Behind The Boards: Fernando Garibay On His Collaborations With Kylie Minogue & Lady Gaga
After crafting gems for superstars like Lady Gaga and Britney Spears, Fernando Garibay is hoping to move “from the back of the album cover to the front.” He takes the first, exhilarating steps of that journey with Kylie Minogue by his side. The pair recently released their second collaborative EP, Kylie + Garibay — a euphoric three-song set boasting surprise features from Shaggy, Sam Sparro and Giorgio Moroder.
I visited the hitmaker’s Los Angeles studio last month to discuss that release and some of the highlights of his hit-filled production discography. Fernando revealed that his first EP with Kylie documents the various stages of a break-up, while their latest offering celebrates the joy of moving on. He also spoke about the inspiration he takes from one-hit wonders, his creative relationship with Lady Gaga and writing Paris Hilton’s “Stars Are Blind.” Find out more about the artist/producer below.
You’ve worked with so many amazing female artists.
I’ve always gravitated towards working with divas, and that started with my upbringing. When I was born, my father didn’t have a name for me. There was this nurse who was hanging out in the lobby and she asked my dad, “Hey, so what’s your son’s name?” He’s like, “I don’t know.” She’s like, “Well, there’s this song called ‘Fernando’ that I’ve always been in love with, by a Swedish band named ABBA.” My parents were like, “Okay. Yeah, Fernando it is.”
That same day my dad went to a record store in Hollywood and looked for ABBA. It turns out they were in the import section, so he bought every single record in that aisle. It was Boney M, it was ABBA, every single collection. And I’ve been replicating an ingredient from those records throughout my career. Much later I asked my dad, “Why do I love this song so much?” He said, “Well, we’ve always played them for you when you were little.”
I think you always return to the music you loved as a child.
Absolutely. For some people, it’s always trying to get back to that childhood subconsciously. There was something very triumphant and also very nurturing about that music for me. That’s why I’ve always gravitated towards artists like that, who can deliver that same feeling or emote that same feeling that I’ve always longed to recreate. It dictated the cadence of the songs that I would write in the future and the artists that I would choose to align myself with.
Tell me about your EPs with Kylie. Were the songs originally for Kiss Me Once?
Yes, originally. She was signed to Roc Nation when I met her. I’ve always been a fan, I always wanted to work with her. I started in the late ’90s, super underage, and began with remixes and making house music. If you were working in that area, you wanted to write for Britney Spears, Kylie Minogue, Whitney Houston, divas of that magnitude.
Those were your dream cuts, right? Again, one of the things, going back to the Swedish mentality that’s influenced me, that I admire is that fairy-like quality of singers — that whimsical, magical, kind of mythical aura they have when they sing, when they emote. Kylie encompasses that. For me, she’s a real-life Tinkerbell.
Well, she was the Green Fairy in Moulin Rouge.
Yes, absolutely! Just magical and beautiful. When the opportunity came to work with her, Roc Nation — the whole team over there — asked me, “What would you do if we asked you to work with Kylie?” I was like, “Well, I would try to cater to her core fans, and look forward.” What’s great about working with established artists is the different perspective you get to choose. Instead of thinking, “How are we going to introduce this artist?” It’s more like, “How do you show them in a new light?”
You don’t re-brand Coke. It already exists. You want to show that brand in a new light, to the next generation. In the same way, not comparing artists to brands, but philosophically speaking, that was my approach. “She has her core fans. Give them a new evolution of where she left off, and also introduce a new perspective for the next generation.” That was my approach, but it wasn’t aligned with what the team had in mind for her.
It’s not good or bad, it was just the circumstances of the time. They set up the sessions and started the songs. At the end of those little sessions, that round of songwriting, those visions didn’t match up. We were like, “It’s heartbreaking. These are cool.” It wasn’t until six months to a year later when she called me. She was like, “Fernando, I’m playing these songs in my car right now. Why aren’t these songs out?”
I’m like, “Yeah, you’re right. I have no answer to that. Let’s brainstorm. Let’s do something. We can do it ourselves.” She came by, and she’s like, “Fernando, I don’t want to sell these songs. I want to finish them, and I want to give them to the fans.” I was like, “I agree. Let’s really finish them, but let me put my stamp on it, as well. Let me show you what I always wanted to do with someone like you.” She was like, “Great. Okay, let’s do it.”
I can’t speak for her, but what I gather from the energies in the room, we were both a bit heartbroken, so to speak, whether from our personal lives or the environment we were working in. I think that lead to a theme for the songs that we were writing. It chronologically documented the stages of heartbreak. We called it Sleepwalker because ideally, you just want to sleep your way through it. You’re a zombie, and you’re destroyed.
