Singer-songwriter Gaby Moreno plays outside the box
Published: October 6, 2011
8 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 9
Odds are pretty good that you’ve heard a song by Gaby Moreno before. The L.A.-based singer-songwriter’s work received early attention from Nic Harcourt, NPR and the New York Times, and in 2006 she won the John Lennon Songwriting Contest. But that’s not why you’ve heard her.
You’ve heard her because she wrote the theme song to NBC’s Parks and Recreation. That song – 30 seconds of jaunty, life-affirming, earworm perfection – sounds nothing like any of Moreno’s other songs, which, for one thing, have words.
“I’m not even singing in it,” laughs Moreno about the Parks and Rec theme song. “I don’t think people know who I am because of it. The credits at the end roll by so quickly that nobody probably even sees my name. I think if people know who I am, they know me for my music, and then they find out that I wrote that … and they’re surprised.”
Moreno is probably surprised herself. Although she’d had some experience with her music appearing on television previously – two songs from her first album, “Greenhorne Man” and “Little Sorrow,” found their way onto shows like Kourtney & Khloe Take Miami and Ghost Whisperer – those were actually songs that reflected her musical style. For Parks and Rec, that was not the case at all.
“I got an email that went out to a bunch of different people that this show was looking for a theme song. I had a description of the show … so I got my guitar and came up with a little ditty, but it was too folky. So I brought it over to my friend Vincent Jones, and we made it sound like an orchestral arrangement. We figured it was a total long shot, but then we got the call. The show was, I think, two weeks away from premiering. It was pretty surreal.”
Having moved to L.A. from Guatemala City when she was 20 (“I had my eyes set on doing something more international, and I was singing in English, so the obvious choice was to head to L.A.,” she says), Moreno has managed to be both self-sufficient and blessed with good fortune.
Her first album was praised by Harcourt and played on his influential “Morning Becomes Eclectic” radio show, and her performances, which range from intimate acoustic-on-a-stool shows to full-band rock concerts, have earned her plaudits from national media outlets.
However, instead of taking the traditional path from the coffeehouse to a record label, Moreno has released both of her albums on her own. While this meant that her debut, 2008’s Still the Unknown, was a stripped-down affair, it also meant that she was able to explore and expand her sound on her latest disc, this year’s Illustrated Songs.
“The first record, I did it basically in a living room,” Moreno says. “I didn’t have a lot of money and was basically just getting together with friends to jam. It’s very organic and very raw. But for the second record, I was able to go into a studio and make a bigger production out of it. I could have horns, I could have strings … I just wanted the recording to be bigger.”
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