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Arranging Music for the Studio, Tackling The Beatles, and Confronting Artistic Risk Head On
How do we put this delicately…Adrianne Gonzalez is a fearless beast of artistic expression. Here’s a woman so unafraid of taking risks – so unafraid to be who she is as a musician, an artist, a feminist, an “out” role model – that it’ll be no surprise to us if Gaga’s “little monsters” grow up and start idolizing her instead. AG, as she’s now know professionally, has just released an EP of Beatles tunes, a ballsy move that has resulted in one of the most haunting, gender/genre bending expressions of musical ingenuity in recent memory. We had no choice but to devote the following pages to her, in which we trace her early career path, how she approached new arrangements of classic songs, and how she’s managed to balance life as a solo musician with her role in the popular LA band The Rescues.
When did you first know that music was something you were going to pursue?
I was in choir from a very early age. It was kind of my life since I was about 8. But I didn’t know what that would mean for me when I was an adult, or as a career. I didn’t even know what a career was in high school. But when I was in high school I heard the Indigo Girls for the first time. And I was like, “Okay! I wanna do that.” It was definitely a pivotal moment. The first time I heard “Love Will Come To You,” that’s when I knew. I know a lot of musicians who also have those moments, those “aha” moments, where something shifts. It just makes sense and they realize what their purpose is.
Were you playing at all at that time? Or was that when it first struck you that that is what you needed to be doing?
I was singing and writing poetry, but I wasn’t writing songs yet. I got a guitar right after I heard [that song], and taught myself how to play. I wish it could have been someone like Joni Mitchell. I know it’s super gay of me to be like “The Indigo Girls were my main inspiration.” But it just so happened to be that. They were very strong women that had commercial success.
We speak with a lot of female musicians who run the gamut from hardcore metal to hip-hop, and the Indigo Girls come up time and time again. We were talking to this female musician and she was in a real hardcore metal band, like a Slayer-type band. And she was saying, “I didn’t realize women could be that” because there weren’t a lot of strong female role models, especially in metal. But I guess she had gone to the Lilith Fair, and saw this huge community of strong, powerful female musicians who were taking it seriously. And even though it wasn’t the genre that she was going to end up in, it was still a strong influence in as much as the confidence and the drive it gave her to take it seriously, as well.
Totally, I feel the same way!
But getting back to you…
I grew up in Miami, where it was primarily Hispanic; I am Cuban and Dominican, myself. So I grew up where a lot of Hispanics held high positions of power. You know what I mean? Which is not necessarily the case everywhere else. Think about it. Everybody was Hispanic. I didn’t know there was such a thing as the rest of the country and that I was actually a minority. And so I grew up thinking that I could do anything I wanted to do. I grew up thinking that there was no ceiling for me. And that was a huge part of my drive and my confidence. I still don’t feel like I have a ceiling. When I moved to Boston to go to school, that was the first time I felt it.
Where did you go? Berklee?
Yeah, I was at Berklee. Honestly, I didn’t feel it at Berklee as much, what with it being an international school. Thank God. If I had gone anywhere else, it would have been a way worse culture shock. Boston is very…you know…white. I don’t know if you know anything about Boston.
We’re actually based out of Boston.
I love Boston, but I had a hard time getting anywhere there in the ’90s.
I won a Boston Music Award and the whole thing. And I still couldn’t really get a fan base because I wasn’t a Hispanic woman singing Hispanic songs. I wasn’t the novelty thing; I was doing what white folks did there. It didn’t really work. I moved to LA and everything changed.
It’s still very difficult here in the city, especially for female musicians. I still feel it’s very much an indie rock boys club. It has been for probably the past 10-15 years, if not longer. But I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know…
Well, I hear that the folk scene in Boston is amazing; it’s just very white.
Let’s talk about the new EP. It’s kind of…I don’t know if ballsy is the right word, but to put out a full EP of Beatles tunes? Maybe you can give us a little insight into how and why this project came along. And then how did you approach arranging songs that a lot of people are probably very familiar with?
Yeah, well that’s the cool thing. Do you know the history of these songs in particular?
I think they somehow ended up with your publishing company. But can you elaborate on that a little bit?
In ’62 they signed this really terrible publishing deal. So these are the only songs that aren’t owned by the mass conglomerate and they were floating around, and this small publishing company caught wind of it, and was like “Ahhh, we’ll take those.” And then my publishing company partnered up with them and wanted “inspired versions” – not covers, but inspired versions. I was like, “OK, that’s interesting to me.” And that’s the thing, it was really ballsy. I said to my producer, “Dude, we should not be doing this. Beatles songs should not be covered, they should be studied, and learned from and left where they are…So let’s go ahead and do it.”
I knew that we were either going to totally nail it, or miss the mark completely and walk out with our tails between our legs. But honestly, I like to live like that.
Yeah, and with great risk comes great reward. And it was definitely a challenge and it was so fun and so terrifying.
What really strikes me is how you take the essence of the song to produce these really haunting versions, with the exception of one more dance-y number. How did you approach them in the studio?
