THE BOMBER JACKET gets lost in space with Madrid’s very own rocket men
Hurtling out of Madrid like the European Space Agency’s latest mission for the outer reaches of the universe comes Berlina, four elegant honchos playing dark, spacey alt-rock reminiscent of Echo and the Bunnymen or a more streamlined version of Brit shoegazers Ride.
Berlina’s eponymous EP, released online earlier this year, picks up where the obsidian sheen of last year’s debut, Parcialmente Despejo left off. It’s a three-track wonder, a twin blast of guitar, drums and echoing, angsty vocals accompanied by a gorgeous slice of synth-driven drift.
The band formed in 2006, and spent a couple of years developing their sound before playing their first show in 2008. The usual years of playing and rehearsing followed, before venturing into the studio, first in 2012 and then again this year for their latest trio of songs.
The EP’s first track, “Tiempo y Transfiguracion” gets things started with a bang. The band lays down a driving slab of rhythm, the tune’s classic post-Pixies quiet/loud structure, providing enough kick to escape Earth’s gravitational field.
The band recently posted a video of the track on YouTube, check it out here:
The song dramatically drops to half-speed around the halfway mark, brilliantly setting things up for the following “Sintex,” which sees vintage synth lines carving melodic lines like a latter-day “Screamadelica.” It’s cold, like drifting through outer space, but addictive.
Fortunately, the final track, “Estado de Naturaleza” is here to wake us from our trance, with its propulsive mix of rustling drums, twanging guitars and keyboard squelches. Its heady, euphoric rush is enough to push the weary traveler into the next galaxy, the next universe.
All in all, it’s a tremendous listen. Keen to find out what else Berlina had up their sleeves, I caught up with them via email to get the low-down on this EP and the band’s history.
THE BOMBER JACKET: Hey guys. Can you tell me more about Berlina and yourselves?
Alfonso Herrero (AH): Berlina is a band based in Madrid, but we come from different places. José Gutiérrez, who plays drums, comes from Galicia. Our bassist Sylvain Bertelli is from France. Sergio Amor (vocals, guitar, synths) is the only one who is “madrileño” [from Madrid]. As for me (vocals, guitar, synths), I’m from Ávila in central Spain.
Sergio Amor (SA): Our music is a mixture of different sounds from several music ages. You can listen to spacey atmospheres formed by guitars and synths supported by complex rhythms of drums and bass lines, while vocals reverberate everywhere.
Sylvain Bertelli (SB): Berlina is the result of the transformation of several bands, first called “Million Ways,” then “Million.” These names reflected different line-ups and a quite different musical approach.
How did you meet?
AH: We met on the internet, through the classifieds, as we started from scratch in the summer of 2006. For some of us this was our first band, so it took a long time for us to define our sound and, indeed, we would sing in English at the very beginning.
When and where did you play your first show?
SA: We played our first gig sometime in 2008 at Taboo Club, which is at the heart of Malasaña, in Madrid.
Tell me more about this new EP. Where did you record the songs?
AH: At “El Lado Izquierdo,” a great studio in Madrid.
SB: We really wanted to reflect a new direction in our sound. These three songs could be part of a LP, but we were hurry to grab them and appreciate the result.
What inspired the songs?
AH: Umm… I think we don’t follow the usual compositional process of guitar and voice…well, sometimes we do that, but we mostly are swept along by a particular guitar sound, effect, synth sound…and since then, we develop the rest…
All three are quite different–was this deliberate?
AH: Yes, it was. They represent our sound base: we love ambient, synth sounds (Sintex); we love shoegaze, dream pop (Tiempo y Transfiguración); we love instrumentals, psychedelia, post rock (Estado de Naturaleza). We’d like to reflect all these aspects in our future first LP, which will be out hopefully around this time next year.
I particularly like Sintex. It has a great abstract, drifting sound…
AH: I first heard that particular sound in my Micro Korg and I knew immediately that I had to compose something with that…
The rest of the sounds that cover this work are effects extracted from the other songs. For example, if you listen to the beginning of “Tiempo y Transfiguración,” all those noises and reverse effects from the guitar coexist in Sintex as well. It’s a kind of collage.
The songs have quite dense, intricate production. How do you play them live? Do you change them?
SA: We play them quite similar to the recordings. We try to get the same sounds created at the studio.
Tell me about your first EP, “Parcialmente Despejado.” How long did it take you to write the songs for this EP?
AH: It took us a bit more than a year, I mean, we selected the best songs during that period of time. Our compositional process has actually been very slow so far.
In my case, I’m the main songwriter, and I don’t usually show the first idea that comes to my head. I always want to be self-assured that it is a great song, at least for me, so I end up ruling out the rest of them.
SB: Let’s say that the creation of songs has two phases: first, Alfonso or I come with an idea, a melody and guitar or piano rhythm. This is fast, Alfonso writes a lot. Then comes the complicated part which is the appropriation of the basic song by the band, the addition of all instruments and additional ideas.
This often results in a final song that has generally very little to do with the original draft. It is a long, tough, process, sometimes catastrophic sometimes beautiful.
What type of music influenced you when you first started?
AH: Radiohead, early The Verve and U2, Echo & The Bunnymen, the UK “Madchester” sound, Britpop…
SA: The Verve, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Cure, My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive…
What was the first show you ever went to?
SB: The first concert I went to was a show by Jean-Michel Jarre, because he toured in my town! But the first rock show was Frank Black, the “Teenager of the Year” tour. And that was goooood!
AH: Dover, a Spanish grunge band who became very famous in the early ’90s. I didn’t like them, actually, but I was a teenage music nut, living in a small village, so that was my first chance to see a rock band playing live.
I used to live in Madrid in the 1990s. Back then, a lot of young Spanish people were obsessed with The Ramones. Is this band still a Spanish obsession?
SB: I think the Ramones and all the punk scene has a very strong influence in Spain’s post-dictatorship period, at the beginning of the ’80s with “La Movida,” [a hedonistic countercultural movement that emerged in Spain after the death of General Franco]. So maybe in some way the Ramones represent this wave of liberty and rejection of the system.
What’s life like in Madrid now?
SA: People feel really upset and cheated by politicians and economists. It’s tough for young people to get jobs. It is a really complicated situation but, still, we are optimistic about the future.
SB: As a foreigner in Spain, I can tell: the famous Spanish optimism is having a hard time. People still go out, because it is just their way of life. But economical restrictions and unemployment are all too present in everyday life.
What is still true is that there is an inner power in the Spanish people, a kind of resilience, that makes them see through the crisis and keep on.
Let’s talk about something happier. Are you part of a “scene’”or group of bands in Madrid? What other bands or musicians in Madrid or Spain can you recommend?
SA: We feel part of the Madrid’s musical live scene because we have been playing gigs for five or six years, but don’t think we are part of a musical collective.
AH: I recommend Como Vivir en el Campo from Madrid, Aurora from Granada, Havalina from Madrid, Extraperlo from Barcelona, Toundra from Madrid, YAY from Madrid… and many more!
Has the recession affected the number of clubs/bars where you can go and see live shows? Or play shows?
SA: Some bars and clubs have closed because of the crisis. Some live series don’t celebrate anymore too. On the other hand, there are many bands at this moment in Madrid, and it is difficult to find a clear date to play a gig!