Many young artists want to make an impact on the world with their lyricism and story-telling, but very few manage to do so with the same sophistication and youthful energy as Virgina native Calista Garcia. Her hope, vulnerability, and goal of helping others shine through on her sophomore EP A Beautiful World, which draws from the raging world defined by the 24-hour news cycle while still offering a sense of escapism and wonder in the midst.
Recording the EP in a colorful studio as inspiring as the lyrics themselves, Garcia co-produced the project with Buddy Spier, enlisting engineer Sean Russell, Grammy-winning mixing engineer Jim Scott, and Grammy-winning mastering engineer Richard Dodd to round out the team. Throughout A Beautiful World, Garcia shows off her skills on guitar, harmonica, and the Wurlitzer electric piano, giving the production new depth and a warm, hearty feeling.
In true self-isolation fashion, Garcia wrote most of the EP alone in her room and on park benches, and it kicks off with the people-watching anthem “Deep Blue Diving.” She wrote the song before COVID-19 swept the world up, inspired by her experiences and disillusionment in Nashville, TN before she returned to her home state of Virginia during the pandemic.
“A lot of things I believed in, or held to be true, disappointed me and weren’t,” Garcia admits. “And it all felt like promises breaking. It was sort of like I was at a crossroads. There was one potential path where I just became a cynic, and stopped believing in people, or trusting their intentions. And then there was the other path, where I chose to see things through an even rosier lens; and chose to continue to see the best in people and the world. I took the rosy path. And that led me to write the rest of this record.”
The project acknowledges the chaos and turmoil that runs rampant in a pandemic-era world, but it doesn’t dwell on external circumstances. It turns inward in a display of introspection, exploration of identity, and a celebration of memories with nostalgic production reminiscent of greats like Fleetwood Mac and Joni Mitchell.
“A Beautiful World was originally supposed to be a spring release, but now I can’t picture it belonging to any other season but fall,” Garcia explains. “It’s comfort food. It’s musical butternut squash soup.”
The only track Garcia didn’t write alone is the tear-jerker “After You’re Gone,” a song about losing a family member that she wrote with Rachel Weisbart and Patrick Oberstaedt of the Gender Gnomes. Each of the EP’s six tracks evokes emotion and vulnerability, but “After You’re Gone” takes it to another level, shedding the project’s mostly hopeful tone to describe true emptiness and distress.
“I’ve had a few instances of getting really vulnerable on co-writes, and I do think they’ve turned out to be my favorite co-written songs,” Garcia shares. “This was a heavy song to write. I honestly think it was so much easier to write because I had Rachel and Pat there, too, so we could all sort of share the load. I think if I just sat on my bedroom floor and tried to write that song, it might be too intense for me to see the idea through.”
Where A Beautiful World really shines is in how Garcia sees those ideas through. Songs like “My Love” touch on the state of the world without going too far into detail, focusing on comforting listeners and encapsulating the feeling of a moment, while tracks like “Magnolia Tree” play on traditional Americana imagery and tropes without feeling like a recycled version of someone else’s work. The project is brimming with thoughtful sentiments and picture-painting lyrics, showing the heart of a promising artist who’s ready to explore her surroundings and help others make sense of theirs.
Garcia herself puts it best: “I can’t cure a global pandemic, or single-handedly save the world. But what I believe I can do is make people feel better.”
You can find A Beautiful World on your favorite streaming services now, and get to know Calista Garcia on Facebook, Instagram, Patreon, Twitter, and her official website! Keep reading for more from our interview with the insightful singer-songwriter.
Congratulations on A Beautiful World! How does it feel to unleash the project to the world after such a tough few years?
It feels surreal and amazing to release it. Today I listened to it all the way through on Spotify for the first time, while walking in the woods by my house. And it was this beautiful, strange thing, I walked past all the rocks and trees and little landmarks that I walked past almost every day during the pandemic while I was writing this record. I thought about the times when I would roll over some of these lyric ideas in my head while passing these landmarks, and how now these songs were fully formed, and my ideas were not only realized, but public! It’s exciting.
How have you grown as an artist and a person since releasing your Wild Woman EP in 2019?
I’ve been calling the time between Wild Woman’s release and this new one, “The Great Softening.” And that’s pretty much what happened. I was 18, and a senior in high school, when I released Wild Woman. I was just breaking into the industry, and I felt that I really had to make a big stomp of a first impression. I love that EP, but there was a level of precociousness that I’ve since been able to ease off of as I’ve developed more genuine confidence in what I do. I didn’t write these new songs to impress anybody. I wrote them because writing them felt good, and I’m sharing them with the hope that they make other people feel good. So it’s been a shift in intention, really.
