By Annie Lyons
Gina Chavez might be having a better 2020 than most of us. Her new all- Spanish language album La Que Manda recently earned a Latin GRAMMY nomination for Best Pop/Rock Album.
She plans to celebrate the night with a socially distanced watch party, red carpet and all.
“I already feel like a winner,” she beams. “Especially being an independent artist, like a truly independent artist, and especially not being like a native hispanohablante and not being somebody that was born in Latin America … like it’s huge! I’m so excited. I feel so honored to have my music be recognized internationally, to be recognized by the Latin music community.”
Catch her performance of the album’s title track this afternoon during the Latin GRAMMY Premiere ceremony, where many of the awards are announced, live starting at 2 p.m. CST on Thursday, Nov. 19 on the Latin GRAMMYs Facebook page. Her award category takes place during the main ceremony in the evening at 7 p.m. CST, airing on Univision. Univision can be streamed on most devices where you watch TV; find more information on how to access it here.
Watch her ethereal performance of “Ella” with Flora & Fawna’s Lili Hickman for our Social Distancing Pop-Up series, and then scroll to the interview below to learn more about Gina and La Que Manda.
NPR LIVE SESSIONS/KUTX – Musicians: Gina Chavez, vocals, guitar; Lilli Hickman; vocals; cameras and edit: Michael Minasi; audio mix: Jake Perlman; producer: Deidre Gott
Self-described multi-ethnic, queer Catholic, Austin’s Gina Chavez sharpens her Spanish language album La Que Manda, or The Woman in Charge, with a new defiant edge and sonic exploration. Inspired in part by her observations on the road, it is a starkly feminist work detailing a woman’s journey to empowerment — both a healing catharsis and a rallying cry. Single “Ella” highlights the resilience of survivors, while “Bienmada” depicts the tender moments that flourish when you feel affirmed: “Tengo melodias para calmarte / Tengo tortillitas pa’ animarte (“I have melodies to calm you / I have tortillas to cheer you up”).
This album’s been a long time coming; some of these songs have been in her back pocket for years.
“Music is our way of telling life as it’s happening. So the whole idea of an album cycle and you know, every two years, every three years putting something out is a little weird because life is always happening.”
As the project progressed, she started to notice a common theme tying songs together.
“It wasn’t like I set out to write like a female empowerment record. That sounds really cheesy! It’s more that I think, for me, I’m in my late thirties, and I am reading things like Glennon Doyle’s Untamed, I’ve been digesting the wisdom of people like Brené Brown, I’ve started to understand. I’m like, wow, the world has told women so many lies, and that’s one thing that is consistent around the world is the experience of girls everywhere. It doesn’t matter what culture they’re in. A little girl who speaks up is a problem. A little girl who speaks up or who makes noise or doesn’t dress the way she should or says things in the wrong way is called names; is told to be quiet; is told to be pretty; pleasing.”
She reveals, “I lived what it was to come to terms with the struggles that I have. Even when I’m trying to write a song and I don’t believe in myself, that’s something that — I mean, it’s universal to humans — but it’s very particular to women. And if you’re in a studio surrounded by a bunch of men who are playing instruments and recording your album, you have to speak up for yourself in a way that is often way more difficult than a man would.”
“So, it’s just like going through life and learning those things and realizing how I swallowed this nonsense for so long. I played nice my whole life. I’ve done things to make sure that people like me and like my ideas and that I don’t turn them off or that I made sure they feel good about every interaction that we have.”
Now, she hopes La Que Manda can be a “power playlist” for other people the way it’s been for her.
“I’m really excited about this album because I’ve lived the fight, la lucha, that I’ve had to bring these songs to life. It’s really the fight to love myself. It’s really the fight to be like, I’m a badass! I am la que manda, even when I don’t believe it — especially when I don’t believe it.”
Chavez has recorded in Spanish before, like her bilingual 2014 album Up.Rooted, but La Que Manda marks her first all-Spanish language release. It’s a milestone she’s always wanted.
“I’ve always loved the Spanish language. I love this phrase in Spanish: Me llama la atención, and it’s like something that calls your attention. Ever since I was a kid, I have always loved the parts of my heritage that I said I didn’t grow up with.”
