As seen in Guitar Girl Magazine Special Edition 2022 – I Belong
One thing is evident when you listen to Desiree Ragoza play her guitar; she has poured a lifetime of love, dedication, passion, and consistency into perfecting her guitar skills. She is a powerhouse of electricity and has gained a masterful proficiency with her craft. Her talents have taken her all over the world. She played lead guitar for Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson: Immortal World Tour from 2011 to 2014, performed for Jane Zhang’s Bang the World Tour in China in 2015, and for the Legacy Tour featuring William Hall in 2016 and 2017 in Australia and Germany. Desiree is working on her fourth album while simultaneously performing in her home state of Connecticut with her band “Desiree & Friends.” Guitar Girl Magazine had the pleasure of speaking with Desiree about her experiences so far in her career, gear, and advice to aspiring female-identifying artists.
What inspires you to make music; what is it that you want people to see/feel through your music?
Honestly, inspiration hits differently depending on the situation; sometimes, I have melodies that I hear in my dreams, and then I write or record them while it’s still fresh. Sometimes I get inspired by listening to my favorite music or while working on other management tasks such as website and promotion, press, publishing, content creation for guitar cover videos, etc. When I write songs, I try to write things that are true and dear to me; something that I have truly experienced in my life, a story that I can tell that people can relate to without feeling judged and make them feel like they aren’t alone in the world. Whether through my lyrics or how I write my instrumentals, I want people to feel what I feel in my playing, the joy and passion I feel in what I do, and what I’ve known all my life to do.
Let’s talk about your setup; what amps, guitars, pedals, and pickups are in your rig right now? Do you have a favorite guitar?
I currently use a Marshall JVM410H and a 4×12 Marshall Lead Model 1960BX. This has been my only amp setup since I was 15 years old. It’s a massive part of my sound and style. My pedalboard setup is a Temple Audio TRIO 28 with an ISP Noise Decimator, BOSS Super Chorus, MXR Carbon Copy Delay, DigiTech Drop Tune Pedal, Fulltone OCD Overdrive, Ibanez 30th Anniversary Edition Tube Screamer, Peterson Strobe Tuner, and a Dunlop Kirk Hammett Wah Pedal. My guitar of choice is my 2015 PRS Custom 24 with stock pickups.
What‘s your practice routine?
On a typical practice day, I start with warm-ups, using a hand exercise tool to loosen the wrists for about five minutes, and then I practice some of the songs I like to play for about ten minutes. After that, I switch gears to learning other songs of all different styles. I want to stimulate my mind and strengthen my knowledge and skills by playing any music genre to keep myself versatile. My amount of time practicing varies on the situation; sometimes, it can be from an hour to almost five hours, or sometimes I get so lost in it that I lose track of time.
Who are your musical influences?
My biggest guitar influences are Joe Satriani, Rik Emmett of Triumph, Dickey Betts, and Jimi Hendrix.
What was it like to perform on Cirque Du Soleil’s Michael Jackson: The Immortal World tour? What were rehearsals like?
Performing on Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour was a life-changing experience for me. I first got on the tour in 2011 when I was just shy of 18 years old and had graduated high school. Greg Phillinganes discovered my YouTube videos and contacted me to participate in the production. The rehearsals were like nothing I had ever experienced because of the long rehearsal hours, the up close and personal experience of performing alongside some of Michael Jackson’s band members of 30+ years, and the incredible amount of knowledge and skill I’ve gained from the coaching of Greg Phillinganes. There were so many amazing musicians in the room, and working with those close to the Michael Jackson Estate, plus the whole new experience of working with dancers, acrobats, dance choreographers, and all of the crew, staff, and technicians made it such a fantastic experience that I will never forget.
What are the biggest takeaways from your experience playing for Cirque du Soleil?
It was a truly educational experience through and through. At first, it was a lot to take in for me, mainly since I was used to growing up in a small town and hadn’t traveled too much out of the country other than to Canada and New Zealand. I was quickly able to adapt and take in the experience of what it was like to be on the road, from traveling a lot, learning what it truly meant to be a true musician, and allowing myself to grow personally and professionally. It is a massive part of what makes me a better player today, and I am always so blessed to have experienced those moments for the three years it had been running.
So, you are partially known for playing a lot of guitar licks and solos on your Instagram. What are your favorites licks to play?
