Los Angeles-based C.E. Garcia is a man ready to step out of the shadows.
A close colleague of Adrian Younge – a musical maverick with a passion for vintage sounds and the producer and multi-instrumentalist behind albums with legends like The Delfonics, Souls Of Mischief and Ghostface Killah in recent years – Garcia plays bass and keys in his band, Venice Dawn.
Together with fellow Dawn-er Alfredo Fratti, he forms production duo Starkiller, whose debut release, Amorine, is an organic collaboration with Nottingham soultress Harleighblu on the auspicious Tru Thoughts label.
A tale of forbidden love set in a dystopian future, with striking artwork from Boo Cook (2000AD, Doctor Who), the story seeps self-confessed film and comic nerd Garcia’s many influences. “Boo Cook, he’s the man,” smiles Garcia. “I sent him three things: the image I was inspired by, that I used [legendary comic artist and writer] Moebius as inspiration to create the album, and I like Sil from [1995 alien movie] Species. I woke up one morning and he had the artwork done and I was like, ‘Holy shit, that’s way more than I had imagined it was going to be.’ He totally nailed it. When we’re dead in 100 years, they’ll find that record and they’ll be like: that’s a dope-ass cover.”
Garcia and I have been sharing nerdery for a while over social media, so it’s a pleasant change of pace to catch up with him in real life over the phone. He’s on a comedown from manic preparation for then live rendering of the soundtrack to Netflix and Marvel’s uber-successful Luke Cage series, a performance involving a full orchestra and the score’s co-writers, Adrian Younge with A Tribe Called Quest’s Ali Shaheed Muhammad.
“Adrian had to approach things very differently for this one. When we do the music for Venice Dawn, we know what’s been recorded and we can embellish and give a live feel to it. With the Luke Cage thing, we followed it as close as we could because we were dealing with 41 other people. It was really amazing.”
His relationship with Younge seems pretty solid, I remark. “I’ve known him as long I’ve known my wife, so 23 years. We’ve done music maybe 19 of those years, together. I’m one of the guys who’s been around since the very beginning. Me and him just had a real connection in the late 90s.
“One of the milestones for us was the first Portishead album, then [DJ Shadow’s] Endtroducing… Those records came out and a lot of people didn’t know what to make of them, especially in the States. Me and Adrian, we got it. We understood it.
“From that point, we started listening to soundtracks, to really weird breaks that people were looking for. Now everybody’s into it. Everybody’s digging, everybody’s sampling, liking soundtrack music, so me and him were liking that stuff when people thought we were weird. One of the first records we got was In Search Of, the Leonard Nimoy TV show from the 70s. That one blew us away. The next one was Lord Of The Rings by Bo Hansson. Those are the things we were listening to in ‘99.”
Growing up together musically has resulted in many unspoken understandings between the two, and they recently got a chance to hark back to one of their heroes by contributing a remix of ‘Changeling’ for DJ Shadow’s anniversary reissue of Endtroducing.
Amorine credits ‘Harleighblu x Starkiller’ on the cover. Is this just the beginning for Fratti and Garcia? “Hopefully, Starkiller will have many different guises. We just closed out an all-instrumental album. It’s a score to an 80s action movie that never came out. Our third one, which we’re in the middle of recording now, will have a couple of other artists involved as well.
“The birth of Starkiller kinda came about maybe 10 years ago. When Venice Dawn was in downtime, me, Alfredo and another gentleman, we would do shows to get our musical rocks off. We would record little pieces to hang on to. As the Twelve Reasons To Die tour kicked off [Adrian’s album with Ghostface Killah, for which Garcia fleshed out the supernatural gangster narrative], the label was asking, what does the Adrian Younge camp have next? Adrian said that we had something going on. That moment was when it really became manifested in a physical form.
“I’d always just been a player. I always wrote my own stuff, just never officially went out and did it. The band we’d done shows as before was Starkiller, so it kind of just stuck. Over the years, it’s morphed into what this Harleighblu incarnation is right now, and of course what the instrumental incarnation’s gonna be as well. Ideally, it will be a production outfit with a very distinct sound.
“The Harleighblu project has a very heavy sound. We want to take that and, if we work with another artist, have them fit right in. No ego involved. We’re not going to cater to one sound, we’re going to cater to our sound. With Harleighblu, she’s been singing since she was a little kid. I always commend her because she went with two guys here who haven’t really produced a record, but knew what we wanted it to sound like, and she was like, ‘Okay, I trust you guys, let me fall right in.’ She fell right in.
“I was reading Before Incal, the prequel to Moebius and Alejandro Jodorwosky’s Incal [a space opera in comic form which expanded on the pair’s designs for their abandoned Dune adaptation]. Everything just kind of hit at the same time. We were talking about collaborating with Harleighblu, and we were doing music, I was reading that. She’s a soul singer, and I didn’t want to do cliched soul songs about being lost in love or hurt. But I definitely wanted to do a love story because that’s her forté. It just hit me: I want to do something that’s a futuristic Romeo and Juliet.
“They talk about this drug in the story called Amorine, and it’s the idea that all the rich people live at the top layer of the city, kind of like Judge Dredd. The poorer people take this drug to make them feel happy. The story progressed over a day or so, then I sent her the synopsis, and said we’re going to be scoring this love story, this movie, and that’s how she approached the lyrics and we approached the music.
“She just heard the music. She wrote all the lyrics, pretty much all Alfredo and me did was write the music, record the music, arrange it, but everything else is from her mind. I sent her one paragraph, that was it. I was like, ‘Have at it’. I didn’t want to strangle the track. She’s an artist. She needs to be an artist.”
Finally walking into the limelight must feel like quite an achievement, I comment. “The whole record was a learning process. It was my first official mixdown and mastering of digital songs, and of course putting it to vinyl too. It was definitely a learning experience that I was very happy about. I’m glad we did it. Tru Thoughts sent me the test pressing, but if it was out here I’m pretty sure I’d have been sitting there at the pressing plant with my arms folded waiting for it to come off the machine so I could hear it. They were happy with the record and said it doesn’t sound like anything else they’ve put out.”
Garcia’s pretty chuffed it’s a UK label putting his work out too. “I guess for all the supporting of UK artists I’ve done over the years, maybe the universe is smiling back at me.”
Amorine by Harleighblu x Starkiller is out now on Tru Thoughts.
Read an extended version of this interview at Groovement.co.uk.Jamie Groovement