Monday, January 23, 2012

Za! and the Post-World

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Za! is an insane hodgepodge of experimental music which includes base elements of heavy droning guitar, weird vocal loops, and styles lifted from every corner of the world. They try to emulate and make fun of everything they like, from jazz to Japanese manga soundtracks to traditional Portuguese guitar to video game sound bytes to strange throat music from shepherds in Tuva, Russia.

The guys told me about all of the influences that inspired the infinitely interesting yet danceable mess that was their last release, Megaflow. We met for a drink on the sidewalk terrace of the first bar we wandered upon in Gracia. It was surprisingly fair in Barcelona for January weather. Sweat was beading on the glasses of our cañas and the guys were eating some fried tapas, croquetas and a salsa drenched bomba.

Spazzfrica Ehd [Edu]and Papa duPau [Pau] were joined by afriend, Marcos Junquera. Although he doesn’t play in Za!, he has another project with both of the guys called La Orquesta del Caballo Ganador [Orchestra of the Winning Horse] in addition to his own band, Betunizer from Valencia. They told me he only joined us because they knew the interview was for and he was wearing an authentic colonel’s jacket from the Spanish army.

Our conversation meandered about as much as their music does through topics like the movie Top Secretto Barcelona’s music scene to video games and even a bit about the economic crisis in Spain. We began by deciding which language to speak in, considering they spoke Spanish, English and the regional dialect, Catalan.

MANGO NEBULA: Your music has a lot of different languages init. Are you trying to make a statement about languages at all?

PAU: It’s something that happened, but we weren’t trying todo.

EDU: I don’t think we are making a statement with anything. It just happens and it’s fun. For example, Pau will start playing a song and it’ll remind us of something. “Oh, this sounds like something from Senegal.” He’ll start to laugh, “J’ai un ami qui habits en Casamence” [from the song Casamence] with his bad French, “I have a friend that lives in Casamance, blah blah blah,” and we then decided, “Ok, those are our lyrics. Cool.” “Lederhosen sauerkraut,” [from the song Nanavividedeñaña] is a joke from Top Secret, the film. There’s a tape where you can hear a German teacher teaching German and at the end he says “Die Sauerkraut ist in mein Lederhosen,” which means, “there is this plant that makes you very itchy in my underpants.” It sounded good.

[Watch the video for Nanavividedeñaña below]

MN: I really like the ways that you described your music on your websites. There was one that was ‘Super Mario when he gets a star.’

P: Yeah, it was Edu.

E: Or for example, it sounds like Steve Reich against the Antonio Machín.

MN: Steve Reich is classical music right?

E: Yeah. Or a sherpa playing a riff from Slayer. Why not?

MN: You also mentioned the shepherds of Tuva. Who are they?

P: There’s a region in Russia in Mongolia that’s called Tuva. It’s a republic and there are, I think, 100,000 people living there and they are kind of…[to Edu in Catalan] Com es diu descendens?

E: Descendants.

P: They are descendants of Genghis Khan. You know? They believe in nature and spirits and things like that.

E: They do throat singing very well.

P: For their throat singing they make very low sounds like…[makes a very low sound]…and a super high pitch like…[makes a super high pitched noise]…like it’s a kind of whistle. In our last album, Macumba o Muerte, we played a typical song from there. We tried to play it.

E: We did a cover of a traditional song.

P: We destroyed it. It was in a documentary that was very interesting fromPaul Pena. Have you heard of him?

MN: No, I haven’t.

P: It’s very interesting.

E: He was a blind blues musician who went there. The documentary is called Genghis Blues. He met all those people and he mixed the blues singing with the throat singing. It was really amazing for us when we saw it. All the music that we like, we always try to do it and we do it as best as we can.

P: That republic in Russia, when the communists were there they just stepped on that culture, you know?

E: Their culture was oppressed.

P: They were clearing out all the religion and all the culture and everything. They were really surprised. They were against a big country and they were really proud of themselves to be descendants of Genghis Khan.

MN: There were a lot of references like that listed. Have you traveled a lot?

