Over the course of Davíd Garza's two major-label albums, a lot of weighty names have been dropped on his shoulders as critics try to come up with a handle for the stylistically elusive Austin-based artist. Names like Prince, David Bowie, Bryan Ferry, Jeff Buckley and even Donovan all have been tossed Garza's way. But when this inquiring journalist threatens to hold a gun to his temple to force him to categorize himself, Garza won't play the "the next (insert artist here)" game.
"Pull the trigger. I don't care. I ain't gonna answer that," Garza insists. "Come on, man. Don't do me like that."
Okay. One can roll out the standard stuff, and say that on his latest CD, Overdub, Garza touches on rock both hard and softer, pop, folk, soul, blues and his Latin heritage. After all, those are the styles mentioned in the reviews included in his press kit, although USA Today does recommend, "Don't bother trying to define [Garza's music], just tune in and turn on." One might convey a better sense of Garza's range by saying that the atmospheres he creates go from raw to subtle to majestic to down-and-dirty, to name a few of Overdub's moods. But truth be told, Garza is one of those acts that it is better to digest than dissect.
For Garza, whose first name is pronounced "Dah-VEED," which was also his professional handle for a while in the mid-'90s, putting labels and descriptions on his art is akin to predicting the future. One is bound to get something wrong.
"It's like asking a mother who just gave birth to a kid, 'Okay, describe what you have here.' You don't know what it is. You have to let it grow and breathe. Some songs don't make sense until 12 years later," he observes. "So who am I to categorize it into some neat little thing? Everybody else is so busy doing it, why should I join in on that? Everybody else is going to already say what they think it is, so if I say what I think it is, it's just one more opinion that's not going to be correct."
So let's just say that Garza is musical, incredibly so. Although now in only his second major-label at bat, he has since 1992 also released 11 recordings on his own label, Wide Open Records. Three of them have come after his Atlantic debut, This Euphoria, in 1998, thanks to an agreement with the label that allows him to keep busy in the minor leagues while competing in the big show. "I was lucky to have a few labels fussing over a record I was going to put out," he explains. "So that turned out to be a deal point, not to get businesslike about it."
Garza sees the arrangement as complementary, not conflicting. "It works together really well for me, because the label simply lets me do what I want to do. The way it works artistically, I think, is that the people who are that level of fan get to see things even more closely. It's always good to think like a fan," he insists.
To bolster his point, Garza cites a somewhat obscure English folk-rock act, The Incredible String Band, that he's lately become enamored with. "I was thrilled to see that those guys put out pretty much an album a year and sometimes more between 1966 and 1974. What is someone that's a fan of a '90s artist supposed to do? They're going to get maybe three albums over a span of ten years because the band is so busy trying to sell ten million albums. So I'd rather be one of those musicians who's like a vineyard, who has a crop every year."
The Irving native has certainly shown a Napa-esque fecundity since he started performing in 1989 on the West Mall at the University of Texas, basically for the fun of it. Soon after being joined by a drummer and bassist, Garza dubbed his new band Twang Twang Shock-A-Boom, and quickly became the rage among the Austin college crowd. Tagged as (dread phrase) the next big thing out of Austin, Twang Twang received the inevitable kiss-off when the band's manager tried to win it a big-time deal by having the group serenade a gaggle of one label's executives in New York, a stunt that fell flat.
Perhaps that's why Garza now eschews any standard music-business thinking. The solo career that followed Twang Twang's demise again found the hyper-fickle finger of potential fame pointing his way by the late '90s. Labels were angling to put out This Euphoria, which on release sold only 30,000 copies. But with such celebrated names as those listed above being employed to describe him, does Garza wonder or care why it hasn't happened for him yet?
"What's it?" he asks in return. "A lot of my favorite records weren't huge sellers; a lot of my favorite records were huge sellers. For me, the last [major-label] record I made didn't sell two or three million copies, but it sold ten times more than a record that I did in 1992, so I can see that exponential growth, and that's enough to keep me going."
His prodigious output indicates that for Garza, the journey ultimately may be more important than the destination. And when asked about what inspires him to be so prolific, he stresses the process rather than some notion of what the end result might be. "As soon as you stop to think about what's inspiring you, you become uninspired," he insists. "It's like cooking," continues Garza, the metaphor hound. "You can sit around and talk about what's in the refrigerator and what's in the pantry and what you don't have from the store or what you would cook if you felt like cooking. I find that when I need to do that, I just start turning the oven on and get the flame going. And pots start magically appearing on the flame, and then oil starts coming in. And then before I know it I'm cutting stuff up, and there's food."
And even when asked to speculate on what he ultimately wants to achieve in music, Garza is as elusive as his music. His main ambition is to be "alive to keep doing it," he says. "I may only be doing it for my kids or my grandkids or my cellmates, whatever life brings me. But as long as I'm alive, I'll be doing this. It's what I'm put here to do."
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