By Siena Edwards
A couple weeks ago I met with Katie Garcia, my once-employer at Captured Tracks, an independent record label based in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, to talk about her experiences being a Latin woman in the music industry. Garcia used to be the manager at Captured Tracks, and now co-owns her own label Bayonet Records with her husband, Dustin Payseur of Beach Fossils. We met over coffee in Greenpoint. We talked about Miami, Cubans, Juan Wauters, and the dominance of males in the music industry while Mac Demarco coincidentally twinkled in the background of the cafe.
Me (Siena): So, my first question–how do you identify yourself; racially, ethnically, or both?
Katie: As a Cuban woman (laughs), I guess, yeah.
S: And did you grow up speaking another language?
K: Yeah. I grew up–I think I learned Spanish first, as a baby, and then as I got older, like once I started school basically, that’s when I started learning English, and then I pretty much only spoke English, and I still knew Spanish but my Spanish was like really broken, and then when I got to high school–or no, not even–when I got to middle school, I decided I wanted to take Spanish classes instead of French classes, because I wanted my Spanish to be on point. So yeah, I started taking Spanish classes to make sure that, you know, my grammar was totally correct–because up until that point no one had ever taught me as a kid how to write in Spanish, and how to use accents and conjugations–it’s kind of complicated, so I’m glad that I ended up taking classes.
S: So would you say that you’re still fluent
K: Oh yeah, yeah. I talk to my grandmother on the phone, and she doesn’t speak any English, even though she’s lived in the United States for like forty years (laughs)
S: Pretty much my grandma too. So how do you feel that being or becoming bilingual influenced your upbringing?
K: I guess it influenced my upbringing in that I felt like I had a strong cultural ties to my background, ‘cause language, more than a lot of other things, is such an obvious and crucial connection to culture, in general. So um…yeah, I dunno, I think that…it’s tricky, too, because growing up in Miami, I almost took it for granted, because everybody was bilingual. Everybody speaks English and Spanish, or Creole and English, or Creole, Spanish and English. It’s interesting though, because when I got to college in Boston, and I met my friends there, that was the first time I met–like I had all these friends, and I told them like, “you know you guys are my first American friends, like really truly American friends. All my friends from Miami are Cuban, or Haitian, or Colombian, or Venezuelan, or Dominican, whatever.” So, you know, growing up in Miami was definitely culturally influential on me, just in general.
S: Yeah, it’s also different from New York, in that it’s a little more…
K: It’s more concentrated.
K: Like, there are definitely a lot of Hispanics and Latin people who live in New York, but they’re more dispersed, whereas in Miami it’s like, everywhere.
S: Right. So do feel that speaking another language has put you at an advantage over those who don’t–in school, or work, or life, et cetera?
K: Yeah, definitely. I think it’s the easiest way to connect to another person, is speaking to them in their native language, like, if I take a cab and the cab driver, you know, if we strike up a conversation in Spanish, they’re always like, really nice, and they get excited, and it’s nice–like I said, language is one of those things that’s like an instant cultural signifier. So I always think that’s pretty cool, and I think that it’s definitely been an advantage, like if I ever wanted to sign a band from like, Spain or wherever, I could talk to them in Spanish, and they would be nice, and it would probably make them feel more comfortable not to have that language barrier, and to be able to speak in their native language.
S: Yeah, so that kind of goes on to my next question–do you feel that speaking Spanish has shaped your taste in music in any way while growing up? Who did you grow up listening to in Spanish, and do you still listen to music in Spanish or other languages?
K: Yes, I do listen to music in other languages, and as far as Spanish-speaking music that I listen to, Celia Cruz is kind of an obvious one (laughs), love Celia Cruz, recently my sister got me really into this Cuban singer La Lupe, she was kind of coming up around the same time as Celia Cruz, but her story was kind of sad…but anyway, she’s another Cuban singer, she was very passionate–she was a Santera, like, when she is performing it’s almost like she is possessed–it’s so powerful and amazing, and we watched this documentary about her that was really interesting. So I really like her…and then…I dunno, when I was younger I used to like Juanes, and like Shakira (laughs), like the stuff the that Shakira did in Spanish was actually really dope.
