Angela Ortiz
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Image © Angela Ortiz 2006

Angela Ortiz

an indie singer songwriter influenced by
tori amos, kate bush and laura nyro

artist reflections and album review

review and interview © Russell W. Elliot 2006
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Last updated: 14 January 2007

Angela Ortiz was brought to our attention in late 2006 upon the release of her stunning debut album All About You (Angela Ortiz (USA), 8 37101 21950, 2006). The New York-based singer songwriter is self-confessed to be inspired by Tori Amos, Kate Bush and Laura Nyro. While she never copies any of them precisely, the influences shine through in several tracks of Angela's debut album.

Originally from upstate New York, the artist was educated at Ithaca College and NYU before finding her creative muse amidst the New York City scene where she plays alongside many other great acts of this millenium. She has joined forces with a lineup of equally talented musicians. Learn more about Angela through the interview below and read our review that follows.


Musical Discoveries: Angela, what can you tell us about your background?

Angela Ortiz: As corny as this sounds, I'm one of those annoying people who knew that were going to be a musician from the very first. There were never any aspirations or thoughts otherwise. I never had anything else to fall back on. I sang in every choir, played in every band, took advantage of every musical opportunity there was in the tiny town I'm from, and that's just how it was from the beginning. I don't really know why, because no one in my family was extremely musical. There was interest, but it wasn't that important to anyone else.

When did it all start?

I started to teach myself piano around eight years old because my eldest brother acquired a keyboard. I kept banging on it when my brother wasn't around, until he finally caught me and decided to teach me how to play it, instead of injure it. So my first song was "I Heard It Through The Grapevine", followed closely by the "Theme from Beverly Hills Cop." As you can see, I began learning the classics right away.

And your singing?

I was always a singer, even before I started playing the piano. I remember being the only kid in my kindergarten music class who, when the teacher asked who wanted to sing the first verse of "God Bless America," was the only one to raise my hand. It was the only thing that I wasn't too shy to do. I started taking voice lessons at about sixteen and decided to go to Ithaca College as a voice major.

I stayed in Ithaca for a year and decided my rural brain needed more urban surroundings, so I moved to New York City to finish my music degree at NYU. I never studied piano at either school. At least, not seriously. But I was always playing it, whenever I could. I preferred it then, actually, to singing because nobody was telling me how to play the piano, so I felt freer to explore. It was also more fun to figure it out for myself, than practice the vocalises and arias my voice teacher gave me. I was an extremely errant aspiring opera singer. I just wanted to sit and noodle around on the piano all day long.

Actually, I still do.

How did you hook up with the musicians you are working with now and how have they influenced your sound?

Angela Ortiz
Image © Angela Ortiz 2006

My producer, for the time being, is me. It's actually great fun, and extremely freeing, being your own producer, although it can be really difficult because performing and producing are two completely different skills. I have a horrible time making finite decisions, so producing this album was a welcome exercise in self-discipline. But, to be able to decide what direction the song would take, what the sonic landscape was going to look like, what voices were going to be heard, the overall color and impact of the album--that was probably the most enjoyable part of making this album. I am planning on working with a producer for the next one, though.

The musicians on this album are people whom I've seen play in New York. It sounds cliche, but I am extremely lucky, and grateful, to have had such unbelievably talented musicians play on this album. The fact that they didn't know this music at all before they came to record, and that we only had a few hours, in some instances, to record them, constantly astounds me. They're all gigging jazz musicians in one way or another, so their influence definitely gave the album a polished, professional sheen, so it ended up warm, well rounded, and musically pure. They were also able to take the general outline of a sound that I presented to them, and chisel it down to an exact, definite song. Which is great, given my aforementioned difficulty with making finite decisions.

What artists do you think have influenced your work?

When I was a kid, I was all about Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston. The strength of their voices and their ability to vocally improvise in that style of music really impressed me as a ten-year old. I still use a little of that pop sensibility when I sing. But as I grew into my surly teens, I went for lyrics and melodies that had some bite, with irony, bitterness, or gritty, simple honesty. Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Bjork, Tom Waits, Morrissey and The Smiths, Ben Folds were just a few of many. I listened to music obsessively as a kid, so I'm sure I've taken some of them with me. And of course, I'm constantly compared to Tori Amos, whom I do like, and listen to. But she was much less of an influence than the others, believe it or not.

