Luján Gambina hosts Vida Calesita, which can be heard every Monday at 9pm on Radio Oreja, and writes a music blog. Every month, she introduces us to different artists from the thriving independent music scene in Buenos Aires. This month: Los Mutantes de Paraná.
Los Mutantes del Paraná are song-makers, and through that very sound manufacturing process they traipse across different genres and styles, aptly evading any attempts to pigeonhole them. Even so, they always manage to remain true to their own style and manage to mix different sounds just right. One thing is for sure: listen to them and it’ll be impossible not to sway along to the beat. They are a bass-led band that surreptitiously gets your hips gyrating. Noctámbulo, their second studio album, is the long-awaited follow up to El Entrerriano, which caused a bit of a commotion across the indie music scene back in 2013.
For background information: in the time between their debut album and their latest release, a lot of things changed. They went from being just three members to a full-fledged nine-person band. The first album had 16 tracks, while the newest one has just half the amount. So on the one hand, they grew, but then they also shrunk. So we decided to launch the interview by heading down this contradictory road, in an attempt to delve behind the scenes of this promising – and satisfying – new album.
You went from being three band members to nine. How did that affect the band?
Charly Valerio: We wanted to sound more well-rounded in this second album. But something quite contradictory happened: we chose to place one of the most subtle tracks we had first. ‘Let’s show them now that there’s nine of us, let’s use that line up,’ we first said – and here we are, with the plainest track first. It looks like we tried to avoid being our true selves [laughs]. There are just two chilled tracks in the album though, at the beginning and the end.
So here we are at what could be the end of the road. There’s nine of you now, you’ve established yourselves, Noctámbulo has been released. But now I’d like to take you back in time: how, where and when were Los Mutantes del Paraná born?
Santiago Dirrheimer: It’s strange… when did it all start… honestly, I can give you an approximate date and tell you that it was when my brother Nahuel and I got together, called up Charly and said: ‘OK, let’s get this gathering of instruments started.’ But actually, when were we born…? Who knows when the real thing was born! Because there are tracks that already existed before we got together. ‘Macumba’, a track from the first album, must be about ten years old, more or less. It’s been mutating for a long time, since my brother had a heavy metal band – something that has little to do with what we do now – and we took that track and transformed it. Then the same thing happened with Charly: we grabbed a hold of him and transformed everything once more. So I think we’ve been alive – existing – for a long time, but almost without realising it.
CV: Camouflaged as something else, if you will. Because, actually, when we first started composing songs as a band, we all grabbed a hold of old songs that we already had. Between the three of us, we’d take that and work it together, to make sure it fit into the project.
SD: And that still happens. It’s rare that we pitch an idea and that it stays the same. I think that there are very few tracks in which one can say: “Hey, here’s this track,” and it stays as is.
CV: Each of us is clear on defining things and giving directions, such as “You play this, you play that.” Generally, we’ve got a broad idea to go on, and we play with that. And that worked great for our second album. Because we’d pitch a few ideas and we’d play them during rehearsal. Little by little we’d refine them and that’s how we built this new album: together, from the ground up.
The process was quicker even though there were more of you involved.
CV: Yes, exactly. It was very fast.
SD: It was quicker, but we had to work more too. We worked very hard, the pre-production work was tough. Thinking about the tracks… Perhaps, with ‘El Entrerriano’ we weren’t sure what we wanted to sound like, which sound we were going for; it was just what came out. For this album, we had a clear idea. For starters, we didn’t want to release ‘El Entrerriano 2’.
Were you looking for a change?
SD: Exactly. We could have easily done the tracks just like we did for the previous album. I still remember how it all happened. We met up one summer and started planning our second album. We promised ourselves we wouldn’t repeat the same old formula: we wanted to be bold and look for a new sound.
CV: Actually, a big difference between the first and the second album is that we used all the 16 tracks we had for the first one. For the second one though, we culled through the rest and picked eight. Actually, up until the very end, before going to the studio, we had two that we were undecided about: would we include them? Would we not? That caused conflict. Some voted yes, others no. But in the end, we just set them aside. And that’s a great thing, because it’s great to have a choice. You don’t have to say ‘OK, let’s include the material because it’s there, because it was leftover, we’ve got to use it,’ and those type of excuses. So finally we had eight tracks, which was scary, because we had to ask ourselves ‘Hey, is this too short?’. It is a short album; but that’s how we wanted it to be.