S: It is!
K: I used to listen to that with my friends in like, middle school, all the time. The cool like, rocker Colombian woman. Umm, who else…I feel like there are more people who I’m forgetting…Buena Vista Social Club…
S: That was pretty much my mom’s cleaning soundtrack.
K: Yeah, it’s so good, it’s really good. Recently–I have a funny story about Buena Vista Social Club–recently we were in Spain visiting some family that we have there, and we were in Santiago which is where they have that famous cathedral, it’s Santiago de Compostela, and it’s where people make a pilgrimage to this church, and we were on the streets and we hear these people–this woman and this guy–and they’re playing ‘El Cuarto de Tula’ and me and my mom are like, ‘oh my God, what the fuck!’ and we started talking to them and they were like ‘yeah, we’re from Havana,’ and my mom was like ‘aye!’ and it turns out the woman was like from around the corner from where she grew up and all this stuff, it was really hilarious. And it definitely…that’s not the first time it’s happened, one time we were in Munich, and we were walking down the street and we heard salsa music, and at the end we went up to the people and we were like, ‘oh that was great’–in Spanish, and then my mom ends up talking to the guy and like, sure enough, he grew up–that guy actually was right by where she grew up, like a block away, which was super weird, and that was in Munich! So there are just Cubans everywhere.
S: (laughs) Small world for the Cubans!
K: Yeah, the island was too small for all of them, so like everybody just had to leave.
S: So, as a woman in the music industry, do you ever feel like a minority.
K: Yes. Big time. I do. But I also see how it’s changing, like I’ve noticed that there are more women, especially in the independent music industry, that are bing hired and promoted to positions of, prestige, I guess, but uh…yeah, especially when I think about being a label owner, there aren’t that many female label owners. There may be label managers that are women, but there aren’t that many that outright own record labels. I know that there’s a woman that owns Neon Gold, and, I think maybe Harvest Records is owned by one–I’m not sure, but there aren’t that many. Umm…yeah…Veronica Vasicka owns Minimal Wave, you know, so I definitely feel like a minority. So hopefully we’ll see more people who will be inspired to start labels of their own.
S: Definitely. So not only as a woman, but as a woman of Latin descent, do you feel like even more of a minority?
K: Umm, I feel like because–honestly, yes and no–I feel like more so being a woman than a Latin woman, partially because just based on appearance alone, I just look so white, that nobody ever like–that aspect of being recognized or discriminated against for being a Latin woman–I don’t think that’s happened to me as much as it has to other people just purely because aesthetically I don’t look–I don’t have like, the typical Latin features, so I would say more so for being a woman. Like there have been a few instances that are kind of shitty, or like I don’t know, just weird things that happen. It always happens at shows, the worst thing that happened to me recently was I was talking to this guy about how, you know, I run the record label, and Dustin goes on tour a lot, but he’ll go on tour for two weeks at a time so that he can come home and we can see each other. And this guy asks me, he’s like, ‘oh cool, does he schedule when he comes home around your period? Because, you know, it would really suck if he came home and you were in a bad mood.’ And I was like–I laughed in his face, said no, and walked away. I was blind with rage. I actually, I didn’t even know what to–it was infuriating. And shit like that happens all the time. It happens all the time, and it’s–yeah. It sucks.
S: It’s so real.
K: It’s very real. And this just happened to me like two weeks ago.
S: You almost like forget that people still think this way. That’s horrible.
K: Yeah. That was a pretty glaring example. But yeah, anyway.
S: Anyway, so do you think that being a woman or being a Latin woman has given you an advantage over the typical kind of male or white male in the music industry–has it kind of made you feel like a unique person in a way, or has it not really made a difference?
