Producer, songwriter, visionary. Fernando Garibay is many things, and he wants you to know about all of them.
He’s collaborated with many legendary artists including Britney Spears (“Quicksand,” “Amnesia”), U2, Shakira, Enrique Iglesias, executive produced Lady Gaga’s Born This Way album and most recently released a three-song EP with Kylie Minogue titled Kylie + Garibay. That was his first step towards stepping out of the shadows and venturing into the spotlight.
Garibay tells BreatheHeavy.com in detail of his transformation.
You’ve remained behind-the-scenes for so many years in music. What made you decide to get in the forefront now?
That’s really getting to the point of where I decided to take my career to. This is the first time I’m answering this question. For a long time… the way I express myself through songwriting and production, the affect of making the record after you’ve written the song, has always been a bit of a way for me to make sense of the world emotionally. I wasn’t in a place I think to really express myself directly to the public, and I wanted to build my relationship with songwriting and production. You have to have the experience. You have to grow as an artist and build your color palette. What better way to do that than through true artists… artists I’ve chosen, or have chosen me, to really build that gift that was given to me and given to others as well. [Before] I wasn’t ready. What writer or producer has not dreamt of moving from the back of the album credits to the front cover? After working with so many great artists, they inspired me and gave me the confidence to really go directly to the public and say ‘this is what I’m about, and this is the music I’ve always written.’ I wanted a more direct access to the people I was writing the songs for. If I can make people feel what music has done for me and made me feel when I was growing up, then I’ve fulfilled my creative obligation. When I was young… when I hear great songs from The Beatles, ABBA (who’s been one of the biggest influences on me believe it or not… I was named after the ABBA song “Fernando”), those songs really really shaped who I am. I spent most of my time listening to music and not really speaking much. Knowing someone else feels the way you do, that relationship and understanding of the world that music has given me, I truly want to pay back. The only way I feel I can truly do that for me right now is to go directly from the back to the front of the album cover and get this music out that I’ve always had.
You feel more connected now that your name’s out there?
Absolutely. Absolutely. Good and bad, right? You’re putting yourself out there for criticism and praise at the same time. I think it took a bit of confidence-building, but I’ve had great friends and amazing artists… watching them through the process and what they go through to do what they do… [it] gave me the inertia that I was missing.
What have you learned from this recent development?
It might seem like’s recent, but it’s been in the works for about four years. I see pop music as having four-year cycles from my experience, and I’ve been doing this since I was really really young. At 16 [years old] I had my first commercially successful record out. What I’ve seen and the curvature of pop music, every four years something changes, and now it’s getting shorter and shorter. Being in cycles, I’ve learned to stay ahead of the curve if not on the curve. I watch cycles of these trends and what happens. What is it about styles of music, and stylistic changes in pop music from songwriting to production that people gravitate to, and what is it about the current generation that’s consuming the pop music the most? What are they relating to? What is their message? What is their void? In order to assess where I fit in, or what I could contribute to this generation, I had to take a step back. After I worked with Lady Gaga… my last commercial release was Born This Way, and I had to take a step back and try to figure out, for me, how could I contribute more as a creator and a songwriter and what music can I get my message across more accurately? I realized ultimately this would be the only way. In order to do this where I feel like I’m being really honest with myself, I need to reassess how I make records and the reasons of why I make those type of records. It’s a bit of soul searching, and realizing what void I was filling with my heart. Then I could be in touch with the message I was giving to the world. Once I figured that out it was easy. Not going to lie, it took about three years to get to that point. This is a lot of studying your craft, relearning your craft (you never stop learning as a songwriter and producer), and that’s how I got to this point. While I was going through this metamorphosis period, I had Kylie Minogue, who’s a good friend (right after the Gaga [record], we started writing for her album), the stars weren’t aligned at that point and the music just didn’t fit the album that she was working on, but we remained good friends. She’s one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met in my life. She wanted to finish the songs that we started on and the rest just happened.
What’s your favorite song off Kylie + Garibay?
I love them all equally. I know that’s very PC to say, but the one that I was like ‘AH, I feel satisfied,’ is “Your Body” with Giorgio Moroder. You know why? Because for me it incapsulates every genre that I’ve ever loved production wise. It’s also one of the first songs I’ve ever written that’s just purely about a feeling. I love “Black and White” that was written from the heart. I love “If I Can’t Have You.” Those were all written from the heart. Every word, every line. We sat down with Kylie and Sam Sparrow, who’s an incredible writer, Whitney Phillips who’s another incredible writer… it was a great experience. It was great for my heart. One thing I always say: if you’re not honest with your audience, they can smell it, and what’s the point? Music should provide soul, should allow people to transcend from where they’re at, wherever they’re listening to the song, to a place of bliss. I always say dance is therapy.
Did you contribute on her upcoming Christmas album?
I love Christmas. It’s one of my bucket lists, to write a Christmas song, but straight after this release I went straight back into the studio and started writing for the Garibay moniker which is what I want to funnel my music I write now through.
Tell us about it.
It’s because I wanted my own outlet to truly express myself. There’s no more barriers or any outside external influences that might deviate the purpose of the music I’m writing. The songs I’m writing are to give direct access to the listener and give them the music I felt they would enjoy.