I'm going to be a Music Dork for a moment, so please bear with me. There is a choral composer named Robert Convery who wrote a 40 page cantata based on poems from children imprisoned in concentration camps during WWII. Yeah, I know, uncomfortably heavy stuff. But we sang this cantata the year I was at Ithaca College and it affected me profoundly because it really outlined all the different ways one voice could be used to accompany another voice, harmonically and rhythmically. How choruses of voices can weave in and out of one another and create a chain-link fence of sound, in a modern-sounding way. I've been trying to find a recording of that cantata for years, but haven't had any luck.

Interspersed amongst those previously mentioned I've really studied a lot of Paul Simon, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Carole King and Leonard Cohen. Just for the simple nuts and bolts of sturdy songwriting and storytelling. I also try to learn what I can from Betty Comden, Ira Gershwin, and Sondheim--as far as lyrics go.

And whose recordings are you listening to these days?

I'm listening to Ben Folds' newest, Regina Spektor, Fiona Apple, Aimee Mann, and all of the old stuff that I can't let go of--old R.E.M and The Smiths, 10,000 Maniacs, The Brand New Heavies, and some Radiohead.

Please tell us about the making of your album.

The album was a labor of love, as most are. We recorded it entirely in our home studio here in Brooklyn. When I say we, I mean myself and my boyfriend, Dimitri Moderbacher, who plays clarinet and sax on the record. It was done in two stages. I recorded a group of seven songs in summer of 2005, and recorded an additional five songs, one of which did not make the album, in April of 2006.

  Angela Ortiz
Image © Angela Ortiz 2006

So what was the process?

I started by tracking the piano parts, and then laying down scratch vocals over top of the piano. I was a bit of an obsessive perfectionist at first, and I would do take after take after take until every note was precisely where I wanted it. I suppose that's where having a seasoned producer would make a difference--someone to tell me to stop beating a dead horse already.

I wrote out charts for each instrument in each song, and called some people in to play.

First, we brought in Bill Campbell to record the drums. Each time he came we only had about three hours to record three or four songs. So, he had to learn a completely new song, make it his own, and track it in the space of about one hour per song. I don't know about you, but I can't learn that fast. He was amazing.

And how did it go from there?

After Bill we brought in Marco Panascia on bass, the first time we recorded. He's great on both acoustic and electric bass, and is one those musicians who's been everywhere and played everything. He was able to get through almost everything in one take, and make it sound like he's been playing it for years. The second time we went to record Marco was on tour, so we brought in Michael Blanco for the bass tracks. Mike played electric and was able to come up with some really great lines for some of the songs. I also play with Mike occasionally in the city.

Once the drums and bass were added, we asked Ryan Scott to come in and play guitar. Ryan plays with Pyeng Threadgill's band, which is how I came to know him, and is also a really beautiful singer/songwriter himself. He's a purely intuitive, and extremely clever musician. He can take an abstract description of what you want something to sound like, and work it into a song in one take.

Andre Canniere came in next to record trumpet and flugelhorn, who is also a ridiculously talented composer. We worked together to come up with the horn lines in Cheshire Cat and Steven. He was great to work with--so easygoing and 100% helpful when I was trying to describe things I didn't know how to describe.

What did you do to finish it off?

And finally, Dimitri Moderbacher recorded sax and clarinets intermittently. He came up with a lot of the great lines that you hear on the album. Not to mention engineering and mixing the entire album. He was also the Moral Support, the Voice of Reason, and the Studio Cook. With him there would be no album to speak of.

Whew. After all that nonsense, I recorded my final vocals and background vocals. I spent a lot of time on that as well, because I really wanted to experiment with vocal layering. I like waves of choruses, or using many different voices to make an organized, sonic chaos that goes off in all different directions and finally all comes together at the end. Naturally, that took a little bit of time to work out.

Then came the mixing sessions. Which we muddled through all right, and then it was mastered by Scott Cresswell - who I've actually never seen, only spoken to on the phone. He is real person, and he did an excellent job.

Voila! A record is born.

How have you been affected by the publicity of your album?

Not much, to be honest. It's made my name a bit more visible, and people have heard my name before they've heard my music occasionally. More people come to gigs. But other than that, not really very much has changed.

Angela Ortiz
Image © Angela Ortiz 2006

How do you describe the style of your music?

