Interview: Oso Leone, In Search of Spaces [ESP]

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With a reverb-drenched minimal sound, Mallorca’s Oso Leone has become one of the most critically acclaimed bands of the past year, wowing not only the Spanish-speaking world but also international outlets like the BBC and NME. Their album Mokragora was a step forward for the band, a multilayered and well thought-out affair following a folk-infused debut, as well as an experiment into multimedia expression.

We talked with three fifths of Oso Leone following their set at the Carnival de Bahidorá festival in Mexico.

You started as a two piece but now you’re a quintet.

Xavier Marín: It’s the lineup we’ve had for some time now, but we have always written in small combos, either two of us or three, and then we present something to the rest of the band. Too many chefs spoil the soup.

Your first album is a stripped-down collection of songs while this one has a more fleshed-out sound. What made you want to change the band’s approach to music?

Paco Colombás: It’s the fruit of the band’s labor. The first record was more the result of the union between Xavi and me, then the other musicians joined to perform that work, and it all evolved.

Xavi: But we really see them as different projects with the same name. You become better with your music and you look for different things and different ways to make it. You look for different concepts. It’s an evolution. It’s a normal thing. As a musician, you know your limits, and from that point on you may develop an interest in something you might not be able to pull off at that point, so you might want to try it and see what happens.

Do you think every member has a voice in the band?

Xavi: We all have different personalities, but we all know each other pretty well. I have known Jonathan [Mills, drums] since we were very young and had other projects, so that makes it easy. We focus on writing songs instead of what each member is doing.

Eusebio Alomar: It makes it easier to be in a band with people you already know. I hear a lot of people compare having a band with being in a relationship with a person…

Paco: …with five guys, no less!

Mokragora is much more than a record, right?

Xavi: There’s a book that has to do with the project…there’s two formats to the album. You have the record on vinyl and then there’s the paper edition, the book which we self-published. The photographs are by the same guy who snapped the cover, Gabriel Haberland. As for the concept…we didn’t have a well thought-out idea from the start, we started connecting things little by little. We saw Gabriel’s images and we thought it had so much potential for us, a way to relate them with music. The book itself is made up of photographs of a hotel in decay, contrasting the pictures of the cover, which capture some houses in development in Mokragora, a town built by [filmmaker Emir] Kusturica for a movie. We wanted to take an experience that wasn’t our own, that appealed to us; what our friend had experienced, being at that moment when the houses were getting built and the hotel was crumbling down, and having it all in pictures.

Euse: Construction and destruction.

Xavi: Sometimes that’s what we did with our songs. We would write something with tons of layers and we would decide halfway to leave just the skeleton, the bare construction of the tune. To rescue the essence of the song as it was first thought out. Sometimes that meant leaving just the voice and a guitar or bass loop. It was more about distributing layers instead of adding them up.

How do you achieve that?

Xavi: Sometimes we spend a lot of time trying to figure out what’s worth keeping and expanding because most of the time, when we are jamming, it’s like automatic writing. We usually spend more time listening to our sessions, going “this part, right here…we can make something out of it.”

Euse: It’s equally important to listen and to know what you have already done.

Xavi: It’s zooming in on an image until you take something you really like and you just go with it.

Euse: it’s about writing songs in a more rational way. Keeping things in order and matching sounds.

Would you consider Oso Leone a “conceptual” band?

Xavi: We don’t want to make big things through other methods. What we like is to make a whole thing with our music. When they tell us we have a very “conceptual approach,” that doesn’t mean we have it all planned to be that way. It’s also very random, how it all connects. It’s up to you to make sense out of everything…or maybe it doesn’t have any sense. You make your own discourse.

Are you pleased with the reactions you have been getting?

Xavi: We’re really happy because we had our doubts while we were recording. When you’re doing an album, you don’t know if people are going to like it, because you are in your own world making it.

What are your plans for the future?

Euse: We’re writing some songs but this time we’re using a slightly different method. We want to play around with other things. Maybe there’s some songs that Xavi started writing with synth and voice and now we’re trying to develop from there by switching instruments.

Xavi: As time goes by, you start feeling much more confident playing without caring too much. Maybe you don’t get things too complicated and start looking for something more pure.

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