I was going to ask if you are collaborating with Lady Gaga on LG5, but it sounds like you’re solely focused on your own efforts.
Yea it’s one of my primary focuses right now. My career, you may have noticed a pattern, the artists that have chosen to work with me and vice versa, and it’s definitely more on the diva side of the spectrum. I love writing songs for women. I think one of my biggest inspirations were ABBA songs. Listening to them when I was really young, I kind of saw that as the holy grail [and] at the same time… it inspired me. That’s why I have worked with Britney Spears, Whitney Houston, Lady Gaga… these women who’ve changed the culture and continue to change the culture. I would never turn that down because I love them, and I love what I did with them and if they call me and ask me to write a record with them or whatever it may be… I’m there. And I’m grateful. That played an equal role to my happiness as well as what I’m doing now. At this stage, this is where my heart is and I want to focus on this.
What would you say the biggest change is from when you started to where you are now?
Huge changes. When I started I was really young. I grew up in South Central Los Angeles. I came from a background of less access to getting into a recording studio. Now we’re lucky we can grab a laptop and start making music without having to go to a proper recording environment (which is a blessing… we have great music because of that). There wasn’t much access but I had an opportunity to meet some great people. I had great mentors. Giorgio Moroder opened his doors to me when I was really young. I learned how to make records from the more traditional, old school… working on a console, two-inch recording tape. Then going strictly to in the box, which means on a computer, it was a big transition. That full transition from working with analogue equipment to being more portable happened when touring with these amazing artists and making records on the road. As far as as the evolution of how I made records… before I would say ’96 all the way up to 2007 we made records, wrote records and produced and we hoped a pop artist would cut those records. It’s more of a traditional kind of music industry. That’s all changed now. Now, the music industry is getting smaller and smaller, there are fewer artists putting out music. That means producers and songwriters have to evolve and figure out how to stay creative but yet evolve themselves into a new world of the music industry. I think before when I was writing for these major artists, I had to predict a lot of variables. ‘I wonder what they’re going through. I wonder where they are in their life. I wonder how their happiness is. I wonder if their relationships are in turmoil.’ You want to write songs that are relevant to their lives, and a lot of the times we had very limited access to these major artists so we kind of had to predict stuff. For a long time it didn’t feel real. As I became more successful, I had more relationships with these major artists and then I got to write with them. [They were] more real, honest stories because it came from the heart. Now, my success lead to writing with more artists and therefore creating more genuine, real music with these artists. We want our songs to be heard by the world. What better way than to have a great artist to sing our music or to collaborate with a great artist to sing our songs? Going this route as far as my career path to release my songs through the Garibay moniker eliminates that aspect of the music industry and puts my entire focus on the songs. Nothing else. It cuts through everything. Now for me, my whole energy is all about the songs and what these songs can do to people, how it can inspire them and everything that goes [with] my ideology of what music has done to me.
You mentioned always staying ahead of the curve? What do you predict will be the next trend in pop music?
Part of what makes you a really good producer is trend prediction and being able to identify trends early on and potentially use a bit of what’s going on or what’s coming into the cycles of pop music… let me step back a little. Throughout the history of production, great producers have been using what’s bubbling up in underground music. You name it, since the ’50s, to create pop music trends. To really make the pop music that we’re making relevant. That’s part of being a really good producer. Knowing what trends are bubbling, what styles of music this current generation are connecting to. I think this time, for the first time in pop music history within the past four years and the future, I don’t think it’s so much relevant any more because access to different genres and styles of music is so immediate and happens within a day, where new music comes out and there’s a whole new trend shift. No longer are the days of trying to catch up to what the underground, not-so commercial is doing. It’s more about the genuineness of the music’s integrity that you create.
Any examples come to mind?
Artists like The Weeknd, who I love, because they are truly doing their own thing. Granted, he’s had some great producers join that venture, I think it’s like… here’s a guy who has his own style of writing really honest music and people connecting to it, and it’s an example of true culture and genuineness making a great relationship and the connection. Regardless of whether it’s become commercial because it’s become more accessible, doesn’t take anything away from the fact that he is genuine. Another great artist is Hozier. Straight up really honest songs that mean something to him and mean something to the world. Most of the artists who have chosen me to collaborate in the past years have done this in their own way. Lady Gaga is another great example of who’s brutally honest and genuine and holds no punches to getting her message across and being honest. That’s where I think music is heading to even more so than it’s already been. It’s that closer connection to its audience. It’s no longer about how cool your production is. I think more now, and even more so in the future, is how genuine you are. If you’re doing music that fits no sub-genre, it doesn’t matter anymore. So long as it’s genuine.
Is there any unreleased music you’ve written for yourself that has an honest and genuine message?
I guess I’m throwing myself in the fire metaphorically speaking. I’m writing songs that are no longer songs for the sake of being cathartic. You know the difference? Like when you write songs because it’s more like a personal ego release, therapy, whatever you want to call it. I’m no longer writing those songs. I’m writing now purely for the sake of providing what I do best: making people happy through dance music. Not only that, but making people celebrate loss, celebrate the sadness sometimes, how do we heal? We dance. It’s that sweet combination of the healing process… if you can encapsulate that in a song and make people dance while doing that? That is special.