Gabby Moreno’s home away from home is a small theater in West Los Angeles called the Largo at the Coronet. She has been a guest singer and performed her own show at this historic nightclub for over 20 years.
“It just became like this place I went to just get inspired,” Moreno says. “And my God, I was so inspired! I really believe that something changed in me, how I wanted to express myself musically.”
Moreno arrived in Los Angeles in 2001 and released his first album in 2008. Seven albums later, Moreno found his voice singing various genres of Latin American music and a wide range of American music including R&B, soul, pop, rock, country , old time and more. Moreno is equally at ease writing and singing songs in Spanish and English.
But before she released her first album, she didn’t write songs in Spanish. “I think it was because when I was really young, about 13 years old, and I took this trip with my family to New York, I first discovered blues and jazz. And I remember being obsessed with that music,” she says.
During this trip, she bought many CDs and took them home to Guatemala. Moreno says she’ll lock herself in her room and listen to Muddy Waters and Big Mama Thornton, Ella Fitzgerald and Nina Simone.
“I just remember thinking there’s no way I can write in Spanish, I just didn’t think it would sound authentic singing that style of music in Spanish because that’s what I wanted to do, I want to do blues I want to do jazz .”
Everything changed when she started playing Largo.
Her friend, bassist David Pilch, was doing a weekly residency at the club and invited Moreno to join him with whatever song he wanted to sing. “And I remember him saying, ‘Hey, why don’t you bring a bolero?’ And I was like, ‘bolero?'” she says. “I mean, really, at that point I knew all these boleros just from growing up in Guatemala and that my parents would play a lot, but I didn’t know how to play, I don’t think I would ever sing a bolero.”
Moreno went home and started listening to the bolero. Then she ran into a summoner Maybe maybe. “And then I first started playing that song Perhaps, it was here in Largo,” she says. “And I remember people coming up to me after the shows and saying ‘this music, songs in Spanish, you have to do.’
“Gabby immersed herself in all this American music,” says fan Jackson Browne. “One of the times I saw her at Largoto, she was playing electric guitar and she was playing this really rock stuff, really punk, very punk kind of thing, you know. She gets it, she really gets to the heart of a lot of different styles of music.”
During one of the shows at Largo, she met the famous composer and arranger Van Dyke Parks, whose work included writing songs for The Beach Boys and collaborating with Randy Newman, Little Feat and Ry Cooder.
Moreno says they talked for hours. “He said to me, ‘This is the music I grew up listening to, I would play with my brother in the 60s, singing corrido, ranchera and bolero, and I love this music so much, we should do something together!'” In 2019 Mr. Moreno and Parks released the self-titled album ¡Scattered!. The following year, he was nominated for a Latin Grammy.
Moreno says that even though she’s perfected her craft for decades, something keeps pulling her back to her roots. And that influenced her latest album An allegory. She says she can hear how much she’s evolved not only as a songwriter, but also as a singer.
“I feel much more connected to the songs I write and to my experience, especially my experience as an immigrant, here in the US,” she says. “Even after all these years, because I’ve been here for a long time, more than 20 years, I still feel that my home is Guatemala. My whole family is there.”
On “Til Waking Light,” Moreno sings in English and Spanish from the perspective of an immigrant making the treacherous journey from Central America to the U.S.
“And I personally know people who have done this crazy, crazy journey,” she says. “That was it really, I was just trying to think about what was going on in their heads. How desperate they must be to just like and leave everything they know and risk their lives just to come to a place where you’ll have more opportunities and be in a safer environment.”
Over the years, Moreno has shared the stage with a wide range of artists, from Tracy Chapman to Calexico to the Punch Brothers. She toured the world with British actor and singer Hugh Laurie as part of The Copper Bottom Band. In 2009, she co-wrote the theme song for the television show Parks and Recreation. In 2020, she was named the first UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador from Guatemala.
Guitarist, pianist and producer David Garza met Moreno 18 years ago. “For a creative, songwriter of her magnitude to be blessed with a voice like that, it’s an incredible package that’s a gift to anyone who comes across it,” he says. “You don’t usually get that kind of voice and writing talent.”
Moreno will embark on a major European tour this month. She will perform 28 shows in six weeks, spanning 11 countries including Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and Ireland. One thing is for sure, Gabi Moreno will always return to her favorite place, Largo at the Coronet.