She grew up hearing wild stories from her parents who had traveled around Europe for a year and a half in the ‘70s in a VW bus. “Like true hippies,” she laughs. “I grew up around those ideas of like, there’s a bigger world out there, but then I also grew up in the exact same house in Austin that my parents still live in today.” So, she started traveling as soon as she could and learning about other cultures and languages.
Because she’s not a native speaker though, writing La Que Manda posed new challenges. “It’s hard to write a song in English, which is my native tongue, but it’s even harder when you don’t necessarily have a mastery of the language and can play with language,” she explains. “At the same time, I think that I’ve learned the value of collaborating. Like “Ella,” for instance, I think we have five songwriters on that song, and that was a new process for me.”
Chavez worked with a slew of top names for the record: 16-time Grammy winner Thom Russo (Juanes, Alejandro Sanz, Enrique Iglesias), two-time Grammy-winning engineer Fernando Lodeiro (Esperanza Spalding), Grammy award-winning musician/producer Adrian Quesada of Austin’s Black Pumas, and two-time Latin Grammy winner Linda Briceno, who made history in 2018 as the first woman ever to win Producer of the Year.
She had met Briceno a few years ago at an event, so when she started thinking about the album, Briceno naturally came to mind.
“I’ve kind of been following her career ever since I got to meet her. Of course, I was super freaked out. I had the song “Ella,” and I sent it to her, and, of course, I was thinking like, ‘Ooh, she’s not going to like it.’ But she came back, and she was like, ‘Gina, I think this is very special, I’d love to work with you. Why don’t we fly you out to New York?’”
Chavez worked with Briceno and Lodeiro. Briceno brought in a whole crew of musicians, including NYC-based Puerto Rican songwriter Andrea Corona, who also co-wrote the title track after she and Chavez hit it off.
“It was amazing to have some really badass females to pull into the mix. I think it’s unfortunate, but sometimes you have to dig a little bit, especially for producers, like Linda Briceno. They are out there, but it’s hard, you know, especially in Austin. Gosh, think about it. There’s producers everywhere, and I don’t know that I can think of one female. I’m sure there are, but it’s so frustrating that it feels so hard. I think working with somebody like Linda obviously brings not only like who she is, but her story and the talent.”
And in case you were wondering about the larger-than-life, statement leotard she’s sporting on the La Que Manda cover?
“I searched all over the internet to find that thing! ‘Cause I was like, what do you search for? Like… puffy sleeves?” She laughs. “I wanted a piece of clothing that was a little more dramatic, has some structure to it.”
“I also learned during the photo shoot for this album that I love shoulder pads. Like I’m a child of the ‘80s, and I never understood ‘80s fashion. And now it’s like, ‘Oh my God!’ Because I’m also a very small person, and so it’s like when you put on an outfit that has shoulder pads on it, and you suddenly have structure and you look like you take up more space, you feel powerful.”
Taking up space. That sounds perfectly aligned with her mentality behind La Que Manda.
“When you allow yourself to really shine, what you’re doing is you’re allowing other people to shine, and that’s kind of the idea of La Que Manda. When we make ourselves small, we do nothing for the world because we’re not doing anything for ourselves.”
On Friday, November 27, join KUTX and HOME (Housing Opportunities for Musicians and Entertainers) for Home Cookin’ for the Holidays. This free, virtual event will feature some of your favorite artists singing and cooking! Guests include Shinyribs, Jackie Venson, Lucinda Williams, Gina Chavez, Ray Benson, Joe Ely, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Delbert McClinton, Miss Lavelle White, and many more. The stream is free, but donations to HOME are appreciated.
Watch Home Cookin’ for the Holidays on the KUTX YouTube channel – Friday, November 27 from 7:00 to 9:00 P.M.
In honor of Home Cookin’ for the Holidays and Thanksgiving, some KUTXers shared the recipes that make them feel at home (even when they can’t be home) …
I think it annoys my mom that after all the hard work she’s done over the years cooking for the holidays that this became the “famous” family favorite. Now she doubles the recipe and makes two batches to ensure we have enough to eat all the leftover turkey with. Also, she didn’t note on her recipe card but she garnishes with parsley, ya know to spruce them up for the holidays.