You released yet another independent album. Tell me more about that.
SD: It’s hard, but I think it’s the best way to do things within the art world. We work with a label called Monqui Albino that helped us a lot, but we also try to spread our wings and work on our own and we’re managing a sizeable working group. Concerts here, concerts there, graphic designers, photographers… We take care of absolutely everything ourselves, and that gives us the chance to set it up just the way you want it. There’s nobody on top of you telling you ‘You’ve gotta do this, that and the other,’ or people asking you for a cut, something which happens a lot in this industry.To be honest, it’s harder. This way is much harder, but I think it’s also worth it.
CV: Also, it involves a broader learning process, and that’s also good. Because suddenly we’re acquiring experience throughout many spheres, that maybe in the past musicians weren’t necessarily exposed to.
You’re your own PR person, your own manager. You do a bit of everything.
CV: Exactly, and that’s great. Thinking about the visuals, the lights, and little by little it all comes together and we keep on welcoming people over who know a lot more than us about each domain, and that’s fantastic. But now we can go tell them ‘Hey, look, we’ve got this idea about this,’ because we’ve already had to do that before. So that aspect of being independent is great. Because there’s also a lot of complaints about the fact that we have to do it all. So obviously it does have its cons, but it also has its pros – and those are great.
SD: It is good though, because let’s say you recorded an album or played a gig or whatever. It’s a great thing to always be aware of what is going to happen with your album, or with your show. For example, the other day we got together and we got the lighting ready for the gig on Friday. We said: ‘We want this to happen at this very moment, then this other at that moment, etc.’ You’re the artist. You get to pick. So it’s great when you can manage every aspect, as well as all that’s related to playing gigs and so on. Knowing where you’re gonna play, who you’re gonna play with. I am responsible for everything a band manager would normally do, and I now realise that it’s great for the artist to know about every aspect involved. I don’t know to what point it’s good to have a manager organise all that for you.
Let’s talk about Noctámbulo and the novelty of the sound. But first I’d like to know what the Los Mutantes del Paraná listen to. How did you get to that sound? Tell us about your quest for sound.
CV: For starters, we’re all huge music fans. We listen to a lot of stuff, and we’ve been into music since we were kids. And so, afterwards what comes into play is the musical background of each band member, which acts as portal to even more music; beyond what you usually listen to. So that results in a collective patchwork. There’s a bit of everything, and all of that gives shape to a unique musical melting pot. That’s fantastic in the sense that it sets the tone for rehearsals: when somebody shares a new song, we try a bit of everything. We test it all, and from all that experimenting, a mix of sounds emerge.
SD: You’ll never hear somebody say ‘No’, even if the proposal sounds totally ridiculous or even delirious and the person pitching it knows it beforehand. We all know that we’ve got to put our head down and go along with it; that’s our policy and that’s what has to be done. We try it all, and sometimes surprising things come out of that.
CV: Going back to the original question: we listen to a lot of music, practically anything.
Is there something that you share, that you believe influences you when it comes to composing your music?
CV: I think that what we’ve got, what links all nine of us, is that we’re pretty pop minded. We don’t reject pop music. For example, all of us love Michael Jackson, Charly Garcia. It’s not as if we say: ‘I don’t listen to that, I just listen to Strawinski.’
SD: We don’t reject anything.
CV: And we love listening to songs in particular. That’s something we all share. Although the music we do is instrumental, they are still songs after all. You can dance to them, you can hum along, you can distinguish the chorus from the rest of the song. That’s something that I think is properly ours: we don’t shy away from today’s popular music, one could say. If somebody crashed one of our birthday parties, they’d realise that the music they hear is exactly what plays on the radio. It’s not because we’re musicians that we listen to something else. And I believe that’s conveyed in our music.
SD: I think that for this second album, our major influences have been the new members, in a way. That’s why there’s also been a musical change in this record. The sound has changed. We’ve got a new percussionist, Santiago Rudas. He’s Colombian and before he just played salsa and all that stuff. So we went with it, and started composing using some of that too. Then there’s the drummer, Damian Chavez, who’s also relatively new. He’s more pop-inclined, more modern – and that has further influenced us. It’s more of a mix of people and personalities rather than a mix of genres.
Los Mutantes del Paraná are currently touring and will be playing live this weekend in Mar del Plata. For more details on the event, click here.
Translation by Carla Mckirdy.