Tunacola’s Richi Luna Talks Valparaíso, Love And NES

The latest example of Chile’s seemingly endless creative supply of jaunty synth-pop comes from Tunacola, whose second album, Todos los Veranos del Mundo, was released last December on London label Endemika.

Tunacola frontman Richi Luna spoke to Remezcla about the new album, his native city of Valparaíso, and the beauty of the term “pop music.”

How’s it going? What are you up to at the moment?
We just landed in Austin to play SXSW, then we’re off to play a few gigs in Mexico. We are all in the kitchen making tacos at the moment.

Can you tell us about Tunacola’s background?
Well, Tunacola was created from a group of beats and compositions that I made and collected in my computer from 2005 or something, until I did a vocal test with a microphone. That became “Vámonos al Parque,” my very first song, and the first song I showed my friends. They told me I had to do something with it, so I did, but I wasn’t going to stand on stage and perform by myself. So I recruited old friends DJ Caso on turntables and Paz Court on vocals, and Tunacola was born.

What does the name mean?
It’s actually a name taken out of an NES videogame called StarTropics. It’s about a kid [who] goes through a fantasy archipelago, from island to island, killing alien creatures with a yo-yo. These islands are called Miracola, Coralcola, and Tunacola.

Can you give us a breakdown of the band? How did you all come together?
Right now, we are comprised of myself on vocals and overall leadership, Paula Arismendi on vocals, DJ Caso on turntables and vocals, Leo Fonk on drums, Hans Korn on bass, Jorge Silva on sound and FX, and special guests Papo Marchant on trombone and Franz Mesko on baritone sax. Then there’s our manager Felipe Lohr. We’re seven people onstage.

We have been through a whole lot of different formations. The members of the band respond to musical necessities. Through the music we work out what we need at that moment, so it might be different on the third album. Who knows what instruments and wonderful people are going to step [onto] the boat.

Your new album Todos los Veranos del Mundo came out last December. How would you describe its sound, and how does it relate to your self-titled debut?
It’s a very exciting moment. The sound is a big step up from the first one, stepping away from hip-hop and electro-pop as the main styles and moving toward dream pop, rock, and a bigger band. The strings you hear on the first album have been changed for brass, and this gives it a majestic heaviness. There are love songs this time and everything’s got this summer-ish vibe, this submarine kind of feeling. It’s also sung almost completely in Spanish. It’s bigger than the first one in almost every conceivable way. The thing that relates both of them is that you can still hear Tunacola, and dance to it.

Tunacola’s first album was self released, but the new one is out on Tatsu Jones’ Endemika and KLI Records. What is it like working with them?
It’s great to work with labels made of people that are, first, friends of ours and, second, completely engaged in the process of making Tunacola grow and reach out internationally. They love what we have made, and from London Endemika is doing a great job with Latin America, while KLI is working in the States and handling new opportunities in Chile. It’s supposed to be hard to work with multiple labels, [with] multiple brains and interests, but in this case it’s been working like a perfectly [oiled] little machine.

Have you managed to play much outside of Chile?
We have played the States (NYC, Buffalo) and Mexico and had an incredible time. We have footage of all those trips, but I want to release it when we’ve been going for ten or twenty years, so we can look back and say “daaamn we’ve come a long way.” (laughs)

You’re from Valparaíso, an incredible city. What does Valparaíso mean to you, both as a musician and as a person? What could you tell people, who’ve never been, about the scene there?
As a person, it means home. I love that city so much, and it makes me sad seeing that it’s getting forgotten by the authorities and its own people, turning it into a dirty fucking dump full of angry people. For me it still has such a magical power that makes me overlook its actual condition. Whenever I go back I stay in the romantic, ideal Valparaíso, the one in my mind. There is no such thing as a Valpo scene. I still haven’t been able to recognize one, but when you go there music and artists are all around you: punk rock, electro, and black music, the bolero and folk musicians, sound artists (with their own festival, Tsonami), the hippies, the batucada kids. They’re there, not in plain sight, but everywhere.

How would you describe the Chilean music scene to outsiders? Which other musicians float your boat?
As a whole, there is a huge amount of talented musicians here, and I’m talking about international-class artists, in numbers that I guess we didn’t have 10 years back. After the first wave you guys already know (Javiera Mena, Gepe, etc.) there was another big wave of artists yet to be discovered by the world. I love El Sueño de la Casa Propia, Mariel Mariel, Zonora Point, Banda Conmoción, DJ Raff, Newen Afrobeat. Every week I discover another Chileno that makes me smile.

You’ve previously mentioned that U.S. hip-hop has been an important part of your musical education. Which particular artists have influenced you, from hip-hop and other genres?
Hip-hop is the great foundation beneath Tunacola. I’m talking about Jeru The Damaja, Gangstarr, Swollen Members, Non Phixion, the Anticon Crew, Atmosphere, Blackalicious, Jurassic 5, DJ Shadow, early Jedi Mind Tricks, Organized Konfusion, MF Doom, NWA. That music has always been there, but now I’m more influenced by trippy shit, Caribou, Clap! Clap!, Claude Debussy, Sufjan Stevens, LCD Soundsystem, etc. You know, beautiful music, by artists that cherish love above all.

You enthusiastically call your music “pop.” What in your view are the characteristics of really good pop music?
Tunacola is such a blend of different stuff that “pop” is the only label [that] we can be comfortable [with]. When you make rock or jazz or classical music, people get angry if you step out of boundaries. Most styles have a lot of purists. Pop doesn’t, it’s a style in which you can draw musical influences from every conceivable source and patch them shamelessly into this stew made from popular culture. If it doesn’t have guitars, it isn’t rock. If it doesn’t have that swing, it ain’t jazz. If it’s not written, it’s not classical. But nobody can tell us, hey, that’s not pop!

Can you tell us a Chilean joke?
You know you still have to pay a lot for education and health in this fucking country? Now that’s a laugh!

Where’s the best place to hang out in Chile?
Personally, other than the great glaciers, I’d say any beach in the north, getting a little lost in the desert, deep in the woods, following the southern rivers, or drifting in a southern lake in the summer. You can do that alone, with friends, or lovers. Cities are for suckers like us.

Is there anything else you’d like us to know?
Yes, I hope you guys enjoy the album and enjoy yourselves. It was made with love above all, and that is what it’s trying to say. Love is the only way this album could be made, the only way music can make its way through people. De-stress your mind from everyday stupid little problems and lie back over the canopy of love you built by loving others and letting others into your life, and only then, press play.