Interview: Extraños en el Tren, Experiments In Sound and Vision [MEX]

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It’s no coincidence that this band shares its name with a celebrated film by Alfred Hitchcock. Hailing from Ciudad Satélite, Estado de Mexico, the group began by playing along with projections of silent movies. Since those days, they have integrated film, multiple projections, and spontaneous composition methods to create an experience where images and sound merge for an evolving experience.

Prior to their performance at the D.F. NRMAL Festival, we spoke with multi-instrumentalists and founding members, Guido Ezequiel and Guillermo Olivera, as well as turntablist Luis “Biz” Clériga.

What does it mean for Extraños en el Tren to play the NRMAL fest? Who are you excited to see?

Biz: It’s an interesting consequence for the band but it’s also very natural. The festival is one of the most important for independent music and for Monterrey, especially, since it revived a mostly dead scene. I’m happy that we’re sharing the stage with System Error who are doing something dancey and great, as well as [experimental drummer/vocalist] Julián Bonequi who’s doing very interesting stuff, and, of course, Silver Apples is one of the greatest bands in history. It’s going to be a great day.

NRMAL has a very eclectic bill.

Guido: We feel that our project fits right in. Our concept is very broad, especially when you consider that we have a strong audiovisual element. We also musicalize films and work with “expanded cinema,” which we won’t be doing at the festival but it’s what we’re working with this year.

Can you talk a little more about “expanded cinema?”

Guido: It started in the seventies. Morris Trujillo brings the projector to the public’s eye and manipulates the image by manual methods, which if you think about it is very interesting since we’re bombarded with digital stuff. We’re trying to bring an “analog” way to playing music as well, and now that Morris has been involved, we’re fully exploring every side we want.

Guillermo: What interests us the most is the experience of playing live music. While there’s a lot of performance going on, we’re not really a “concert” band. We try to always play in places where we can have the visual aspect going on as well as the music. The visuals don’t complement the music or vice versa; we want to bring both elements in equal parts, so everything becomes a single format.

How do you develop your approach to improvisation within the band?

Biz: They already had the music part by playing together for a long time and now, with the new lineup and the live visuals, the dynamic becomes more free. There’s a lot of respect for silence but, at the same time, there’s a lot of freedom for “the magic” to happen. I have worked with two different persons behind the projectors and have had some amazing experiences where the images and what I was playing have a sort of synced…I can’t really explain it.

Guido: It all comes from the visuals. When we started playing against the images, we discovered that it makes you improvise a certain way. It doesn’t lead you but empowers your creativity.

Biz: It’s not a strict method, it syncs; right, Guido?

Guido: Yeah. None of us, except El Abuelo, who plays in Torreblanca, has ever played with a “typical” rock band, so it’s natural for us to have instincts to improvise and not just go in circles showing off our skills. It’s more of a musical piece that we try to create together.

An instant composition.

[All together] Something like that.

Guido: We like composing by creating a concept and then we like to flesh out the idea.

How did you come up with the concept for Extraños en el Tren?

Guido: Everyone had his own concern about art. Memo was interested in listening depths while I like the visual part more; but we’re all into creating music and I think that’s what brings us together. That’s why we formed the band, more so than for going on tour or whatever.

Guillermo: We’re concerned [with] what music needs and we want to bring it forth.

Guido: We want people to appreciate music for itself, instead of being concerned about who is making it and how. We want it to be authentic and free, and we want to make something happen within each listener when they go see us, so they take something away from it without thinking about the context.

Do you try to strip music out of context?

Guido: We think that the stage is our laboratory and every time we play we’re conducting experiments. Most of the music that gets called “experimental” isn’t really experimental. Like a lot of noise music, they are not experimenting.

Guillermo: They are proving the experiment onstage.

Guido: We are experimenting on the public.

Being a young band, what would you like to happen with music in the future?

Guido: I’m concerned about how people listen and treasure music because—and this might sound a little apocalyptic—it’s easier now than ever to record and listen to music but there’s a lot less substance going on with what’s being produced. There’s more product now but it seems it gets more difficult to listen to it.

Biz: That’s complicated. I think there’s something strong, at least here in Mexico, and there’s music here that can be better than what’s happening in other parts of the world. If we keep a community spirit among people who identify with each other who are authentic and sincere in what we do, we can forge roads and bring ideas to make solid stuff with substance that can also be spontaneous and have a welcoming aspect for new artists. Extraños asked me to join in a very spontaneous way. They asked me to play with them five minutes after meeting me, it was pretty chaotic since it happened [at] a party thrown by Lázaro Valiente that ended up being a disaster. Right away, I loved their stuff but I especially loved their spontaneous spirit.