Singer-songwriter and California native Gina Villalobos dove into her music career during her early 20s and has since released five solo albums and created music that has been featured in several hit television series. Her alternative country genre brings ample amounts of soul, and every day she continues to compose and produce music. CULTURE caught up with Villalobos to learn about her journey as a musician and her relationship with recreational and medical cannabis.
How did you get started creating music?
By playing make-believe Beatles when I was a kid. I was Paul, my brother was John and different neighborhood kids rotated between George and Ringo.
Who are some of your biggest influences?
Really when it comes down to it, I’m influenced by things that I experience and how I relate and react to my surroundings. Music is just like a language so by default what informed my musical senses was all the music my mom listened to when I was a kid. I got lucky though she listened to stuff like Linda Ronstadt, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Cat Stevens, Carole King, The Beatles, The Eagles, Simon and Garfunkel, Elton John—bands like that set the stage for my personal taste I suppose. In high school, I went through a big Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin phase—oh and Neil Diamond! I also listened to bands like The Specials because my older brother was into them. I was also listening to stuff like The Psychedelic Furs, Wham, The Violent Femmes and The Cure. In college, I was obsessed with Rickie Lee Jones, Liz Phair, Prince, R.E.M, Nirvana, The Jayhawks, World Party, The Waterboys, The Pixies, The Breeders, Radiohead, PJ Harvey, Travis, The Verve, Richard Ashcroft . . . then came Wilco and Son Volt and 1,000 others. But those are the bands I listened to when I was younger.
“I think [cannabis] should be legalized on a federal level and the revenue should be used to pay for things we need like healthcare and education.”
You have a long history with music. What are your biggest takeaways from this journey?
It’s all about the song. If a song can’t be performed with just a vocal and a guitar or piano and captivate an audience, it’s not really a good song. It should be whole in its most naked form.
Have you consumed cannabis for either recreational or medical purposes?
Do you choose to smoke cannabis? What’s your favorite strain?
I like to smoke pot; that makes cleaning the house fun. I don’t know the name, but I think it would be fun to be a pot strain name.
How do you feel about legalization? What could be done better or differently?
I think it should be legalized on a federal level and the revenue should be used to pay for things we need like healthcare and education. I live in California and we got it wrong here. For example, the billions in tax revenue do not go toward the General Fund for education and infrastructure, as most people believe. The tax revenue goes into the California Marijuana Tax Fund. The money will pay for mostly new programs that didn’t exist before it was even legalized—not towards stuff we actually need like infrastructure and money for schools. Oh, and a big portion of the money will pay for research on the impacts on legalization. What a waste.
It would be like getting a huge sum of money and instead of fixing up your broken down house that needs a new roof, new plumbing, new walls and a new foundation you decide to add on a new room and then pay for a study on the impacts of adding on that room. This doesn’t make sense to me. So yeah, let’s do it on a federal level and use the money on things we actually need for the American people.
“I live in California and we got [legalization] wrong here. For example, the billions in tax revenue do not go toward the General Fund for education and infrastructure, as most people believe. The tax revenue goes into the California Marijuana Tax Fund. The money will pay for mostly new programs that didn’t exist before it was even legalized—not towards stuff we actually need like infrastructure and money for schools. Oh, and a big portion of the money will pay for research on the impacts on legalization. What a waste.”
Anything you’d like us to know about touring and recording?
Touring isn’t what people think, it’s hard work. I’d say 90 percent of it is driving and being trapped in your vehicle. Then you have the highs of the shows where you let it all hang out then the low solitude of your hotel room. There really isn’t time for anything else. It’s not psychologically normal. It’s counterintuitive to all we know about well-being. Lack of sleep, eating at weird hours, no exercise, alcohol, etc. It’s can be easy to let your mind and body slip if you don’t keep yourself in check. I call it keeping your “tour tank” full by staying hydrated, forcing yourself to get back to your hotel as soon as you can after your gig. Try to find vegetables . . . stuff like that. Recording is like painting. It’s my absolute favorite thing to get the lighting and mood of a song just right. It’s also probably pretty annoying for engineers I work with. I’m happy to work up and record three completely different versions of the same song. I love that challenge. The possibilities are endless.
