Filipino-American Pop-folk Singer, Songwriter Alfa Garcia Translates Lyrics of Love and Life for Listeners

By Re

Hailing from the Philippines and raised in small Bergenfield, New Jersey, pop-folk singer, songwriter Alfa Garcia never anticipated that her music would be heard on E!’s Keeping Up with the Kardashians or MTV’s Friendzone.

“I knew I wanted to pursue [music], but I didn’t have the capital. You need a little bit of time to go out there and explore, and so you need to be kind of financially there,” Alfa said, regarding her work as an entertainment reporter in New Jersey. “I didn’t want to ask my parents for money, because [they] just sent me through four years at New York University,” she laughed. Thus Alfa worked 40 hours each week, chasing dreams of music on the side.

But about three and a half years down the line, having interviewed an array of musicians, she made the choice to become the interviewee, herself. And so she relocated to Los Angeles to record the songs she’d been writing since she was 15 years old.

By 2013, Alfa’s album World Go Blue, recorded in Nashville and Los Angeles under producers Marc Lacuesta and Paul Wight, entered the CMJ Top 200 National Charts and the College Radio Charts Top 100. It features top Nashville musicians Tim Lauer (The Civil Wars, Brett Dennen, Anais Mitchell), Tony Lucido (Hunter Hayes, Keith Urban, Kelly Clarkson), Ben Phillips (Blake Shelton, Plumb, Jeremy Camp) and Mike Payne (Colton Dixon, Natalie Grant, Sidewalk Prophets), as well as percussionist Nick Adams (David Cook).

World Go Blue, Alfa said, is the closest representation of what she wants to put out. “This record, all of the songs are written by me. There is one song that I co-wrote with my co-writer in Nashville, Marc Lacuesta,” she said.

Alfa said her background in classic music has influenced her songwriting. “[They are] not the melodies you’d expect from a pop singer.” But that is, indeed, what makes her music inimitable.

While Alfa said her lyrics are not meant to be interpreted by listeners in any particular way, she admitted, “My goal is always: whatever is in my life or in my heart, just to put it out there…For me, it’s really cathartic to be like, this is my life, I’m singing about it; I’m creating something out of something else.” And her lyrics of are authentic, disseminating personal tales of love and life, all from which we can take.

I met with Alfa and had the chance to translate the messages from one lyric of each of her eight songs on World Go Blue for both Her Report readers and Alfa’s listeners. Check out the Q&A below!

Re: War— You’re blind to what’s inside: a heart grown old too soon. What does it mean to have a heart grown old too soon? Describe the value of maintaining a young heart.

Alfa Garcia: The inspiration behind the song is age, and what aging does to you as a person—not speaking physically, of course—as far as how you have to take on more responsibility, how you become more accountable for your future and your decisions, how you have to pave your own path and how your character is tested. Aging is really exciting, but there are also a lot of pitfalls, and this song in particular was inspired by the confusion of being in my 20’s. On one hand you’re still young; on the other, you’re starting to take ownership of your own life.

As far as the idea of being “old too soon,” I think that goes back to my fascination with the idea that as we get older, we have a loss of innocence. For me, it’s especially troubling to see younger people—especially younger girls—get too old too fast: wearing makeup at a young age, having sex and being exposed to too much of the world too soon. I’m not a prude by any stretch; it’s just that, usually, with the loss of innocence can come the loss of imagination, or a sense of hope, creativity. The great thing about youth is that those things come second nature—so it’s just the thought that if you force age to come too fast, you’ll become blind to hope, truth, inspiration…that sort of thing. You’ll get jaded too quickly.

Blue— If you wait long enough, til’ I’ve made up my mind enough, promise you I will be there. In this song, you’re asking for time to straighten your mind, to run and to test fate. Explain the criticality of figuring things out for oneself, before rushing into a relationship.

This song was actually inspired by my sister’s love drama. It was just a love that wasn’t meant to be, even if it often seemed like it was. They’d keep coming back to each other; they seemed to suit each other so well, but in the end it was really about timing, and about how ready each person was to be in the same kind of relationship that the other person wanted. Love is all about timing; and while love can seem like the be-all-end-all, the truly important thing is figuring out who you are and being secure in your own skin before diving headlong. But then again, who am I to say? It’s not like I’ve never dived headlong into romance before (I am an artist after all). I guess given my own experience, I’d just say it’s generally better to get all your other goals and desires out of the way before settling down.

