With only a few bags of luggage in his hands, Matteo Burr touched down in San Juan in 2016, planning on only staying for two weeks at most. Five years later, he’s still there and has kept busy. After living through Hurricane María, along with the rest of the population, as well as experiencing the economic turmoil that had already devastated the island, he saw a vacuum that needed to be filled to help the local music scene and its artists. He leveraged savings and connections he made during his time as a musician himself as drummer for the band Grace Potter & the Nocturnals and founded San Juan Sound, a not-for-profit music studio in Old San Juan. Burr also established the charity Gift of Sound, which provides instruments, classes, and recording sessions to young musicians who otherwise can’t afford them.
“It became crystal clear, especially as we kept going and seeing these artists showing up, needing help, that we were doing something that matters,” he tells Remezcla over the phone.
To this end, he’s now releasing San Juan Sound, Vol. 1, a compilation album of local bands and artists that aims to showcase the spectrum of musical talent found on the island. The LP’s first half is set firmly in the indie rock scene, with groups such as Epilogio, Les Grifos, Pheelin, and Polem, offering sounds ranging from alternative to electronic. Polem’s song is in fact a live track recorded in front of a crowd at San Juan Sound, a product of shows made on the premises in collaboration with platform Musicasa.
“We were doing something that matters.”
“I’ve been in their shoes — I know the blood, sweat, and tears that go into being an indie artist,” Burr muses. “To have a place like [this] run by an artist, and not be a business or a label, I think is really powerful for these artists, to be able to walk through [our doors] that lets people just be and create and not be pressured.”
Some other standout tracks include “Animal Híbrido” by Joe Louis, which calls to mind a more subdued yet still enthralling Manjar de Los Dioses; father/sons trio Del Mismo Racimo with the haunting gothic bolero “Enjambre;” and “La Lluvia de los Gandules” courtesy of Abraham Dorta, who transports us to the Puerto Rican countryside for a pleasant respite.
All of the songs were recorded at San Juan Sound, and each one has its own special story that compelled Burr to choose them for the album. “Fusión” was the first song Burr produced at the studio. At another point in time, Joe Louis showed up unannounced with only a guitar in hand, asking if he could play a song for him. That ended up being “Animal Híbrido,” and that session is the one we hear on the album.
More than a collection of local indie sounds, in which it excels at, San Juan Sound, Vol. 1 also doubles as a time capsule for the still-nascent studio. Already the promise of budding history in the making can be heard, and Burr is committed to seeing it through and being integral to the continued survival of local talent despite the hardships.
“It’s made on the island, by the island, with a chance to be heard off the island,” he beams. “Hopefully [we can] create opportunities for the artists and the scene to be heard and felt globally.”
All proceeds of San Juan Sound, Vol. 1 will go to the participating artists and Gift of Sound.