In the middle of our cross-continental phone call (I in New York, he in Los Angeles), just as I’m commenting that Lady Gaga never seems to stop working, Fernando Garibay, Gaga’s musical director, goes silent. Fearing the call had been dropped, I repeat “hello” a couple of times before he returns, apologizing: “Sorry! That was Gaga’s camp calling me on the other line.” He goes on to explain that the pop star is still making tweaks to her upcoming album Born This Way, out May 23.
“She’s constantly working on making the songs better, down to the very last moment,” says Garibay. “Just this morning she had another change for a vocal. She’ll record the vocal off her GarageBand [Apple app] in her hotel room and then we implement it in a couple of hours. She never stops.”
All of her hard work isn’t for naught. Her latest single, “The Edge of Glory,” which was produced by Garibay, shot to number one on iTunes in 22 countries. Garibay calls the song—inspired by the moment her grandfather passed away—the “epitome” of the album. (The track begins with a heartbeat and ends with a flatline.) Garibay insists that every song on the album, which was largely written and produced in a studio-equipped tour bus, is the direct result of something that happened in Gaga’s life or on the Monster Ball tour.
“Picture this,” he begins. “Gaga’s walking off stage—she’s pumped full of adrenaline—she comes in, and we start. I play her these chords, and immediately she’s like, ‘Put up the mic!’ And off the cuff, from her head, she recites this whole song.”
Because the process of making Born This Way was so defined by the constraints of life on the road, Garibay and the other producers, RedOne and DJ White Shadow, developed a system for the flow of ideas and division of labor. “[The producers] had these secret USB flash drives that we’d carry around with us,” he says. “As soon as [Gaga] had an idea, she would assign it and I would direct how it was implemented.”
In addition to producing, Garibay plays guitar, keyboard, drums and bass and has worked with artists like Britney Spears, U2 and Enrique Iglesias. Still, he insists that working with Gaga is not like working with other contemporary artists. “I have full freedom to explore,” he explains. “My job primarily is to facilitate her vision, whatever that involves, whether [it’s] getting behind a keyboard and playing parts, cutting a vocal or making the track. If I were her, what would I do? I keep asking myself that question when we’re making our records. If I were her on stage, what would I want to hear? If I can’t get those answers from her I just go with my gut, but she’s leading the ship.”
As far as his own musical influences, Garibay notes Duran Duran, Soft Cell and growing up in East L.A., where he lived on the same street as Dr. Dre and Will.i.am. Combined with Gaga’s experiences coming up in New York, the aural composition of the album is eclectic but the message is unified. Garibay describes the album as “made with love and made for fans.”
“The statement of Born This Way is really important. You were born who you are. Why should you not be accepted or allowed to worship anything you want because of how you were born?” he says. “Everything Gaga expresses is genuine and real, and the same with the people who work around her. We’re all the same.”