In Session: T.T. Garza

TROY – Grooving, riffing, and strumming his way into the scene with a sense of feel and rhythm contained in all the great Motown classics is local singer-songwriter, T.T. Garza. With his debut release of “Sweetness,” listeners are greeted with a tune that displays quite a level of proficiency in songwriting. Simply put, the cat has it going on! Featuring a spanky single-coil Stratocaster rhythm, along with an intriguing use of a talk-box effect, the song is wonderfully enjoyable. What’s more, the vocals are strong as hell! Upon hearing it, listeners might be tempted to hit that replay button, and then find themselves hitting it again. And, what’s more? This is just the first song of many slated for release, leaving this author begging the question: where the hell does Garza go from here?

I’ve known Garza for years – we cut our teeth at many of the same bars and gigs in the Saratoga area as we were both starting out. When I saw him pop up again, I knew I had to get in touch and I’m damn glad I did. As we sat down for a chat this past week, it was really nice to get re-acquainted with the artist. What follows is our conversation!

Lucas Garrett: Hey, T.T., thank you for taking the time to sit down tonight and talk about your new music.

TT Garza: Good to be here.

LG: I haven’t chatted with you in a while. How are you doing?

TG: I’m doing pretty good! Coming out of a post-pandemic world has been really nice so far. And, also summertime in Upstate New York! It’s a good time.

LG: Yes, it is. I remember I used to see you at least once a week, it was an amazing time. I always thought you were one hell of a guitar player.

TG: I appreciate it. That’s very kind of you, thank you so much. That was back when I just started getting my footing learning how to perform live. You got to see me right at the beginning of getting everything ready to go.

LG: I think I was at the same place back then. Let’s talk about your new music.

TG: Basically, at the end of 2019 I had decided… I’d been doing a bunch of cover gigs, getting my footing – it’s not that I don’t enjoy doing them, I do – but it felt time to do something that I wrote completely; do something that is self-produced, self-written, and self-performed. Then, COVID hit. I spent that entire time writing because I needed something to look forward to in 2020, and there really wasn’t a lot to look forward to.

As it kind of went on, I started getting this idea of, “OK, maybe instead of doing one EP, let’s go ahead and record as many things as possible.” “Sweetness,” the first single that just dropped, is the first of eighteen that are going to be coming out pretty soon.

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LG: Oh, wow. Well, it’s an amazing song. It doesn’t sound like someone just said, “You know what? I want to make my own original music.” It sounds very well-produced; very well-written, like someone that’s been doing this for quite some time. It was really enjoyable to listen to.

TG: I’m really glad you liked it. I wrote that riff when I was 15 years old – I’m 29 now. A couple of months ago is when I came up with the lyrics to it, basically. In between writing all this stuff, I got married. You get this brand-new perspective on life when you take that sacred vow. I wrote this song as a way of saying, “This is how you treat your lady.” That’s what inspired it, and what I was thinking about at the time. I felt I needed to do an introduction as to what I’ve been up to this whole time. Something I’ve struggled with in the past is my identity as a musician, and where to go. This felt like the most natural thing.

Since it’s come out, it’s released a lot of anxiety I’ve had about releasing this. People have been very supportive, including yourself. Thank you so much.

LG: You’re very welcome. You know, it’s my opinion that it’s not just the notes in music, but it’s also the attitude and the way the notes are played. I can literally hear you slamming that guitar!

TG: Hahaha.

LG: It’s a very nice song. When I heard it, I thought, “Wow, he’s really driving his pick into those pickups.”

TG: Thank you.

LG: I’m pretty sure I know where you’re coming from, musically, but I don’t want to assume anything. Why don’t you tell us what some of your influences are?

TG: Biggest influence for me, writing-wise, music-wise, human being-wise, too, would be Stevie Wonder. He was a guy that did most of his classic work completely on his own. He didn’t want Motown to shadow his view of the world and things like that. They were trying to keep it kind of corporate, and he was like, “No, I have to talk about these very issues.” A lot of them are still happening now and to this day. Marvin Gaye’s another guy that I’m a huge fan of for his writing. The way he used messaging to break through and break down tough subjects. Guitar-wise, I was raised on Stevie Ray Vaughan. You can probably hear that in the track; I was using a Stratocaster into a tube screamer.

LG: I can definitely hear that.

TG: He’s my dude. It was illegal in my house to not like him and listen to him. I’ve played all the instruments on this. Drums were a big hurdle for me to get over, but where I really got good at doing the drums, is where I work, Modern Day Music, in Clifton Park. For a long time, I was the band director over there, teaching the kids how to play in a band. Every once in a while, there wouldn’t be a drummer. I’d have to fill in that role. I ended up learning a lot then, especially over COVID. I really worked on my drums and my voice. I don’t think this would have happened if I didn’t spend so much time just trying to get comfortable with my own voice.

That’s something that for me was really, really hard. I was used to trying to make myself like somebody else, not really going for the way I think I could sing. COVID, all things considered – and, I’m not trying to make this sound like a gigantic highlight, because it was a low-light in human history… But it was like going to the musical gym, for me.

We’re in my home studio where all this stuff gets recorded. It’s a good environment here between me and my wife, and my two cats. She’s an artist; she’s a creative. Usually, we’re creating stuff at the same time; sometimes in the same room, sometimes in different rooms.

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LG: Nice.

TG: I’m surrounded by creative energy all day long, which is paramount to getting any of this done.

