# 99 / Metallica’s Rob Trujillo on Jaco and ‘Jaco’

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Believe it or not, this is the edited version of my April 64-minute talk with Rob Trujillo. I loved his Jaco movie so much (which I saw at South by Southwest 2015) that I wanted to speak to him about the man who blew us both away. For more info on the movie, visit the film’s official page.

I’ve always wanted to see a movie about Jaco Pastorius, and you’ve been involved with this project for about five years now. How did the project evolve?

Basically, I’ve been involved as the main financier, executive producer, for over five years. but it all sort of started long before five years. It goes back to about 19 years ago when I became friends with Johnny Pastorius, Jaco’s eldest son. We had a mutual friend in Florida, in Fort Lauderdale, who was a bartender, and Johnny Pastorius came in with a credit card to buy some drinks and my friend, who is a surfer in the East coast (I live in Los Angeles), said, “Hey, that name’s familiar, this name Pastorius…! Is that name related to a bass player?” And Jaco’s son said, “Yeah, Jaco.” “Right, Jaco!” And he was like, “My friend Robert Trujillo, he has a photograph of your father at his house in Venice Beach!” And then right there the connection was made. Soon afterwards I came through town with Ozzy [Osbourne], this is in 1996, and I met Johnny and one of the first things I said was, “You know, some day you gotta make a film about your father,” not thinking that I would be involved in the film. I was like, “You should share the story because it’s important. There’s a lot of people, not just jazz musicians, fans, rock fans, punk rockers, funksters, who are fans, and you have to share that story with the world.” That’s when it all started. Over the years he checked with me, “Hey, Robert, we’re going to work on this documentary film, we want to interview you.” And then two years later the same thing. Every couple of years I’d get a phone call or we would see each other, and I didn’t see progress, and this part is really important: Johnny and another guy called Bob Bobbing came to the concert in Fort Lauderdale and it was Metallica. Now all of a sudden, five years ago, Metallica is playing in Ft. Lauderdale and Bob was sort of navigating the project at that time, and he saw and was impressed by Metallica. He didn’t know anything about Metallica, and he wondered, “This band is so big, and this bass player loves Jaco.” That night I spoke to Bob and said, “You know, look, for this movie you really have to check in with Flea from the Chili Peppers, Geddy Lee [Rush], so many other rock musicians, because you have to bring excitement, some fire to the party, because Jaco was not just one-dimensional, he’s not just a jazz guy, but he’s also a funk guy, the attitude of a punk rocker, he’s rock ‘n’ roll, he’s really well-rounded.” I said, “Even young people are going to love Jaco.” He got very excited and then they asked me to be a part of the team. So I did join, and basically kind of adopted the film. I realized there’s no way this film is going to be finished and completed unless somebody puts the money and makes it a reality. Documentary films take time. They’re passion-driven, but they also take money. If you can’t fly to Florida, New York, California or wherever, what are you going to do? It has been a very expensive journey for me.

Can I ask you what the budget has been so far?

Over $800,000. Insane!

Is that a combination of your money and money from other sources?

All my money. We had to raise money at the end because I ran out of money. We had to raise money for post-production so we could mix the sound and obtain clearances.

Oh, clearances… I’ve been working on a doc for 10 years, and the clearances are killing me!

Oh, that’s very complicated stuff. Clearances for film… I learned a lot in the last two months. I learned so much. Five years ago I didn’t know anything, and that’s why I was just, “Yeah, let’s make this film, yeah, I’ll pay for this!” and all that. But the reality is that most people don’t finance their own movies. Most people who make films have investors, and there is a reason for that. Films are very expensive.

Did you have to hire somebody to deal exclusively with clearances? For me it has been a nightmare.

I’m glad you can understand what I’m going through. I needed to hire a professional, and the only reason I got a professional that was wonderful, is that, luckily for me… Where do you live, by the way?

San Antonio. But I was in L.A. for 19 years. Including five in Culver City, where you grew up…

Right, right… Luckily, because I live in Los Angeles and know a lot of people in the film industry, I was able to get help. One of my friends work for Oliver Stone, he writes music for Oliver’s movies, and he knew I needed help. So he connected me to a music supervisor he knew, someone who does great work with documentary music. She really loved the film and she cared, and she represented me as the music supervisor. So it was her job to reach out to Joni Mitchell’s people, to Sony Music, Warner Brothers… That’s what she does for a living, and it costs money. What she does is work out the deals with each of the publishing companies and the musicians, so it’s a very long process and a lot of it has to do with making deals. The important thing to understand is, when you’re making a documentary film, the people that are allowing you to make the music need to understand that this is not a blockbuster, Transformers or an Angelina Jolie movie. This is a passion piece, this is art. This is charitable in a lot of ways, because if you’re sharing someone’s story with the world, and you’re bringing it to light on the screen and you’re trying to celebrate somebody, you’re doing something charitable. And you’re spending the money and you and your team are investing the time to bring something to life for the world. All of a sudden you have to pay for these songs and they want top dollars. Some of these people want crazy money. “I want $40,000 a song,” “My artist deserves $50,000” or whatever… A lot of it is deals, you know? There has to be deals worked out because if you don’t have somebody working for you to get you a good deal, a lot of times you can’t use the song. That’s the reality. The same thing goes for footage. When you see Jaco playing live at Montreaux Jazz Festival or in any other rare footage, my film producer has to track those down, to find out who owns the rights to the high res photographs that are taken. All these things I didn’t know about, and all of a sudden it’s like, “Oh my God, it’s so much money!”

OK, but one thing is myself going through hell trying to obtain these rights. But you’re Rob Fucking Trujillo, bassist for Metallica! Even you have to suffer?

Yeah, but I have two kids, and my wife, and I got payments, you know… I lead a normal life as far as… I have to pay bills, I have to feed my family… I recorded one album with Metallica in 12 years, really… I didn’t write songs on the “Black Album,” you know? I think people have the wrong perception of me. They think, “Oh, you’re rich!” It’s like, you know… I have to make ends meet too, you know what I mean? It’s like… Anyway, so for me to take on a project like this I have to be very passionate about this. And this was how the project came to be. It has been difficult to get it together. We did a PledgeMusic campaign to help raise money for clearances and other expenses.

But did you raise the money once you knew how much these clearances would cost?

No, no, no… I had to figure out roughly an idea of how much I would need and then I had to put a budget together.

But how can you figure that out if each rights owner makes a different deal?

Well, I have a team. Professionals know how to figure that out. That’s why I’ve been so fortunate to be surrounded by people that care and who are professionals. And it’s never dead-on, you know? Sometimes it’s not enough. I think when you’re doing something like this you have to do the best you can. If you come up short, you need to figure out a way to complete the journey. And that’s just reality. When you’re making art, or music, or anything, usually, at least in my universe every time I’ve done anything creative… And I’m not talking about Metallica, I’m talking about Infectious Grooves or any project I’ve done outside Metallica, these opportunities to be creative are great, but they also cost money, especially film. Too many people think, “Oh, why does he need money to finish the movie?” Well, somebody’s got to pay for the movies people want to see, you know? I wanted to see a movie about Jaco, for a long time. I was looking around on the internet, hoping that someone was going to make a documentary about Jaco, because I care, until I realized “it’s not going to happen unless I do something about it.” And hopefully this is the first step for more to happen in the future. His music and story should be heard and he should be recognized as an important composer. The bass is one thing, but there’s also the composition and the story.

When I read Charlotte Chandler’s I, Fellini, a first-person account of Federico Fellini’s life, I was amazed to see how difficult it was even for a genius like him to obtain financing for his movies. Jaco, who was a recognized genius in his own right, went through something similar towards the end of his life: he couldn’t get gigs. How was that possible? Did that happen because of the drugs or he couldn’t work even before he deteriorated?

I know you know the story. At certain times in his career, Jaco had a lot of things he was dealing with. Jaco, as you know, was bipolar, had a very serious mental condition. It started to cause problems for him later on in his career. So here’s this talent, this incredible musician, but at the same time he was dealing with other things in his life. The mental condition fueled by whether it was alcohol consumption or anything, drugs, alcohol, makes existing very difficult for people with a bipolar condition. And you’re also talking about a time when a lot of people didn’t understand what [bipolar disorder] is, how to deal with it, how to, you know, medication or whatever. If it had happened today it would probably be different because there are ways to maintain a healthy existence with this condition, but back at the time when Jaco was doing what he did there weren’t these options. It was difficult for him to get a gig because he had problems.

