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"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 to 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 gotten back to me 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 specifics 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 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 new 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, as 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 Mindera 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.
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