Well basically, some of the songs I wasn’t super familiar with. So when I sat down, not to rewrite, but to reinvent the songs, I decided I wasn’t going to listen to the originals. I waited about a month. I listened to them a couple times, and then I waited a month. And basically, I played what I remembered. And then I changed some chords and other [minor] things, but I did hear the melody most of the time. And yeah, I wanted the songs to be reinvented. And so “I Wanna Be Your Man” is super haunting. And that’s exactly what we wanted. Same thing with “Misery” and “She Loves You.” But at the same time, I love fun songs, too. And the songs “I Saw Her Standing There,” “From Me To You” and “There’s A Place,” they’re more fun, they’re less “deep.”
I toggle between wanting to write songs that are super gut-wrenching and songs that just make you feel good…that aren’t precious. Do you know what I mean?
Yeah, I totally get that.
I love doing that; I think it’s so fun.
I think that balances it out, because if you had six songs that were all in the same mood, it might wear thin. But when you get to “From Me To You” and it’s a little bouncier, it really kind of gives it a point-counterpoint to the songs that came before it. So I really like the mix and the track sequencing.
“From Me To You” definitely has an ’80s vibe. Like reinventing a ’60s song with an ’80s vibe, in the 2000s, with a girl singing it. All that is so interesting, and I didn’t even know that this was going to happen going into it. Originally, I was going to just do it in GarageBand with my guitar and vocals. But then I met up with Jim and I was like, “Dude, maybe we should really do this” and then as it went along, I started to feel great. Because now all of a sudden, I’m able to sing songs about girls, right? And with my music, I never wanted to alienate straight people by singing about women, so my music has always been super androgynous, with the exception of a few songs here and there that are more of a statement. But I gotta tell you, it was really fun to be able to sing those songs to a woman.
The other half of you, if that’s an appropriate term, is kind of well known for being in an LA band called The Rescues. What’s the status of that group? Are you committed completely to the solo thing right now?
Well, I’m sort of committed to both. I mean, I committed myself to The Rescues for three or four solid years. And now we are all doing different things, and also The Rescues at the same time. Now both things are seeding into each other. We are mixing a new record right now. Billy Bush is mixing the record, which is freaking awesome. Do you know who Billy Bush is?
Yeah, he’s done all the Garbage stuff…
And The Lodge is mastering. We aren’t really planning on doing any touring, so we are basically going to be more of an online presence. We are thinking about releasing the record in a more creative way, like releasing three songs at a time, or one song at a time over the course of a year. We’re thinking about a different way to approach it, being that we are going to be mostly digital, officially. So yeah, we are definitely still very active, but just in a different way. Gabe [Mann] writes all the music for Modern Family, and a bunch of other TV shows, Rob [Giles] is a producer and does some Broadway stuff, and Kyler [England] does her own thing – you know she just put out a new record, too. We are all just doing it all, and diversifying, if you will.
What is AG going to be in the future? Once The Beatles project is out there and people are digging it, what is the next step for you as a solo artist?
Well, first of all, before The Rescues, I went under Adrianne Gonzalez, and I think I have eight albums under that name. And then after The Rescues, after being a part of something bigger than myself, I didn’t want to go back to doing something so about me. Which is partly why I have a moniker now. I diversify within the brand of AG: I direct music videos, I’m a painter, I write stories and blogs for The Huffington Post, and write a lot of music for plays and [other projects]. Basically I want AG to be a brand that covers a lot of ground. I just signed, as a painter, with a big art wholesaler; they are the main seller to Ikea, Urban Outfitters, Target, Kohl’s, and all these cool people. And at Pier One, I’m going to be doing a specific series of paintings for their stores. All that is going to be under the brand AG.
So for all intents and purposes, Adrianne Gonzalez is no more?
Adrianne Gonzalez is no mo’!
Our readers are musicians and creative professionals. Is there anything else that you want to throw in about how you make music, or how you write music that might be useful or inspiring to other folks out there?
Never be afraid to take risks. Always risk. Always be on the brink of catastrophe or greatness.
I was reminded of that when I was working on these Beatles songs. The Beatles were that exact thing; sometimes they missed the mark completely, and when they got it they were legendary. And also, don’t be afraid to make a stand. Don’t be what Obama was being for so long and just try to please everybody. You are never going to please everybody. When you take a stand, many more people are going to respect you for that. And that’s why I wanted to make the “I Wanna Be Your Man” video. Because even though I am gay, I’m super feminine; I don’t identify as butch or transgender, or anything like that. But I do stand for equal rights for everyone.
Do you find that you have to shoulder a certain responsibility for other gay artists? I don’t know if “burden” is the right word, probably not. But some sort of responsibility to project a certain way, or be some sort of leader-type figure?
No, you are exactly right. There is that element. But here’s the thing – I embrace it. I think that as somebody in the public eye, we have a responsibility. If I can be a strong, “out” musician, who can define myself as being gay but who is still proud of who I am, and take a stand…then I think that will inspire other artists to take a stand. I mean, listen to me.
When we signed with Universal, I was really nervous. I said to my band, I was like, “Listen, I am not going to go into the closet for ANYONE” and they were like, “We are totally behind you.” And Universal is a lot of things, but they never asked me to change the way I looked. They totally welcomed the fact that I was out, and everything that came with it. And if I can shout that shit from the rooftops, I will. And yeah, I want to be a good role model; I want to give the queer culture in the mainstream a good name. Because there are a lot of people who are super ignorant, and have these preconceived notions of what being gay is, of how people are. I want to break that stereotype.
photos by Jen Rosenstein