Artist Name: Gina Villalobos
Location: Los Angeles, California
Most Recent Album: Sola
In the cannabis industry, there are all kinds of movers and shakers. Many musicians who get into the industry do so to promote their own name, with a lack of integrity. Not Marlon Asher. Everything the Trinidadian reggae singer does, he does out of his genuine love for the plant, including the music he records and the products that he releases. His seed company, currently under rebranding, is all about creation and cultivation, and his music is all about harmony. Between touring with countless reggae acts and even Boyz II Men, Asher’s fingerprint in the music world is as evident as ever. CULTURE caught up with Asher to discuss his contribution to the Caribbean reggae music scene, including his recent hit “Ganja Farmer” and his love for the leafy green.
Is there anything exciting you’re working on right now that you want to announce?
Right now I’m on tour, and I’ve also been working on my newest album.
What has the recording process been like for this album?
Right now, we’re actually in the planning stages of the new music. This time, we’re really trying to put everything together so there will be a flow, and we won’t have to guess what we want to happen. We want it to be special.
How do you think this is going to stand out from your other work?
What is really going to stand out is the fact that people are going to recognize the growth and the changes we’ve been through over the years.
“I would like to see an end to prohibition and see [cannabis] decriminalized. So far, I don’t really see a benefit from legalization, as the people who have been in the industry so long aren’t seeing a benefit from it; it’s the corporations who are benefiting.”
How did you first get into making music?
I first got into music at my grandfather’s church by being a part of the choir, and I fell in love with reggae music in my teenage years. I started performing around my village, and then I got recognized by some producers and started to make music my career.
When did cannabis first become a part of your life, and why was it important to you?
Cannabis is important to me, because it’s a medicine. You can really see the effects of it and how it helps people. One of my big hits, “Ganja Farmer,” was about the people who are dedicated to cannabis, to highlight some of the things that were going on in my country with cannabis and the people growing it. The song became really popular, and I think it has a really good message.
How has cannabis impacted you personally?
Personally, it kind of puts me in that meditative state that I like to be in when I want to get closer to God. It’s definitely positive when it comes to meditation and mental expansion.
What do you think the world of cannabis is going to be like in the future? How would you like to see it work in five years?
I would like to see an end to prohibition and see it decriminalized. So far, I don’t really see a benefit from legalization, as the people who have been in the industry so long aren’t seeing a benefit from it; it’s the corporations who are benefiting. I hope in the near future, cannabis won’t be criminalized, and no one will be chastised for using it.
What do you hope people take away the most from your music? How do you hope it influences people?
The main message I hope people take away is the oneness of people, the fact that music was made to bring people together and heal people. I really want that to be what I bring to the table.
Is there anything else you want to highlight?
I’m on tour now, and I’m about to start my seed business in the Caribbean. I also just want to tell people to take care of each other and love each other. That’s mainly what I want people to understand.
With your seed company, is there anything you want to announce or highlight?
Well we are currently rebranding, coming up with a new name and a new concept behind the business. We’re planning to launch everything soon.
For some, lettuce is simply the quintessential ingredient to any salad or a basic burger topping. But for others, it’s the name of one of the most revered bands in the American jam and funk music scene. This ensemble has been making music since the early 1990s, and if its name doesn’t give you the munchies, the band’s crunchy, smooth sound certainly will. CULTURE caught up with guitarist Adam “Shmeeans” Smirnoff to talk about Lettuce’s new record, Elevate, and current tour. So grab yourself a snack and check out the latest goings on with Lettuce.
What is the band working on right now?
