Q&A: Eduardo Alegria tells us about Alegría Rampante and gives us his favorite single [PR]

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Alegría Rampante is one of those projects that you can’t really classify right away. They rose from the ashes of emblematic Puerto Rican indie band Superaquello. Officially, they play music, but its creator, Eduardo Alegría, dreamed up something more involved than he expected:
they’re a band, an “accidental” performance art act. They’ve also got a sick visual component aided by some of the best cinematographers and artists in Puerto Rico. It’s a huge endeavor so, when talking to Alegría in person, it’s no wonder it might seem like finishing this record is going to kill him.

Se nos fue la mano is the name of Alegría Rampante’s yet-to-be-released debut LP. So far the group has been leaking singles and music videos sporadically, and gigging extensively across the island, even holding a much-lauded residency titled “Hotel Puercoespín” at the premiere independent music venue in Santurce, La Respuesta. So while there’s no physical (or virtual) copy yet, fans have heard a lot of the material and, to say the least, it’s different from a lot of other music being played right now. It’s a rock record, but it’s also a pop album with songwriting so personal it manages to connect with fans on every level imaginable. That might have to do with the fact that, first and foremost, Alegría is a storyteller who translates his take on life and surroundings—he’s a santurcino—into musical utterance. But when you unite some of the best young musicians in the local scene under one roof, you’re bound to get results.

Currently, Alegría Rampante is Cristian Prieto (also known as Harry Rag), Juan Antonio Arroyo, and Joel Román, with drumming duties shared by Jorge Luis Vargas and former Superaquello drummer Eduardo Martínez. Alegría had this to say about his band: “All my musicians are brilliant and that is so frightening and intimidating; they’re very young and hip. Sometimes I get really nervous that they don’t like what I’m doing.”

Because I was curious about his impending record—and because he’s such a fun guy to talk to—I sat down with Alegría to see if he could translate his process.

Why did you decide to form Alegría Rampante?

It’s something I just had to do. When Superaquello disbanded it was obviously the next step because I’m a workaholic. I’m a non-stop production guy. Also, I knew that I needed to create a new project where I could explore new ideas that I felt I had to explore.

I took a little break when Superaquello broke up. I did mourn for like a year, but after the year went by I was already scheming and I was putting this whole Alegría Rampante thing together. I was full of music, there were tons of songs that I wanted to put together and things that I wanted to try out that I hadn’t been able to try out in my previous project.

So, what are your influences while writing songs and while recording this record?

Oh my God, that’s a question that provokes many things. I’m gonna try not to give a horrible three-hour answer for that question. Now that I’m independent with Alegría Rampante, I’ve been able to access more primal musical influences; stuff that has influenced me that was in there but hadn’t still come out.

When I began in Superaquello, I had never been in a band before. So even though I had maturity as an artist, I had a kind of naiveté […] as a musician. So, what was propelling me in the late ’90s was the music of the ’90s, because the music of the ’90s was really exciting. The underground was amazing. Once I’m out of there, it’s like my ancient influences, and maybe even like subconscious influences, came to the forefront. And then it wasn’t the music of the ’90s…all of sudden my love of soul music and certain rock albums
of my youth came to [the forefront]. I have this joke that Rufus Wainwright, Morrissey, and Antony Hegarty had become my sponsors in this new process. I imagined them being these guardian angels saying, “It’s okay, do what you want to do, it’s okay.”

As a musician, have you lost that naiveté or is it still present in your art?

Have I lost that naiveté? I really hope not because, actually, I consciously try to keep a certain level of naiveté. Because I feel like right now, I’m seeing a lot of local bands obsessing so much about doing things right in a kind of historical, rock and roll correctness. But I don’t want to do
that. I want to keep a little bit of a naiveté so that there’s always something unexpected in my music, because that’s what I enjoy in other artists. […] I don’t want to bore myself. So I don’t want to fall into that very adult thing where I have to do it right.