LG: That’s awesome. I want to go back to what you said about the voice. When you’re playing the guitar, or you’re playing the piano – whatever instrument you might be doing – you can listen to whomever you love and can copy a lot of what they did.

TG: Mhm.

LG: It’s very hard to emulate another person’s vocal cords.

TG: I’d say it’s pretty much impossible.

LG: I think people try, though. Like an instrumentalist might say, “If I can copy the way that Stevie Ray Vaughan plays, I’ll want to emulate the voice.” But I think as a songwriter, when you embrace… whether it’s a limitation, your own niche, or whatever it is, that’s when you write the best melody. These are the notes I have to work with, and that’s it.

TG: Exactly.

LG: I don’t want to sound like him, anymore. I want to sound like me.

TG: That’s something I’ve had to get used to over time. Really, it was more or less hearing my voice on a recording, and being like, “OK.” The take that made it on “Sweetness” was maybe the tenth take. It took me a while to get there because I was trying different inflections. Instead of singing super forward, I was bringing it back a little bit and singing in this area. Then I decided it had to be natural; it had to feel natural. All things considered, you can shapeshift a little bit when you’re playing the instrument and kind of take on different personas. But you can’t change your voice at the end of the day. You can hone it to make it more versatile and make it better, but your voice is your voice.

LG: I understand that feeling you have…

TG: Oh, yes. Haha.

LG: I’m a baritone, right? How many people do you know that are baritones? Not very many. When you hear a song and want to sing that song, you’ll quickly find out most of these guys are tenors.

TG: That was a big reason why I ended up feeling insecure of my voice for the longest time. My example was always super high tenors.

LG: Mhm.

TG: I love Stevie Wonder, and I love Prince, too – he did a lot of his own stuff, as well. But I had to accept this is the way my voice sounds. I’m going to write to fit around this. At the time it was a hard pill to swallow, but now I feel so much clearer when I write because I know where my limitations lie, vocally.

LG: It makes it easier in the long run. When you learn, intimately, your own voice, it makes it a lot easier to write.

TG: I still think I can push myself in a direction where I can reach some of these notes with a little extra vocal training. But now it’s great that I’m very comfortable with it in all of the ranges. It’s been a journey. What helped out a lot, though, was performing cover gigs where I’m the only lead singer. That’s helped out a lot; it’s built my confidence. Half of singing is technique; the other is confidence.

A huge vocal hero of mine is Chris Cornell of Soundgarden and Audioslave. I don’t know if I’m ever going to climb that mountain, but I’m sure going to try. He, in fact, shares a similar range; he’s a baritone. He just happens to have a much better control of his higher range than I do, as of now. I figure if we basically, anatomically, have peak performance ‘til we’re around 70 years old, then I still have time! Hahaha.

LG: Lately, over the years, I’ve seen you maybe once or twice. When I saw out of nowhere that you showed up, I was like, “Huh. I wonder what he’s up to now.”

TG: It was just locking it down, basically. That was another thing: me not being comfortable with putting out everything I had online. Ultimately, this is the world we live in. The thing that’s baffled me the most is how supportive everyone has been since it came out. I basically went dormant about two years ago on the internet and tried to avoid it as much as possible to really just focus in on this project to see what I could get out of it. The response I’ve gotten has been very surprising to me, and I appreciate it a lot.

Everyone that’s either personally reached out to me or streamed stuff the past couple of days; it’s been a lot. I’m really glad you reached out!

LG: In the music world, there’s so much vitriol and so much animosity all the time… When my friends that I haven’t talked to in a while come out with new stuff… I got to tell you, man, you are light years ahead of where I remember you being. I can’t wait to hear more, and I’m really happy for you.

TG: Thank you! You’re a good writer, too, man. That’s what I wanted to enter: this world of the 518 music scene, where people are doing their own original thing. That’s something that I always wanted to do, but never felt comfortable doing it for some reason. Now, it feels good to be part of this thing that, you know, you’re a part of, as well as so many other people that are a part of this area.

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LG: Before we wrap the interview up, let’s talk about the production of “Sweetness.” Walk me through it.

TG: This is my desk right over here; you can see my electric drum set in the background. That’s what I used to track the drums on. The way I recorded the guitar was direct-in to my mixer using a pedalboard, and some impulse responses. The DAW I used was GarageBand, surprisingly enough.

LG: Really? I wouldn’t have believed that in a million years.

TG: Don’t get me wrong: Logic is great, but I just track and write really easy in GarageBand. It’s just seamless for me. Then, it comes to doing some of the mixing things. Instead of using one standard drum track, you split it up; pan some things; compress some things. The real special spice was my mastering engineer, Ben Zoleski. He put the extra sizzle on this thing and really took it over the top. When it comes to mixing, I’m not a trained mix engineer, I just like what I hear. Having his set of ears – which I trust a lot – really took it over the edge. And, really, really put it in a different stratosphere than I ever could have imagined. Shout out to Ben Zoleski!

LG: I love working with him. I’ve written with him and he’s a great guy.

TG: He’s class! We worked together at the same studio for a couple of years. He’s been a great example of how to be; to do this the right way, being professional, and things like that. He’s paramount to not just this track, but a lot of things. He’s a good guy, I love him. And, before we go, I just want to shout out to Christie Rose, founder of Wild Rose Arts, for taking amazing photos. You can hit her up at www.wildrose518.com if you ever need a great photo shoot done.

LG: Well, thank you, T.T.! I think we have everything we need! It’s been so, so good to talk to you again, man.

TG: I really appreciate you reaching out, that means a lot to me. Thank you so much, this has been a lot of fun!

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