We’re about to continue our Elevate Tour for our latest record, and I believe we have a bunch of stops on the East Coast like Asheville, Wilmington, and in addition to the North Carolina stops, New York, like upstate New York City and New Jersey. I’m super stoked for this tour, because I get to see some of my family.
Tell me a little bit about the latest album. What do you think makes it stand out from other releases, and how has the reception been so far this summer?
I don’t think there’s any real need to make comparisons to other stuff that we’ve done. I think it stands on its own. You know, I like to think about recordings as a piece of history, a piece of life, because you’re just capturing time while you’re in the studio. So, to me, it’s a piece of history of where the band is right now and what our sound is currently. I think that’s really what this album represents. It’s about who we are as people right at this moment in time.
What do you like most about Elevate?
The whole recording process was just really, really fun for me, especially because we recorded it in Denver, Colorado where I live. It’s been a really long recording process. It started when my wife was pregnant, and now my child is 21 months. Being at home and able to be with my family during that process was great for me, personally. And I think it enabled me to really give some heartfelt, good performances on the record, because my heart was in the right place.
How has living in a city with legal cannabis impacted your career and music?
It feels like there’s a weight off of my shoulders, that I’m not hiding something or doing anything illegal. It really enables you to accept that in reality this is medicine, and once I started to think that way, it has changed my life in such a positive way. It’s helped me manage and get through so many things, and it’s also helped me so much with my creativity. Cannabis has been a great thing in my life, and definitely something we bonded over in Lettuce.
“Cannabis has been a great thing in my life, and definitely something we bonded over in Lettuce.”
How do you feel that cannabis has impacted the bond between you all?
Before legality, I think there were moments of paranoia and things like that that sprung from the illegality of it. But, even without the aspect of cannabis, this band is brothers, and there’s a special bond between us.
Is there anything else you want to highlight?
We recorded some other songs during the Elevate sessions that should be coming out in the near future. We’re going to continue putting out tracks that we made at that time, so there’s more music to come. Also on this tour, we’re going to get out there, and we’re going to play some new stuff that we’ve never played before, which is always really exciting. That’s why I love playing with these guys; there’s always something to look forward to. And, in general, you know, we’re just grateful to still be out here. We’re grateful to be doing what we’re doing. I can’t wait to see all the faces in the crowd that come to our shows. It makes us really happy; we love our people, and we’re psyched to get out in front of them again.
Riding the Reef: DENM explains his creative self-discovery through music and cannabis
Photo credit: Dave Katrina
Producer, DJ and artist DENM has created music using a vibrant palette infused with just about everything—garage-pop, house, indie, reggae and trap. On Spotify, over 225,000 listeners tune into DENM’s channel monthly. While his 2016 EP Dreamhouse was more grounded in deep house with spacey songs like “Under Pressure” and “Lit,” and his EP Is Whatever expanded into new territory, his latest material exudes warmth and relaxation that reeks of beach foam and suntan lotion. DENM is about to raise the bar with his new release including “Life’s Too Short” and “My Wave,” supported by his background as a sixth-generation Californian. DENM’s first solo show was Aug. 10 at Moonrise Festival in Baltimore, Maryland. His new single “Blow It Up” dropped Aug. 23 and his latest EP Endless Summer dropped on Sept. 6, managed by Roc Nation and produced by Rock Mafia. CULTURE connected with DENM to learn more about genre-jumping, his musical inspirations and cannabis.
Tell us why you like to experiment with vastly different tempos.
Man so what’s crazy is back in 2016, I was touring with my indie band, FMLYBND, and would just make random beats on the road. I would make these quick beats and sing a little falsetto hook over it. That music was never something I actually intended to make as an artist, and so when I put it out and people started talking about DENM, I was like, I wanna make music I really believe in and that feels super honest to me. If I’m gonna be a solo artist, then I wanna be proud when I step on a stage. Hence this entire three-year journey of self-discovery and finding my real voice as an artist. I grew up in SoCal so I wanted to make music that represented the culture, which is barbeque vibes, party music and beach music, so that’s what I’m making now.
