interview KRISTIN WINTERS
Giselle Woo is a beloved desert native, hailing from Cathedral City. Her music can be heard across Coachella Valley, at outdoor events, bars, and just about every venue from high to low desert. A true artist, Giselle transcends multiple genres while emanating a signature sound and presence of her own. When playing an acoustic set, Giselle’s deceptively simple cords sweep you away; you feel a sway in your hips and the lyrics speak to your heartache. The smooth guitar rhythms seem to melt into the desert sunset as her poetic soul casts a bewitching spell over the audience.
When Giselle collaborates with Davis Macias and bandmates of Machin to form, “Giselle Woo and the Night Owls,” another side of her persona is unveiled. Sultry vocals combined with electric power cords create an infectious rock n’ roll beat which brings the crowd to their feet and dance the night away.
Giselle’s passion for music overflows to support local bands of the Coachella Valley. Currently she holds the position of Music Director at College of the Desert’s radio station KCOD COACHELLA FM, and hosts her own show, “Coachella Valley Local Hour,” spreading the word on upcoming shows and desert musicians. Read on and listen up as Giselle Woo shares personal insight on the life and times of a singer-songwriter in the Coachella Valley.
KRISTIN WINTERS: How long have you been playing music?
GISELLE WOO: I’ve been playing music for; I want to say since I was a teenager. Let’s see, how many years ago was that? Almost 15 years ago- Oh my god, wow. I started off really basic and simple. I just started writing my own music and performing on my own for six or seven years- since ‘09.
KW: Can you tell us about your music style? How would you describe yourself as a musician or artist?
GW: My music style definitely leans more towards singer-songwriter, which to me I feel like it’s basically only involving the instrument and the songwriter. It’s a very stripped down, raw and personal feel. My style and sound though, I’m influenced by my Mexican culture. A lot of my music I write in Spanish, and so it has that Spanish folk kind of feel. I think that explains it, but then again I also pick up the elements of the desert, which is more like Desert Rock. I feel like rock and a little bit of reggae here and there. That’s it- experimental rock.
My style and sound though, I’m influenced by my Mexican culture. A lot of my music I write in Spanish and so it has that Spanish folk kind of feel.
— Giselle Woo
KW: When you were growing up, you used to sing in your family’s church. Is there also a spiritual side to your music?
GW: Yes, I definitely take pride in the fact that that’s where my talent rooted out of. It opens up a lot of feelings. I’ve always said one of my favorite venues to play at is church because nobody judges you. Actually, what we sing, the songs, the glory, amen and hallelujah are very moving. I’ve seen people tear up- even myself sometimes when I’m singing. I may be going through something that the words just hit and I just get emotional. Definitely, I feel like I give off that energy anyway because I’m religious. But- I’m not like in your face religious.
KW: As a singer-song writer, you write your own lyrics- what are some of the stories in your songs?
GW: I’m a lover, a hard lover, but you go through your years, your younger years when you’re experiencing different relationships and different things. I think maybe that’s one way for me to cope, is to write a song down about it and just kind of- that’s all I wrote. That’s where it stays and it becomes history. The stories that I tell are about how it can be painful to miss somebody. Some of them will try to be empowering, like I’m okay with this kind of story. Other stories, I’m just like down to hook up, kind of thing. I have one song, it’s called, ‘What I Want,’ and also, ‘Be Your Woman,’ or something like that. I haven’t really titled that song yet.
KW: Who or what then is the love of your life?
GW: Oh my god! -People are going to get their heart broken! (laughs) Who or what is the love of my life?.. I have a few people in mind. I dunno if I should say this, but I feel like all my exes. I feel like they still are, because we still talk and we’ve learned from each other. People that have loved me and I have loved tremendously. My little sister is one of the greatest loves of my life. She was born when I was 18 years old and it was automatic — I took over. She was like my baby. She’s growing up to be a very special, smart young lady. She’s got all the great traits of the three old siblings in one- so she’s like the perfect child.
KW: Since we’re getting personal- when and where were you the happiest?
GW: Hmm. It was a few summers ago in Guadalajara that’s when I felt the happiest in a long time. When I was hanging out with my friend, one of my good friends. Those were some happy happy times. It’s beautiful there, and just being able to share it with a friend; you’re in this same mindset, you both speak the native language. Just enjoying each other’s company and just enjoying the area- just having so much fun, and falling in love- that’s what I think was happening. So that summer was when I probably felt my happiest recently.
