Written by Andrew Vlasblom
Photographed by Paul Quay, Eden Jones, and Park Tae-sang
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past year, you’ve probably heard Josh Garcia’s name mentioned more than a few times. The Texas native lived in Gwangju from September 2016 to September of this year and during that time rocked the live music stages around the city as a singer-songwriter, both as a solo artist and with two bands, Galaxy Hotel and CCTV. He also contributed to the Gwangju Blog, writing pieces focused primarily on artists’ work throughout the city. Additionally, he was a strong and regular writer for the Gwangju News. Before he left to travel Asia, I had the opportunity to chat with Josh about his experience living in Gwangju and his parting thoughts on a community he deems “truly special.”
Gwangju News (GN): How did it come about that you, Josh Garcia, came to Gwangju?
I had always wanted the experience of traveling abroad but never really got too far outside of the States. A lot of people recommended Korea as a great country to live and teach in, so after putting it off for about six years, I decided to take the plunge.
GN: You were involved in a number of projects and bands before coming to Gwangju. Can you tell us a bit about those or some notable projects you’ve been or still are involved with?
I don’t think I really seriously played in a band until about 2012, but I’ve kept pretty busy since then. I was collaborating a lot with my close friend, Donnie Simmons, for several projects ranging from indie, funk, pop, and hip hop, our most notable being Stereo Control. I played guitar and sang in another group around that same time that was more of a country-fried Beatles vibe, called Coyote Cyanide. That was another band that formed from a long-time friendship with folk-rock master, Neal McAlister. Also, I was drumming in a band called Chingalotus that was sort of a musical obstacle course. The songs were respectively written by my friends, Denver Williams and Charles Marchbanks, who could jump from psychedelic punk to country to math rock. I really learned a lot from playing and learning their material. Those three bands were constantly writing, gigging, and recording through 2014 and 2015. In 2016, Carleen and I set out to tour the states as Galaxy Hotel and live in an old Econoline van. We had formed over the course of busking for a few months, while learning covers and writing originals. I felt totally naked at the time, playing as an acoustic duo after I had been in bands for so long.
GN: Galaxy Hotel made quite a splash here in Gwangju. What inspired the name? You’ve played a bunch of gigs around the world. Do you hope to make it big with Galaxy Hotel?
We’ve had a blast here in Gwangju and will definitely continue to perform as we travel. We actually borrowed the name from this seedy hotel that was near my old apartment in Dallas. We thought it had a nice, cosmic ring to it and feel it acknowledges the temporary stay we all have as beings here in the universe. The band is really about embracing the present and making peace. Our biggest goal is to have fun.
GN: You’re a multi-talented musician. Can you compare and contrast the experience and energy you feel when playing, say, drums vs. guitar?
That’s a really interesting question. I started out taking piano lessons from a little old lady down the street for about four years when I was in elementary school. That really helped give me a good foundation and taught me the basics of theory. Then in sixth grade, I joined the school band as a percussionist, and had a great experience with orchestral music, jazz band, drum line, and everything else I could get my hands on. I probably should have majored in music in college, but I was (am?) really clueless. I still played in a few Afro-Cuban ensembles and even did a year of steel pans while at university, but it was so tough to have my drum set in living situations, so I started playing guitar and writing songs. I think I end up trying to fuse the two mind sets by playing drum parts that are melodic and complementary, and guitar parts that are groove-based and rhythmic. I’m not sure if that answers your question, but I love them both as an opportunity to simply create.
GN: You’ve enjoyed success with local band CCTV as the front man and lead singer-songwriter. Most of those original songs you had already written and recorded before. Have they evolved in a five-piece band setting?
Definitely! These songs have all evolved in ways that I could have never done on my own. The influence of each musician in the group really shines through and brings my basic arrangements to life. Jon was very hands-on with arrangements of the songs and instrumentation. Especially when I look back to my demo of “Pachinko Machine,” in comparison to the live album version with CCTV, there’s a whole new element there that adds weight and power. Ryne’s bass line in “Voyager’s Dream” is another example, where he employs this special low-end funk that is totally his own creation. Dan was instrumental in giving “Lil Chula” that crisp, sexy Mark Ronson feel. And of course, the layering from your piano, on songs like “Catch 88” and “Under the Gun,” brings so many new colors to the chords. The solos were very inventive too.
GN: You have a knack for clever, colorful wording in both your songs and your journalistic writing. Writing is a major passion of yours, and you’ve done great work interviewing some of the people here in Gwangju. Is writing or journalism something you do purely for pleasure or something you’d consider pursuing as a career?
I love writing, and it always seems to come out much better when I’m really enjoying it. I’ve recently started to look more into certain types of storytelling techniques and always enjoy learning about different literary devices, but ultimately, I just try to open my head and let it all fall out. If someone is ever willing to pay for me that, I’d happily take the pay, but if not, I just plan to enjoy it for what it is.
GN: What are a couple of things that you’re really going to miss about Gwangju? Would you consider coming back?
The artistic community in Gwangju is truly special. Mainly, because it is very active for a good range of mediums: theater, music, visual art, writing, etc., I really appreciated being a part of it and the fact that it was so accessible. In general, the expat community in Gwangju made a big difference in day-to-day survival and spontaneous friendships. Dreamers and Speakeasy were weekly beacons for me. Also, all of the fun events put on by the GIC and ACC. In general, it was a very friendly and safe place. I’ve lost track of how many times random Koreans went out of their way to help me out, even if they didn’t know any English. The surrounding mountains were always very comforting and beautiful, too. It will always have a place in my heart, but I’m not sure when I’ll be back. It’s opened up my desire to explore even more places that I’ve never heard of!
GN: What’s next for Josh Garcia?
Currently, I’m traveling around to Japan, Thailand, Australia, and New Zealand for the next few months, then back to Austin, Texas with my girlfriend. I think we will use that as a home base for a while to create more art/music and gorge ourselves on Tex-Mex, but like I mentioned earlier, we want to keep traveling and opening up ourselves to new experiences. As Joe Dirt once said, “Life’s a garden. Dig it!”
Hailing from Canada, Andrew Vlasblom has lived in Gwangju since August 2009. He enjoys playing the accordion and hitchhiking.