I feel sure to say that it’s been a great year for Venezuelan dance-punk rockers La Vida Bohéme. The quartet from Caracas have a hit single “El Buen Salvaje” on EA Games’ new videogame FIFA 12, are signed to one of our favorite music label’s Nacional Records, and to top it off, they are nominated for not one, but two Latin Grammys for Best Rock Album for their fire debut Nuestra, and Best Rock Song for “Radio Capital.”
La Vida Bohéme is currently in the midst of its first tour of the southwest with shows here in L.A., Las Vegas (were they’ll perform today at the Latin Grammys and our very own Remezcla’s Latin Grammy pre-party Off the Strip) and other cities. It’s a small tour but one they’re incredibly excited about, considering the difficulty for success for artists in Venezuela, a topic they know all too much about — as you’ll read below in my conversation with lead singer/guitarist Henry D’Arthenay, bassist Rafael Perez, drummer Sebastian Ayala, and 2nd guitarist/cowbell crackerjack Daniel De Sousa at Nacional’s office in Hollywood.
In this exclusive interview, the band talks about the thin line between “hectic” cities (LA and Venezuela), how seasons affect art and literature, and their music inspirations.
So what’s Venezuela like?
D’Arthenay: It’s a love-hate situation. We’re from Caracas. It’s a beautiful city, but it’s a dense city. For example, L.A. is great but L.A. is dense. There’s a lot of traffic, there’s a lot of…hectic life. People from L.A. may understand that better than us and we’re the same way. We understand Caracas better than people that are not from Caracas because we’re used to the mess and we love it but it’s a dense environment. And the heat doesn’t help.
Perez: It’s always hot.
D’Arthenay: It’s either raining or hot. We only have two seasons.
Perez: We have two seasons. We have the season where it rains a lot and the season where it doesn’t rain a lot. It’s a very complicated city.
D’Arthenay: I think that always affects art. For example, Europeans also have two seasons, and European literature has a lot to do with seasons the and its changes. In American literature, and in some parts like California and Steinbeck, it’s more about the people than the environment. It’s there, but it’s only the scene for the characters to debate about life, friendship or the human condition.
Did literature influence the making of Nuestra?
D’Arthenay: We came to realize the importance of literature in the making of Nuestra very late in the process. First of all, because we were very young when we wrote half of the record, and the second half we wrote them in one month.
VENEZUELA IS GEOGRAPHICALLY DIVERSE.
IT HAS MOUNTAINS, DESERTS, JUNGLES, AND EVERYTHING YOU CAN
POSSIBLY IMAGIN IN JUST ONE PIECE OF LAND.
YET, IT’S A VERY COMPLICATED COUNTRY TO MAKE A BAND.
Perez: Actually in a week.
D’Arthenay: Yeah, in a week. So the first half there were some influences that we had that were more sosegadas, calm, you know — things we want to write about, books we’ve read. But the second half was a tricky one. All of a sudden, we needed to complete the record and we knew we wanted to say something, but we didn’t have any clear points of reference. What happened was that in the time between when we wrote the first six songs and the second half, all of us read a lot of books, have traveled, and a lot of things had happened in our lives. The second half of our record is a condensed reflection of a lot of things that happened to us in those years. A lot of them have a lot to do with literature and how literature showed us things and ideas about the environment we grew up in — about Caracas.
This is our second tour in the States. We’re king of overwhelmed by that.
De Sousa: It’s hard to do this in Venezuela. You have a CD, and you have to promote it and make at least two tours through Venezeula’s cities. We have made it with this record over here in the United States and that’s pretty amazing. It’s not normal for a band like ours.
What’s the scene like in Venezuela?
D’Arthenay: Caracas has a great scene in terms of the arts but the infrastructure is…
Ayala: It sucks!
D’Arthenay: It’s hard for bands to make a living out of being bands.
Ayala: You have only little venues or arenas that you can’t handle.
D’Arthenay: You’re either Ricky Martin or you play for 10 people.
Ayala: Even with la vilalidad…
De Sousa: Yeah, the roads and the streets. Those things are not constructed well.
D’Arthenay: It’s hard to get from point A to point B and you always have to go to the same cities. We have four important cities to go to, but there’s another five cities that are asking for us to perform and we just can’t. To get to Europe, you have to travel nine hours by plane. To get to San Antonio, we traveled 10 hours by plane. We got there and while in the air, they said, “We can’t land,” so they took us all the way back.
Ayala: Just because there was bad weather.
De Sousa: When we landed, there was nothing in there. It was like a little house where they took your baggage and that’s it.
D’Arthenay: Then from there, you have to travel two hours to the venue.
Perez: The problem with Venezuela is that there’s very diverse geography. It has mountains, it has desert, it has a jungle, it has everything you can possibly imagine in just one piece of land, so it’s very hard to make roads. It’s very hard to travel. It’s a very complicated country to make a band.
D’Arthenay: I remember in Puerta la Cruz, during that tour, we were often protesting about the conditions with water and electricity in the country because there were blackouts all the time. People ran out of water all the time, so we were kind of mocking the situation at our shows and protesting about it.