– Amy Chambless, Assistant Manager, Cactus Cafe
My wife & I actually printed a cookbook with a mix CD in it for our family a few years ago. Each recipe came with a song & listening recommendation. Here’s our favorite meatloaf recipe, to be prepared while listening to Queens of the Stone Age.
It’s the ultimate comfort food. It takes longer than you might think, so make it when you have plenty of time & aren’t rushed. Great for a Sunday dinner. HINT: Cheapo white bread, ketchup & a slice of this loaf outta the fridge is the sandwich of a god the next day. Not sure just sure what god is that lazy, but it’s totally their sandwich.
– Jake Perlman, KUTX Production Engineer
This is my mother’s recipe. She passed in 2016 and I make this every Thanksgiving and Christmas in her honor.
– Matt Munoz, Manager, the Cactus Cafe
Okay, this isn’t my wild rice salad – it’s my take on a to-go side I used to frequently buy at Central Market back in the late 90s. I left Texas in 2002, and didn’t return until I took the job at KUTX in 2015, so while I was away from Texas and all things H-E-B, I had to improvise my favorite side dish. Over the years, my version has become a Thanksgiving staple – we’ve brought it to both family gatherings and Friendsgivings ever since.
– Jacquie Fuller, KUTX Assistant Program Director
While my Nana regularly made them around the holidays, these cookies were loved and devoured year-round. My first memory of these cookies was a time she made them for my Aunt’s drill team, and she would call them Eaglette cookies (after the drill team). I started making them myself for the first time in high school. My best friend and I would spend a whole day making treats for our friends, and the entire next day delivering them. Regardless of the occasion, these cookies remind me of my favorite person … then I look down, and they’re all gone. Note – her recipe specifically calls for yellow cake mix, but you can use whatever mix you like!
– Taylor Wallace, Host, weekday mornings
Deidre’s No-Recipe Turkey Recipe
I’m a gal that loves efficiency. So that’s why this crock-pot turkey is the best for a carefree, easy Thanksgiving. You can throw in whatever you want – no need for a recipe! I usually chop up an onion, celery and potato or two and throw in some baby carrots. Put the turkey breast (even if it’s still frozen!) in the crock-pot, fill with enough water or chicken broth to cover the turkey, add your salt and spices, turn on the pot and cook for 6-8 hours while you binge Netflix. The end.
– Deidre Gott, KUTX Live Music Producer
KUTX fans on Animal Crossing: pay a visit to KUTX’s Studio 1A in New Horizons!
If you’re longing for pre-pandemic live sessions in KUTX’s Studio 1A, come to the islands! My island, to be exact.
Dubbed “Avocado Island” by my elementary-aged daughter (in honor of her favorite food), it appears at first glance to be unremarkable – there’s nothing thematic going on, the art section of our museum is empty, and we still haven’t grown any gold roses. But head to the basement of my house and you’ll find Avocado’s crown jewel, and the project of many summer hours where I should’ve instead been learning to knit or reading an actual book: a recreation of KUTX’s Studio 1A.
Just fire up one of our KUTX at Home interviews, or a favorite past Studio 1A session, then take your seat in this state-of-the-art facility fashioned entirely of stuff purchased at Nook’s Crossing, or gifted by floating balloons or my New Horizons-playing KUT/KUTX coworkers (thank you, Ana Paula, for the drum kit.) Pay a visit anytime via Dream Code: DA-7816-6830-3135.
< You can also scan this QR code for your own KUTX logo, which you can wear as a sleeveless tank a-la-Jody-Denberg, or slap on any customizable item. Just log in to the Nintendo Switch app on your smartphone (not your Nook phone), choose Animal Crossing, then Designs, then scan the code using your phone’s camera. Next, open the Custom Designs app on your Nook phone (not your smartphone) and download the new design.
Use your Switch or smartphone to grab a photo – of your Studio 1A dream-visit, or sporting your KUTX shirt – and share it on social (be sure to tag us!)
And enjoy a couple other goodies, below, for KUTX fans of Animal Crossing: videos from Sylvan Esso and T Pain that pay tribute to everyone’s favorite time suck, plus a Zoom performance from the musicians behind the New Horizons theme song.