Photo credit: Dave Katrina
Your fans love your acoustic songs. What do you love about acoustic guitar?
If it’s played right, it’s such a rad instrument. I remember when I was really deep into electric guitar stuff, and was buying so much gear for tones and what not and sort of thought people who still played acoustic were just bozos. But I was a kid and dead wrong. If the acoustic is played tastefully, it is one of my all-time favorite sounds. It can fill a stadium show or be played gently at a bonfire. There’s really nothing like it. That’s why it’s all over a ton of my new stuff—beach vibes with reggae and trap aesthetic.
What were you feeling when you recorded Is Whatever?
Honestly, I was trying to move away from the house music I put out before. It sucked, because I wasn’t able to put any music out for a long time, because I kept being told I had to make more house records. It felt like I was really at the end of my road, so I called the EP Is Whatever. “DENM is whatever.” It was the old punk rock in me coming out saying “screw you, here’s the music—like it or don’t.” That’s when I met Rock Mafia, and they started diving into production with me on a new vibe, and that’s really when DENM came to life.
“Badfish” is a great summer classic. Were you influenced by bands like Sublime?
Straight up—Sublime is one of my all time favorite bands. I was raised by their music. I was just a little kid when Bradley passed away, R.I.P., but his lyrics and voice were always with me. Eric’s basslines and Bud’s pocket were so raw, and they didn’t play by the rules. I was always getting into trouble and kicked out of houses and schools when I was a kid, so I always felt connected to them. When we were thinking about doing a cover, I was like “man let’s do ‘Badfish.’” I knew for a fact I could knock it out of the park. I’ve been singing it since I was 14 when I learned to play guitar. Brad helped me learn to sing as a kid, so I knew it was the move. The video is inspired by the Sublime video.
Photo credit: Dave Katrina
“Life’s Too Short” is perfect for the end of summer. What is this song really about?
The song is really about internal pain and how you carry it in life—like I better learn to love myself. Leave regret and all that behind, because I only get one chance at this thing called life. Even though it can sound happy, it’s really an anthem for people who struggle with real depression and anxiety and just feel broken. It’s like a “let’s rise up and live a good life”-type thing. I wrote it in a really dark, depressed state, so it’s a special song to me for sure. Just trying to make myself feel better by singing it out. “Life’s too short to stress out!” It’s a mantra.
Your songs still hold up by melody alone, even when they are unplugged and without the beat. Is that important to you?
Yeah, absolutely. My goal is to be able to play every song I’m writing on just an acoustic and still have it feel amazing. I can’t wait to do an acoustic set and just have it be a massive sing along. That’s the best feeling. No hiding behind production. A song is a song if you can play it with one instrument and have everyone sing along to it still. I love that.
Your collaborations with artists like Tommy Trash and Gnash are incredible. Who do you plan on working with next?
Those are both some good dudes right there. Much love to those guys for believing in me and wanting to work with me. But who knows! There may or may not be some legendary people involved, but it’s still very much in the works.
“[Cannabis] eases my body pain and anxiety big time. Without all that I can focus on creativity and having fun. Music should be fun. . .”
Photo credit: Dave Katrina
Do you consume cannabis, and if so, does it help during the creative process in the studio?
[Cannabis] eases my body pain and anxiety big time. Without all that I can focus on creativity and having fun. Music should be fun man; it’s the greatest job for me. I just get to create something new every time, and my producer Mr. Rock Mafia himself is always hitting his Dosist.
Is there anything else you would like to share with readers?
Man I love it. Major shout out to Rock Mafia, because we’re in there making some special tunes every day. Shout out to Roc Nation and my management Nima and Justin. Y’all been grinding with me for a long time. Shout out to my publisher Ben Groff; he’s been with me since day one too. Much love to him for hustling the music to get it on TV and in films. I’m just so thankful for the journey thus far. It’s been the hardest and worst, but the most gratifying and best thing in the world. It’s all a part of the story.
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