De Sousa: In that same tour, we were playing in a city called Maracay and the lights went out in the middle of the show.
D’Arthenay: In Puerta la Cruz, one kid told us: “I find it very cool what you’re saying but we’ve never had water and electricity continuously in our city. Ever!” He was like 23 years old. Touring has given us different perspectives about our country and our situation where if you think Caracas is difficult, the rest of the country it’s more difficult still.
And you said there was a break in recording the album?
D’Arthenay: It’s funny because this is the first time the band is together for many days of the year. This is the longest that the band has been together during its whole history. We formed the band during high school and Sebastian went to study in Firenze [Florence, Italy].
Ayala: To do nothing! *laughs*
D’Arthenay: I went to college in Spain to study at Universidad de Navarro for five years so we carried on with the band during summer time.
Ayala: Only summer time. It was incredible.
D’Arthenay: The record, we made it while I was still in college. It was very troublesome because in 2008, we had some of the songs. We started recording it but we didn’t like the record, then went off to record it with another guy, but we still didn’t like it. In 2009, most of the songs had changed. When we recorded the master, it was in 2009. For some of the songs that we initially started recording in 2008, we didn’t feel that they were representative of the things we wanted to say so we made new songs on the spot. So 2009 was a reflection of what happened between 2006 to 2009.
With this new record we just recorded, there’s two songs in it that we were playing for a long time and the second half we made them in one month. We’re very unorthodox in that sense. We’re not willing to release something that we’re not proud of. A work of art speaks for itself. When it’s complete, you know it’s complete. Most of the times, songs are very difficult to get to that point where they’re finished and others, they just flow naturally. We struggled a lot with our second record because of that, and because we don’t want it to be sloppy — we want it to be better. It took us time but we’re very happy with what we have done.
Tell me more about this new record.
De Sousa: It’s a four song album. The whole idea is to be like this book with three chapters. We just finished the first chapter and we’re trying to release it the first trimester of next year. It’s only recorded. It’s missing the mixing and the mastering.
D’Arthenay: This time it was a bit more difficult because for the first time, when we made Nuestra, the work formed itself as we went. When we finished the album and while we were mixing it, we realized the connection between the songs. Once we had all the pieces, we armed the puzzle. This time, we had the possibility to make whatever puzzle we wanted and to make the pieces fit whatever puzzle we had in mind so it has been more hard in that sense because Nuestra was all about making a lot of songs.
Like “we need an album?!”
Ayala: Not “we need an album” but more like “we need to fucking get this thing out of our system because we’re going to kill ourselves.”
D’Arthenay: This one has been very, very, very hard in that sense because it has more instruments, it’s a lot more conceptual and we wanted to be more of a unity, the whole three parts of the thing. I’m very happy with it because we do have a very unified work of art which I think Nuestra — even though it’s very unified in some sense — lacks atmosphere. In this record, at least we really tried hard to achieve it, to create an atmosphere.
Nuestra sounds like a good collection of songs that switch between different styles a bit.
Perez: Yeah, we had these songs then we took out six, then we made a different six and we had 15. Then we chose 12 and it was a mashup, and we tried to order it in the best way we can. If you can listen to it as a whole, it’s like a circle. The trumpets that start in “Radio Capital” are the same noises that end “Nuestra,” the title track.
D’Arthenay: For example, LCD Soundsystem‘s first record is a very good first record, but it’s a double album with a lot of different songs like “Never As Tired As When I’m Waking Up” and “Beat Connection,” but then you get to Sound Of Silver and, even though the songs are different, they have a very similar atmosphere because “New York, I Love You” has a lot to do with “All My Friends” and a lot to do with “Us And Them.”
I THINK TRUE ARTSTS CHANGE MAKE THAT HAPPEN —
THEY CHANGE THEIR STYLE
PERO NO DEJAN DE SER ELLOS.
Perez: You listen to the same songwriting, the same person behind the music. If you listen to the first album or the second album, you know that it’s LCD Soundsystem even though it’s a very different sound landscape that he’s using. The last album, This Is Happening, is very fucking different than the first album. It sounds better, it sounds bigger, it sounds more powerful but it’s still LCD Soundsystem.
D’Arthenay: I think artists have to work towards that — perfecting craftsmanship. For example, in Nuestro, there’s a lot of things we used in the second record but there’s a lot of things we were trying but we were very naïve about them. We’re still very naïve about a lot of things in the second record but we’re working towards making that record because Talking Heads: 77 and Remain In Light are two different records, but if you listen to [them in order], it seems very natural.
Perez: Many of these musicians that we admire are these guys that have developed their style in a way they don’t even know how to categorize. The Rolling Stones made “Paint It Black” but they made “Dance Pt. 1.” They’re different songs but you know they’re Rolling Stones songs. Then you have The Clash. You can hear “Tommy Gun” and then you listen to any track off Sandinista!, or you listen to “Rock The Casbah.” It’s a very different song but you know it’s The Clash. I think that true artists make that happen. They can change styles pero no dejan de ser ellos.
A rare photo of La Vida Bohéme looking “regular” as opposed to their traditional Pollock-inspired paint splattered garb.