"They just found a syringe full of cocaine here."
This, my introduction to the more off-color side of singer-songwriter David Garza, is delivered via a muddy answering-machine message called in from a Texas nightclub that will remain nameless. Curiously, the second thing out of Garza's mouth is a rebuttal of that wisecrack--"Nah, just kidding, there ain't no drugs here, man. We're just hangin'"--followed by a rather novel explanation of why he hadn't returned the phone call sooner: "They're giving away free crack pipes over at [the local health food store]. You may want to get one. They're made out of recyclable glass."
The next afternoon, when he's finally reached by phone in his home base of Austin, Garza has changed his tune considerably, detailing the elements of his unique one-on-one relationship with God and the patron saint of rock and roll. "The kingdom of heaven is in the kick-drum," he says with nary a hint of sarcasm.
Such is the snarl of contradictions that has come to define the Irving-born David Garza over the last decade. Deep down, he's a genuinely open, good-hearted guy, but a hefty streak of pretension frequently gets the best of him. He's got loads of foresight and ambition, yet he tends to get hung up on minor egocentric details (he insists, for instance, that his first name be pronounced Dah-veed in honor of his Mexican heritage). An exceptional songwriter with an ever-improving lyrical acumen and an instinct for simple, sharp hooks, Garza would just as soon dilute his pristine melodies with campy, retro-computerized atmospherics, rinky-dink programmed rhythms, and random, synthesized backwash. It's a technical dressing-down process that Garza likes to call "primal futurism," and somehow it makes the music on his recent self-produced EP, the magnificently skewed The 4-Track Manifesto, all the more endearing. Go figure.
"We need lots of new things--like a new religion," says Garza. "I don't think Christianity works; rock and roll is my religion. I'd rather think of myself as a priest and the church altar as a club. That's what people used to do before Christianity: They hung out, drank, made music, and danced around the fire. We just have lights and lasers now instead of fires."
You'd think that with all the abuse he's absorbed from critics in Austin over the years, Garza would have learned to scale back the grandiose proclamations a bit. The truth is, such beaming impulsiveness and youthful self-indulgence--especially at the levels at which the 26-year-old Garza has been operating since moving south from Dallas in 1989--are normally frowned upon in a town where modest intentions and guarded cynicism are the laws of the land.
Perhaps Garza could have benefited somewhat from toning down his flaky rhetoric and protruding pop sensibilities. But it's too late for him to turn back now.
Certainly, the singer-guitarist shows no signs of changing to please anyone on The 4-Track Manifesto. Recorded, by and large, in his bedroom, the disc lays out for all to hear Garza's cheeky cut-and-paste formula for alternately exposing and decomposing his influences (everything from ELO to T. Rex to Tejano). Matching 4-Track's various musical bits and pieces to their previous owners is so simple, it's disarming; bald-faced tributes to Garza's heroes run rampant throughout its homemade grooves.
The shamelessly romantic "Floataway" offers an impeccable impersonation of Bryan Ferry in full-on lounge-lizard mode. "Discoball World," a ready-made hit single, cops its acoustic bridge from "Kid," a tune on the Pretenders' fabled 1979 debut. And in yet another glaring example of Garza's theft-as-flattery techniques, "Too Much" bears an unsettling resemblance to Dirty Mind-era Prince--Casio drumbeat, breathless falsetto, and all. Yet for whatever reason, it all comes away sounding heartfelt and--odd as it might seem--very much in tune with the times.
"This is my music," Garza says. "It's not a rough demo. This is truly the way I hear music, which is a little bit odd and a little bit stripped-down. I mean, why should I go into a big studio, walk past secretaries, and get nice coffee when I could [stay at home and] just wake up, get breakfast, and work the way most artists do?"
In a weird way, Austin and David Garza are perfect for each other. Both, after all, are full of themselves, and that, of course, is a big part of what makes them special. Still, Garza hasn't helped his cause any by succeeding so swiftly on his own terms.
"Austin's been a good opponent," he says. "It's been like a chess game: They make a move, then I make a move."
Garza was only 18 when he leapt to the forefront of the Austin scene, doing so in a period of months leading a band, Twang Twang Shock-A-Boom, that played its first gigs for spare change on the University of Texas campus. At the time, Garza was a UT freshman, and the group had basically come together as a lark. Six months later, the minimalist trio, with its quirky folk-pop sound, was packing clubs on and around Sixth Street, and being hailed by fans (and denounced by critics) as the next Poi Dog Pondering. But alas, that was all it took for Garza to break up the band and go solo in 1990, soon after a potential deal with CBS fell through.
"I didn't want to be Poi Dog Jr.," Garza says. "The reason I didn't get any respect was because I was 18 years old and I went out on the university campus and I did something really bold and pretentious--which is play my music in broad daylight with no microphones, no amplifiers, and no stage. I went to the people instead of making the people come to me."
A hard worker and never less than a prolific songwriter, Garza dropped out of UT and spent the next six years recording and touring. His independent catalog boasts five CDs (including 4-Track) and three limited-issue cassettes. Hitting the road under the group name Dah-veed, Garza set about building a regional following. By last year, his efforts had caused enough of a stir that he landed a deal with Lava/Atlantic. The people at Lava have, in essence, given Garza the green light to do just about anything he wants: His proper Atlantic Records debut, titled This Euphoria, is due in stores April 7.
"I just keep sending them tapes," says Garza. "I've recorded around 50 songs in the last year and a half. To this day, I still don't know what's going to be on the album."
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In the meantime, Lava/Atlantic has heartily condoned The 4-Track Manifesto, which was released on Garza's own Wide Open Records and is available only at live appearances and on the Internet. For his most recent whistle-stop tour of the East and West coasts, Garza temporarily abandoned his backup band--drummer Michael Hale, bassist John Thomasson, and guitarist-keyboardist Jacob Schultz--in favor of Austin DJMark McCain, for an offbeat two-man show that's somewhat akin to coffeehouse performance art.
"This is totally low-key," Garza says. "I'm selling the CD from the stage for five bucks just because I want people to have it. I want to stay in the underground, in the trenches, in the clubs. Because as soon as you try to come out, either you'll get shot or you'll get a medal of honor and wind up on CNN like Ollie North."
Regardless, there comes a time when an artist has to risk exposure to the elements. And it's quite possible that the so-called underground has had its fill of Dah-veed's shenanigans. No matter, says Garza, he'll just take his missionary work elsewhere--most likely to the next level.
"I go across the country and run into other rock and roll fanatics like myself," he says. "We're like vampires; we're this secret sect. And it is a religion. I get God, rock and roll, and love mixed up all the time. To me, they're all different words for the same thing.