See you in my basement! (Yeah, that sounds creepier than I intended.)
– Jacquie Fuller, KUTX Assistant Program Director and resident of Avocado Island
John Lennon celebrating his birthday with Yoko Ono in 1971
Jody celebrated John Lennon’s birthday with a four-hour special, 10/9 from noon to 4 pm. Listen to the full audio at the bottom of this post.
by Jody Denberg
John Lennon was born on October 9th, 80 years ago. For many this is a day to celebrate, and, a day to reflect on the man, the musician, and his message.
I always look forward to celebrating John’s birthday on the airwaves – for decades on October 9th, I have gotten behind the microphone to play the Beatles, solo John, Lennon covers, demos, tributes and rarities, and have often welcomed Austin musicians to pay homage as well. (Austin musicians regularly attended and performed at the annual John Lennon tribute by Stephen Doster & The #9 Orchestra. Alas, the pandemic has nixed that this year)
In this cyberspace, I would like to share a few JL memories, photos and videos.
I am a New Yorker and was one of the millions whose love for John Lennon’s music was awakened when I saw The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show in February 1964. I saw it on TV, of course, but I could feel New York crackling with Fab energy. I was all of 4 ½ years old at the time but convinced my mom to take me to our local record shop – R&D Records in the Bronx’s Pelham Parkway neighborhood to purchase the 45 RPM vinyl single of “ I Want To Hold Your Hand”. It was the same store where I would continue to buy Beatles singles, albums and cassettes, including the tape of “John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band” at the end of 1970. I was the rare 11-year-old who walked around with the block playing John’s “primal therapy” musical exorcisms in song, while stopping in the local library to read his two-part related interview in Rolling Stone magazine. John Lennon became my hero, and as I grew older and understood more about his human strengths and weaknesses, that fandom only became stronger.
In 1974, at 15, my friends and I had heard that John Lennon was rumored to be guesting at the second of Elton John’s two November concerts coming up at Madison Square Garden. Although you could buy tickets at remote locations when they went on sale, the word was that tickets bought at the venue box office were for better seats. My buddy and I slept out at the Garden’s midtown location. When we got to the window to ask for Friday night tickets, they were sold-out. We reluctantly bought tickets for the Thursday show – and it was on that Thanksgiving night that John Lennon made the last concert appearance of his life, playing three songs mid-set with “Elton and the boys”. The Garden literally shook, and I knew that I was witnessing what would be one of the best moments of my life. I also now believe that being there for that show – the night John & Yoko began reuniting from their separation – somehow karmically fated me to work with Yoko Ono over many decades (beginning in 1984) on a handful of John Lennon projects that promoted his posthumous releases.
I first reached out to Yoko at the Dakota to share a review of 1980’s “Double Fantasy” that was published in the University Of Texas newspaper The Daily Texan – one of few published before John Lennon’s murder shortly after the album’s release. I followed up over the years with other articles I had written about her work, and in 1984 we got on the phone for the first time to chat for a half-hour conversation that aired on KLBJ-FM.
Over time, we became acquainted, and I first visited Yoko at the Dakota in 1992. I have worked with her there on more than a half-dozen occasions. She has always been forthright when we talked about John and his work as we produced four promotional interview disc/radio shows released by Capitol Records (with audio and filmed footage often used for video press kits as well) between 1998 and 2010. Talking about John Lennon with Yoko Ono remains this fan’s dream come true.
In the slideshow below are some other photos and memories related to John. I never met the man, but as he once claimed in song “I’ve shown you everything/I’ve got nothing to hide.” So I feel as if I know John Lennon. And maybe you feel as if you know John Lennon. If you feel that you do, you do.
More John Lennon Birthday Goodies
Sean Lennon – who shares his father’s birthday and is turning 45 – hosted a BBC radio special last weekend with guests including his half-brother Julian Lennon, Paul McCartney & Elton John: L
Sean also produced a new John Lennon compilation out for his father’s 80th – “Gimme Some Truth” – with amazing new remixes from the original master recordings:
And Friday 10/9 will be The 40th Annual John Lennon Tribute – 80th Birthday Celebration including Patti Smith, Bettye Lavette, Taj Mahal and many others – streaming for free at LennonTribute40.org.