The working title of the record is Se nos fue la mano, a clear pun because, as I heard, it was supposed to be a collection of singles. How do you feel about the success of the project and how is it shaping the record?

I always knew that these songs were part of this cycle that I was calling “Se nos fue la mano.” I’m kind of realizing that I came up with a very difficult project. I’m putting the songs together as I go along, so it makes for a longer process and, right now, I have to admit that I’m a little bit like: “Oh my God, this is really difficult.”

It’s interesting to go song by song, but it makes the process longer, it makes me obsess about the project more because I have more time to think about what’s next. The project has grown a little bit. To me, there’s a relationship between these songs. As time goes by I notice more and more the way the songs relate to each other or don’t, and then I think, “maybe I need something different here.”

All my musicians are brilliant and that is so frightening and intimidating; they’re very young and hip. Sometimes I get really nervous that they don’t like what I’m doing.

What I like about the project is that it feels very local in the imagery and language. Was there a reason to do that or did it come naturally?

My first response is to say that it comes naturally, but I am so premeditative about everything I do, I’m such a control freak. I guess I’m very self aware of how I want to present myself. And yes, I want my work to be like the work that I adore. It’s stuff that I feel puts you in a particular place. I mentioned Kate Bush a while back. […] She’s the most profound influence that I have. She’s an artist [whose] work puts you in such a unique place. The way that she does things is so particular, and it’s so seductive to go there. It’s like you’re being invited to go into this wonderful place which is where she wants to take you. She’s a storyteller.

I want to take you to a unique, particular place. I want you to have a very intimate relationship with the material and I think that naiveté comes [to] play in this. That naiveté that I try to keep is what keeps me in this sort of idiosyncratic place. Because if I became very obsessed with formalities and correctness, or I became academic, I feel like I would lose something. So I rather be a hot mess and let the mistakes be there. It’s kind of terrifying, but that’s how I work.

What are your favorite themes to write about?

That’s the thing, I write about very private things. But I don’t want you to necessarily interpret exactly what I set out to do. I know what the song means to me, but I love when people tell me that they think it’s something else. I love that. The last single is called “Un cuarto más pequeño.” That song is full of very personal codes for me. It has a lot to do with language that I heard in support groups, 12-step programs…that song to me is inspired by that. But that’s not what comes across and I think it’s great. People are not grabbing that while listening to the song and that’s fantastic.

The visual component is made by Omar Banuchi and 9A5 Cine Crew. Can you tell us a little more about that?

That’s what happens with this fragmented way of working: the videos have their own language, which is 9A5 Cine Crew, and then Omar Banuchi is another language. We’re sort of working apart. But I kind of like that. I wanted something that popped. I wanted something to be like a unifying thing, at least for Se nos fue la mano. And I felt that the Omar Banuchi images had something
that reminded me of my work. There is something humorous, and I love the fact that in his images, you don’t really know what’s going on. It’s like a snippet of somebody’s life, but you don’t really know exactly.

How do you see Alegría Rampante fitting into the current Puerto Rican music scene?

I sometimes feel a little lonely. I wish there were more acts that had other things influencing them, because I work in music, but I come from the stage. I’m a performer. I was involved in dance for many years so I have a certain kind of thinking about the body and the body on stage.
I sometimes wish there were more artists that had other influences that weren’t just musical influences.

In that sense, I sometimes feel a lot of kinship to performance-y art acts like Macha Colón y los Okapi and Los Niños Estelares. Even though I feel like there’s a very “musicianly” aspect to what I do, […] I somehow feel more kinship with the performance acts because they have that sort of mixture of elements going on. And, as I said, I feel that right now there seems to be a move toward “excellent music making.” That is okay, but it’s a little boring because of what I’m looking for…because I’m looking for something else.

While we wait for the album, Alegría Rampante wanted you all to have the second single “Un cuarto más pequeño” for free. Listen below!

Photos by Payola Isabel