“My parents’ house is 200 years old — it was a station for the Union troops during the Civil War,” says Angelica Garcia on a recent visit to New York. The 22-year-old was in town promoting her debut album, “Medicine for Birds,” which was released in September and quickly earned praise from The New York Times — no short order for a first-timer.
Garcia owes the album in part to that 200-year-old house, in eastern Virginia, where her parents uprooted her to. “History, especially in that area, is all over the place,” she says. “They’ve got all these plaques all around the different little towns that say, ‘Oh, this general stayed here, this doctor was here during the Civil War.’”
A Los Angeles native, Garcia ended up in Virginia following high school at the request of a local church — her father is an Episcopal priest. “The first church that was, like, ‘come be our priest’ was this tiny little church on the eastern shore of Virginia, in the middle of nowhere,” she says. “After living in L.A., going to fields and farms and woods and forests, it was really crazy — so I basically spent my free time writing this album.”
The Virginia landscape became a breeding ground for her music, but it was not without a fair share of culture shock. “Just some of the little things; in L.A., there’s a street light on every corner, it’s all well lit,” she says. “Over there sometimes on the eastern shore, you would be driving and it would be pitch black — like, there wouldn’t be anything and on either side of you, it’s just fields, miles of fields, or miles of woods. Also, cemeteries are everywhere; sometimes people have tombstones in their backyard.”
As it happened, it was the perfect setting for writing a more old-fashioned leaning style of music, with roots in blues, soul, country and classic rock. “I have a song on the record called ‘The Devil Can Get In’ and it’s kind of a spooky song I wrote while in my house, really late at night,” she says. “And what was going through my head was I was imagining walking through an old spooky house — so little things like that influenced the record in their own way.”
Garcia grew up to her mother’s voice singing mariachi and “a remake of that Rosie & the Originals’ song ‘Angel Baby,’” but she never assumed music was a career path she’d follow. “For years I thought, ‘I’m gonna go to school and be a writer,’ and I got into UVA and I was going to go do American Studies, a combo of American literature and history. And I almost felt like every time I tried to only do school, music would be like, ‘Hey, you can do this if you want to!’”
She was singing with a group of friends at a small venue when she was spotted by a scout for Warner Brothers Records, who signed her up. Her record is a mix of songs inspired by the “particularly creepy” vibe of the rural South, and her unfolding narrative of growing up — or as she says, “that strange time when you’re first going into your adulthood and it’s, like, ‘Wait this is weird…take me back. I don’t like this.’ I hate being a blur to people, not totally knowing what I am.”
College has been put on hold while she continues down the path of music, which means for now, Virginia remains home. “A lot of times if you’re around on your own, you feel particularly isolated because of how small the population is,” she says. “But honestly, I feel like what produced some of my best work was being on my own and not being so influenced by all the other people around me, or not having to worry about, ‘Oh, would this band think this was cool?’ or ‘Would this person think this was cool?’ I was just, like, ‘What do I like?’”