Chile’s The Holydrug Couple On Their New Album, the Psych Scene, and Starting a New Chapter

Photo by Carolina Sandoval

Psychedelic music has always been about bending elements to experience the world in a different way; it transforms everything, even reality. Santiago de Chile duo The Holydrug Couple’s very existence attests to this magic. It’s thanks to this quality that Ives Sepúlveda Minho and Manuel Parra found a long-lasting friendship, a door to explore different countries and psychic worlds, and a lifestyle.

The Holydrug Couple’s music tends to build worlds seldom heard anywhere else – luminous, chill, carefree yet intricate – there’s is a sound that has taken many forms and is still evolving. From their first explorations found in the Ancient Land EP to their debut album Noctuary, to the soundscapes conjured on their 2015 breakthrough Moonlust, the duo has played with a particular brand of minimalist sounds and melodies. Although associated with the Chilean psych movement of recent years spawned from the Blow Your Mind label, they have always walked their own path.

Hyper Mega Ultra represents another chapter for the band. Inspired by the “exhaustion” of overwrought modern life and culture, Sepúlveda and Parra deliver a collection of songs that inhabit a new melodic clarity as well as refined sound, becoming increasingly minimalistic as the track order progresses. It’s the culmination of 10 years together making their own kind of music, but it’s not just a summary of what they’ve done, it’s a nod toward new realms to inhabit.

We spoke to Ives Sepúlveda about this moment in The Holydrug Couple history, Latin American psych, and sensorial overload.

This interview was conducted in Spanish via Skype and translated by the author. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and brevity.

Was there something in particular that inspired the songs?

The album is made of songs we wrote in the last two years. Moonlust was released in 2015 and afterward we toured in the US and Europe and elsewhere, it was a long tour. Once we came back, I gave myself time – like six or eight months –  to not record anything, even though I always have ideas and I record them. Moonlust has some better-defined concepts, more specific. But I didn’t have a specific idea this time, so I decided that would be the concept, try to find a space for all the different things I like. I thought about my influences from the last few years and everything started to fall into place.

What is the concept behind Hyper Mega Super?

The name of the album is kinda ironic. Why should everything be mega or super? It’s not necessary to take things to superlative extremes, you know? We can have things on a human scale. The lyrics are similar, about being bored with the digitalization of things, how we have lost human relationships, the cities, commerce, love relationships, your self-consciousness, I don’t know.

The first half of the record starts with a lot of different noises, a lot of sounds and then, as it progresses, it gets more simple until the last song which is a very slow ballad. It’s my response to this bombardment of excess. Music can be simple and spacious. There are a lot of worlds to explode within the music, away from hyper capitalization.

Do you think this kind of superlative-type thinking has affected your musical surroundings?

No, we’ve always worked independently, plus we deal with Sacred Bones and Holydrug was formed before that. BYM is just one part of what it is to be in a band in Santiago because there are more friends and people who are also involved in this. Santiago is a city that’s not that big compared with Buenos Aires or Mexico City, you pretty much know everybody who does music here. You run into everybody at the techno party or the experimental ambient show or to the piano concert. Inside this world, you enrich and expand on the experience, and you learn and talk about a different vision of music, and you support everybody, you give advice, you’re involved.

I don’t listen to modern psych bands, because most of those bands are all the same.

This year you celebrate ten years of Holydrug Couple. When you started, did you set out to tour the world and become a band beyond the Santiago scene?

No, not at all. When we started the band, there was no way we could have imagined that, because that didn’t exist. Nobody put out vinyl back then, and if your band was not from the U.S. or Europe or perhaps Mexico, bands didn’t go on international tours. Nobody earned their living playing music here in Chile unless you were Jorge González, you know? It was impossible to imagine this. When I started with Manu I told him “I want to start a band but I want it to be serious.” Do something the right way, that was the goal, everything that came after was impossible to foresee.

Looking back, what is something that made you proud about your trajectory?

The fact that we’re still together after ten years and that we’re still friends, I think that’s miraculous. Bands usually have infights or they distance themselves and it hasn’t happened to us and that’s something that impresses me a lot. What I enjoy most is being able to make music, since I can sell records and go on tour, I get money to buy myself instruments to make more music. To be able to dedicate myself to music, that’s the best, it’s not just a highlight. It’s the ultimate happiness.

Photo by Carolina Sandoval
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There’s a new direction in Hyper Mega Super, do you feel like you’re starting a new phase for Holydrug Couple?

I think the record is like a closing chapter, at least it was planned like that. After it comes out and we come back from the tour, we can start a new phase, that’s what I want. I think we can have some clarity or a new perspective from this conclusion, I think.

You are an important band when it comes to psychedelic music from Chile and Latin America; how do you see this genre nowadays? There are a lot of bands doing exciting stuff, there are festivals in different countries. Do you think there’s a movement?

I don’t see it [chuckles]. I don’t really listen to psych…I mean, one of the biggest inspirations for this album was Screamadelica by Primal Scream. It’s one of my favorite albums, I listen to it every day, and to me it’s an album that’s related to different drugs, it’s related to psychedelia but it’s also related to dance music; it’s a collage of different scenes. I think that’s more interesting to me. People tag us as a psychedelic band but we don’t think about that. I don’t listen to modern psych bands, because most of those bands are all the same. You hear the Jazzmaster [guitar] with reverb in the intro and a Farfisa keyboard and that’s like the most boring thing in the world to me. I’m interested in more. I love the Beatles, the first Pink Floyd album, but I also love Madonna, Chemical Brothers, ABBA, Bowie, T-Rex, Lou Reed, I don’t know. It’s becoming a cliché and a commodity, so they can sell you a denim jacket with an eye stitched into it or hair dye.

Our aesthetic has never been like the traditional psychedelic thing. I think it’s better to be more difficult for the audience to grasp, that it takes a little effort to listen to the record or to get into the band because sometimes, those bands you have to invest yourself to like, you like them more than others, there’s something more to hold on to.