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INTERVIEWS MATTHEW JORDAN
TRIBAL ELECTRONICAVocalist ANGEL GARCIA and guitarist GREG HERNANDEZ got together in 1997 to form a band called CIRCA after being introduced to each other through a mutual friend. This project, whose sound was firmly rooted in the alternative rock sound that was popular at the time, lasted about a couple of years until for a brief moment, Alternative rock was outshone by the Latin pop movement ushered in by J. LO and RICKY MARTIN.
GREG HERNANDEZ OF MEZKLAH
TALKS TO ROCKWIRED ABOUT
WORKING WITH ANGEL GARCIA
THE CD SPIDERMONKEY
AND TRADING IN ALTERNATIVE ROCK FOR SOMETHING WAY MORE INTERESTING.
INTERVIEWED BY BRIAN LUSH
Fortunately, this wasn't the route this dynamic duo decided to go.
Starting in 2000, GARCIA and HERNANDEZ wanted a change. With the thirst for a new sound in mind and a little D.I.Y. initiative, the boys bought some samplers and drum machines and started constructing the sound that they call MEZKLAH. In translation, the word MEZKLAH means "mix". The name couldn't be more perfect. The MEZKLAH sound is a musical mad scientist project - not unlike that of DJ MONKEY - but here, tribal rhythms, reggae sounds, and jazzy sound guitar scales are getting thrown into the mix along with ANGEL GARCIA's captivating voice and presence. Their debut CD SPIDERMONKEY is the result of six years in the studio with producer ERIC ALATAN and has already earned the band a great deal of attention in Los Angeles, Mexico and Europe.
ROCKWIRED spoke with guitarist GREG HERNANDEZ over the phone. Here is how it went.
Do I have both you today?
Actually, ANGEL is doing another interview with PACIFICA RADIO today.
Yeah, it's too bad he couldn't make it. The interview is in support of a fund raiser show that we're doing for EARTH DAY downtown, so he's over there with the committee doing an interview with them. So it's just me and you.
He left you behind that must piss you off.
It's all right.
The two of you have a musical partnership that goes back ten years. Does it feel that long?
Somedays it does. Other days it doesn't. but for the most part, I'd say the album was released October of last year so the last three or four years have gone by in the blink of an eye.
Your first project together was called CIRCA.
Yes, that's right. That was a rock alternative group that we began together when we first met back in 1997. We stuck with that for a bout two or three years then we got fed up with all of the old sounds so we basically de-constructed what we knew of songwriting and that included me re-learning the guitar and using different tones and effects and what not. With that ANGEL started singing in Spanish and that opened up allot of his vocals and melodies. We were influenced by a lot of world music and embracing our heritage of Spanish music. We were inspired by KPFK which is a small radio station here which has a lot of eclectic music and also we were inspired by a lot of d.j.'s in LA mixing the hip-hop with the jungle and the reggae and some other world beats. That really inspired us to do something new.
What brought you two together?
We were brought together by a mutual friend who was working at a jazz bakery with ANGEL at the time. He had mentioned that he knew this guitarist who was looking for a singer songwriter. The day we met we started writing songs right away. From day one it blossomed into a beautiful working relationship which we haven't broken since. We formed CIRCA right away and we had a two week deadline to get everything together for our first gig. During those two weeks we put together half a set and did our first gig.
Sounds hectic. before the two of you started working together what projects had you been involved in previously?
Previously as a guitar, I grew up in the D.I.Y. ethic of learning to play guitar and I did everything from blues rock to punk rock, hard core. In the nineties I was really into things like jazz and funk. It was all about incorporating a lot of different rhythms. I've always had an opened mind in terms of music. ANGEL as well. Growing up in LA we were inspired by a lot of the local bands and a lot of innovative music that came out of LA from the classic rock to the punk era to the metal years like JANE'S ADDICTION as wells as stuff outside of LA from england like BAUHAUS and LOVE AND ROCKETS and THE CLASH.
In working together what do you think that each of you brings to the table?
ANGEL definitely is the visionary and the main composer of this group so he definitely brings a lot and I bring a lot of patience tot he table working with him. We 're always constantly challenging each other. ANGEL brings a lot of the visuals and the art and I bring my two cents worth on the guitar. As of late I've been doing a lot of the booking and ,marketing for this group. As of late that's been a lot on my table.
Did CIRCA ever record a CD?
