Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mujeres, Mujeres, Mujeres: Putting Their Fists Down

Photo by Ivan Montero

Luchador Records is down the street from the MACBA, Barcelona’s contemporary art museum where you constantly have to dodge skaters who are making videos, doing tricks off of the entrance’s ramps, staircases and the ample open space of the white stone plaza. More often than not, they’re also smoking weed and drinking a few San Miguels. At the beginning of the record shop’s sparse street that only houses one other record store, a clothing outlet and a fruit stand, I stopped for just a minute to read a Spanish poem scrawled on the wall called, “Ways to Kill.”
I was going to interview Mujeres at the store the bassist co-owns and that is their secret lair of sorts. Upon entering the place I saw a bunch of records on the walls that I surprisingly recognized, which was a nice change for being in Spain, and it immediately reminded me of DIY music spaces I had come across in the US. There were zines, random art projects like boxes of rolling papers with poems written on each paper, cassette tapes of local bands, patches for the “Pizza Army” and even one floppy disk of what undoubtedly couldn’t have been more than one song. What was more, as the band led me to the back space, past the huge Japanese arcade game, where we would do the interview, they told me that they had shows there every once in a while.
Besides being a great bopping rock and roll band with wavey surf riffs and fuzzified garage intensity, they have the potential to be an influential force for the future of Barcelona’s DIY and “indie” music. They explained that there weren’t many bands like them in the city and it’s true that on any given night there aren’t a ton of places to go see music or even music to go see. If more groups pop up with a mentality like Mujeres, places like Luchador would be perfect nesting grounds for music collectives. Either way, the spot is a cool one to visit and Mujeres is a band not to miss live.

I happened to do the interview right before Record Store Day. The band invited me to what they realized was actually their first performance at Luchador. Bands had been playing all day in celebration of independent music sellers, with DJ-ing in between, and, despite the rain, the place was full of people and they were even flowing out into the street. Half the members soaking wet, the band powered through too few insanely high energy songs. Lots of people were taking pictures with disposable or film cameras for some reason and even crowd surfing, hitting their heads frequently on the low ceiling.
The band sat down with me and we talked about their music and videos. They also explained what music was like in Barcelona, its surrounding areas and Spain in general, as well as where it was going.
Listen to “Soft Gems, Part I” below.

The Bomber Jacket: Can you tell me about this record shop, Luchador? Whose shop is it exactly?
Pol Rodellar (bassist): It’s my record shop. In July, it’s going to have been one year. I started it with a buddy of mine.
I read that you were all film students. Did you all study in Barcelona?
Martí Gallén (guitar and vocals): It was in Terrassa and we just met there at university. We were in the same class and we were part of the same shooting team. All four of us were in the same group and so we worked on short films.
Yago Alcover (guitar and vocals): We were really lucky because at our school you have to choose different jobs. Like writing or directing or editing or sound and each one of us chose a different job.
I saw that you had a video for “L.A.” from your first record. Did you make that one as well?
Y: No, it was a production company called Canada. They made the video for El Guincho (“Bombay”) last year, which was very popular.
Watch the video for “L.A.” below.
Does having that film background help you out with making music videos?
Y: We’re making a video right now. Basically, our drummer (Martín Gutierrez) is directing and came up with the idea. We’re putting out the video ourselves and it’ll be our first one like that. It’s for “Soft Gems, Part I.”
P: It’s shot in 16mm.
Y: It’s made with material recorded live in Vic, which is near Barcelona. Also with shots from tours and from Austin (for SXSW). It’s like a party video.
M: It’s like a celebration of the scene in Catalonia. Five years ago, there wasn’t this kind of movement that is going on right now. There are a lot of people who are growing up with these records and this music and it’s creating this real scene that wasn’t there five years ago. The video in some ways it’s like a memory of this moment right now.
Y: There’s not a really big scene right now in Barcelona, but there are bands popping up all the time. In the ‘90s for example there was the hardcore thing and also the electronic music thing was going on, because techno got here. But it seems like the first decade of the 2000s has had very important bands due to the internet and everything. But in Vic, like an hour from Barcelona, there are a lot of young people doing things with music and labels and parties.

Photo by Ivan Montero
Tell me more about what sorts of things are going on around Barcelona. What´s your impression of music in the city and, you know, the surrounding areas?
(They all pause to think…)
M: It’s not an easy question to answer, because it’s very spread out. It’s small, but it’s together, because we’re a little country and we don’t have a lot of spaces to use to play music. There are a lot of sounds and different types of music, but it all comes together, because we need to all help each other.
Y: I think the thing going on in Vic is beautiful, because it’s self-made. Here (in Barcelona), maybe there’s more labels and bands that have been around for a few years like Picore  orSones, for example. Bank Robber. That band has been here for ten years.
Things change a lot when you get a label here, because they don’t put out so many records. But, then you have promotion and can get booked easier than if you do it on your own. What’s going on for example in Vic is the possibility of bands playing together because they’re friends and it’s not as hard. Here, if you want to play in a venue you have to pay for it and that makes it hard for you to start unless you know a promoter and to know a promoter, you have to be on a label and get in touch with lots of people.
There’s also cool parties too. DímelorápidoRelámpago, festival de Relámpago. It’s just like a party by a guy who has a small label here, which is called Confradía de la Pirueta. They’ve been doing parties where you pay five euros to get in and you get a single of the bands that played.
P: La Fonográfica is another one.
What are some other alternative types of venues, like Luchador?
Y: Well, there was a party at a place where there are usually no shows and I think that’s the last show that’s going to be there, because of the neighbors. There are lots of problems here with space. Neighbors are just everywhere and the law is so strict right now with the volume thing. I think there are a couple of bars. Heliogàbal. Switch bar, I think in Gràcia.
P: Miscelenia.
M: La Milagrossa.
Y: It’s kind of just getting started now, because there are no venues and you have to pay to play in all of them. Right now it’s even harder, because Primavera Sound got so big that, for example, everything going on at the Apollo is basically managed by Primavera. I’ve also seen shows at Sidecar with the Primavera logo.

