Charly Garcia, an icon of Argentina rock culture, chose Billboard Argentina to break the silence after the release of Random — his first album in seven years — and he took the time to talk about everything and everybody.
At 65, Charly still remains artistically present under the critical eye that pierced every inch of his career: “Now everything is a ball of lights, and I don’t see music. What can I say? It lacks heart, and that can’t be taught anywhere.”
We got the final confirmation two hours before the interview. With Charly, it’s common knowledge that planning things the way you want is impossible. The meeting finally happened at around 9 p.m. at his second home, the Faena Hotel in Puerto Madero, Buenos Aires, where he tends to go for drinks with his girlfriend, Mecha Inigo. Sometimes, when he wants to, he plays piano for the occasional witnesses, like that same night we were there. He feels comfortable there, and nobody bothers him. Later, he’d also meet up with renowned photographer Bob Gruen.
“A while ago, I talked to Yoko Ono. She’s a genius. She was with John Lennon and held her own. I told her that whenever they ask her about splitting up The Beatles, she should also add that she separated Sui Generis (the iconic rock band from Argentina from which Charly rose to fame). I have a special connection with her,” he says.
There were months of silent management and then, to everybody’s surprise, his new album, Random, came out.
“I made this album basically because I really liked the music. I wanted to do something new and kick everybody’s ass,” he said.
It’s the first in seven years, and the music was released on streaming platforms as well. Charly said he buys his own tracks on iTunes. As a matter of fact, it’s the first time in which one of his albums is listened to more on digital media, such as Spotify or YouTube, than on the radio or other channels and traditional formats.
That effect could be felt during his surprise presentation he did in the Caras y Caretas club, where his fans chanted every single lyric of those 10 songs which, at that time, only had a week of life.
The way to organize the gathering was also revamped: It came through an announcement on Facebook and went instantly viral. The times are changing, and the former Serú Girán knows it perfectly.
“I love listening to Random. Just like that, randomly, in shuffle, whichever way the little device wants,” he confesses about his latest work with a wink.
How did you choose the sound of Random? It’s a very tight record.
I asked Joe Blaney (music producer) to make the iPad sound more bright and better. I basically asked him to raise the level. He told me I should put it in an elevator. And I did! [He laughs]. Ever since I know him, everybody wants to make a record with him. I remember when he was recording for The Clash and the drummer was an absolute beast. Laurie Anderson was also there.
Back then, I lived in Greenwich Village, New York, and we’d cross paths in the Electric Lady studio. We hit it off immediately. When we recorded “Pecado Mortal,” we realized what that meant. Then we recorded another song, then another, and when we got to “Ojos de Videotape,” we looked at each other and we knew something important was happening. In my opinion, he’s the best. Well, we both are the best, our combination.
You surprised everybody with an impromptu call for a show at Caras y Caretas. How did you feel?
I felt good! I was happy and had excellent company. The place sounded great. I wanted it to sound great, and it did. The other day I sang from my heart, and also with spontaneity. Sounded even better than rehearsals. Everybody is giving me great vibes about this album. It was something new, playing like that, free… That sure is something new for Zorro (Fabían Von Quintiero, Argentine rock musician). I mean: playing free! [He laughs]. I think, with a little mischief, that it had to do with what happened at Indio Solari’s concert. What we did was almost the exact opposite to that. That’s why I decided to go back to a small place, with a good sound and not pretentious. I like to do things that haven’t been done in a while.
What did you want to express?
The misery that’s going around the world. From wars to things that are not right and that God does wrong, if he exists at all. We’d have to ask that to Palito [Ortega]. He’s a great friend of mine, and he was there when I need him. And we weren’t even that close.
He came, showed up, and those are the important things that count in the end. Palito got me out of the clinic. Do you know what it’s like to be locked up by your own family? That’s also in this album. I talk and sing about it. To be locked up by your own mother? F— that. And to be robbed by them, even worse.
While he slowly enjoys a caipiroska and a cigarette, he grabs the March issue of Billboard Argentina and slowly leafs through it. Garcia enjoys what he reads. He laughs at Nicky Jam’s drug and alcohol declarations; he asked who’s Lolita Torres’ grand daughter — because of Ángela Torres — and stops at the article of Depeche Mode to openly declare: “How darker can it be? Look, they’re already using canes.” After seeing the review of his latest work and a picture of him in black and white, he exclaims: “Oh, look, here I am!”