If you see the order of songs and the way they play out — first, you’re a zombie. You’re in a haze, but then you evolve and you go through all the steps, and then you get to our second EP and there’s a sense of celebration or triumph. You start dating, you start connecting with people again, you start getting drunk. You start all that stuff. Throughout that evolution is the cathartic dance aspect of these messages. Everything is interweaved into this magical, cathartic movement.
Were the songs from the Kylie + Garibay EP from the same Kiss Me Once sessions, or did they come later?
No. The first EP was comprised of songs intended for the album. The songs on the second EP were recorded in September last year. We were in alliance and we had a vision. It’s tricky. She’s a busy girl. She’s one of the biggest artists in the world, so we just made it work. I’m used to packing up, and I went to London, and recorded at different places, wherever we could to make this happen.
Can you talk me through the EP’s amazing features?
Okay. Let’s work backwards. “Your Body.” I was conscious of what I wanted to do with this one. It’s not the kind of song I’d usually write. I’ve always wanted to, but I’ve never had an artistic mechanism to do it. Who’s done it really well? Who’s done it, in my opinion, the best? Giorgio Moroder. I met Giorgio when I think I was 16. It was when I started making music professionally. I had a bunch of remixes out and Giorgio’s wife at the time found me through mutual friends.
She arranged for me to meet Giorgio and we just hit it off right away. Giorgio is the most charming, funny, elegant man you’ve ever met in your life, next to my father, of course. He let me use his studio for years — just out of pure generosity and kindness. I was always a fan, even before I met him. His early stuff was really sexual and erotic, but not in a pornographic way. It was more like art.
I’ve always wanted to do something like that. I was like, “Well, Kylie can be that at times.” I just channeled Kylie and I channeled Giorgio. It was a struggle, because it’s a really weird, kind of vision. It’s crazy because it’s almost capturing a caricature of Kylie. I wanted cartoonish, whimsical, fairy-like syllables, and having these beautiful analog streams, real analogue synths, throughout the process — it’s indie meets disco.
We were talking and I was like, “Giorgio. I’m doing this song. Why don’t we write a poem and why don’t you dictate?” I wanted to make it feel like he’s a priest telling you how you should make love to a woman, or whomever. He’s talking about seduction. I wanted it to be real, so what is more real to him than speaking in Italian? That’s the process, we chiseled and chiseled until it was right.
Then “If I Can’t Have You”. I was writing with Sam Sparro just for the sake of writing. I told him what I was working on. We were at the stage in the story where she’s like letting go. If I can’t have you, then I don’t really want anyone else — but, at the same time, I do want someone else, or I want someone to fight for me. It’s a musical. It’s an exchange between two people. It’s like an intimate conversation.
Mind you, Kylie was on the phone with us, she was an active participant throughout the whole thing, and wrote a lot on all the songs. We did this together, so it was a collaboration. “Black and White” is the final goodbye. We needed someone to play the part of the guy. Who was that guy? Who better than Shaggy? That happened because my manager Martin Kierszenbaum is really good friends with Shaggy. He made the connection. So, I sent him the track and a day later I had the demo.
Are you working with anyone else at the moment?
As much as this EP was a way to show what we could do together, and show Kylie in a different perspective, I wanted to create an avenue and new model for me to put out music. Now, that’s not to say that I won’t produce for other artists. I look forward to working with more divas — divas in the sense of extraordinary women, strong women, iconic women. But at the same time, there’s a whole body of work I want to get out and if I wait for a vehicle for those songs, it might not happen. There’s a lot of variables that have to align. Does it make sense with whoever’s singing it? Is it right for their current album?
How many variables can you possibly predict? So, in a way, I want to move from the back of the album cover to the front. But only out of necessity. I do have this body of work and these songs in me that I wish to get out, so I’m creating a new model for myself where I can continue to put up dance records and music that moves me.
That seems to be the way many dance music producers are doing it.
It definitely is. It’s almost the new standard. This is me thinking out loud, but I hope to push it in a different direction. I want to create bodies of works that follow the ideology of a one-hit wonder. Here’s what I mean by that. Throughout the history of pop, there seems to be these songs that were great, but stylistically, were never repeated again. It’s only really good once. It’s really strong, but you’re good with one.
That’s what I want to do. I want to create music that feels it isn’t related to the previous record. Not albums, I’m talking about songs. Individual songs that stand on their own for the sake of the song, not anything else. Not for the sake of the brand, not for anything else. Just great pieces of music that can stand on their own. It’s about the song for the song’s sake.
I can’t wait to hear it.
I’m actually working on it right now. It’s probably some of the best music I’ve ever written in my life, because it’s the most honest.