Album Cover for Soft Gems
Tell me about your latest record, Soft Gems. How is it different from your first?
Y: In many different ways. When we put out the first record, it was like we put out all the things we had. So, it was sort of like a collection of all the music we had written at the time. It was just us and that’s why it doesn’t have a title, why it was self-titled.
Then, two years later, working on this album was completely different. We had a different target at the beginning. For example, for the first record, we made the songs beforehand and then afterwards in the practice space we would convert the song into its final result. For this album, we just made all of the songs together in the practice space. There was more improvising and working all together.
The first record we recorded all in the studio and we felt like we never had enough time. We wanted to change that completely. We rented a house in the country side and put the studio there. So, we could record all the time for as much time as we wanted. We were thinking that you don’t really need to have that hi-fi sound. You don’t need to have it all be perfect. So, we just took our gear and hired a friend of ours to do the engineering and everything.
The house was in the countryside near Barcelona, about an hour away from here, in a small village called Sant Martí de Sesgueioles. The house was away from everything so we could make noise all the time and record whenever we wanted. That changed the record. At least the sound changed.
M: Also, for these two years…
(Yago whispers to Pol)
Y: Sorry, I was just looking at that.
(Points to my notebook where I wrote “Moohairys” as a way to pronounce “Mujeres” in English. They all laugh and try to pronounce it like you would in Spanish.)
M: Anyway, for these past two years we listened to a lot more bands and paid more attention to what was happening with music. We saw bands doing things similar to how we wanted to do things. In this way, I think that we did something with more variety. The result was something that grew a lot.
What are some examples of what you were listening to?
M: I don’t know, I discovered Thee Oh SeesMikal Cronin. What else?
P: All of that garage scene.
M: Shannon and the Clams, seeing them last year in Austin for me was a big experience.
Y: Davila 666 or The Black Lips too…
Were there any Spanish rock ‘n’ roll bands that you listened to from back in the day?
Y: We’re not really into Spanish music. We know some old bands that did beat music or were garage bands. Las Salvajes and that stuff.
M: Los Raincoats.
Y: Maybe as a Spanish reference we have is Los Saicos (pronounced like “psychos”).
The first record was more referential to American indie and bands that we were discovering and I think this album is putting our fist on the table and saying, “Here we are. We can do more.” We just found a more personal way to do things. On the first record everything happened so fast. In the beginning, it was so innocent like, “C’mon, let’s do it!” With playing everywhere and partying. This time it was more like, “Oh, you can do something more coherent with more of an idea behind it.”
So, what was the idea for Soft Gems?
Y: We really believe in rock and roll music with only a couple of chords. We also know that we like references from the past, like guitar sounds and not having so many effects. So, basically doing melodic music for a party. We also were talking for physical music. Putting it out to the audience so that the audience can give it back. It’s not conceptual with a message or anything. More a sound concept.
You went to South by Southwest this year. What was your experience there?
P: The great thing about this time being in SXSW is that we could play with bands like us from the labels we love. Playing in festivals that were made by blogs that review all that garage sounding stuff, we were in the right place. Here in Barcelona, we don’t normally play with bands like us.
M: …because there aren´t a lot of bands like us.
Y: The year before we did more like Spanish invited things.
M: Like “sounds from Spain.” We played a venue with people eating gazpacho and paella and…so, yeah. This year was more of a party and we played better even. With all the new songs from the new album, we were able to practice how all the songs were going to be live. We were playing good venues with good bands that were related to our sound. It gave us this sense that we were in the right place. Last year it was like looking at all the American bands from the outside. This time it was more like being there with them.
Y. We had more possibilities like for the Hardly Art party and we met the Jacuzzi Boys there. We played with Get Bent there. Maybe you know that website.
You’re playing the Primavera Sound festival in Barcelona this year right?
Y: They’ve taken good care of us since the beginning. When we just started playing, they invited us to play in the metro. A week before the festival, they do things with bands that only have demos or that aren’t on the market, so to say. We also played a small stage and it was an amazing experience. The next year we were on a huge stage and two years later we’re playing again.
P: We also played at the festival they do in the winter.
Y: They do Primavera Club in the winter, if you know it. It´s the same concept, but happening in venues.
What’s up for the future?
Y: We’re going to England in a couple of weeks. We’re going to be in Brighton for the Great Escape festival. We’re also going to London.

Record Store Day 2012 at Luchador Records. Photo by Dani Cantó

Record Store Day 2012 at Luchador Records. Photo by Dani Cantó

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