I came up with the phrase "Piano-based, alt/indie pop for the disenchanted, but hopelessly optimistic." I would use the phrase "happy music for depressed people" but that's already been taken. I suppose it's mostly pop with a bit of jazz thrown in - mostly because of the instrumentation and the musicians I play with. I'm very careful not to throw around the word "jazz" too much, even though other people might think it's a little bit so, because I'm light years away from being considered a jazz pianist or a jazz vocalist of any kind.

I never know how something is gonna sound when I start writing it. And most of the songs change drastically from start to finish. Sometimes they start out very pop-y and end up very jazz-y. Or sometimes they start out ethereal and abstract and end up really blunt and to the point. Sometimes they begin as long, epic-like songs and end up clocking in at two minutes and thirty seconds. And actually, all of this is why I really like writing songs, because every time I write something new, it surprises the heck out of me.

All of it is written in good faith, with the idea that it will illuminate something for somebody. Even if that person is just me.

What about your newest material?

My new stuff is somewhat of a departure from the older stuff, I suppose. Most of what I write comes directly from experimentation at the piano. But I've been trying to get away from that a little bit, so I'm beginning to write more with a specific rhythm in mind, or starting from a single bass line, or one single melody, instead of just writing around interesting chord progressions. And of course, the last song I wrote is always the best song I've ever written, so I guess it's different because I just think it's better, more solid songwriting.

Whose work and what artists do you and your fans compare your music to?

Tori Amos comes up a whole lot, Laura Nyro and Kate Bush sometimes, sometimes Joni Mitchell. I end up comparing it to Tori Amos most of the time, because I think that's probably the most obvious jumping off point.

How do the audiences react to your live performances and on-stage persona?

My shows tend to not be wild affairs, because the music doesn't really lend itself to that. They are normally pretty low-key, and just about everyone listens in silence. I'm not much of an on-stage talker, which is not a bad thing, because I tend to babble. Most people come up to me afterwards to say how much they enjoyed it, and lots ask what the lyrics are about or "who" a specific song is about. And many say they like the intimacy my band and I create with the crowd, that it feels like a private conversation.

How would you describe the influences to your songwriting and vocal style?

I tend to draw a lot from the songwriters of the 70s, form-wise--but I'm also very conscious about not always using the same song construction--verse / chorus / verse / chorus / bridge / verse / chorus--in every song. Pianistically--if that's a word--I draw from the classical music I was taken with when I was a teenager, and lyrically I've always wanted to morph into Leonard Cohen. I appreciate the way he can be flowery and exact in the same sentiment.

Vocally, I love the contrast of the shouts and whispers that Kate Bush is able to work up.

Angela Ortiz
Image © Angela Ortiz 2006

From what do you draw inspiration for the music and the lyrics?

Mostly literature. Old books, and some new ones. Economics magazines and advertising literature. Very plain pictures of very normal-looking people. Court TV.

How do you think your album has impacted the public's interest in your music?

Well, I would hope it's impacted their interest in a positive way! At every show there are one or two more people who heard the music on myspace or got the CD from a friend and came by because they liked it. And since it's the first album, it's just made more people aware that I'm here and making music.

What are your interests outside of music? Is there anything you particularly fancy?

There are other things outside of music? Actually, reading is a big thing for me. I read anything I can get my hands on, but I'm particularly obsessed with Somerset Maugham and Graham Greene. I guess there's something about well-traveled, early 20th century, English, male writers with religion issues that I find particularly appealing.

How do you think the internet has influenced your musical career?

It's been great so far! I've connected with local artists that I otherwise may not have through the web, I've been able to submit to and be accepted for opportunities, I've been able to plug into new communities of fans that can't always come out to gigs, I'll soon be distributing my album digitally through iTunes and Napster, etc. So, it's definitely extremely useful.

That being said, there's no substitute for hitting the streets and connecting with people one on one. Humans are still human, after all, even though most of us are attached to computers most of the time, one way or another. We still need to sort of sniff the other person to fully know whom you're dealing with. Still, the internet is a super supplement, and it's given the artists a lot more power and control over their own careers, just by making it easier to publicize and distribute their material. There are even some music PR companies that base their campaigns solely on the internet, because of the scope and depth of people they are able to communicate with is far greater--and less expensive--than through conventional methods.

The internet is certainly changing the music industry a lot, and nothing is done the same way anymore. I'm excited about that.

Do you think MySpace is worth all of the hype? Is it much trouble to keep up two webspaces?