We never got around to recording a full length CD we did get around recording some tracks here and there with different people but nothing really compiled as a CD per se. It's too bad! If you listened to them you could hear that we were really starving to do something different even when we were in that alternative genre that we were in. You could hear there was an international influence that was coming out. We had tracks recorded but nothing that was officially released.
In 1999, it sounds like things had changed for the project you had started. Basically, what drove you to want to dismantle what you had done and start over?
Boredom of doing the same thing that everyone else was doing and using the same approach as everyone else. In 1999 we went out and were like "okay, it's just the two of us. How are we going to create this big sound?" So we went out and bought some samplers and some drum machines and that sort of thing and decided to build something from that. Surely enough, there was a recording engineer that had heard some of the things that we were working on at the time and he suggested that we come over to his studio because he wanted to work with us. But he didn't know that it was going to take six years. It was basically a six year marriage with a lot of ups and downs but we pulled through and the album finally got released in 2005.
In forging this new sound was there any new equipment that you had to learn?
Yeah definitely, there were the samplers and the drum machines and even the way I was playing the guitar cause i was looking for different color schemes and tones. I got out and bought an arsenal of vintage pedals to the newer ones and just being a mad scientist and figuring out how to play these things without trying to make it too obvious. It was definitely an experimental thing which by now has become second nature. We also had to learn how to work with a producer as well and how to be somewhat open minded to a third party.
And that third party was ERIC ALATAN.
He's from Nigeria via London. It was great that he heard what we were doing because in London there was that huge jungle drum n bass scene that was going on and he had a heads up on where we were trying to go. It was good that he could see what we were trying to do at a time where it felt strange to us. He was big help.
So SPIDERMONKEY was six years in the making?
I'd say from 1999 to the day it was released in October 2005. During that time it wasn't like we weren't playing out. It was two years into the project where decided that we needed to get out and play. MEZKLAH was inspired by other bands that were doing shows within the community for different centers and art galleries and we always wanted to be a part of that. We always felt that we had something to offer. By 2001, it was just the two of us but we had these songs that we were working on. When we started playing live it was just me on guitar, ANGEL on vocals and our backing tracks. It was strange not having a drummer but people slowly started to get it and really started liking the music, and before you knew it we were playing at all of these different community centers. We built a grass roots following with this new kind of sound. Around 2002 and 2003 we constantly played out in every venue in LA and doing an average of three gigs a week and that built the foundation for us to do this battle of the bands in 2005 which we had won at the HOUSE OF BLUES which earned us our distribution deal for SPIDER MONKEY. We had just finished the CD around that time so it all worked out perfectly.
And now that the CD is behind you, how do you feel about it?
I still feel that it's great and we feel proud playing these songs. We're growing with this and have incorporated a drummer now for the live feel as well as a horn player. We hope this will push us to the next level.
Have you done shows outside of LA?
Yes. We've gone on three or four independent tours of Mexico. We go down there a couple of months at a time. The first time in Mexico we weren't sure how the people would take us. "What is this? two guys making all of this sound and jumping around in body paint?" but the audiences in Mexico were so appreciative.
Given the current social/political climate of this country, how easy or difficult has it been to get the music heard?
It's all bout connecting people. We're not the kind of band that's gonna go "buy our record! buy our record!"It's been pretty good so far. We're still being asked to do a lot of different things and as far as the internet goes it's just been really amazing how we've able to upload our links to a lot of people. We try using the internet to our advantage. Even at live shows we have this amazing spectrum of people who come to see us from young to old. It's really amazing to see that the music we are doing can do that.
Much of the material sounds sounds as if it could lend itself beautifully to visual interpretation. Do you have any videos for any of the songs?
We do. We just released our first single off of the SPIDERMONKEY CD called CHANGO ARANA. It's more of a cumbia reggae. We decided to go with this song because because it was catchy and radio friendly. The video has been released and it's getting play on local stations here and it's also on-line at youtube.com and various other sites. It was directed by MATTHEW ASHBURG who is a friend of our manager that we met at a party a year ago where we were doing an acoustic set. He heard that and told us much later that "that night , I knew I was going to work with you guys !" and a year later, he directed the video.
What do you want someone to walk away with after hearing the music?
I want hem to feel good about themselves when they walk away. I would someone to go to a MEZKLAH show to forget about what they are going through for a little while and enjoy the show. We like to bring a kind of circus element to the shows. We'd like to bring them a little bit of escapism.