How a forgotten desert resort inspired Sheverb and their new album
by Art Levy
In late February 2020, Sheverb slammed through one more song in front of a rowdy crowd at the Ski Inn. The Austin band had traveled twelve hundred miles to make an album in the semi-abandoned Southern California town of Bombay Beach. For a month, the locals embraced the band members, shared meals, and danced to their songs. An impromptu, vibrant community grew around the music and art, like how a little bit of rain makes the desert bloom. Darker clouds loomed on the horizon.
The members of Sheverb packed up their instruments and squeezed into their van. “I remember downloading a bunch of podcasts on my phone to make the drive home,” says guitarist Betty Benedeadly. “And there was like all of these podcast headlines about a pandemic, and I was like, ‘Is this fucking real? What is going on?’” They had spent a month off the grid and now the grid was cruelly reasserting itself. February crept into March, the band settled back in Austin, and the pandemic moved in too, first shuttering South By Southwest, then the entire Austin music scene. “I remember those first few weeks being like, man, why the fuck didn’t we stay [in Bombay Beach]?” says Benedeadly. The last song of Sheverb’s last set at the Ski Inn is the last time the band has played together.
The American West lives as a paradox: nothing ever dies, and nothing ever stays in place. Derelict buildings and ghostly billboards of unknown origin or age dot the distances along I-10. Communities and landscapes come together and fall apart in an endless cycle across decades, centuries, and eons. Time itself can feel invincible.
Southern California was once bordered by two massive bodies of water: the Pacific Ocean to the west, Lake Cahuila to the east. The lake dried up in the late 16th century, only to reemerge three centuries later thanks to a manmade accident. In 1905, when engineers tried to divert the Colorado River for agricultural irrigation, it bucked its banks and poured back into Lake Cahuila’s former cradle. The Salton Sea was born.
A half century passed, and soon tourism brought Southern Californians and Northern snowbirds to lakefront towns like Bombay Beach, which sits on the Salton Sea’s eastern shore. Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, and the Beach Boys enjoyed the town’s luxury resorts. The sea provided the scenery, fishing, boating, and water skiing. But decades of pesticide and fertilizer runoff from the surrounding farms destroyed the Salton Sea’s fragile ecology, and with it, Bombay Beach’s economy. By the 1970s, the sea was twice as salty as the Pacific Ocean. Water levels shriveled; the stench of rotting fish and the exposure of toxic runoff deposits led to odor advisories in Los Angeles, over 150 miles away. Bombay Beach was headed towards another American Western myth: the ghost town.
Instead, Bombay Beach hung on. A few hundred residents still call the place home, living in a landscape crowded with the memories of a glamorous past. Buildings rust in the salty air and desert sun. The nearest gas station is twenty miles away. Bombay Beach’s latest claims to fame are of the footnote variety: it is the lowest community in the United States, sitting 223 feet below sea level; and the late Anthony Bourdain once ate a meal at the Ski Inn as part of a No Reservations episode.
Mixed in with the retirees and Bombay Beach lifers is a small community of artists, perhaps attracted by the post-apocalyptic energy that seems to permeate the town. Since 2016, they’ve thrown a yearly arts festival called the Bombay Beach Biennale with such place-appropriate themes as “Dust,” “The Way The Future Used To Be,” and “God’s Silence.” Benedeadly first found out about the town through the Burning Man community. In 2018, Sheverb’s tour—which included non-traditional “venues” like Terlingua’s Starlite Theater, an alien-themed beer fest in Roswell, New Mexico, and the experimental Arizona town Arcosanti—culminated in their first experience of the Ski Inn and Bombay Beach. The town’s aesthetic matched the band’s artistic vision. Sheverb formed around a love of Ennio Morricone’s sweeping spaghetti western soundtracks. For its second album, Benedeadly says the group wanted some cross between surf music, psychedelic rock, and a distinct end-of-the-world atmosphere. Bombay Beach ticks all of those boxes.
