Costa Rica’s Garage Rockers Ave Negra on the Secrets of Making a Music Scene

Costa Rica is in the midst of a music renaissance, and garage rock band Ave Negra are key players in its bourgeoning scene –  not only because they’re a bunch of talented musicians, but because they’re keeping things exciting for everyone. Their no bullshit take on garage has made them favorites in Spain, Mexico and everywhere that three chords played as desperately as possible resonate. With a self-titled full length album on the horizon and an upcoming show at Festival Marvin this weekend, we decided to catch up with Russell Davis (guitarra/voz), Felipe Oller (batería) and Fede Salas (bajo) about their past adventures in Mexican lands, the truth about rock n’ roll, and the brotherhood that comes from playing honest, passionate music.

You’re coming back to Mexico, this time to play Festival Marvin. What are your thoughts and expectations about this trip?
Russell: We’re very excited, and above all, we’re very grateful for having another chance to play there. We know about Festival Marvin because bands who are friends with us have played there and have told us about it. The lineup is great, there’s a ton of bands we want to see, Os Mutantes and The Raveonettes, obviously; but also our friends in Cardiel from Venezuela who live there. Together Pangea, Las Robertas….

Speaking of Cardiel, I read in an interview about a year ago that you recorded with them but that material never came out. What happened?
Russell: When we went there a year ago, they invited us to stay at their house, and they have a studio set up there. We recorded some songs and we don’t really know what happened in the end but it doesn’t really matter.

Felipe: Yeah, it didn’t come out in the end, but we had a blast staying there and recording. We ate, drank, shared with them, and we got to know each other a lot more. We had a great time with them. I’m sure we’re going to work together again in the future.

I also read that when you played NRMAL you got to meet Nazareno El Violento.
Russell: Yes! After the festival they came to our hotel room for the after party and we had a great time with them.

Felipe: At NRMAL we got to hang out with some amazing bands like Nazareno El Violento, Terror Cósmico, Hawaiian Gremlins, and it was great. We also loved their music.

Fede: I was also very happy when I found out that Nazareno toured Europe last year. I saw some videos of them playing at a very metal festival. I’m not sure what was happening in the video really, but it looked amazing.

Let’s go back. What made you want to start the band and play what you do?
Russell: It was very spontaneous. Felipe and I met, and we talked about music, and I told him that I’d written some songs. I told him he should come over and jam, and from the first time we played, we felt great chemistry. Mercedes [Oller from Las Robertas], who is Felipe’s sister and my girlfriend, helped us out, she showed a ton of support from the start. We started playing, then we recorded and released a demo, and we got some great feedback from it. A couple of weeks later, Monica from NRMAL got in touch with us to say that she had heard our music and that she loved it. The sound we came up with was also very spontaneous and natural, we wanted to play rock n’ roll to have some fun and be carefree. It’s been a great formula because it’s very energetic.

It’s a sound that helps you make each of your concerts a fun thing for everybody involved, including the crowd.
Russell: We wanted to make rock n’ roll as raw, simple and fun as possible. We wanted to play music that made you wanted to move, dance; the kind of music we like to hear at a concert. Music that gets the crowd going, no matter the quality of the sound or the venue we’re playing. We just want to play and enjoy.

I was talking to Mercedes about how there are so many rock bands that are playing this simple but energetic brand of music, and there have been other bands like that coming out of places like Mexico. Puerto Rico and Spain. Why do you think this has happened?
Russell: I think rock n’ roll has always been and will always be around. Sometimes things go sleepy for a little while, and but they always start up again. We were lucky to come along at a moment when newer bands were making that type of sound again – I think it started with Dávila 666, and we’re part of that wave they started.

There’s also friendship between these kinds of bands through all the countries.
Fede: I think [what matters is] the sincerity with which you make stuff and if you’re having a good time doing it, that’s what makes it feel like a brotherhood.

Russell: And you relate to bands without really knowing them. It started when we contacted the guys in Los Blenders through Facebook. We were listening to their music before we knew them personally; at that point they had something like 200 Facebook likes and they were blowing our minds, they were amazing to us. And then we got in touch with them to have them play here, and when they arrived, we took them in as if we’d already met them.

You describe your sound as rock n’ roll, but right now very few people admit they play that kind of music. It’s like it’s cooler to say you play “lo-fi psych shoegazecore” or something like that, but not rock n’ roll.
Russell: We think like in the Sixties or the early Seventies, any band that was around used to say they played rock n’ roll. It could be The Rolling Stones or The Beatles or Led Zeppelin, then everything became labeled one way or another and everything got fucked up. We thought about it and we wanted to go back to that, to play music that is sincere and comes from the heart without demanding much. That’s what we want to do.

The Costa Rican scene is known to be very small but it has blown up internationally. Maybe there are not a million bands out there, but the ones that are around, are everywhere; not to mention that there are festivals and stuff now like Epicentro. What can you tell us from an insider’s look?
Russell: There’s a lot of good vibes, and there are a lot of good, humble people involved. When there’s a good vibe, you can only get good results. There’s a ton of work and effort behind the scene, putting on shows, inviting new bands to play with us so people can listen to them. It’s great that that’s prompted people in other countries to turn to Costa Rica and see what’s up.

Fede: What has changed recently is that there’s a lot of goodwill and brotherhood between us [bands in the scene], and that makes us look forward to things. Before, the bands seemed not to be doing things from the heart.

Felipe: And everything that’s happening is because of all the hard work we’ve all put in together. We have all played shows with hardly anyone in the audience, then we had more shows and parties with a lot of styles mixed in, and people started showing up and going crazy, crowdsurfing and going nuts. Feeling what we feel onstage, which is complete madness and pure happiness.

What can you tell us about the music you’ve been writing? 
Fede: It’s funny, because now that we have recorded the LP, the new songs we’ve been writing sound a lot like the songs Russell began writing [before Ave Negra was formed], and that was three years ago. I think those are the songs stored in his head from back then and I bet he has 50 more like that, so we’re pulling from there, little by little.