I’m from Uruguay, but I saw Weather Report in Buenos Aires in 1980, I think, and Jaco blew us away. I was 16, and we were digging all the great jazz-rock bands, Return to Forever, Mahavishnu Orchestra, etc., and for a long time we had considered Stanley Clarke to be the man on bass. Then this guy Jaco comes out of the blue and pulverized everybody. Do you have a similar recollection, that Stanley Clarke (or anybody) was the man and all of a sudden Jaco changed everything for everybody?

I had a similar experience. I’m 50.

There you go. I’m 51.

I saw Jaco play in 1979 for the first time and then I saw him I think in 1980, at the Playboy Jazz Festival, I saw him with the Word of Mouth big band, and I also saw him with the smaller version of the big band. So I saw him on four different times and I even had an encounter with him in 1985. When I first started hearing about him, I didn’t even know what he looked like. They didn’t have the internet, so you always heard these rumours, “Oh, there’s this bass player, he’s incredible!” I was a fan of bass because I loved Sly & The Family Stone, a lot of the funk bands from the 70s, you know? And when I started listening to jazz-rock and fusion, like Return to Forever and Stanley Clarke, I was really excited to the point I didn’t even really cared to hear vocals that much for a while. It was short-lived, but there was a time when all I wanted to hear was ripping bass solos. When I saw Jaco for the first time it changed my world the same way it had the effect on you guys in Buenos Aires. There was this performer who was like a rock star, shirt off, long hair, a crazy, unique sound. A really dynamic style, his tone, his presence, his energy. And also I was impressed with the crowd. It was very mixed, diverse, there were rock musicians, heavy metal musicians, jazz people, skateboarders, surfers, wow! The truth of the matter was, most people there went to see Jaco. I have nothing but respect for the other members of Weather Report, but a lot of these people were there to see Jaco. And that’s when I realized, “Hey, this guy’s really, really cool.”

Was it you in the movie who said Jaco was “the coolest cat who ever lived,” or something like that?

No, that was [the Red Hot Chili Peppers’] Flea. This experience you and I talk about was shared by a lot of people. Then you take the influence he had as a writer and as a player in terms of his feel for funk, or the way he could create with harmonics, you know… I started to try to do that with my writing, and that’s how Infectious Grooves came to be. It was a band that I created music for that was really inspired by Jaco, and also by Cameo, and Black Sabbath, but Jaco was the main influence of my writing in the late 80s and early 90s. That’s why I wanted to make the movie. I had young people come up to me and say, “Hey, because of you I really like Weather Report.” “I bought Heavy Weather on vinyl!” ‘Cause a lot of young people are listening to vinyl again, you know? The same with [Joni Mitchell’s] Hejira, you know? My goal is just to bring awareness to his story and his music, but also to all that music! I hope everybody embraces music from that time period, like Return to Forever and all those bands.

What was the reception at South by Southwest? Were you able to make any deals?

We’re real grassroots. For me, the most important thing about SXSW is that we were accepted. With all the films out there, for them to honor and care about Jaco and the movie was huge. I don’t have a marketing team, I don’t have publicist, I don’t have all the forces that you need to go into a high-powered festival. I can count on one hand the people that I have. It’s a very small family and we do the best we can. The screenings went well, everybody loved the film, and it continues, you know?

But you do want to have a theatrical release, right?

Yes, yes… If there is a demand to show it in theaters and a demand to do everything you need to do, I want it to have a chance like any other movie. I want it to be seen. I didn’t make a movie not to be seen. Right now we’re talking to various companies and we’re going to do the festivals this year. We’ll do Buenos Aires, Asbury Park [already happened] on April 10, and also Chicago [it happened on April 18 for Record Store Day], and Washington DC also around those days. Also there will be a Jaco celebration at Hollywood Bowl on August 11, I think, on a Wednesday [that’d be August 13]. And also Monterey Jazz Festival is doing something for Jaco. It’s working, there is awareness, there is excitement.

I liked the way the movie handled everything related to his death. You didn’t even name the name of the murderer (I call it the murderer because that’s what he is) and concentrated on Jaco’s legacy. What was your original approach? Did you at any point try to talk to the guy who beat Jaco to death?

As you know as a filmmaker, it’s very difficult to find a balance. Jaco’s story is very intense. You have dark times, there are times of huge success and beauty and glory, there were times of fun, funny, Jaco had a sense of humor, was a funny guy who always had a positive spirit even when things were bad. You know, like in the scene you talk about, he laughs and he says to Jerry Jemmott, “Give me a gig!” Jaco’s life was balanced between his passion for music and his love for his family. Family was important to him. But there was also the illness, and the way he was killed… It was a very dramatic arc. What’s important in making a film like this is, how do you balance it? How do you balance the bad with the good, and the beautiful with the not-so-beautiful? It’s a very delicate balance, and that’s been the hardest thing. In the last five years, every year we thought we were finished, and all of a sudden we realized we were not finished because the balance wasn’t right, or a treasure came in, like in the last year Joni Mitchell came on board. And that was really huge and important for the film. A lot of miracles have happened. How did that happen? I mean, for four years she was unreachable and, all of a sudden, I ran into her at a party, and we’re friends now. But for four years she was like an enigma. And also Jerry Jemmott himself, Jaco’s favorite electric bass player. He’s a legend. Jerry Jemmott was living in Alabama two years ago, you know what I mean? Nobody really knew where he was. He was sort of low-profile, and now Jerry moved to Los Angeles. I met him through mutual friends and he’s an important part of this film. But two years ago he wasn’t even in the movie. We got a lot of treasures, and each time we had to re-edit the whole film. Editing is a long process. It takes time and energy. And time is money, but it was important to be done. Photos that Sony had in the vault, concert footage from Havana, all stuff that we were able to use.

One thing that left me a little confused: when Jaco was in Argentina, he had a reputation as a health nut, and he would drink these mixes of pure lemon juice and pure garlic. But according to the film, reality wasn’t so… wholesome. I mean, I was surprised when I first heard about Jaco’s problems with drugs.

This is a touchy subject. Very, very touchy. There were influences in Weather Report that started to cause him to party. And that’s when things started to change, when he joined Weather Report. There was a good chance that, around the time you saw him [in Argentina] that he started to drink more. And in those situations there was also a lot of pressure because not only are you getting the pressure to drink, which was the common thing to do with musicians around you, but this was the 80s, and there was also cocaine. This was all part of being a musician at that time. You’re onstage in front of thousands of people praising you, “You’re the greatest bassist who ever lived!” The pressure of always having to be The Greatest and having a personality that, in a lot of ways, allowed you to be the life of the party… The alpha male. Joe Zawinul and Jaco were the alpha males, the brothers that were fighting and had that creative tension with each other. But there was also mutual respect and love for each other. But there was a lot of pressure on Jaco to be great, and a lot of that happened during the Weather Report years. The years you’re talking about were the years when things started to change.

Have you seen his son Felix play?

Oh, yes. I know Felix very well. I’ve known the family for a long time and know them very well.

I mean, seeing him with a bass on his back is such an amazing image.

And he’s an amazing player. Honestly, he’s the closest thing to… Even the way his hands are on the bass… It’s like, the bloodline, you know? [laughs]

He plays a fretless too?

He plays everything. I think he mostly plays a six-string Fodera. He’s not really a fretless player, but he can play a fretless as good as anybody.

Talk about carrying a weight, being a bassist with that last name…

Yeah. I would imagine, because you want to be your own musician and wear your own hat, and have the pressure of having a dad who was one of the greatest bass players who ever lived. People probably expects him to always play his dad’s music, “Hey! Play ‘Teen Town‘!” “Play ‘Continuum‘!” I’m sure it must be difficult to always have that demand around him. But he’s an amazing player and a really, really good person.