E: We haven’t really traveled a lot. We listen to a lot music, because it’s so easy now with the internet. We listen to anything. For example, Pau discovered a lot of traditional music from all over the world through.

P: I had a CD for the JVC when I was a kid.

E: JVC is like an encyclopedia.

P: My brother’s music teacher lent me that CD when I was like 14. We started to hear music like Buddhist chants, music from India, music from Ethiopia. I don’t know, it’s something that we grew up with. I’m not really into ethnic music or anything like that. I think that when you become an adult there’s a kind of residual memory that comes to you.

E: For example, we always say that we have a big influence from the soundtrack to Akira. It’s a Japanese manga film, un dibujo animado. We listened to it when we were kids and we still listen to it years later and it’s amazing. You feel like influences come from stuff like that.

P: There’s a source, you know? For us, maybe it’s the sound of the Gamelan. It’s a group of percussion instrument in a orchestra in Bali and Java, you know, in Southeast Asia. There are a lot of harmonics. They play xylophones and tea kettles.

E: Our former bass player is now in Bali studying Gamelan music.

MN: Your music has a lot of experimentation. Is there any music theory to it?

E: We’ve never taken classes.

P: We taught ourselves.

E: I think it’s the best way to learn. We all share a practice room with a bunch of other bands, so there are a lot of instruments and we try a lot of things. For example, when Alberto, our former bass player,told me to join Za!, I used to play guitar. I hardly ever played drums. I learned the bad way to play drums. Regular drummers play like this…[plays air drums with arms crossed]…I play like this…[plays air drums with arms separated]…

P: No, it’s not bad. What other instrument do you play by crossing your arms? Except for the drums, there’s no other instruments. Imagine the harp…

E: Or the piano.

P: Yeah, “He’s a virtuoso!” Maybe scratching, you know, like a DJ. Or to play the guitar like that.

MN: How do you approach songwriting?

P: Sorry?

E: [In Catalan] Comencen a composa.

P: Sometimes we start with nonsense. “That joke is really good, imagine that joke repeating a lot of times!”

E: “Ok, let’s record it!” Sometimes it’s, “I heard this sound somewhere. It would be cool to turn it into a song.” Or, “I want to do a song where we create a rule. A stupid rule.” Let’s make a song without playing that thing or only the black keys from the piano.

[Watch that performance below]

P: Edu told me last week.

E: Coming back from where?...Holland!

P: You told me, “Let’s try to make a song where you write all of the bass parts and then I’ll make the arrangements.”

E: I’ll do a song that I write by myself for example and Paucan do whatever he wants. Then we’ll change every time. Every time we play the song, Pau will do that and I can do whatever I want. That night maybe I’ll stay like this…[crosses his arms and does nothing].

MN: What’s the craziest rule that you’ve ever made?

P: Maybe the craziest rule wasn’t in our band, but in the band with Marcos. The Orquesta del Caballo Ganador. Which was, while improvising we had to make street fighter sounds. It was one of the craziest things we did, I think.

MN: Can you give me an example of a street fighter sound?

P: The conductor would say…

E: If he’s conducting now…

[Marcos raises his hands like a conductor]

[Street Fighter sound bytes follow from everyone at various pitches]

E: Hadouken. Yoga fire. Yoga Flame.

MN: I was a Mortal Kombat guy.

P: Yeah! Finish him!


MARCOS: Raiden wins!

MN: Good game.

E: Mortal Kombat was the more violent one.

MN: Were the voices the same in Spain? It must’ve been dubbed in Spanish.

E: No, the sounds were in English. Sub zero wins. Finish him. Fatality.


M: Acabalo!

E: Or it would be in South American Spanish. I don’t know why. “Termina con ellos!”

[Many more Mortal Kombat noises and translations ensue]

MN: There was another term used for Za! “Post world music.”

P: I don’t know who made up that label. But, thinking about“post world music” is a lot of nonsense. Who put that label up there?

E: It was a joke I made to Johannes, the guy from Discorporate records. He liked it so he put it everywhere. There are so many labels that are “post” anything and the concept of world music is a little bit dangerous, I think. It’s like we are the leaders of the world and we choose to do music that represents the rest of the world, because the center is us. [laughs] It’s a funny mixture.

