Thursday, December 5, 2013
Echo Out My Call: A Conversation With Guillermo Sexo's Reuben Bettsak
In advance of Saturday's Ash Gray Proclamation Presented For All Good Kids, Toys For Tots Benefit show we recently had the chance to sit down for chat with Reuben Bettsak of Boston's psych pop titans, Guillermo Sexo. We discussed the recording of his bands excellent fifth LP Dark Spring, which we reviewed here, the evolution of Guillermo Sexo, and he even shared an off the cuff list of some his favorite recorded moments of 2013.
The Ash Gray Proclamation: How has the band evolved from the early material on Oh Wow and Magic Lanterns through Secret Wild and the new LP, Dark Spring?
Reuben Bettsak: There has been a few line-up changes in our history and that certainly contributes to our evolution.
Our first full length, Oh Wow, feels like it was a different band in a lot of ways. Obviously we had another female vocalist at the time, but there was also more emphasis on the bass/drum rhythms. This had a lot to do with Nick Gaynier's (Appomattox) drumming. Noell Dorsey has been in the band since our second album, Magic Lanterns. Working with Noell all these years has been such a great experience. I feel like I've been able to branch out as a songwriter. She comes from an experimental background, and combined with my love for strong catchy melodies, it creates fascinating results. We keep coming up with music that's interesting to me. I think Magic Lanterns is a bit of a mess. Some great songs on it, and so many ideas. Some worked and some didn't, but It was definitely the album that started a lot of the Guillermo Sexo guitar layering that's become a big part of our sound.
I won't go through every album, but when we recorded the first half of Vivid Nights we didn't have a Bass player. That's why that album has so many short poppy power songs. I really like that album. Jamie joined the band and added rad bass lines, but that album was written differently. Mark was the drummer at the time (drummer of Fat History Month) gave me a lot of confidence by taking time to listen to 30 demo songs I had compiled. He picked his favorites, and those are most of the songs on Vivid Nights. Even though I've always been the principle songwriter, Magic Lantern came forth mainly through jamming rather than demos. Vivid Night pushed me to bring some fully fleshed out songs to the table. So, ultimately those early albums really paved the way for the Guillermo Sexo of today. Secret Wild and Dark Spring are both albums that have songs created either through jams, or fully fleshed demos that I brought in. They both include collaborations between Noell and I, and they both have the layering, experimenting, etc. I do think that we keep growing as a band, and as songwriters.
Dark Spring also features what I think is the best line-up we've ever had with Elliott Anderson on Bass, Ryan Connelly on drums. Elliott and Ryan just bring in so much goodness to the bands sound. All these years have taught us how to better make albums, and we took more time with Dark Spring and it's my favorite Guillermo record so far. We just added a guitar player to the band. His name is Richard, and he's allowing us to play the songs closer to what they sound like on the album.
The AGP: How did the pairing with Boston/NYC based indie, Midriff Records come about?
Reuben: I've kept up with Midriff over the years. I've always dug and respected the label because they have rowdy noisy records by some outstanding band/songwriters. Records by Eldridge Rodriguez, The Beatings, Age Rings, ZL to name a few. Anyways, when we recorded the Bring Down Your Arms EP, I gave copy of the songs to Cameron Keiber at a show, I think it took him a couple months to actually listen to it, but he sent me a message saying he and Clayton (Keiber) listened to it on the way to NYC, and that they were really into it.The rest is history, it's been great working with them.
The AGP: We were immediately drawn to the rich and varied textures that run throughout Dark Spring, was that something the band was aiming for while writing and recording the album?
Reuben: Dark Spring was such a fun record to write. Ryan joined the band like 2 years ago and we immediately started working or writing the songs for this album. The way this lineup works together really enables us to try so many things. It's a good combo of songs like Bring Down Your Arms and Echo Out My Call that are ultra catchy and songs like Meow Metal, Coyote, and Dark Spring that are expansive and come through jamming. A lot of the textures come from guitar or keyboard layers. I just love building layers and creating happy accidents. My overdubs are never planned, always improvised. I do think we've embraced repetition more, and that makes the nuances of the layers more effective in a lot of ways. I'm a sucker for bands like Spiritualized, My Bloody Valentine, and Mercury Rev who really build powerful symphonic vibes via layering.
The AGP: With other projects which include Future Carnivores and Emerald Comets how do you decide what material get slated for Guillermo Sexo or is that predetermined early in the process?
Reuben: I write a lot of songs. Mr. Robert Pollard's approach suits me just fine. What I mean is that I just write without thinking where the song will end up. The reason I'm going to put solo stuff out under Emerald Comets is that there are lots of songs that never make their way to Guillermo Sexo or just don't work. The first Emerald Comets EP is all finished up, I'm going to release it early next year. Future Carnivores is a total different beast, Bo Barringer and I rarely bring any songs or ideas in advance. It's always an organic on the fly process, for example, I might record a beat on the drum machine, then he will add a bass line, then I'll add guitar and so on. Then he does the vocals, Noell will add stuff and Pepe will add live drums here and there. That's the way the first two albums were done. We are starting to do a bit more of jamming nowadays as a band.
The AGP: Can you tell me a little bit about the recorded process for Dark Spring that you once again embarked on with Justin Pizzoferrato (Dinosaur Jr./Speedy Ortiz)?
Reuben: I love working with Justin, we've worked with him for so many years, but it doesn't get stale. Instead it just gets better. He gets so many rad sounds, and understands what I'm trying to achieve. I literally let him mix the stuff without looking over his shoulder, and it's like he's read my mind. Maybe a few tweaks here and there, but at this point it's like he's a band member. I'm really proud of what we achieved with Dark Spring sonically, and I think Justin deserves a lot of credit cause he rules. Also, I constantly barrage Justin by sending him demos. It works out because he suggested we record Balboa after I sent him an early demo I did.
The AGP: What do you have planned for the new year with Guillermo Sexo as well as your other projects?
Reuben: Guillermo Sexo will continue to play shows to support Dark Spring next year. We are also planning a spring tour. I want to do a couple more videos for the record as well. We are starting to write new material which is exciting. Future carnivores will play shows and continue plugging away at album #3, and an EP from Emerald Comets,I'm planning more recording for Emerald
Comets material as well.
The AGP: We are thrilled to have Guillermo Sexo playing our Toys For Tots Benefit,For All Good Kids on Saturday. For those who have yet to see the band Live or at lease in recent months, what can they expect on Saturday night in Plymouth?
Reuben: We are very excited! It's a good cause and we love Krill, Hallelujah The Hills , and The Hush Now, so it's going to rule. We are playing a brand new song called Long Lines at the show. First time playing a brand new song live since releasing Dark Spring.
The AGP: I understand you have a healthy appetite for new music, what are some of your recorded musical highlights of 2013?
Reuben: I do like to keep up with new music, Some of my favorite albums of 2013 are the new albums by:
My Bloody Valentine
Thee Oh Sees
Black Hearted Brother
Add New Highway Hymnal, Ghost Box Orchestra, Fat Creeps, Speedy Ortiz, Young Adults, and Krill. I could keep going with all the great music coming out of this area right now. I can also say Dark Spring and Future Carnivores' Come Inside are two favorites of the year for me.
Guillermo Sexo joins Hallelujah The Hills, Krill, and Noel Kelly of The Hush Now this Saturday in Historic Plymouth for For All Good Kids, A Toys For Tots Benefit. Full event details here. The toys are for the kids, the rock is for you.
Posted by Bryan Hamill - Executive Editor at 3:41:00 PM