Jaco, as you show in the movie, grew up listening to Cuban music on a transistor radio from an early age, which explains lots about his love an understanding of Latin music. I always felt that Anglo musicians had better technique, but that Latin, say, guitarists, are musically richer because we listen to all kinds of stuff besides rock, lots of local, regional influences. But Adrian Belew, who had produced a superb album by Mexico’s Caifanes, once told me that he disagreed. I’m paraphrasing: “Latin guitarists are technically better, because they can play anything from rock, to blues, to flamenco, to rancheras, you name it,” he told me in the 90s at the then-called Universal Amphitheatre. Anyway, what I really want to ask you is, in what way did Jaco’s Latin side influenced you as a player?

He was from Florida and I’m from Los Angeles, and we were both influenced by Hispanic contingency, lots of mexicanos. I can go outside right now, I’m at the studio, and I can walk outside and I can guarantee you in the next couple of hours there’s going to be ranchera music coming out of a truck. But I also was exposed to the Beatles, Beach Boys, Santana and Beethoven and flamenco. My father played flamenco guitar. The first music I heard as a kid was flamenco music, flamenco guitar. That was the first time I saw a guitar being played with fingers, not a pick. And that’s why, when I started playing bass, I started playing with my fingers right away. The beauty of the Latinos is that, I believe, there’s a special ingredient in a Latino musician. Take Dave Lombardo, from Slayer, the drummer. The ingredient in Slayer is special because classic, early Slayer has a spice to it, and the spice is coming from the rhythm, and the rhythm is coming from the swing, and the swing of the drums, as heavy as it is because we’re talking metal here, is an invisible feeling coming from the groove of the drumming. That Cuban thing is very rhythmic and very funky, and that’s what’s so special about Slayer’s music. And that comes from our Cuban friend Dave Lombardo. The first album I bought as a kid was Santana’s Abraxas, and that’s because I was moved by bass lines, and the percussion, the energy of it all. That’s why I was excited about the bass, because I loved the feel of the rhythm section. That said, I was talking to Geezer Butler, from Black Sabbath, a few months ago, and he told me he’s more excited about rhythm & blues bass, you know? And he’s known to be one of the greatest rock, metal bassists. But what makes him happy is funky bass. The Latinos have a lot of funk, man. If you take that funk and apply it to heavy metal music or dance music or whatever, well… I think that’s something Latin musicians have. There’s a bass player called Armand Sabal-Lecco. He played with Stanley Clarke a lot, he’s with Al Di Meola right now. He’s from Cameroon and played with Paul Simon. Armand is a phenomenal musician, but why is he phenomenal? He understands rock music, he understands punk music. Jaco felt Armand was incredible. And Armand also understands pygmy music, and music from Cameroon where he was born.

Yeah! That brings me to something I overheard Santana saying in one of the first Latin Grammy Awards. He was talking to somebody during rehearsals, and he was saying, “We should invite Nelson Mandela. All we [Latinos] do is African music.” There’s no way around it: you always go back to Africa.

Exactly! It’s important to understand that, and it’s important to recognize and appreciate all styles of music. I believe music is much more exciting when it is grooving and funky. And funky doesn’t always mean it is disco, or dance or whatever. I strongly believe the reason Metallica is so special is that James Hetfield is funky! James was a drummer first, and his ability as a drummer has transitioned into his ability as a rhythm guitar player and singer. And the fact that he can play really heavy, funky, metal riffs and he can sing rhythmically on top of that, to me that’s funky. And that comes from indigenous… [laughs] you know, rhythms! It comes from the earth, it’s what makes our heads move! And Jaco had that.

Speaking of which, what’s up with Metallica? Are they all there at the studio now?

Kirk [Hammett] just left. We’re writing, working on new songs.

Yeah, your assistant had told me you were “rocking it out” in the studio, but you have so many projects I didn’t know what project you were in at the studio.

No, right now I have the movie and this, and Metallica. Like you said, making a movie is a very involved thing, distribution deals…

Yeah! After this film, making an album is a piece of cake!

[laughs] Totally! You know what I’m talking about, man! That’s why this is a good interview, because you understand what it means to be a musician, to make music, and you also understand what it means to make a film, a documentary film specifically. So many people looove documentary films, docs are popular right now, but people don’t understand they’re passion-driven, they cost money and time, and someone’s gotta pay for it.

Well, it was well worth the effort. As a longtime fan, I loved it. And I think those who didn’t know about Jaco will be blown away.

I agree. This creative, passionate journey doesn’t have to do with a style of music. This is for everyone. Jaco says it in the movie when asked about what advice he could give people out there: “Hey, listen to everything. I’ll play in a country band and I’ll love it, as long as it is good.” That’s the bottom line here. Some people say, “Hey, what’s a heavy metal bassist doing a film about Jaco?” And it’s like, number one, they don’t know anything about me; number two, as I said already, with Infectious Grooves I did three albums completely influenced by Jaco. Take what Jaco delivered and create with it. Be creative, be open-minded. When you hear a Jaco album you’re not hearing… “Come on, come over” is a great song, super funky, R&B at its best. He could’ve made a whole album of it, like a Tower of Power record or something. Which is really cool, but he didn’t do that. He gave you that, he gave you some classical, some jazz, some World music, he really made a very diverse recordings, and that’s how he shared his music.

 

# 100 / H.R. Giger: Beyond ‘Alien’ … And Away from San Antonio

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Dark Star: H.R. Giger’s World opens in select cities nationwide on May 15. “H.R. who?” is something the average moviegoer would ask, but when informed Giger (pronounced GHEEgair) is the Oscar-winning man whose inspiration gave birth to the Alien monster, things change.

“Necronom IV,” the painting that inspired the ‘Alien’ monster and gave Giger an Oscar in 1980.

DARK STAR: H. R. GIGER’S WORLD Trailer from Icarus Films on Vimeo.

DARK STAR: H. R. GIGER’S WORLD – Probe the Soul from Icarus Films on Vimeo.

What doesn’t change is the fact that San Antonio remains a sort of movie dumpster, a so-called “secondary market” that always has to wait to see the best films while our powerful neighbors enjoy the party. The movie will be shown in Dallas (May 22-28, Texas Theatre), Austin (May 23-26, Alamo Drafthouse), Houston (May 23-28, Alamo Drafthouse) and Fort Worth (May 28-31, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth).

For those in other cities, here’s the calendar:

May 15-21 – New York, NY – Landmark Sunshine
May 15-21 – Los Angeles, CA – Landmark NuArt
May 15-21 – San Francisco, CA – Landmark Opera Plaza
May 15-21 – Berkeley, CA – Landmark Shattuck
May 15-21 – Providence, RI – Cable Car Cinema
May 22-28 – Long Beach, CA – The Frida Cinema
May 22-28 – San Diego, CA – Landmark Ken
May 28 – June 4 – Washington, D.C. – Landmark E St
May 28 – June 4 – Vancouver, BC – The Cinematheque
May 29 – June 4 – Denver, CO – Landmark (TBD)
May 28 – June 4 – Columbus, OH – Gateway Film Center
May 29 – June 4 – Philadelphia, PA – Landmark Ritz

A couple of weeks ago I spoke on the phone with director Belinda Sallin, who was in her home in Switzerland.

(all images courtesy of Icarus Films)

(Courtesy of Icarus Films)

Right off the bat, your movie (especially the intro) has a chilling effect on the viewer, similar to the one we have when looking at a Giger painting. Was it a conscious effort on your part to make such an un-Hollywood doc?

Thank you very much! I’m happy you feel that way. And yes, absolutely, it was clear in my head that I didn’t want to make a conventional biography, I didn’t want to start with a photograph and go, “H.R. Giger was born in…” You can read all that, it’s been done already, you can find it on the internet or in books. I was so surprised when I met him for the first time, or when I entered his house, I was completely overwhelmed. I thought it was extraordinary how he lived, in his own world, with his art and all of its consequences.

It seems the metalheads and other bands got Giger more than, say, the established art world.

These are the people buying his books, his publications, his posters. [Giger] got the acknowledgments from his fans, but he didn’t get it from the well-established galleries or art institutions. So he was very glad about his fans and he appreciated them a lot. But he was also a shy person, he didn’t like to leave his home. And to interact with his fans was quite difficult for him, but he did it. That heavy metal connection is funny, because that was not his kind of music, not at all, but he was a very open-minded man, he knew when something was special, as in the case of Celtic Frost and Triptycon, and his relationship with Tom Warrior, which is really extreme metal. He loved working with Tom, but it wasn’t his kind of music. His music was jazz; he really liked Oscar Peterson and Miles Davis, things like that.