On February 3, 2020, Sheverb arrived back in Bombay Beach with a van full of instruments, recording gear, and creative fire. The band planned a month-long residency to record a full album, but the music itself was not planned; it would arise from collective jamming and living in the town. The members turned an old barn into a studio and slept together, commune-style, in a house provided by the Bombay Beach Arts & Culture Center. A typical day started at nine a.m., and the band played for upwards of eight hours per day, breaking for lunch and explorations of the town. They ended recording promptly at six p.m. each night out of respect for the locals. “We went into it with the intention of building community and we tried to be really respectful neighbors,” says Benedeadly, and that respect went a long way. Occasionally, Sheverb opened the barn doors so the community could hear what they were up to. “They would listen to our music all afternoon while they were doing yard work,” says drummer Xina Ocasio. “They loved it.”
Benedeadly says the album itself took on the character of the town, turning into something that specifically wasn’t “clean and polished and glossy.” The music of Once Upon A Time In Bombay Beach shimmers like heat waves off the Salton Sea, a hall of mirrors reflecting country twang, psychedelic drone, and pulsing rhythms.“The Other Side” closes the album on a cosmic note. While the surrounding songs were arranged into a cohesive shape, Ocasio says the band intentionally left “The Other Side” loose to honor its open-ended energy. The song morphed every time the band played it, and the version that ended up on the album was captured in one take. “‘The Other Side’ was kind of like the culmination of that musical language and vernacular that we developed as a group during that month,” says Benedeadly. It quotes guitar riffs from every other song on the album—multiple experiences folding into a collective whole. The recording ends the same way the album begins: with the sound of a train, that American mythical creature, churning across the stereo field. Weather, people, machines—they all hurry through the American West, but the West stays slow.
After wrapping recording, Sheverb hung around Bombay Beach for a few days, interviewing locals, grabbing burgers at the Ski Inn, and reveling in the unhurried pace of life. The band’s final performance at the Ski Inn earned rave reviews from the audience. William Sandell, a Bombay Beach resident, loved the band so much he pitched in a hefty sum of money to help Sheverb cover post-production costs for the album, earning himself a credit as Executive Producer in the liner notes.
It’s easy to forget that music is power. It can build something more lasting than a passive listening experience. Since Sheverb’s inception, the group has sought to break down the barriers between audience and performer. “It was very dynamic going both ways,” says Benedeadly. “I feel like even the community of Bombay Beach got a little changed. I don’t necessarily want to say it got stronger, but you know, [it] definitely was impacted by…the presence of art to hold space—music to hold space, to bring people together and maybe bond in a different way than is typical or usually happening.” There’s possibility, even in a place that’s usually an out-of-the way stop for tourists to worship at the feet of the apocalyptic ruin and move on. The experience showed Benedeadly “the insanely potent role of music and art to be the channeling vector to create that community.”
The pandemic has only sharpened this idea of community. With no ability to play shows, the group has focused on telling the story of their experience of Bombay Beach by turning the album into more of a living, multimedia artifact through videos and photos. It’s helped the members navigate the pandemic’s emotional toll, giving meaning during a chaotic time. Benedeadly points out how strange it is that the music itself hasn’t been brought forward. Without live performance, the songs sit like time capsules, buried in the Southern California sand, intensely saturated with time and place and a feeling of pre-pandemic living. It’s another paradox: by staying still, the music’s meaning has shifted. At the end of the album, “The Other Side” hovers in the air like a mirage, suspended between past, present, and any number of possible futures. “If the month of Bombay Beach was my peak month, then the moment we recorded that take of ‘The Other Side’ is the peak experience of that month,” says Ocasio. “Now when I listen to it, I get goosebumps. And I can remember being in that moment, and it takes me back. It’s like a key.”
When Sheverb started, the members looked to reclaim and reimagine the American West, making it a more honest space that includes women, indigenous people, and other groups marginalized by the traditional, violence-obsessed narrative. They emphasize community, not the rugged individualism of a lone cowboy. On the last evening of their residency, the members of Sheverb stood holding hands on the Salton Sea’s shrinking beach, the sun sinking and scattering colors in the way that only a desert does best. The moment graces the album cover: their faces are silhouetted, no longer individuals. They’re whole. They turn from the sunset, the experience of a lifetime just beginning to unfold right as it’s ending.