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. The duo tries 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 BOMBER JACKET spoke with the Barcelona guys 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 Gracía. Sweat was beading on the glasses of our cañas as the two men ate some fried tapas, croquetas and a sauce drenched bomba.
Spazzfrica Ehd [Edu] and Papa duPau [Pau] were joined by a friend, Marcos Junquera. Although Marcos doesn’t play in Za!, he has another project with Pau 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 thebomberjacket.com 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 Secret to 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.
THE BOMBER JACKET: Your music has a lot of different languages in it. Are you trying to make a statement about language at all?
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.
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.’
E: Or for example, it sounds like Steve Reich against the Antonio Machín. Or a Sherpa playing a riff from Slayer. Why not?
You also mentioned the shepherds of Tuva. Who are the they?
PAU: 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 descendents of Genghis Khan. 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 and super high pitches…[imitates the noises] On our last album, Macumba o Muerte, we played a traditional song from there…we tried to play it. We destroyed it. There was a documentary that was very interesting by Paul Pena.
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. We always try to play all the different music that we like the best we can.
P: That republic in Russia when the communists were there, they just oppressed their culture, you know? They were clearing out all the religion and all of the culture and everything. They were fighting against a big country and they were really proud of themselves to be descendants of Genghis Khan.
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 of music, because it’s so easy now with the internet.
P: My brother’s music teacher lent me a CD when I was like 14. We started to listen to music like Buddhist chants, music from India, music from Ethiopia. I don’t know; it’s something that I 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 from when you were a kid.
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.
There was another term used for Za!…“Post world music.”
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 saying that we are the leaders of the world and we choose to play music that represents the rest of the world, because its center is us. [laughs] It’s a funny mixture. 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.
There’s a song on your last record, Megaflow, called “Mesoflow” that is a crazy track, but it has calming Spanish guitar in the beginning. Was that part of a joke?
P: It’s a traditional Portuguese style.
E: It’s there because we played at a festival in Portugal and we had a super good night there. We ended up playing a football match at 9 AM 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.
How do you approach songwriting?
P: Sometimes we start with nonsense. “That joke is really good; imagine that joke repeating a lot of times!”
E: 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 instrument or a song with only the black keys from the piano.
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. La Orquesta del Caballo Ganador. Which was, while improvising we had to make Street Fighter sounds.
[Marcos raises his hands like a conductor]
[Street Fighter sound bytes ensue from everyone at various pitches]
E: “Hadouken. Yoga fire. Yoga Flame.”
I was a Mortal Kombat guy.
P: Yeah! “Finish him!”
Were the voices the same in Spanish? It must’ve been dubbed in Spanish.
E: No, the sounds were in English. “Sub zero wins. Fatality. Finish him.”
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]
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 aerial tom. I didn’t know what to do. They gave me a big barrel of beer, you know those metal barrels of beer…
A keg? 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.
Are there any bands that you would recommend?
P: SCHNAAK, from Germany.
E: This guy’s band [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.
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: It was nu jazz. [they laugh] It was a joke. You know those jazz CDs that pretend to be something.
E: Yeah, 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. Or Chicago Underground.
E: All those bands like the 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.
Do you know any other Barcelona bands that I should check out?
E: I would recommend Les Aus. It’s an improvisational duo. Everything the guitar player does is really good.
P: Another group is called “No More Lies.”
E: From Spain, I would also recommend Picore. On “Mesoflow” we tried to play like Picore, because it’s a really complicated band. Like math rock.
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 we share a practice room with them. They make pop, but the singer sings like if he were a disturbed child, like crying. But ok, if that’s the way he wants to sing, that’s perfect!
P: The scene for me in Barcelona is Heliogàbal. There are a lot of people from a lot of different bands from a lot of different parts of Spain. 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.
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. But, it wasn’t really acoustic. We played with amps, but we just had to lower the volume. We did one with a grand piano, which was really cool.
What are some other good venues in Barcelona?
E: In Barcelona they are closing a lot of venues.
P: In all of Spain.
Is it the financial crisis?
P: Yeah, it’s a crisis, but I don’t think it’s the economic crisis, it’s kind of a values crisis. You know?
E: 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. It’s not that expensive and they don’t go because they like any band in particular. But, sometimes people will be like, “I don’t know that band very well and it’s seven euros, so I’m not going to go.” It’s frustrating.
You mentioned a crisis of values. What are your perspectives on that? It seems like, especially in Catalonia, that people still have a post-Franco mentality and feel desperate to preserve the culture.
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 not 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. 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 happened in the squares [referring to people camping in major plazas all over Spain only a few months before Occupy Wall Street]. People are fed up, not with one political party or even with all the political parties, but with everything. It’s a frustration with the future. Twenty years ago we thought the future had to be different and better than now.
What are the band’s plans for the future?
E: We are recording another album in August and we are going to Brazil in May and the states in March. And Canada too.
Are you playing at Primavera Sound again?
E: I don’t think so. We played three years in a row. We played a show for kids too.
P: There’s a special stage for kids in Primavera Sound.
E: Do you know the band Dirty Projectors? We did played the show with the bass player, the singer. A girl named Angel Deradoorian. We were dressed as sailors and we were looking for a shrimp to save the shrimp from a shark. All the kids were hitting the shark really hard in the balls.
Was it a person in a shark suit?
E & P: Yes.
P: Kids are very dangerous.