A quick glance at the credits for Lady Gaga’s platinum new album Born This Way reveals that producer Fernando Garibay put his stamp all over it. The West Coast native, signed as an in-house producer at Interscope Records, helped the pop queen shape the sound of her latest offering, including her single “Born This Way” and album cut “Marry the Night.” Speaking with YRBMagazine.com, Garibay discussed giving Gaga a harder sound for the LP, her incredible work ethic, his background in music, how fans inspired the creation of Born This Way and what else we can expect from him in the near future.
YRB: Did you grow up studying music?
Fernando: I grew up a big fan of music and just learning wherever I could. I got a bunch of scholarships and got into USC and started training formally for orchestral arrangements and every instrument.
YRB: Did you know you always wanted to go into music and become a producer and songwriter?
Fernando: Growing up in East L.A., South Central, I really had no idea, especially with my background, that there was such a thing as being a producer for artists, per se. Really, I was focused on writing songs for myself for fun. It wasn’t until a few years into school that I was like, oh my God, you can make records for other people and there’s a formal way to do it. So I started making demos and eventually sent out demos to dance labels, and that’s how I figured out how to promote yourself.
YRB: What was the first major placement you landed?
Fernando: It depends. I was already charting with techno records under my own name and under other producers. I think the first major was working with Enrique Iglesias. I was writing songs with him and producing for his Spanish album. And when he got signed to Interscope, I started working on his English record, so I guess right around then is when I started getting these big gigs, doing Latin Invasion with Ricky Martin and Marc Anthony and stuff like that.
YRB: How does your techno background configure into what you’re doing now?
Fernando: Its pretty much like everything, because it’s going back to my roots. I was always a big dance music fan, British techno, British dance, new wave… So that all made a big influence on where we’re at now with dance music. We’re having a big comeback with that. It’s just a natural progression for me.
YRB: In your years of writing and producing, what do you think is the key to writing a hit?
Fernando: Everybody has their own theory of how to write a hit record. Ultimately, first and foremost, you have to start with a hit song. I’m talking about piano vocal. What’s amazing about this whole process with Lady Gaga is that she’s one of the world’s best songwriters. So you get to start with already a great song, and second to that, it’s production. Making sure that the actual making of the record stays true with the element of the hit song, and the emotional aspect of it, the emotional interpretation and the production aspect as a fashion statement. We’re very visual songwriters and producers in Gaga’s camp, so we see it as how would you wear the song, basically. Sounds are fashion; the sounds can be dated, they can be future and it’s all a balance of that.
YRB: How did you first hook up with Gaga? What was it like when you were first introduced to her?
Fernando: I was introduced about four years ago, when I signed to Interscope. I signed to Interscope as a producer, in-house, and basically, Jimmy Iovine calls me up and says, “I have this writer I need you to work with that we just signed as an artist. She just finished a record, I think you guys would be great together.” So of course, Jimmy sends me an artist and I stop everything. That same night, she comes over in her traditional Gaga outfit and style and we just kind of hit it off and started right away. We’ve been working since.
YRB: What do you think when she walks into the studio for the first time wearing the Gaga outfit?
Fernando: It’s interesting. It adds a lot of questions for a lot of people, because people ask me, what does she dress like normally? What is she normally like when she’s casual? Pretty much what you see is what you get. She comes in in her usual outfit wearing very minimal clothing, and of course it caught me off guard. I never heard of this girl, it was before she came out. So yeah, I was little taken back, but I thought this girl was rad. She’s wearing pretty much lingerie, but it was cool. She made me feel really comfortable when she started playing her songs from The Fame and played a few ideas for me and made it easier. We started working right away and got started.
YRB: Going into working on Born This Way, did you feel any pressure knowing that it was going to be such a high profile project?