  Angela Ortiz
Image © Angela Ortiz 2006

MySpace can be a pain sometimes, but I definitely think that it's worth it. The upkeep and maintenance for MySpace is so minimal, and I honestly think that more people connect with me through MySpace than through my own website.

It's like everything else on the web, you have to find a way to make efficient use of it, for the time you have. If you spend hours on MySpace inviting person after person to be your friend, yes, chances are you may hit upon someone who likes your music.

But you've just spent the better part of a day finding one fan, when maybe you could have been writing or playing, or talking to club owners, or finding people to be on your team. It's a numbers game, if you want it to be that. Or you can use it as a jumping off point for actual communication and conversation.

My feeling is, if you're going to spend four hours a day on MySpace, or the internet in general, you have to at least be able to match it with that many hours of writing music or practicing. Promoting yourself on MySpace can only get you so far if you have no chops to speak of.

MySpace also gives the listeners more control over what they choose to listen to, if they are patient enough to sift through everything.

As for keeping up two websites, I update MySpace myself, and send an email to my dear webmaster when I need something updated on the actual website. So, I'm really only physically updating one site--not too bad.

What are your musical hopes, plans and dreams for 2007?

Well, the album is being fully re-packaged and released in the US, Europe, and parts of Asia in March. It will be up on iTunes and other download sites then as well. There will also be some--yet to be determined--tour dates to go along with the release. My song "Steven" will be included on the New Music Series 2007 compilation CD released by Tin Records, and there's also the fact that I'm already working on material for another album.

I just want to keep writing, gigging, learning, eating, and sleeping. If I can do that in 2007, than I've pretty much got it made.

Album Review

  All About Your CD Cover
All About You (2006)
Image © Angela Ortiz 2006

All About You is an eleven track collection of largely piano-based tunes. The sound is rhythmic and at times very percussive as one would expect of an artist with Angela's influences. This album stands above many singer songwriter efforts because Angela has not overtly copied the style of Tori Amos, Kate Bush or Laura Nyro. Instead, these influences are far more subtle leading to the virgin pure accessibility of the album. It stands alone as its own masterpiece, one that enthusiasts of her influencing artists are going to appreciate significantly.

In addition to Angela's vocal, piano and organ contributions to the project, the album includes contributions from her NYC-based lineup: Ryan Scott (guitars), Dimitri Moderbacher (saxophone, clarinet), Andre Canniere (trumpet, flugelhorm), Mike Blanco (bass), Marco Panascia (bass), Bill Campbell (drums, persussion). The songs were written and produced by Angela herself with all tracks mixed by Dimitri Moderbacher except the title track which was mixed by Edward Vinatea. Scott Cresswell mastered the album. Contributions from these professionals led to a stunning result.

Listeners will be blown away from first listen of All About You. While many self-produced debut albums sound good, the production and recording quality of Angela's album us first rate, sounding like it was prepared at a major label, with the most expensive equipment available. Vocals are captured perfectly with Angela's voice floating notably atop the crisp, distinct and real instrumental arrangements. The singer's extensive vocal training is evident in her delivery, regularly full of emotion that has been perfectly atuned to the lyrical message.

The most percussive piano-laden tracks are certain to draw images of Tori Amos in the listeners mind when being played, but careful attention to the supporting instrumental and sensual vocalizations will yeild to the unique vocal and instrumental interpretation of Angela Ortiz. Some of Angela's tunes will evoke memories of the melodic rhythms and gentle vocal delivery so evident in Laura Nyro's most famous tunes. But Angela's songs take different turns and reveal the artist's own style once again. Harder to make the association throughout a song, one will also hear the power and range of Kate Bush within Angela's tunes, but again, the allusion will fleet before the listener is well aware of the similarity. That Angela has woven her influences together across this stunning collection of tracks without copying a single sequence or riff is a testament to the artist's talent and ability to create a new audience for herself.

Angela's stunning vocal work is well complemented by the instrumental contributions. Crisp percussion and a mellow bass provide an outstanding rhythm section while woodwinds and brass provide the extra texture in the more robust passages of Angela's tracks. Piano is oftentimes sensitively played, especially in the softest ballad sections of the material, perfectly accompanying Angela's brightly delivered vocals.

We have been awestruk by Angela Ortiz' debut album All About You and are everso keen to see this artist on the touring circuit. Certain to follow the path paved by NYC-based singer songwriters before her, 2007 is Angela Ortiz' year. We can't wait for her next album.

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