and energy, and constantly crawling with incredibly inspiring artists and personalities.”
Calista Garcia’s original sound blends Latin, blues, roots rock, folk, and pop music. She spoke about the way she cultivates her current sound, and how that process does not always look linear.
“I think cultivation is a forever ongoing process, though this past Sunday I feel like I played a show that felt definitively true to my sound and what I’m going for, which felt really special,” remembered Garcia. “I think it’s a mixture of letting my musical influences get under my skin, mostly through osmosis, of playing live and finding ways to reconnect with audiences and shure up that process, and playing/collaborating with other fantastic, creative musicians and adding the lens of their perspectives and everything they bring to the table. It’s very similar to how we cultivate the way we walk in the world as people, it’s very organic. “
In her newest album, Confessions, Garcia combines her influences in a way that elevates the messages of her songs. The eight-song project contains songs that the artist released as EPs before, like “Can’t Give Myself Away”, “Flowers in My Hair”, and “The Way I Love You.” The process of writing and producing the album took the course of about two years.
*“*What’s so great about Confession is that I can 100% say it was an absolutely wonderful experience making it,” wrote the singer-songwriter. “I remember the morning after our first impromptu full band session back in May 2021, and being so glowy about how amazingly special that day had been. My mom, who was there for it, compared the feeling to the day after a wedding; where you know it was one of the best days of your life and you just wanna bask in it? It was rosy the whole way through.”
“The only difficult part of the process was it took a very long time to get the album out,” Garcia continues. “From May 2021, to May 2023, so much of my life has changed and evolved since then, and that’s a strange feeling. But I look back on every part of Plyrz Studios and Jim, and everybody else on the team, and it was pure magic.”
The album was produced by Grammy-award winning producers, Jim Scott and Davíd Garza, in collaboration with Calista. Every song on the album has a recognizable 70’s influence while combining sounds of country, folk, rock, pop, blues, and Latin music. Songs like “Can’t Give Myself Away”, “Trainwreck”, and “Moments” utilize elements of multiple genres in their production. In her lyricism, she delivers insightful first-person accounts on what intimacy, relationships, and desire look and feel like in early adulthood.
The album has a wide range of songs for all listeners: “Flowers in My Hair”, a single for the album, is a groovy tune that utilizes 70’s imagery to complement the easy-going melody and nostalgic production. “The Way I Love You” is a slower, more somber piano ballad that highlights Garcia’s prolific lyricism, as well as incredible singing voice. Either way, every song lives up to the album’s name.
Another throughline in Confessions is its ability to get its listeners to move. Its energizing component calls back to something that Garcia said about the album: “I think the world’s gotten too crazy for music you can’t move to.” I asked Garcia about this quote and why it’s important to have music you can move to:
“I’ve been learning a lot about how much of our experience is dictated by how we treat our bodies, and whether we listen to them. I think especially with the pandemic, my generation can be really static, in our heads, and our mental health suffers for it,” Garcia answered. “Living in a walkable city, I’ve found that I have a much easier time processing things that happen if I can physically move through it. And I think it can make the hardest things feel easier. I love rock n’ roll so much right now because I feel like I can say absolutely anything and still keep having fun.”
Music allows for people, especially young people of this generation, to be more present and aware of their bodies. Music can improve the mind-body-connection and increases trust in our own abilities; indulging in movement is literally so fun that it heals us. Garcia shared some of her favorite music that makes her move:
“The first band that came to mind when I thought about movement was Talking Heads, and how infectiously joyful they are. I love the new Lemon Twigs album, especially “Ghost Run Free”. My song of the summer was “Gloria” by Laura Branigan, so that one. I really love the sound Jimmy Iovine produced in the 70s, so Patti Smith, The Heartbreakers, Springsteen. And then I’m a huge fan of Florence + the Machine.”
As Garcia continues to cultivate her sound and move her listeners, she continues on her musical journey with more in store:
“I’m actually beginning the recording process tonight as I’m writing this for some new work. I’m not sure what it’s going to be yet, but this is my favorite part, cause right now it can be anything. It’s definitely going to be a departure, and may even be for a new project with slightly different context, but all I’ll say is, there’s a lot I’m excited about on the horizon. Keep an eye out!”
Margaret Adams is a Psychology major and Rhetoric and Writing minor at The Catholic University of America from New Orleans, Louisiana. In addition to her work with Alchemical, she writes for CUA’s student newspaper, The Tower, and has recently been named Quill Editor. She enjoys reading, writing, and looking at pictures of her dog, Bella.
Flow-bending artist aSanTIS discusses art, culture, and whether sound can solve the world’s problems in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month.
My interview with Amy Santis aka aSanTIS began in the most unexpected way. The Maryland-based flow-bending artist and lyrical storyteller came prepared to engage in conversation around questions I had posed – and she also brought one or two of her own thoughtful prompts based on her curiosities around my view of learning.
This practice of taking in her surroundings deeply through observation and inquiry has come naturally to aSanTIS ever since she was a young child. In terms of her early starts in music, she notes that she began as a discerning listener. “Just listening to music from my mom, on the radio, just being a consumer in the world of sound. But I think mainly, my mom has always loved dancing and listening to music, so that was sort of like second nature. We play music at gatherings, we play music in the car, and these songs are sort of like diaries that take us into a specific place.”
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