Charly’s lateral way of thinking was always dominant and is still running high today. Sometimes even those who consider themselves more lucid still don’t understand his classic ironies. He’s in a visibly good mood, joking constantly and making everyone around him laugh. He openly makes fun of The Weeknd, who stopped by Argentina during the Lollapalooza festival: “The new king of pop?! What a bunch of liars! All those festival folk should stay in Cordoba!”
What do you think about the tragedy in Olavarria?
I’m not surprised. The last show that massive that I did was here in Puerto Madero, when we did Demasiado Ego. That also has to do with Indio himself. Too much ego in rock ‘n’ roll can be dangerous. I don’t have anything against Indio, but I like John Lydon more (referring to what he’s seeing in the magazine at the moment). I met this guy once.
About Indio, poor guy. It’s tough to have that happen to you. I have a story about him. He called me a couple of years ago, and I was taken aback because we never got along. He asked me if there was anything serious for me. He called me recently, and he was charming. He told me the Argentine people didn’t deserve me. Back then, the doctors had said a lot of bullshit about me being hospitalized. And right now, he’s going through some rough times.
What would you tell Indio?
I’d tell him to stop f—ing around, have a good time, sell that house he has and to rock ‘n’ roll. That’s what he likes. I’d tell him to have Skay [Beilinson]. I liked the Redonditos. [Los Redonditos de Ricota was a classic Argentine rock band Indio and Skay were part of].
And what about you? A lot of people want to see you in a stadium.
For this album, I wanted to do it more refined, in a live production sense of speaking. The other day it sounded pretty good. I’d play here, for example (referring to the Faena swimming pool) or in the Colón (Argentina’s most famous opera house). I wanted everything to be understood.
I never cared too much about the voice, but the other day I did. The voice is very important, people buy the CD because of that. If you don’t hear the voice, the music doesn’t say anything. Now I want a rock ‘n’ roll album. I don’t think it’d be something so simple as a 1, 2, 3, go! Well, let’s say half rock ‘n’ roll and half, I don’t know, techno or something like that. Something like modern clicks. Make the machines do the sound. Get in a room with Blaney and do weird, new stuff. The creator of La Hija de la Lágrima loses notion of time when he’s in front of an instrument. “Hand me the iPad,” he asks Tato, his assistant.
“At home, we have 11 of these. One day, he opened one to see what’s inside,” adds Mecha, Charly’s girlfriend. When he takes the tablet, he immediately opens Garage Band and sings “Oh, oh, oh, life has tricked me,” to then change the tone on the vocoder.
What do you think is happening to music today? There’s a lot easier ways to play and record now.
I think something is missing. To play the instruments better. Now everything is a ball of lights, and I don’t see music. What can I say? It lacks heart, and that can’t be taught anywhere.
Do you think that keyboards and computer-generated tunes have gained a lot more terrain over guitars in the last couple of years?
Maybe. Look, if you play the piano well, it sounds good. What else can I tell you? There’s always gonna be new ideas for all of the instruments. But it’s also good that keyboards move forward. I love Genesis, for example, and some people say it’s old and this and that. Prince, also! I want to tell you that any instrument is an instrument, and I don’t think guitars are the only one for rock. I was a piano professor for 11 years. I’m a master at that, not to brag, but I can play Chopin. I really play. The rest, we’ll see.
Who do you listen to for advice?
Mick Jagger! [He laughs]. And Keith Richards, who’s a little more charming. I don’t know if you heard when he said “The fabulous Charly Garcia!” Fa-bu-lous. [It happened when The Rolling Stones stayed as guests at the Faena Hotel during their presentation in La Plata, Argentina in 2016, where they heard him play and shared an evening with him].
The other day, I was reading a magazine that had an article about Bob Dylan. It was very funny and talked about his last album, Triplicate. The album is really good, and the twists this guy does is awesome. Anything can be expected of him. And of me, too!
Aside from the Stones, who would you sit down at a table with if you could choose?
With The Kinks. Write down The Byrds, too, and Graham Nash also, but David Crosby‘s last album is also wonderful. Well, of course, how would I not say George Harrison! At my place, we listen to a lot of Todd Rundgren or Simon & Garfunkel. I love James Taylor, who’s coming soon. I’d like to play again with him. I’d like to compose the music for some pianist like Elton John at some point. From Argentina, I liked to play with Gustavo [Cerati], who I cherished very much.
Now that you’ve composed “La Maquina de Ser Feliz,” are you happy?
“The Machine” was what stuck to you most?
Yes, and “Amigos de Dios.”
The machine of making birds, I used to say. That band was really great, not like the ones nowadays.