The Inspiring Gina Chavez on her Diverse Sound, New Releases, and the Motivation Behind her Empowering Music

Photo by Ismael Quintanilla III
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As seen in Guitar Girl Magazine Summer 2020 Issue

Guitarist and singer-songwriter Gina Chavez is a versatile artist, whose signature sound ranges from Spanish/English music to folk-pop, soul/R&B, and whatever inspires her next. As an Austin native, she has found strength and motivation through the hardworking and supportive music scene she grew up in. Unafraid to explore, and prepared to write and release music that champions representation and empowerment, Gina filled us in on what inspires her message, her favorite guitars, her two most recent releases, “She Persisted” and “Ella,” and much more.

What inspired you to become a musician?
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved to sing. I was fortunate to have great public school choir teachers in middle school and high school, who taught me how to sing life into notes on a page. I didn’t realize it then, but those years would set the stage for a life full of music.

At what age did you begin playing guitar?
I picked up a guitar at eighteen after seeing Austin singer Toni Price at the Continental Club. That show inspired me to rescue my dad’s 1954 Martin guitar from the closet and take it to my college dorm. I was immediately hooked by the rhythmic nature of guitar and—too lazy to learn other people’s songs—I decided to write my own. Since then, I’ve been blessed with incredible people and opportunities, who’ve gently shoved me into recording albums and pursuing music as a career.

Which female musicians inspired you and your sound?
Oddly enough, Toni Price—who doesn’t play guitar—was the one who inspired me to pick one up. That night, something in her performance inspired me to want to take the stage, but I didn’t want to have to wait for a guy to accompany me on guitar. I figured I’d just play it myself.

Do you have a specific brand of guitar or gear you prefer to use when recording or playing live?
I’m a big fan of the Gibson and Epiphone guitar family. I have a vintage dark burst Gibson ES 390 at home—I love the P90 pickups!—and an Epiphone Casino that I won in the John Lennon Songwriting Contest in 2014. It’s become my go-to road warrior for the last few years. Both guitars are hollow bodies, which give me some of the rhythmic punch of an acoustic.

Growing up in Austin, TX, how do you feel the Austin music scene has influenced your sound?
Oddly enough, I feel like I’m a bit of an outlier when it comes to what most people consider the “Austin sound.” Of course, it’s hard not to love Willie and Stevie, but I have always been drawn to sounds that lie far beyond the borders of Austin, the state of Texas, or even this country. That said, I’m still very much a product of this creative city. I think the diversity of my sound speaks to the creative diversity of Austin and our collective love for originality.

How do you feel the Austin music scene differs from others around the country?
We Austinites love our creators. We have incredible organizations that support creators, especially musicians, making sure we have access to quality health care and mental health services. Our fans love original music, and we musicians truly support each other. We push each other to be better, but it’s never cutthroat, and that’s what I love about Austin. It’s very homegrown.

At what age did you begin writing music?
I started writing at eighteen when I was a journalism major at UT Austin. I was honestly too lazy to learn other people’s songs, so I started writing my own. I remember writing one of my early songs, “St. Anthony,” while sitting in my chemistry class!

Your new song, “She Persisted,” is an awesome tune about female empowerment. Is there a specific incident that inspired this song?
I wrote this song two days after Mitch McConnell silenced Elizabeth Warren on the Senate floor. By then, “Nevertheless, She Persisted” had become a worldwide hashtag because it’s exactly what women do. We persist.

Is female empowerment an important component of all of the music you create?
Representation is indeed everything. We NEED more songs about women, for women, by women. Just as we need more songs that celebrate love in all its forms. Our world is beautiful because of its diversity, and music is an incredible way to celebrate that. My single, “Ella,” is the Spanish language sister song to “She Persisted.” It honors the Latina experience of persistence in machista societies and that same need to get loud.

Do you often pull from personal experience when writing your music?
Definitely, but I also try to dive deep enough into others’ experiences to feel what it’s like to walk in their shoes. My biggest hope is that I can use the stage I’ve been given to spread understanding for others.

In 2014, you released a Spanish/English album called Up.Rooted. How was the process of creating this album, and why was it important to you to incorporate both Spanish and English in your lyrics?
I’m half Mexican, half Swiss-German, and fully Texan. Like so many others, I didn’t grow up around those roots, but I’ve always felt very drawn to my Latino side. Music, for me, has been the doorway to not only learn about but truly embrace and share the beauty of my family’s culture. Since I didn’t grow up speaking Spanish, it’s still difficult for me to write in Spanish, but doing so allows me to access another part of my voice, my soul. Up.Rooted was the first time I truly stepped into that other part of my soul, like a curious child opening the door to a room she’s never stepped foot in. It was scary but mostly exhilarating, and an experience I love to share with audiences through my recordings and on stage.

It’s sad to me that our country, built by immigrants, is a place so driven by an us-versus-them mentality. My music, my message, is that our diversity is what makes us beautiful, not our sameness. I am Catholic and a married lesbian. I am Latina and I am white. I can be in different worlds as a bridge, not a wall that divides.

You’re a versatile artist known to have created Spanish/English music, folk-pop, and soul/R&B. What is it that inspires you to continually explore different genres?
Good question! Maybe I just get bored with the same sounds all the time. I am definitely driven by rhythm. I would say that’s the glue to my music, but those rhythms are broad and encompass sounds that inspire me from around the world.

You’ve been featured on NPR’s three nationally broadcast shows: First Listen, All Things Considered, and Tiny Desk Concerts. What has performing on these shows meant to you, and what lessons have you taken away from those experiences?
That I am capable of so much more than I ever thought, I am someone who has spent my life making myself small. But that’s the epitome of false humility. True humility owns the gifts one has and puts them to work for others. These experiences on a national level have taught me the value of owning what I have been given and being truly grateful enough to share my voice with the world. Because if I can do it, then you can too. Every voice matters.

You released your fourth album, a Spanish/English album, La Que Manda, in May. How was the process of writing and recording this album, and what are you most excited for fans to hear?
This is my first mostly Spanish release and incorporates a lot of new sounds. La Que Manda is the story of a woman coming into her own power. And I hope it’s the soundtrack for women everywhere! We are powerful beyond measure if only we have the eyes to see it. I just released the second single, “Ella,” and it’s a gut punch.

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