I love playing any songs by Joe Satriani and jamming over The Allman Brother’s “Kind of Bird” or “True Gravity.”
What advice do you give to people who want to learn how to play the guitar or simply want to be in the music industry?
Playing guitar is a lot of fun but also a tedious task. You become unstoppable if you are willing to do the work and have the drive and passion for learning something. The most extensive advice I can give to anyone who wants to be a guitarist, let alone a musician in the music industry, is always be faithful to yourself and be nothing but yourself in your writing, style, stage presence, and playing. Always be open-minded and ready for anything. Remain humble, but always portray to the audience who you are; send your message through your music and your passion for it. The rest will fall into place.
What was it like performing on Jane Zhang’s Bang the World Concert in Chengdu, China?
It was something I had never experienced before. It consisted of two days in her hometown of Chengdu, China. The first show was a full pop/electronic show of all her hits, while the second featured a 90-piece orchestra and two special guests, John Legend and Chris Botti. The second show was the first time I had ever experienced playing alongside a live orchestra. These shows genuinely put me through the test of being an adaptable guitar player to any genre of music when it came down to learning the jazz, classical, and orchestral elements of music. It has made me a better player today.
You performed and toured the world at a young age with some of music’s most prominent guitarists in history, such as Ted Nugent and many others. How did working with those musicians that you admired inspire your creativity, and what lessons about the music industry did they teach you?
I was fortunate to start working with high-level musicians at 12 when I started working with Doug Wimbish of Living Colour. It was then that I began to understand the nature of what it was like to work as a professional musician on the playing field, behind the scenes, and what it was like to be around songwriters, pro-level musicians, and producers and get the proper coaching and training for what was to come in the future. All of the experiences I’ve had with performers/artists such as Ted Nugent, Sammy Hagar, Foghat, Marshall Tucker, Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, Jennifer Batten, Dickey Betts, Vinnie Moore, Tony MacAlpine, Barry Goudreau, and many many more have all led me to where I am today in my playing. I count my blessings every day to be able to perform alongside such pioneers and to be able to gain the wisdom and knowledge they pass down to me in their performances and their words backstage. The biggest takeaway from what they’ve all taught me was always to be passionate about your craft.
You probably also experienced fame and recognition very young, right? How did that affect you and inspire you at the same time?
The fame portion of it never really affected me so much in my younger years because, at the time, I was managed by my father (until 2014), and all I wanted to focus on was what I was most passionate about, which was playing guitar. I never knew too much about what went on behind the scenes because I could always focus on my craft and radiate my passion on stage to others. Even today, when I am on stage, I still get the same feeling of just being lost, being in the moment and enjoying every ounce of it, and walking off the stage, still feeling the high of having an incredible show.
You have several projects out: A Bit Above, Power & Force II, and your most recent single, “Artificial.” How much has your creative process changed or evolved from the release of your first album to your most recent one?
Power & Force II was the first album I had written; most songs were written when I was 10 to 14 years old; it was primarily an instrumental rock album. “Power & Force” was the first song I had written at age 10. A Bit Above (released in 2010) was more of an eclectic album that consisted of rock/pop and ballads. “Artificial” was a song I wrote more personal to me because it gave me more freedom to express what I was dealing with at the time through my decision-making in writing my songs. I had more space to write the music how I wanted it to be and get my message across with confidence in expression lyrically and through my playing. The more recent songs I have written (which will soon be released as singles) have more of a direction of heavier guitar riffs and an electronic feel, but also the exact impact of being direct with my emotions in playing.
Can you break down what you felt and thought when you wrote and recorded your song “Fretboards On Fire”? What amps, guitars, and pedals did you use to record this song?
I first wrote this song at age 15 when I was in Longview Farm Studio’s recording studio in North Brookfield, Mass. I was staying there for a few days specifically to be away from family and be in a different creative space for my writing. The people I was working with at the time had me “locked” in a room one time to see what would happen with my ideas, and I ended up coming up with four new songs ideas within the hours I was in there. I don’t remember exactly what settings were used at the time since I was plugged into a unit of sorts in the studio, and the very first recording of this song is different than what is on the record Power & Force II now, including the fact that the original recording had some lyrics in the chorus. The original recording had a more electronic/hip hop feel, whereas the current recording has a very percussive and heavy-rock feel. The guitar I had used at that time recording the song was a Schecter blue Exotic Star, and on the current recording, I had used the same setup I use currently.