MN: Like saying that you’re speaking for these people?

E: It can be a superiority thing. Like I discovered that music from these people and I’m giving it to the real world, meaning the western culture.

P: I think world music is a really ethnocentric concept.

E: That was the word.

P: “It’s world music.” Ok, “Why?” Because, “I’m Stanley and I’m in the middle of Africa and I discovered that there are people here too.”

E: There are a thousand music labels for rock, indie,grunge, post-punk and one of them is world music. It’s the rest of the world.It’s all the same. Gamelan is the same as Senegalese music is the same as the sounds from Dubai.

MN: You both play a lot of instruments. Who plays what?

E: On stage I play the drums, keyboards and add my voice. On the records I also play clarinet. He [Pau] normally plays guitar and trumpet but he also plays kalimba, which is an instrument that has metal things…

P: Like a thumb piano.

MN: What’s the weirdest instrument that you’ve ever incorporated into Za!?

P: Maybe hooligan voices. Japanese speaking. Things like that.

E: There was a show in Tarragona and we just got off work and we were in a hurry and when we got there I realized that I forgot everything. I sat on a table. I forgot the areal tom. I didn’t know what to do.They gave me a big barrel of beer, you know those metal barrel of beer.

MN: A keg?

E: Yes, a keg.

MN: Was it full or empty?

P: It was full, because it was really heavy.

E: I put it on a stool and it sounded amazing. At one point in a song Pau took the mic and he put it next to the barrel and was playing with the pedals. We spent like five minutes just playing with the barrel, because it was amazing.

MN: You should make the keg a permanent part of your drum kit.

E: [Laughs] it’s too heavy. We can’t get it on an airplane.

MN: What music would you recommend for someone?

P: SchnAAk, from Germany.

E: The band of this guy [points to Marcos] and it’s not just because he’s here, but because it’s one of our favorite bands. It’s called Betunizer. Another very different one, Steve Reich.That kind of serialist music we listen to a lot.

MN: How do you feel about jazz? I thought I heard some influences on "PachaMadreTierraWah! #2" with the trumpet.

E: Yeah we like it too, but we don't play jazz.

P: But, it was nu jazz. [they laugh] It was a joke. You know the CD jazz that pretends to be something.

E: Sort of like "new jazz." But, we like a lot of things. I personally like Coltrane and Nat Coleman. The typical ones.

P: I recommend Exploding Star Orchestra. Chicago Underground.

E: All those bands like Chicago Underground Duo are all bands that come from a rock background, but introduce jazz elements that we like. But, it's not like typical jazz from the 50's.

MN: There’s a song on your last record, Megaflow, called “Mesoflow” that is a crazy track, but it has Spanish guitar in the beginning. Was that part of a joke?

E: It’s actually Portuguese.

P: It’s a traditional Portuguese style.

E: It’s because we played at a festival in Portugal and we had a super good night there. We ended up playing a football match at 9am against other bands. One of the guys was from another band…do you know El Guincho?We have been friends with him forever. He was running to get the ball and ran into one of the streetlamps and broke three ribs.

P: That whole song is full of jokes. The joke started like,“We could make a radio show.” A top ten. It would happen in England with an English accent and also in Japan with a Japanese accent.

MN: Do you know any other Barcelona bands that I should check out?

E: I recommend Les Aus. It’s an improvisational duo. They are really good. Everything the guitar player does is really good.

P: Another group is called “No More Lies.”

E: From Spain, I would also recommend Picore.

P: We did a kind of cover of Picore.

E: In “Mesoflow” we tried to play like Picore, because it’s a really complicated band. Like math rock. The first take was always the good one. On “Mesoflow”we kept all the first takes.

MN: What about the dada art movement? I saw that mentioned in your bio on the discord website.

E: We didn’t mention that, I guess somebody else did.

P: There’s nothing about dada here.

E: I’m not really into modern art, but what I’ve seen has been cool. Playing with the absurd is cool.

MN: Would you rather have people dancing at your shows or scratching their chins, pondering?

P: We have both. At the same time.

E: It’s cool when we have both.