“Deep Blue Diving” is a fun people-watching anthem, describing things like a marriage proposal a teenage girl receives. What made you want to make that the first track on A Beautiful World?
I wrote “Deep Blue Diving” during the almost a year I spent living in Nashville, before I came back home to Virginia when the pandemic hit. A lot of the little anecdotes in the song were real experiences. I did for example, have a guy leer at me while his head was on his girlfriend’s shoulder. That’s a strange experience. And my favorite waiter at my regular cafe did wear a “Graceland” shirt. It was a bit of a disillusioning time. A lot of things I believed in, or held to be true, disappointed me and weren’t. And it all felt like promises breaking. It was sort of like I was at a crossroads. There was one potential path where I just became a cynic, and stopped believing in people, or trusting their intentions. And then there was the other path, where I chose to see things through an even rosier lens; and chose to continue to see the best in people and the world. I took the rosy path. And that led me to write the rest of this record.
“My Love” reflects on the past few hectic years and the 24-hour news cycle with a sense of grace, promising to protect a loved one from everything going on. I love that you managed to touch on the pandemic without making it feel too heavy! Was it hard to strike the balance between addressing the chaos of the world while still offering a sense of escapism?
It’s sort of a mini version of the way I’ve learned to turn to escapism while keeping my feet on the ground, and not deluding myself to the chaos of the world. The balance is a balance I find myself having to strike daily, how to keep it light, how to find a way to be happy, etc. I think the real trick of it was that I just opened the escapist nozzle and let it blast. I didn’t feel the need or desire to directly mention the pandemic, or global warming in the song. Instead, I tried to cut straight to the heart of how it’s made people feel. I can’t cure a global pandemic, or single-handedly save the world. But what I believe I can do is make people feel better.
“After You’re Gone” is a beautiful tribute to a lost loved one, which you co-wrote with Rachel Weisbart and Patrick Oberstaedt. Was it hard to be that vulnerable on a song, especially on the only song of the EP you didn’t write alone?
I’ve had a few instances of getting really vulnerable on co-writes, and I do think they’ve turned out to be my favorite co-written songs. This was a heavy song to write. I honestly think it was so much easier to write because I had Rachel and Pat there, too, so we could all sort of share the load. I think if I just sat on my bedroom floor and tried to write that song, it might be too intense for me to see the idea through. But there’s a level of objectivity that comes in during co-writes. You have to rally, and pitch your ideas logically, like “what if we put this chord here?” and “Where do we wanna go with this section?,” so it adds some balance. I think we were able to write this song because the space we created was a very lucid, even-keeled one. There was also a lot of trust, which is so necessary with this kind of work. Rachel and Patrick are such fantastic songwriters, so I trusted their ideas and intuitions wholeheartedly, and it felt like they trusted mine. They’re great.
The EP closes with its title track, a gentle promise to look out for someone. Why did you choose that as the last song?
I got the title of the EP from the final line of the song, “This barren ground is a beautiful world with you around.” The phrase “A Beautiful World” felt really bold and hopeful to me, considering present circumstances, and it felt like a good summation of everything I’d been feeling. I love that track a lot, it might be my favorite in some respects. There’s this sort of meditative energy to it. I really liked the space it put me in to play it, and I wanted to leave listeners in that space. It felt satisfying to only give the title of the EP on the last line, too. It felt kinda cinematic. “El fin.”
Is there a certain lyric on the EP you’re particularly proud of?
I really like the first line of “Magnolia Tree,” “Life moves like a train, with no conductor, no tracks and no brakes.” It’s good folk/blues karma to talk about trains, and it made me laugh a little when I first thought of it. It’s also just true.
If it weren’t for COVID-19, what would your dream EP release cycle/promotions look like?
You know, it’s funny. I feel like with this EP, things have really shook out the way they’re meant to. I actually don’t know what I would necessarily change about this release cycle. I was able to go on my first tour this summer and going into this fall, with venues checking vax cards and such, and I’ve been able to do a lot of things I didn’t think would be possible. I definitely pushed the release back a good bit because of COVID-19, but it’s funny. A Beautiful World was originally supposed to be a spring release, but now I can’t picture it belonging to any other season but fall. It’s comfort food. It’s musical butternut squash soup. There are many things I have not yet done, places I haven’t played, publications I haven’t been featured in, fans I haven’t met yet. I look forward to all that in the future. But I’m really happy with how the EP release cycle has gone. Things work out.
Is there anything else you’d like to mention that the questions didn’t touch on?
I don’t think so! Thank you for these really great, thoughtful interview questions.