I’m a lover, a hard lover, but you go through your years, your younger years when you’re experiencing different relationships and different things. I think maybe that’s one way for me to cope, is to write a song down about it.
— Giselle Woo
KW: You often collaborate with other musicians: when you go onstage as Giselle Woo and the Night Owls -alongside members of the band Machin’ and Symara Stone to name a few. What are the differences between playing your solo act versus collaborating with all these artists?
GW: For me solo music is definitely scary or challenging. It’s more challenging, but you don’t always have access [to equipment] when you play solo.Yes, it’s so hard. Sometimes it’s just more convenient to play solo, but in my head when I perform, I hear the whole band. Sometimes in between verses where usually there is a guitar solo I’ll hum, or I’ll whistle even, or I’ll try to make some beat box to give the audience that. I feel like in their head too, they are hearing the full band. With the time, it’s definitely one of the most challenging things between playing solo and playing with a full band. I see it as when I’m performing with the band it’s like my armor. It’s my armor. It adds to it. They all each bring in their own talent, and it just becomes this big roll, like explosion of crazy. Definitely, when it’s solo, you feel like more exposed for sure.
KW: Besides being a performing musician, you are also the host of, “Coachella Valley Local Hour,” airing now on College of the Desert’s radio station KCOD. How did that evolve from concept to reality?
GW: Okay. I don’t remember exactly what turned me on to reaching out to KCOD, but I did. There I am accepting this position, Public Affairs Director, just for the sake of being involved, but I did tell her [Toni Bakal, Station Manager], when she asked, “What is your interest?” and I’m like, “Music. I feel like there is a lot of local music here.” I know a lot of people in the music scene because I’ve made it a point to geek out on everybody. I’m genuinely blown away by all these local artists. I’m not afraid to express my opinion on something when I like it. I’m like, “Why aren’t people looking into the Valley for bands and stuff? Where are all the managers?” I know music is everywhere, but this place is unique.
When the position [Music Director] happened to be open, she called me. This was only a few weeks after everything. I was like, “Sure, if I can have it, then yeah.” Once I got in there I just started immediately, because the station plays local music artists and artists that have performed at Coachella Music Festival. I started contacting everyone: “Send me over your music so we can mix it in between.” One minute you’re listening to Florence + the Machine, and the next you’re listening to DJ Day, ‘Land Of 1000 Chances.’ I envision myself as an artist with songs and it’s like being played in between these big acts, that’s kind of cool.
KW: Is there’s anything you’ve experienced through this process that’s really surprised you?
GW: First of all, it surprised me that a lot of these local bands have music on iTunes. -Like,“What?!,” and they are professionally recorded products and they sound amazing. It’s like- I get it. Nobody likes to push their stuff in your face, but I feel like a little bit won’t hurt. That’s one thing that surprised me looking into all this music. The quality makes you hear the lyrics better. It makes it more cool, you can actually memorize the songs. I caught myself going to a J. Patron performance, and I was singing the whole song. I was almost about to jump on the stage and take his mic away.
KW: What would you say is the, “Desert Sound?” What makes this place so unique and infectious?
GW: I feel like the sound comes from a very humble place. It comes from the heart, but it comes in different genres. There is your punk, there is your screamer. More towards the East Valley, is the backyard scene- the backyard is like punks and screamer bands and super metal. Desert Punk is a mixture of desert rock, rock and roll, and psychedelic. In La Quinta, a lot comes from R&B, and there’s a lot of DJ stuff. Every section in the Valley is different. Palm Springs is a little more like a mixture of everything. I include the High Desert in that too because a lot of musicians in the High Desert come down here to perform at venues and vice versa.
KW: If there were something you could say to all the Coachella Valley artists and musicians what would it be?
GW: I’d say just keep rocking. If you feel deep down in your heart that something is going to come from it, that’s all you need. Whether it’s trying to get out there, trying to get your name out there, or whether it’s just doing it for fun. That’s the way you de-stress and let go of the daily rat race or struggle. Whatever we are living and if that’s your outlet, nurture it, never stop and support each other. Listen to what’s out there. I’m finding so many incredibly talented people here, and it makes you proud to be from here. That’s what it’s made me feel even more proud.
You can find Giselle Woo performing her acoustic set at Birba Palm Springs, College of the Desert and other cultural and music events around the Coachella Valley. Tune into her show featuring the latest tracks from local artists on the “Coachella Valley Local Hour,” every Thursday from 2pm-3pm on KCOD COACHELLA FM.