Did he have a chance to watch the movie, or parts of it, before he passed away?

No, unfortunately. He did see a sort of teaser I did. I wanted to show him what I wanted to do, what my concept and intentions were. And he liked it a lot. It was a short teaser. He said, “Yeah, that’s good, you don’t have to explain everything, I don’t want you to explain everything. It has to be a little bit mysterious … It’s OK if things stay enigmatic.” For me, it was very important that, after his death, Carmen Giger supported us, and she continues to do so. She told me, “Yes, go on, finish the movie.” She saw it before it was released here in Switzerland. She was the first person to see it,  and she was really moved. She told me he would’ve liked the movie, because “it’s a very deep portrayal of him and it’s true.” This meant a lot to me.

He passed away shortly after you finished shooting, but it was obvious that he was very frail. How difficult it was to shoot his scenes?

It was a challenge to shoot with him. He was only available for very short periods of time so I had to carefully consider what I wanted from him, what scenes I needed to do with him. And he didn’t like to talk anymore. For much of the film he is silent, but he never liked speaking about his art. This is important to know. It was a relief for him when I showed him the teaser and told him we didn’t have to do hours and hours of interviews. 

When did you feel it was time to make the movie?

I’ve known his art since my youth, I saw Alien and I was shocked… (laughs) I saw pictures, posters, books… I was always intrigued and fascinated by his art. But I lost it a little bit out of my sight over the years, until one evening I met a former life partner of his, Sandra Beretta. This was really a special moment for me, because she started to tell me about him and I was immediately interested, and all these images I had in my head returned, I had never forgotten them. I think this is the quality and power of H.R. Giger’s art: Once you see his work, you don’t forget it.

Tell me about the museum and bar. Only Giger could’ve come up with something like that…

Yes! The museum, was built because Giger didn’t get the acknowledgment of the established galleries and institutions in Switzerland. He said to me, “They won’t show my work here, so I had to build my own museum.” He realized all his dreams as a child, and he built his museum in an old castle. It’s an amazing place, in the mountains, a little village, and the bar is next to the castle.

Was that always the case or they stopped showing his art as soon as he became famous because of Alien?

There are several reasons. I think Giger was difficult to categorize. Even when he was categorized under realism or fantastic realism, he also had a strong relationship with pop culture. He had many tools and outlets. He made films, comics, music videos, design… In the 1970s this was quite unusual. Then in 1980 he won the Oscar, and this was quite a scandal. He was taken less seriously by the art world than he deserved. But it’s hard to say whether winning the Oscar was a damage for him, because he became world famous. He was not interested anymore in this discussion, at least in the last two years of his life, when I met him. “They don’t show my art in these institutions, so what?” Maybe his composure came from the fact that he knew he didn’t need the establishment to enjoy worldwide success. Who needs institutional approval when you already reach countless people all over the world? The thing that impressed me the most about him is that he followed his dreams regardless of what people thought or said. He did what he wanted to do, he took his own path.

Courtesy Icarus Films

Courtesy Icarus Films

# 101 / Best of SXSW 2015 (Music): Brazil’s Apanhador Só

Apanhador Só's Alexandre Kumpinski. (E.L.)

Apanhador Só’s Alexandre Kumpinski (acoustic guitar/lead vocals) showing us how it’s done. (E.L.)

The following videos belong to my favorite band, hands down, out of all the dozens I saw in South by Southwest 2015. I apologize that some of the videos are out of focus. I couldn’t see shit because I lost my glasses, yet I could hear loud and clear. Apanhador Só is an arty, unpredictable, experimental, theatrical and supremely edgy band from Rio Grande do Sul. They played on March 20 at Austin’s Red Eyed Fly and cracked my head open. The videos will give you some idea, but their discography has them reinventing themselves with each album. I recommend them all, especially the latest, Antes Que Tu Conte Outra (2013), which you can listen to here if you’re not smart enough to go straight to iTunes or wherever to get it in an instant.

Here they are. Enjoy:

@ELopetegui

# 102 / World Premiere: Max Capote’s $25 “It Was Me” Video

max-foto1

Uruguayan, Latin Grammy-nominated artist Max Capote (who “lost” the Best New Artist gramophone to Puerto Rico’s Sie7e in 2011) has released the music video for “It Was Me,” one of the best tracks of the ill-promoted Aperitivo de Moda (2014), the follow-up to his acclaimed Chicle (2008), which earned him the Latin Grammy nom and a mention among Billboard‘s “10 Latin Artists to Watch in 2013.” (Max and Sie7e became friends during Latin Grammy week, and the Puerto Rican sang in the new album’s first single, “Sin mentirte.”)

The song is a cover of the cult hit by Uruguay’s Los Mockers, a legendary band of the ’60s (they were the Stones answer to the Beatles-oriented Los Shakers). Here’s the video, in a Kamikaze exclusive (thanks, Max).

I must confess: I thought Max was just another interesting retro novelty, but I didn’t go nuts about him (as many had done already) until I saw him and his band burning down Speakeasy during South by Southwest 2013. He’ll be back at SXSW this year as well, performing on March 19 at a yet to be determined place and time. If you’ve never seen him live, I recommend you do so.

But what about the video? It was directed by Andrés Silvera Jasquin at Montevideo’s legendary Elepé studios on a $25 budget. Literally.

“That was the cost of [lead guitarist] Leroy’s hairdo,” Max told me in Spanish in an email from Montevideo yesterday. “What a hairdo can do! Dude wanted a quiff for the video, so I broke the piggy bank.”

The voice at the end of the video (“Your English is horrible!”) is by Nicolás Almada, who had introduced the band on the video of Chicle‘s “Tema 11.” The idea for the video started with second guitarist El Gavilán, who, Max says, “broke my balls for six months to make a video for this song and in this way” (good call by El Gavilán, I say). El Gavilán and director Andrés Silvera work together as bartenders at Bluzz Live, a famous local nightclub.

“Andrés is not really a cameraman, but he’s a great photographer and that’s why he was able to get good shots,” said Max. “You saw us live: I wanted to capture the band in a fresh, dynamic state. I edited the whole thing myself, pure cut and paste. For me, there’s no greater capital than ideas, and that’s the only thing that can overcome the lack of resources so common in South America. And about my English… My English sucks and I wanted to address that. I didn’t want to come across as a wannabe, as if trying to play gringo. What can I do? That’s my English.”

# 103 / Kat Dahlia: The Kamikaze Q & A

katdahlia big2

You may have heard “I think I’m in Love” on Grey’s Anatomy recently. Or perhaps you saw the “Gangsta” video (if you didn’t, you can watch it below). Chances are you remember the 24-year-old Cuban-American with a voice like thunder and gorgeous morenaza looks (Kat: never, ever dye your hair blonde).

The long-awaited My Garden (released January 9 by Vested in Culture/Epic) is one of my favorite albums of the year and one of the best debuts I’ve ever heard. I’ve dug her stuff ever since I saw her on video, but after speaking with her on the phone a few weeks ago, I confirmed she was for real.

Key word: Cuba. When I asked her about the recent developments in the US-Cuba relations, instead of going all Miami/Pitbull on me, she spoke like what she is: a young, second-generation Cuban who, no matter what her family may think, understands that the embargo was useless then and is useless now.

“I’m dying to go to Cuba,” she told me on the phone from New Jersey (our full conversation on the second page of this blog). The times they are a-changin’.

If you ask me where to start with Kat Dahlia, I’ll tell you to start here:

It was this song that made me want to have her full album back in 2013, but a pseudocyst in her vocal cord (and other problems) delayed her debut, which is a solid display of playfulness…

…daring choices for an album opener…

…and pure Afro Cuban explosion.

But perhaps the album’s greatest gem is an acoustic studio accident she “nailed in one take.”

Full conversation on the following page.

#104 / Pinche Gringo: Garrett T. Capps and a New SA Anthem That Needs to be Recorded NOW

(photo by E.L.)

(photo by E.L.)

I first heard “San Antone” when Garrett T. Capps performed it with a full band at Sam’s Burger Joint in 2014.