P: I don’t know why, but girls are always dancing more than boys.

E: Boys are usually shyer and prefer to analyze things.

P: Boys are head banging and girls are doing tropical dances.

E: It’s cool to have both. If you only have the guys that  are doing this [scratches his chin] you don’t know what they think about the show. I’m having a lot of fun, but I don’t know about the rest of the people. And if it’s the opposite way, you think that they don’t care about us and they’re just dancing.

MN: What are some good venues in Barcelona?

E: In Barcelona they are closing a lot of venues.

P: In all of Spain.

MN: Is it the crisis?

P: Yeah, it’s the crisis, but I don’t think it’s the economic crisis, it’s kind of a values crisis. You know? Now, you either play in a super big venue that is really expensive or you have to go somewhere else. At least here there is Heliogàbal in Gracia. But, you can’t play loud. It’s the only problem with Heliogàbal. Every day they have shows. It’s one of the few bars or venues in Barcelona where people go just to see what’s happening tonight. They don’t go because they like a particular band or because it’s not that expensive. Sometimes people will be like, “I don’t know that band very well and its seven euros, so I’m not going to go.” It’s frustrating.

[Watch a video from Festigabal at Heliogàbal below]

MN: You mentioned a crisis of values. What are your perspectives on that?

P: There are a lot of things to say about that. If you want we can do another interview. [laughs] In my humble point of view, I think that we are now talking about Spain or about western culture. We were at a point in history where we thought that utopia would become reality. The idea was that everyone could have enough work and flats, but this isn’t possible. Our sources are finished. Son finitos. The crisis is about frustration with the utopia. The problem isn’t the situation that we have now. The problem is what we thought that this could be.

MN: Expectations?

E: We are all also very lost in the sense that we are disappointed with everything. We believed in many things and a lot of things are not happening. You saw what happens in the squares. People are fed up, not with one political party or even with all the political parties, but with everything.

P: It’s a frustration with the future. 20 years ago we thought the future had to be different and better than now. Es el supesto ironio.

MN: What can you tell me about the Barcelona music scene?

E: There isn’t one particular style from here, but in the end we’re all friends. We play in the same places. We go to the same bars with a lot of different bands. What I like from the bands I like here is the sense that they can do whatever they want. There’s a band called Manos de Topo and weshare a practice room with them. They make pop, but the singer sings like if hewas a disturbed child. Like crying. But, ok, if that’s the way he wants tosing, that’s perfect!

P: The scene for me in Barcelona is Heliogàbal. There are alot of people from a lot of different bands from a lot of different parts ofSpain. The scene isn’t about the bands, it’s about this place I think.

M: It’s not about the people, no? It’s more about the music.

MN: Where do you normally play in Barcelona?

E: We don’t play a lot. We’ve played in Apollo, in Sidecar.In Heliogàbal we played acoustic shows.

MN: You do acoustic shows?

E: Yeah, it wasn’t really acoustic. We did another one witha grand piano, which was really cool. We played with amps, but we just had tolower the volume.

MN: What are the band’s plans for the future?

E: We are recording another album in August and we aretrying to play…

P: …as far away as we can. We are going to travel to othercontinents, but we’re not sure where yet.

E: We are going to Brazil in May and the states in March.And Canada too.

MN: Are you playing at Primavera Sound again?

E: I don’t think so. We played three years in a row. Weplayed a show for kids also.

MN: A show for kids?

P: There’s a special stage for kids in Primavera Sound.

E: We did it with, do you know the band Dirty Projectors? Wedid it with the bass player, the singer. A girl named Angel. We were dressed assailors and we were looking for a shrimp to save the shrimp from a shark. Allthe kids were hitting the shark really hard in the balls.

MN: Was it a person in a shark suit?

E & P: Yes.

P: Kids are very dangerous.

At the end of the interview, I was talking with Pau aboutthe reason I was in Spain. His wife was a teacher and for a month they hostedan English teacher like me in their home while she was looking for anapartment. The girl turned out to be someone that I met the year before in oneof the smallest cities in Spain, Albacete. It was a weird coincidence, but it sort of makes sense that it would happen with these guys in the post-world.

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