K: Umm, it definitely makes me a unique person. As far as it giving me an advantage…I mean, I don’t think it really does, but, you know, if anything, I would just like to be–I don’t even want it–I want it to be like an even playing field, which obviously it’s not, but like I said, I feel like things are definitely changing for the better.
S: So, as a label owner, do you ever consider signing artists that write in other languages or is that a limited market in New York or the United States–I know you kind of mentioned that before, but…
K: Yeah, I mean, umm, I’ve definitely considered it, it’s always harder, like especially if you’re trying to sell a record in the US, it’s always harder when a band like sings in another language, but it is doable, you know. But it’s…it’s tricky. I haven’t yet signed a band–I know Captured signed Mourn, but that was after I left–but they sing in English. Like, they’re from Spain but they sing in English.
S: Yeah, also, isn’t Juan Wauters–wait, he’s American right?
K: No no no, he’s from Uruguay.
S: Oh he is, okay, yeah.
K: He’s from Uruguay, yeah.
S: Yeah cause he kind of sings with an accent.
K: Yeah, he’s from Uruguay. Umm…oh my God, his parents are so cute. I met his parents…oh my God. They’re so cute. Umm, yeah, he’s from Uruguay, but moved here when he was like a teenager. So he’s been here for a while but definitely has really strong roots to Uruguay and like, is a big like, yerba mate person, and his mom–I think she even makes her own mate, or something like that.
S: Awesome. So–kind of my final question–what is your number one piece of advice for a woman trying to make it in the music industry, or any other kind of male-dominated industry, or anything.
K: I would say…just like…be confident. Learn as much as you can, like, if you–I feel like interning–I know interning kind of sucks, but at the same time, that’s how I learned the ins and outs of how to run a label, and, you know, I found it to be pretty valuable. Actually, I think above all those things, whatever it is that you’re pursuing, just make sure that it’s something you’re extremely passionate about, because ultimately, you’re not gonna be happy if you’re not pursuing something you’re passionate about. If you’re pursuing it because you think it’ll make a lot of money, then like, that’s not necessarily a worthwhile pursuit, you know. If you want to work in a field where you–you know, if you like people, then work in a field that involves people. If you like music, then work in a field that involves music. But yeah, I feel like passion is the most important thing, as long as you have that passion I feel like everything else will kind of fall into place and you can figure out the logistics of everything as you’re going, you know, following up to whatever it is you wanna do. So yeah, for music specifically I would say to intern. You know, as I said, it’s like–it depends, some internships at some companies are great, and some are not so great, it just depends.
S: Yeah, I mean I’ve definitely had some great experiences and some not so great experiences with that, so I feel that. But do you think it took you a long time to find your passion in wanting to pursue music?
K: Yeah, it did, it did. I mean, I went to school for film, and I thought I wanted to do film, and then I started working for a set designer in Red Hook, and it was really fun, like we did a bunch of stuff for MTV and I got to go to the MTV studio, which was cool, like I got to paint the set and do some carpentry…but…and that’s another thing I would recommend, is like trial and error, like don’t ever be discouraged if you think you want to do something and then you try it and you don’t like it, like that’s fine, I mean that’s exactly what happened to me. And then I basically like, I didn’t have a job cause I stopped doing that cause I was unhappy, and then I was like–I had a plan, I was like, I’m just gonna get a part-time job, and on my days off I’m gonna intern somewhere that I’m passionate about–like at a label or something that I’m passionate about, because I really love music. One thing I realized, I kind of had to reflect, like what is it that I’m really passionate about? Music. I go to shows all the time, you know, I really would love to work in music. And then yeah, so I just emailed a bunch of labels, and I actually called Matador on the phone, I was just like ‘do you guys need interns?’ and they were like ‘no,’ so I was like okay (laughs). And then I heard back from Captured, and they were based down the street from where I was living at the time, so it was so easy for me to go in and help out on my days off. And yeah, that was that, and I just learned as much as I could, so that’s pretty much what happened.
S: Word. So that’s pretty much it. Thank you very much for participating in this!
K: Any time.
S: Alright, let’s pause this…