It was one of those unforgettable performances by one of SA’s musical kamikazes, and last January 5 Capps offered another, stripped-down version at The Mix, on the same night he shared the bill with The Bolos (performing with drummer Sarek Gutiérrez for the last time) and Lonely Horse (one of the first shows by guitarist Nick Long post-hand injury; and pardon the focus problems… I had left my glasses at the taco stand by Limelight. It gets better after a few minutes).

This time, Capps once again proved his versatility and unpredictable spirit. Doing his one-man show, his left foot was erratic, but his right hand was merciless. He then improvised a loop, stood up, and talked for a few minutes, managing the crowd with the conviction of a stand-up comic (jump to about 4:15), before going back to his seat to read his huevos rancheros/barbacoa/puffy tacos cheat sheet (7:10) and closing the show on a high note. It was a superb performance, better appreciated if you know the lyrics:

“I was born in San Antone (x 2)

even though I’m a gringo,

I was born in San Antone

When I was younger and feelin’ so bold

everyone told me to never leave home

I said I’m sorry but I gotta go

but I was born in San Antone.

Went to Boystown, caught the donkey show

then San Marcos, Midland and Arlington

couldn’t get a gig in Austin

‘cuz I was born in San Antone.

Out in Denver, man they get too stoned

women in Portland are just skin and bone

LA, Nashville, New York, NO

when you were born in San Antone.

Jumped up to Europe by way of a boat

stranded in Dublin without no coat

someone asked me, “Where’d you come from, bloke?”

I’ve come from San Antone.

Hit right through Paris, Prague, and Rome

drank wine till my blood ate through my bones

lost my direction, 10 times alone

far from San Antone.

I found myself down a deep, dark road

empty pockets and a wayward soul

then I heard somethin’ on the radio

sounded like San Antone.

It had deep blues roots, and a Vox organ

a groovy shaker, and a Fender tone

it said “she’s about a mover” and I was gone

gone home to San Antone.

Sir Doug, Flaco, and the Sun-Glos

Butthole Surfers and Bongo Joe

Ozzy pissin’ on the Alamo

Pistols at Randy’s Rodeo

Godfather on the radio

Gunther Hotel Robert Jo

Leon Valley, China Grove

South Side, West Side, Olmos

Alamo Heights and Stone Oak

USAA and Valero

HEB, Bill Miller, Clear Channel

Frost Bank, Rackspace, Santikos

Avery Johnson, George Gervin

Duncan, Bonner, Admiral

Memorial Day Miracle

lengua, nopalitos, menudo

bacon egg cheese with some pico

el pastor onions cilantro

over easy on huevos rancheros

carne guisada, queso fresco

Barbacoa y chicharrón

cheese enchiladas w/borracho

flauta, chalupa, special nachos

guacamole salad with my puffy tacos

I WAS BORN IN SAN ANTONE”

The problem is: the song hasn’t been recorded yet, and it is about fucking time he puts down those damn tracks. It is the type of song local music radio shows would love, especially in these times when the SA music scene desperately needs a solid radio structure to showcase the best local songs (and there are many great local songs and enough local music radio shows; bands and more fans than we think love them).

“[There is] no recorded version,” confirmed Capps. “I am currently in the studio as we speak, working on a heavy [rock’n’roll] album similar to Radical Sabbatical, but more refined. ‘San Antone’ isn’t on it but there will someday be a recorded version.”

Dude, c’mon! Anyway… According to Capps, “the story [of “San Antone”] is slightly based on reality, but is basically just about how killer SA is.” Yeah, yeah, very nice. But what are you waiting for to record it? I imagine Augie Meyers singing the taco/barbacoa part while adding some Vox organ. Capps laughs and tells me he’s working on his upcoming R&R album with Phil Luna (The Please Help) and Shawn Terry (Guilty Strangers), which is great too. I understand Capps has (so far) at least three sides to his act: the country-ish, the killer frontal guitar assault, and the one-man band, and he wants to keep things separate. But what’s wrong with adding “San Antone” to a R&R mix? Both Terry and (especially) Luna, who sings each song as if it was the last, could perfectly bring out the best of it. Guys: Don’t wait. Record it now. That song’s a winner, an instant classic. I expect something first thing in the morning.

Garrett T. Capps getting hot at The Mix. (photo by E.L.)

Garrett T. Capps getting hot at The Mix. (photo by E.L.)

# 105 / Things to do in 2015: Listen to the Official Selena Radio 24/7

selena-quintanilla

While getting ready for New Year’s Eve, I received a text message from a man I love and respect.

Hola, Enrique, cómo te va a ti y tu familia,” read the text. It came from Abraham Quintanilla Jr., Selena’s dad. “Just to let you know that I started an internet radio which is on 24/7. It’s all Selena’s music.”

According to Quintanilla, the online free radio (the only official Selena radio) was launched on November 13, but I suspect it started a little earlier than that (one website says it started on October 18). The station can also be heard through the TuneIn app.

“I haven’t done much publicity yet,” Quintanilla told Kamikaze in Spanish from his home in Corpus Christi, “but I’m glad to confirm what we always knew: that Selena still has fans all over the world.”

Since the station launched, it has received almost 12,000 visitors from as far as Argentina, Africa, Europe and New Zealand (still a low number, given Selena’s popularity, but the figure will probably explode as soon as more people find out about the radio). Quintanilla said he got inspired to create a Selena radio station after he was interviewed in October by the San Antonio-based Robert Rivas Radio show, and quickly instructed his team at Q Productions to develop the station. The present format features 10 straight Selena songs, one by her brother A.B. Quintanilla III and, for the time being, one song by up-and-coming bachata singer Angel Castillo, a new artist produced by Abraham Quintanilla. You also hear from time to time the voices of Quintanilla himself and Joseph Valdez, in charge of promotions at Q Productions and listeners can leave messages and engage in chats with other fans while listening. The station was mostly set up by Chris Domínguez, keyboardist of A.B. Quintanilla’s Kumbia All Starz, but longtime, ultra-loyal Selena mixer/engineer Brian “Red” Moore is also part of the mix.

“We’d like to add more Spanish talking for the benefit of our Spanish-speaking listeners, and talk more about the history behind the songs,” added Quintanilla. “But I’d like to see that each song correspond with the proper album cover when you look at the app. We’re still working on that.”

The best thing about Selena Radio is that, unlike conventional radios, it is not based on hit-oriented song rotation: at Selena Radio you hear every single Selena song, even those never played on any radio; in two days listening to the station I didn’t notice any song repeats.

“You’ll be able to hear every song recorded by Selena since age 6 until her death,” said Quintanilla. “That includes remixes and rarities. Even before Selena signed with Capitol and became a superstar, she had already recorded five albums, which I own. Add to that the Capitol albums, and there’s a whole bunch of other songs there. We’ll letting people hear them all for free. So there’s a lot of music in there.”

#106 / From The Bolos to Eva Ybarra: An Only-In-SA Musical Trip (3 unforgettable moments of 2014)

May Jesus, Eva and others who know where it’s at make the SA music scene explode in 2015. (screenshot by E.L.)

What started as a blog about Eva Ybarra‘s stirring show at Hi-Tones on November 29, ended up as a multi-band trip. My trip. Hers was one of three unforgettable nights in San Antonio, my three personal favorite musical moments of 2014. And I chose all three shows because, after seeing her rip it that night, I realized my trip had started a few weeks earlier, and that this wasn’t about Eva or any other bands mentioned on this blog: it was about all of them, and about those I don’t even mention. Allow me to explain.

Wasting my time on Facebook, I saw a post by Nick (Lonely Horse) announcing his excitement about an upcoming show by what he described as “the world’s best band.” Curious, I clicked on the link, and it was a story by Matt Stieb on the November 11 show by The Bolos, a band I had never seen before. Whenever Matt (the only thing Chucky and I ever agreed on) recommends a band, I pay attention. Dude’s into jazz, and knows what “good music” is. So I went to see the Bolos, and what I encountered was very similar to this April gig expertly shot by Greg Gabrisch, one of the best live music photographer in SA.

Short story: The Bolos blew me away right from the start. Five seconds into the first song I felt I was in the middle of a tsunami. An organic and ferocious blend of punk, blues, psychedelia by a bunch of young kids who seemed to not give a shit but who knew exactly what they were doing. And it all started with an amazing drummer named Sarek Gutiérrez, as elegant and precise as a jazz drummer, and as brutally powerful as a metalhead. If it’s true that “you’re as good as your drummer,” then the Bolos is a superb band.