Fernando: Yeah, you know, because I’d worked on the last album, The Fame Monster, and she was already becoming a megastar. On this round, we all knew that there were extreme high expectations with the follow-up album. So yeah, we went in going in with the mindset that everything we created had to be great. We couldn’t slack on any aspect of making this record. She originally called me around February of last year to play me “Born This Way,” the song that she wrote, and so I heard it on piano vocals. She played it on piano live for me and we started going through ways of how to make it for everybody. How to make the production fit the song. After we did that, we did “Marry the Night,” and I think at that point, that was when she said to me, “I want to you to oversee this album and musically direct it.” You could imagine, I was like, wow. She was kind of making me responsible for delivering this album. The expectations were really high, but I was really excited to be part of it.
YRB: There’s a harder edge to the album. Who steered it in that direction?
Fernando: It’s naturally a part of her. This is her evolution. Metal has always been a part of who she is, back before she started making albums. It was a big part of her growing up and later became part of her identity as a visual artist. And I think that this was the perfect album to show that side of her. She’s evolved as a songwriter, she’s evolved as an artist, and it just felt like the natural next step. What better way to move this dance movement forward with the vision of metal, what it personifies. That’s what was expressed in the album.
YRB: How many songs did you actually work on with her? I heard there were more tracks recorded that didn’t make the final cut.
Fernando: It’s interesting, because I feel like we used every song that we finished writing. If there were ideas… This girl works non-stop. She was recording these when she was half-asleep, or in the middle of an interview she would have an idea. She would literally text me this idea that she sang and so there were a lot of ideas, but as far as the songs that we completed, everything ended up on the bonus album.
YRB: What’s her work ethic like?
Fernando: She has an extremely crazy work ethic. She never stops. She would have a song that we completed, like “Born This Way” she already had mapped out and she just wanted it produced. And then there were a few songs like “Marry the Night,” I was in the back of the studio bus. We had this bus we toured around in and it had a complete studio in the back, so we parked this bus behind the arena and we just worked there until before she went stage. So once she got off stage, we played around with ideas. And “Marry the Night” was interesting, it’s one of my favorite songs on the album. I was watching the show, watching the opening of the show, which is “Dancing in the Dark,” another one of my songs, and I wanted to top it basically. Top the feeling of it, the epic-ness of it. I started playing around right after that song finished, and I got back to the bus and played around with a few production ideas and she came in after the show, made a few changes and she was like, “OK, open up the mic.” Pretty much, she sang the whole song. She did it really fast. When she hears something in her head, she knows what she wants for it and she pretty much delivers it every time.
YRB: You’ve worked with a bunch of artists from different artists. Is it difficult to go from one genre to the next, or is it all connected for you?
Fernando: It’s all connected for me, because again, I started doing rock music and then techno music at the same time. Growing up in East L.A. and South Central, it’s all predominately hip-hop dominated and Latin music. Everything became one in the same. I wanted to get well-versed in each sound, so I’ve always done every style, pretty much. This is an opportunity to really push forward the synth side of my work and a bit of the rock side.
YRB: A lot of producers are starting their own labels and building new artists. Are you interested in doing that?
Fernando: Jimmy put me on staff at Interscope, so I’m in-house and I’m executive producing a bunch of things and overlooking Gaga’s records. I really would much rather focus on that aspect of things right now. I’m also DJing too so that helps keep me alert to what’s going on. DJing is great because we would go out and play records during our breaks while recording this album and go to the local club, wherever we’re at in the world, and test out sounds and see if it was working. It’s immediate feedback. So pretty much, executive producing and DJing is where my head’s at right now. Right now, I have no idea what I’m going to do next, but I’m looking forward to continuing the Gaga stuff.
YRB: Is there anything on the docket in the future?
Fernando: There’s talks of No Doubt, there’s talk of other Interscope acts, there’s talks about a future album with Gaga. So it’s really all up in the air, but I am looking forward to getting back into the studio and writing songs again and I love doing it for myself, so it doesn’t really matter for me at this point.
YRB: Anything else you want to add?
Fernando: I’m following all the Twitter stuff, but interesting to note on this album is that this album was directly influenced by her fans. So a lot of these songs were written like, as soon as we got Twitter messages from fans, one of her fans was dealing with a bullying issue or on my side, on the Mexican side, having her push forward a statement about equality and freedom, again was directly influenced by the messages we received from her fans. So this album was primarily for her fans.