First Sight of Land— Our old stories keep me warm on cold California nights. The lyrics of this song suggest that memories last forever, regardless of where you are. Tell us about one particular memory that has stuck with you through your cross-country transition.

There are too many to mention!  On that trip, I think being in Nashville for the first time was a really great memory. Since then, I’ve gone back there multiple times every year to record, write, hang out or just pass through. It’s one of my favorite cities.

Missed Opportunity— Don’t wanna be the girl on the side waiting for her goodbye…I won’t wait till you fall for me, So call me a missed opportunity. Tell us about this lyric, in particular, and the notion of a missed opportunity.

This song is just about deciding that you’re going to give up your unrequited desire for someone.  It’s meant to be cheeky and basically kind of like, Okay, I’ve been rejected by you, but it’s not my loss, it’s yours. So it’s like, making lemonade out of a situation where you’re obviously not getting what you want—kind of self-consoling. What’s funny is that I didn’t write this about something that happened to me, but about something that happened to someone else who wanted to be with me; but whom I didn’t feel the same way about. So I kind of turned the story around and wrote it from his perspective.

Unwritten Rule— Childhood, chocolates and curly q’s, the way we are is nothing new, innocence is short, one step is too far a distance to, the fear you have inside of you…the fear I have in me. Describe that fear. What is the unwritten rule to love?

Here’s that idea about the loss of innocence again (See? I told you I was fascinated by it). This is my “bad girl” song, I guess if you want to put it that way. Haha. It’s basically my analysis of being unfaithful in a relationship. The idea is that most people who are unfaithful don’t have bad intentions. Often, they’re testing their limits in a relationship. They’re unable to completely understand what it is that’s missing in their current one, so they don’t have the self-awareness to understand that they’re going down a rabbit hole.  In this song, the “unwritten rule” is the faithfulness that is inherent in a relationship (with the exception of those open relationships, of course).  It’s not really about fear of love or anything; it’s about curiosity; it’s about questioning that “unwritten rule” of faithfulness for one reason or another.

Replaced— And then I grew into a girl, a woman made just for this world, a wounded heart and painted face, a wicked soul to bear the days. Describe a woman made for this world. Who is she? Explain her wounded heart, painted face and wicked soul.

I wrote this song when I moved to L.A. and thought about how there was a lot of fakeness around me. There’s a lot of people with botox, plastic surgery, a lot of people who worry about their weight, their appearance, their makeup, their clothes, et cetera. I just got tired of it and was hoping that would never turn into me, and so I sing about a woman who starts off as a girl, simple and understated, and how, as she gets older, everything changes. Maybe because she’s been hurt before, or she’s bought into the idea of constantly having to look a certain way, or maybe she gives up a piece of her sincerity for the sake of success or money. There’s a lot of that out here, and understandably because there’s also a lot of pressure from the environment and Hollywood.

Cup of Coffee— Some say love is the answer, blue skies and sunsets, they’re not for me. This lyric tells us that there is no universal answer, and that’s okay. What is it, then, for you?

This song is about missing the kind of love that happens off-the-cuff. I was thinking about things like online dating, and how a lot of people orchestrate when they’re ready to fall in love, usually when they’re successful, or have all there “conquests” out of the way, whatever it is. I just thought it’d be cool to write a song about wanting that spontaneous way to fall in love—a way that’s completely unplanned and out of nowhere.

Bergenfield, NJ— Now I’m drawn back to the world that I loved, the streets that I knew and faces familiar, they smile and they say, that I’m still the same, What do they know? Everything’s changed. This lyric reminds me of a favorite quote of mine. In A Hat Full of Sky, Terry Pratchett writes, “Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.” Describe the feeling of coming home, having moved across the country to chase your dreams. What about it has changed you, and what are some of the palpable changes that have gone unnoticed to those familiar faces?

Yeah, that quote pretty much has this song right on the money. I was very sad to leave home. I lived in the New York/New Jersey area for 19 years and even as I had this unsettled knot in my stomach that told me I absolutely had to leave in order to pursue my dreams, I still thought fondly about home and everything that it meant to me. I still do. Most of my friends and some of my family are still there, and I still visit every chance I get. But every trip that I take out there sits differently to me, both because the place has changed and because I’ve changed due to all my experiences. I think since I left NJ, I’ve become more worldly, more open-minded, definitely more focused on my career and a lot more open to new people and different situations. I won’t say I’ve become a “better” person, but I’ve definitely opened up my worldview. That being said, there will always be a part of me that gets a little sentimental when I think about home. That’s normal, I think. That won’t change, and even if it’s kind of sad, I don’t want it to.