So sorry, Eva. It was your night and I will write about it, but not only did you have a great performance: you became the cherry on everyone else’s pie, without even trying. I so want to start writing about you, but I can’t start before taking you back to a couple of earlier shows you missed, starting with the Bolos at the same venue that saw you shining.

That Bolos night at Hi-Tones was a memorable one. Besides the power of the music, it had an added element for me: hidden in the crazed crowd, was no other than Roland Delacruz (aka “Veracruz Delacruz”) and Chris Smart, guitarist and bassist, respectively, for Masters of Love (my favorite local band). They were both visibly moved like everyone else, especially Roland. Seeing them dig a young band reminded me of an obsession of mine: wondering when San Antonio musicians will stop these nonsensical age frontiers and begin to interact more with each other. I’ve lived in many cities in the world, and I don’t see that gap more pronounced than in SA. It could’ve been any other veterano digging the Bolos, but the fact that it was Masters of Love was of great significance to me. (Unfortunately, I don’t have any MOL videos, but just listen to these tracks and keep in mind they’re even better in concert.)

So the next night I go to The Mix to see MOL live, and while having a smoke at the door I see Roland walking by. We say hi, and start talking about that amazing set by the Bolos the night before.

“Those guys are great,” said Roland, “and the best part of it is that they know they’re great. They have the attitude. Many bands nowadays are playing this humble bullshit card, and some even admit ‘we’re not that good.’ Fuck that! You need that attitude, this is rock and roll!”

But the main topic was, and always is (with me, at least), the fact that San Antonio is an ideal place for collaborations between the young up-and-coming bands and the older cats from different genres who, for the most part, can outplay any young kid in town. Somehow, I feel that young, “hip” bands in SA couldn’t care less about what the older guys (and girls) are doing. To my surprise, minutes later who did I see digging Masters of Love at The Mix? Three members of the Bolos. I thought, “There is hope, after all.” Days after the show, I called Roland to revisit our talk and ask him the same question I asked all those quoted in this blog: Am I exaggerating or, indeed, the young bands don’t care about what, say, Mitch Webb & The Swindles (another older band that could pulverize the best of the young dudes with the exception of, perhaps, the Bolos)? Am I just an old (er) fart making a big deal out of nothing?

“[That young/old mutual interest] doesn’t happen too often [in SA]”, said Roland. “When we were young, that was a big part of our lives. But then you get old and raise families, so a lot of my friends have kids now, 8 years old, 10 years old, young adults, so they’re not out as much checking out the bands. Me and Chris Smart are single, so we still go out and check out bands. We’re free.”

Yes, I can understand that, but where I come from, whenever an old rocker had a show, the world stopped. We all flocked to see them and learn from them. How come I don’t see other band than the Bolos checking you out?

Well, the Bolos come to the shop a lot [Robot Monster Guitars], that’s how I got to know them.

OK, but I’m sure they’re not the only young band that goes to the shop. I think there must be some sort of chemistry between the two bands, besides personal chemistry. I think the fact the two baddest bands in SA are friends is no accident. You feed from each other. And I think that, if the SA music scene is ever going to explode, you need more collaborations between the generations and more of the conjunto element in the music. It’s weird Piñata Protest, Los De Esta Noche, and very few others are the only ones interested in the blending of punk and conjunto, to name just one of the endless SA possibilities. That’s our unique thing, we have everything we need to be an original scene, unlike any other.

Oh, definitely. That’s what I’m trying to do. I always go out and check out new bands and tell others about them. I don’t just want to play with my old friends all the time. I tell them, “We should all be playing with the other bands,” you know? And the other bands should be playing with us.

But who should make the first move? 

Both should. It’s a mutual thing. I’m out there all the time. The problem is that the Mitch Webbs, when [they’re] not gigging, [they] gotta be at home with [their] family, you know?

Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for the DIY punk thing of “fuck the old” and “let’s do our thing” and all that, but on the other, I see guys like Mitch, you and so many others, outplaying everybody else, and I think, “Fuck, I wish there was some new kid here to learn how a live band should sound.” Of course, sooner or later, everyone learns just by doing it. But not taking advantage of local legends, in order to learn faster, it’s a waste of time. I feel that thing in the air of older bands not being “cool” or something. And that’s idiocy. It’s 2015, dammit. There’s room for improvement in punk. Is that the problem? The “cool” element getting in the way of the ageless cool?

That’s part of it. But mostly I just see it as the young kids not going there because it’s just not part of their scene. There’s too much stuff in their scene and are not willing to explore. Yes, The Swindles are not punk rock, but they’ll kick their ass. They rock. They don’t play like a bunch of old guys, there’s excitement in their shows. But some of the young kids are just stuck in their scene. They do the same thing that I don’t want to do: booking with the same bands. They’re all friends, and that’s what they get stuck in. And I don’t know how to make them come. When I saw the Bolos I said to myself, “They’re not gonna come to my show on their own,” so I decided to go to their gig and afterwards I told them, “Hey, guys, we should do a gig together.” I took the initiative to do that. They didn’t know about the Masters until I told them.

So is there hope for a MOL/Bolos double bill in early 2015? That would be the ultimate intergenerational night.

Yes, we’re working on it. I want to do it in Spring, but the ball’s in their court now.

***

So I called the Bolos and asked them the same question: “Am I overreacting?”

“Roland and Chris are two role models for us,” said Tanner, guitarist for the Bolos. “We look up to them. Robot Monster is our go-to spot. But besides that, their music is great. It’s just rock’n’roll, fucking amazing. Roland’s guitar is amazing, it really inspires me.

And do you agree that most younger bands don’t play enough attention to bands like MOL?

There is a generational gap. Yeah, you’re right. You don’t really see younger guys going to a lot of shows like that, going to see people like the Masters of Love.

Don’t the older guys outplay anyone in town, or in any town?

Oh, absolutely. (laughs) Definitely. The Masters of Love, that was the first show they played all year and we were really excited about that. To be honest with you, Roland had asked us to play with the Masters that night, but we had played the night before and also our drummer was out of town.

By the way, man, you have a kick-ass drummer.

Yeah, he’s good. Sadly, it sucks, because I don’t think he’ll be playing with us anymore.

Noooooo!!!

It’s his last semester in school and he’s trying to focus on school.

That really sucks. I even tweeted a photo of him that night, “Is this the best SA drummer?” He blew me away. He’s like a jazz drummer with the ferocity of John Bonham. Like Bonham and Watts rolled into one.

He is! He’s classically trained. He teaches percussion, has a school.

Well, I hope he finishes whatever it is he needs to finish and comes right back. Just make sure your next drummer is an interim one, please. The new guy has big shoes to fill for sure. Anyway, will you and MOL play together in 2015?

Yes.

Who would open for whom?

Oh, we’d love to open for them.

The answer is correct! 

Yeah, this year I moved downtown and got to meet many of the older guys, who are doing amazing things.

Well, talk to your young colleagues, everyone should be checking everyone out!

Yeah! Like I said, Roland and Chris have been very cool to us.

What did you learn from them as a musician?

Man… (laughs) Don’t give up on what you love even if you’re never going to make it big. Roland is a great guitarist, and if there is anything wrong with my guitar he fixes it, no problem. He’s a master of his craft. He’s been involved in this for so long and he hasn’t strayed away from anything. Even after all these years he seems to be having a badass time.

We need to keep him single so he can continue to go out every night to check out bands. 

That’s love, man…. and he’s a master of it.

***

So the bad news is Sarek is gone, at least for the immediate future. The good news is that he may perform one last time with the Bolos this January 5 at Faust. The info came from the man himself, whom I contacted yesterday to confirm his situation with the band.

“I recently told the guys in The Bolos that I needed to leave the band because things were getting too intense and we were playing a lot of shows,” Sarek told me via Facebook. “Since I have classes that start at 8 a.m. every day, it gets tough on the body when you play shows so late at night, then have to wake up at 6 a.m. (I know this makes me sound like a grandpa). Funny enough, Tanner just called me today asking to play a show at Faust on Monday for fun.”

Just when I was about to celebrate, I get a second message from Sarek.