Can we talk about some of your biggest hits?
Let’s start with Paris Hilton’s “Stars Are Blind.” Charli XCX said it was a big influence on her new LP.
Holy cow. I love Charli XCX! That’s so cool. I was working with Jimmy Iovine and I was really trying to get a cut on Gwen Stefani’s album, so I was experimenting with reggae and ska. But then Jimmy called me and said she’s starting a family now, so never mind. Anyway, later on I got a phone call from Warner Bros and they told me they signed Paris and were looking for songs. I was like, “I already started a song idea, let me flush it out.”
What I thought was, “Okay, here’s Paris Hilton,” and she’s become a good friend of mine. At the time, she was at the height of her fame, and there was a lot of resentment. There’s fall out, because sometimes that lifestyle can come across the wrong way to the underprivileged and the disenfranchised. It’s understandable. I knew she was a really kind person. There’s a reality that people don’t see. I’m like, “I have to make her likable to everybody.”
I’ve got to show that a song can change perspectives. A great song heals all. I also wanted to prove that she could sing. No auto tune was used in the making of that record. I had her sing the song every day for two months. Even if it was 10 minutes, 30 minutes she’d come in and do a line, or come in and do a verse. I had her doing different passes. Because she wasn’t an experienced singer, I had to create the dynamics of that story. Not artificially, but by selection. It’s like painting a canvas. It’s her voice, and her talent, but I’m just kind of orchestrating.
I think “Quicksand” and “Amnesia” were two of the best songs from Britney Spears’ Circus era. How did they end up as bonus tracks?
Here’s what happened. I thought they were good songs. The thing is, I don’t think they were aligned with the brand or the direction of the album, but they were good. I mean, they felt they wanted it to be a part of it, but they didn’t fit the circus theme of the album. I think that’s what happened.
“Quicksand” was co-written by Lady Gaga. You produced my favorite Gaga song “Edge Of Glory.”
She’s such a special person. We got put together very early on in her career. Right when she was finishing up her first album with RedOne. Jimmy Iovine said, “She’s an amazing writer. You just need to write with her.” They put us together, and we formed a bond, you know? I think we both understood what being disenfranchised sounds like and feels like, and we could articulate it. She’s really well read, and she’s very articulate. She knows what she wants.
With her, it’s a lot more about navigating alongside with her. It’s about taking my ego out of the equation and substituting that with who she is. That was a real discipline. Some artists could use a bit more of your ego, and your style, but that was more about, “How can I make this better? How can I be an asset to this environment?” I’m a songwriter, she’s a songwriter. So, a lot of the nuggets and the songs are from her heart. You know, I’m an passenger on that journey.
I always told her, she could write a hit over a kick drum. It’s about what she chooses to talk about. With “Edge Of Glory” we were both going through something sad at the same time. My grandpa died. I took a leave. I was touring with her for about three years on and off, working on music and just writing with her. My grandfather passed away, who was a big, big influence in my life. He passed away a month prior to writing this song.
I left tour to go bury my grandfather in Mexico, and when I came back, unfortunately the same thing happened to her. She had a conversation with her grandfather who passed away and I don’t want to paraphrase her, but it ended up being incorporated into the lyrics — standing on the edge of glory, being at the edge of your life and being triumphant. “I did it my way.” You know what I mean? For my part, it was an ode to my grandfather, and for her it was an ode to her grandfather.
What’s your favorite Gaga song?
It’s so hard. With Born This Way, I had the mindset that we were writing a musical, or telling a story about a disenfranchised person or disenfranchised community. We were fighting for equality, for gay rights, for immigration, the rights of immigrants. It was always about telling the struggle, and showing that we can triumph over the struggle. If I were to pick a favorite, believe it or not, it would probably be “Americano.”
There was this big situation, I think it was happening at the Southern border, and it had to do with people getting hurt — protesters and immigrants. She loves the Mexican community, or the Latin community, I should say, in general. She was inspired by what they were going through, and I was deeply moved by what was happening, as well, and I think it was more like a middle finger to the people that were hurting these protesters. That’s what was translated. It was all heart, and all real.
You’ve spoken about your love for the great divas. Which new artists are you into?
I love all this generation’s singers. I love how Taylor Swift delivers a line. I love how Selena Gomez delivers those really seductive, elegant croons when she sings. I love Charli XCX. Her rebelliousness, those choruses. It’s so triumphant. I love Tove Lo’s honesty, her brutal honesty. She pulls no punches and still writes a very contemporary, classic, well-written pop song. Don’t get me wrong, I love what The Weekend’s doing just as much. There’s a certain beautiful femininity about being that vulnerable, and being that honest with yourself.