“I’m not sure what is happening with the Jan. 5th show,” Sarek wrote. “Tanner said it might not go down because we responded late to the booker’s message to us. But anyways I’m sure I’ll hop in on a Bolo show in the near future since they haven’t found a new drummer yet. The band will post something I’m sure. Cheers.”

Message to the booker, whoever he/she is: FREE THE BOLOS. If anyone deserves forgiveness, it’s them. Let them play. If this doesn’t work, could any other local promoter step up? Libby, Kim, u there?

As a farewell present to us, Sarek shared a gem for the fans.

“Osita [Anusi, bassist for the Bolos] and I made a record in Los Angeles with Jungle Noize a year or so ago. Here is a mini documentary on that recording session from the album RAGA. I figured you would like it. Cheers.”

Cheers, man. And thanks for this.

Shit! I don’t think Sarek knew I was a Hare Krishna (albeit in very poor standard). I was hooked with the “raga” title, but when I heard the maha-mantra I almost flipped. Now I understand why I was so impressed by Sarek’s skills: besides his obvious talent, there’s a Vaikuntha connection there. Thanks again!

***

OK, me fui al carajo. Back to Planet Earth.

***

My hope of someone tearing the generational wall down kept growing as November advanced. On the 29th, Travis Buffkin (of DT Buffkin & The Bad Breath fame) hosted a show headlined by Eva Ybarra, the Queen of Accordion, a conjunto legend and one of the most respected female accordionists in the world. Unbeknownst to me, Travis had written an Eva Q&A in September for the Current, but just having him opening for her was one of those intergenerational genius moments that just don’t happen too often in SA. Buffkin (vocals, guitar, keyboard) played with Roland Delacruz on guitar, Michael Kelly on trumpet/keys/percussion, Luis Faraklas Treviño on bass and Ken Robinson on drums. This is how they started the set.

Eva caught the last part of his set, and she was into it. By the time it was her moment to set up, she was thrilled. While her band (brother David Ybarra on bass, Ramón Sánchez on bajo sexto and Pete López on drums) was checking the mics, she waited patiently on the side. Her face was radiant. She was happy to play in front of people from all ages, but mostly for a young crowd eager to see her. Just look at her.

Eva Ybarra groovin' to Little Francisco Greaves (iPhoto by Enrique Lopetegui)

Eva Ybarra groovin’ to Little Francisco Greaves (iPhoto by Enrique Lopetegui)

Then, out of the blue, DJ Rae D Cabello played a 45 by Little Francisco Greaves, and Eva went wild. She started improvising with her accordion, in a surreal conjunto-meets-funk-and-soul moment. Imagine being at a packed Hi-Tones listening to this song two feet from Eva Ybarra and her keys. While she was at it, she looked radiant.

(This was typical Eva. I remember one time when Azul Barrientos was singing and playing guitar at the Guadalupe years ago, and in the middle of a bolero an uninvited Eva started accompanying her on accordion; Eva’s a sponge, the Zelig of musicians).

Eva finally started her show, and she kicked everyone’s ass and reminded us of what an underrated singer she is. She jumped for a stirring popurrí to parts of her own originals (sometimes using only instrumental shuffle parts) to classics like “La Múcura,” boleros, polkas, all while the all-ages (but mostly young) crowd went completely bananas. And not just because it was “fun” to see an older woman play dance music for accordion, but because she was absolutely rocking the house.

The show was a shot of adrenaline for a local conjunto legend who is universally praised but who, like most local legends, is performing, recording, and working much less than she should. Remember Esteban Jordan, El Parche? No one was bigger and badder than him (except for Flaco), but I was there one of his last Friday nights at Saluté and there were five of us (and that’s counting Azeneth, the bar owner). When legends die, we all cry and remember their “legacy.” But when they’re alive, chances are they’re dead broke. We suck.

So keep in mind: Eva is vivita y coleando and, at least for that one magical night, she was happy, fulfilled. And all because a crazy rockero wanted to play on the same night as her (more on that guy later).

“At first it was a scary thing, because [the crowd] was real young and I thought they weren’t going to like my music,” Eva told me days after the show. “But at the very end I was very surprised. They enjoyed Eva’s music, I don’t know if you noticed that.”

Are you kidding? From the get go, you got ’em! They went nuts!

At the end they were saying, “Eva, Eva, Eva!” Clapping and clapping. It was a good match. The rockeros enjoyed conjunto music.

How often does that happen?

Not very often. [Conjunto] is for everyone, young or old. Everyone can enjoy. But this was the first time I played for a younger crowd. I’ve played for mixed crowds, but this time I played in front of a mostly younger crowd. Travis interviewed me for the Current, like you used to, and told me he had a gig for me at Hi-Tones, and I’m very thankful to him.

I don’t understand why these collaborations don’t happen more often. The older musicians are much better players, with lots of experience and…

That’s what makes the difference: experience.

But the young bands also have good things to offer. Do you feel energized when you play with or for young kids?

Yes! At the end of the show, this young girl told me, “Eva Ybarra is my hero.” And I felt so proud (gets emotional for a couple of seconds). Another one said, “You’re badass! No, I’m going to say it my way: You’re fucking badass!” (laughs) A young colored lady told me that. I was in Cloud Nine.

Yet, whenever a local legend dies, everyone mourns him/her and reminds us how great he/she was, but many leyendas die penniless in SA, playing for peanuts or not playing at all. Do you think we’re neglecting our old music masters?

Yeah, it’s been a struggle for me too. I’ve recorded for Rounder Records with the help of Cathy Ragland, who was my manager. But [labels] closed the doors for me. “Just leave your material here,” and they never call me back. I don’t know why. Is it because I’m a lady?

I’ll look into that. I promise you, Eva.

***

But those who know, know. One of those was present at Hi-Tones: Álvaro Del Norte, singer/accordionist for Piñata Protest and an exception to the rule. Here’s someone who knows where it’s at and one of the few faces I always see whenever any local master performs.

“Yes, there is a divide,” said Álvaro. “It’s not that it’s totally lost, though. There’s plenty of young people getting into it, but it’s not as strong now as it used to be.”

Yes, but I’ve been in SA for 10 years and this was the first time I saw a conjunto artist playing for a mostly young crowd. You once told me you naturally rebelled to your parent’s music, until you were a little older and took a second look and fell in love.

Yeah, high school kids don’t like it. But as you get a little bit older, people go back to their culture and the music they grew up listening to.

But specifically, the local bands, most of them are not like you, who have one foot in the punk world and another in the conjunto world. Why in a place like SA we don’t see more bands like that? It seems natural to me, given the musical elements of the city. I don’t mean everyone should add an accordion to their band, but at least pay more attention to the music around them, the music being made by the still relevant (and alive) masters. Let’s face it: San Antonio’s only hope to develop a unique sound, is through conjunto music. And the local scene will never explode until people recognize that. If we don’t protect and care about the local conjunto masters, it’ll be like living in New Orleans and not care about what the old local jazzmen are doing. For many years it was San Antonio, not Austin, the center of the music world in South Texas. Then it all changed, and we lost our relevance to the degree that we turned our backs to our native sounds. Mainly, conjunto.

I completely agree. We’re not Austin, we’re San Antonio. We have our own special blend of music, just like New Orleans has its music, Nashville, New York, California has its sound… We’ve got to keep that tradition alive, because that’s what made us special. We do need those collaborations. It all comes down to people wanting to rediscover their roots and realizing, “Hey, this stuff is pretty cool, and it’s cool to be different.” It’s a lot better to do something different, to be your own self instead of trying to fit in.

Do you see any urgency on the part of your colleagues to try to create something with all these legends that will be gone in the next few years? “We need to record with this guy, we need to record with this guy!” Is that happening at all?

Yeah, you’re right. It doesn’t click until your mid-20s, until you’re older, and that’s unfortunate. That’s why I was so glad to see Eva at Hi-Tones and that she had a great show. I hope it encourages her to venture out to some of this all-ages venues. She definitely has an audience and I hope she continues it, because she had a great response.

***

Eva at Hi-Tones wouldn not have happened without Travis Buffkin, a cynical man who only acts when something really great moves him. Someone like Eva.

“With me coming from a punk-rock background, there is a lot of attitude about like, ‘fuck these old guys, we’re young and we’re pissed and we’re going to do it better than them because they’re older and comfortable,'” told me Travis a few days ago. “But for me, as I got older, I realized that I don’t have to write the same aggressive, political music, you know? I feel more confident in myself and the things that I like, so I don’t have to wear all that shit on my sleeve. It took me like until I was 24 or 25 to get over that ego trip of thinking you’re in the best band there is. There’s something to be learned from people that are still badass and older.”

Especially when they play better than anyone else. Do you agree the “old” guys are usually much better players?

Yes, I do. That’s one thing I like about Roland playing with us. I think they should start bands playing together [the old and the young]. When I see Roland playing with the Masters, I try to get him really drunk, and me and some friends try to de-tune his guitar. We just try to fuck him up. Sometimes they’re so goddamn good, you want them to fuck up a little bit. The reason why you go see the young bands is because the young bands don’t give a shit. It’s Friday night, they have a gig, so they’re going to get fucked up, which is a great attitude, that’s fucking rock’n’roll. And the funny thing is, Masters, Los #3 Dinners and these guys they do it, and they do it so well, that sometimes you just want to throw a wrench into the thing. I’m not saying it’s almost not rock’n’roll, but it’s just a different angle of doing it well. When you’re young you suck and you do that well. And Roland knows this. He always says to me, “If you want to be a real shitty band, know you’re shitty and don’t give a shit that you’re shitty.” It’s not about being a proficient player, it’s about attitude.

Don’t get me wrong: mistakes are good. Some, at least. Somebody said “creativity is not being afraid of making mistakes, and art is knowing which mistakes to keep.” But, dude, there’s nothing wrong with good playing either, is there? And everybody makes mistakes, even the Masters. But that band sounds like a unit, like a fucking bulldozer. So do the Bolos, but in a completely different, more… wonderfully sloppy way. But you mentioned something I’m completely for: older guys making bands with young kids. Fuck co-ed. What we need is co-age. That’s the key for the future in SA, I think. Like a great soccer team that mixes youth with experience.

Oh, yeah, absolutely. You’re right, you’re right. That would be badass, because it would solve both issues: the Masters are so tight because they’ve been doing it for so long. And if they’d played like shit it would be embarrassing. But they should play with younger people, and viceversa. It wouldn’t hurt. The things that bums me out… I don’t know how it is in Austin, I don’t know how it is anywhere else, but… It took me a while to pull my head out of my ass and [stop saying], “Just because I’m young and I have a lot of piss and vinegar still in me, I can’t take advice from other people.” I can’t say if we will, like, become the new cool place in that regard… Not to put words into your mouth, but as far as the coin flippin’ again [Austin/SA], I don’t think it would hurt at all to see Piñata Protest with Flaco. That would be something us, as a generation, would be fucking proud of. And I think Flaco would benefit from it, because it will be, you know, a new audience. Not that people my age don’t know who Flaco is, but there’s nothing to lose from it.

Flaco did play on Café Tacuba’s first album. He did a tremendous solo on “Las Persianas”. A couple of years ago I asked him about it, and he didn’t remember it. So there you go…

What’s taking me a couple of years to figure out… We’re the DT Buffkin band, you know, I don’t really know who to play with, that’s where the whole Eva thing came along. I knew that Flaco didn’t need any help playing Hi-Tones. he played there before. I got to talk to Eva for a Current article. I got in touch with her and I just figured, “Man, I want to play with a conjunto legend, and this looks like an opportunity.” As you could tell, [DT Buffkin & the Bad Breath is not] playing ragtime shit anymore, we’re just kind of moving away from that.

Yes, and I loved it. But why settle with “playing with” as in “sharing the bill”? Why didn’t you actually shared the stage at the same time with Eva?

She asked about that, she was wondering if we were going to play together. Honestly, I’m not… I guess I could fake it, but i wouldn’t want to embarrass her.

Oh, c’mon, man… Next time, make sure you get in there with her. She would’ve loved it and I’m sure it would’ve been great. She loved your band and was very grateful to you.

I would ask her to play in one of our tunes, before I’d try to play with her.

Yeah, next time, please do it.

Yeah! They want to have her back. I think [Hi-Tones] is booked until March, but I’m trying to get her a date for April. I’ll let you know.

***

I don’t have New Years’ resolutions. I’m past the age when to want = to do. But i can still dream. And I dream that in 2015 the young kids will cut the crap and listen more to the local masters and try to record with them. And that Chris Smart and Roland Delacruz stay single for many years to come.

Happy New Year!

#107 – Alta Sociedad: Producer Joe Blaney on NTVG, Charly, Calamaro and the magic of South American rock

#107 – Alta Sociedad: Producer Joe Blaney on NTVG, Charly, Calamaro and the magic of South American rock

Producer Joe Blaney (Ramones, The Clash, Keith Richards) talks about his work with Latin rockers, his personal favorite albums and why the Clash blew it when it got rid of Topper. Continue reading

#108: The original kamikaze

 kamikazes
ka·mi·ka·ze
ˌkäməˈkäzē/
noun
noun: kamikaze; plural noun: kamikazes.
1. (in World War II) a Japanese aircraft loaded with explosives and making a deliberate suicidal crash on an enemy target. The pilot of an aircraft making a deliberate suicidal crash.
adjective
adjective: kamikaze.
1. Of or relating to a kamikaze attack or pilot.
Reckless or potentially self-destructive.
“He made a kamikaze run across three lanes of traffic.” Japanese, from kami (‘divinity’) + kaze ‘wind,’ originally referring to the gale that, in Japanese tradition, destroyed the fleet of invading Mongols in 1281. (Taken from one of those free online dictionaries).
OK, that’s a kamikaze. But I’ve got my own kind of kamikaze, and this is is what he looked like in 1982:
spinetta1982

His name was Luis Alberto Spinetta (1950-2012), he was/is from Argentina, and he was arguably the greatest Spanish-language rocker ever born. He also never gave a shit and did what he had to do, with zero concern for fashion, popularity, or “serving my fans, without whom I wouldn’t be here” and all that crap so often uttered by minor entertainers. Spinetta was an artist, and he wouldn’t just write songs: the guy could draw, as shown in the cover of the iconic 1969 debut by Almendra, his first band.

Almendra_front

From that first album is the following song, in my book the ultimate rocanrol ballad.

In 1982, Spinetta released Kamikaze, his most minimalist, acoustic album. Listen while you read.

In the album’s liner notes, Spinetta asks, “…are there any more kamikazes out there in creative life?”

I have my kamikazes, you have yours. This is a blog about those kamikazes who write songs or make movies or do whatever it is that they do in order to remain sane, and that sanity is the sanity as described by the kamikaze’s own conscience, not that of society’s. I’ll update it whenever I feel like it and, every once in a while, I’ll stray away from art and write about other topics that move me or piss me off.

It’ll be long, and it’ll be short. Sometimes you won’t see it for weeks. At other times, it’ll be a daily bombardment of words, songs, and videos. Not the most recommended recipe in these days of idiotic immediacy and “keeping with the pulse of the city.” I don’t keep with nobody’s pulse but mine; that’s what jobs are for. But this, this is one of my two little gardens (the other one is here).

It’ll be good, and it’ll be bad.

But it’ll be mine, and it will self-destruct after 108 postings (or not). Such is the post-Big Meat Grinder life.

It’s unedited, uncensored, and bad for business.

But that’s what a kamikaze does. Destination Nowhere.

I only hope that at least one person out there discovers one of the artists I write about and shares my passion and love for them with me.

In other (better) words written by the Ultimate Kamikaze:

“I have no money, no resources, no hopes. I am the happiest man alive. A year ago, six months ago, I thought that I was an artist. I no longer think about it, I am. Everything that was literature has fallen from me. There are no more books to be written, thank God.

This then? This is not a book. This is libel, slander, defamation of character. This is not a book, in the ordinary sense of the word. No, this is a prolonged insult, a gob of spit in the face of Art, a kick in the pants to God, Man, Destiny, Time, Love, Beauty … what you will. I am going to sing for you, a little off key perhaps, but I will sing. (…)

To sing you must first open your mouth. You must have a pair of lungs, and a little knowledge of music. It is not necessary to have an accordion, or a guitar. The essential thing is to want to sing. This then is a song. I am singing.” (Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer)

Get it?

So, sing. I wanna hear it.