Currently there’s no purer rock experience on Earth than witnessing Monterrey, Mexico’s Los Llamarada in the flesh. What they do live, most of which is captured on endless piles of tape, defies definition and as explained below that’s their constant mission: to explore the unknown. Every night is a new improvisation, but not in the realm of free-rock or jazz; Los Llamarada are self-consciously aware of their primitive connection to their instruments as a traditional guitar, drums, keyboards, vocals quartet. Most of the set, though, it looks as if they’re struggling with themselves to get a kind of obtuse, apocalyptic sound out of their collective sonics that is anything but traditional. When the planets align and the band reaches a crescendo of outré cacophony, the term “face melting” isn’t far from the truth.
Describing the group (at least recently) is one of life’s struggles as they operate in a sphere of American underground heroes—the early skronk of Sonic Youth, the angular repetition of the Fall, the monolithic feedback walls constructed by the Dead C, the cold-wave keyboard throbs of Suicide—
without being even remotely close to any of them when it comes to how their compositions form and affect. Adopting stage names, like Sagan, Johnny Strange, Danny Hell and Ek Sanka, which might come from some lost mythical punk band of philosophers in the late ‘70s, they look entirely conventional, perhaps even like the inverse of the Stooges, void of any shock performance. Becoming wholly wrapped into their own world has been good for Los Llamarada, as their latest album for S-S Records, Touch the Sky, provides the most accurate representation, albeit this time with more volume and immediacy, of what happens when this band is perfectly on.
I recently got to speak with Sagan during the tail-end of their recent American tour, something they look forward to doing much more in the future.
First of all, how has the tour been going?
Sagan: We had never been so far up north. We’ve been having a really good time, and also we’ve spent too much hours inside our van, eating potato chips and dreaming of the next gas stop.
Is everyone in the group getting along with your tourmates in Hank IV?
S: They are our friends since we went to San Francisco last year, and they are all great people. We haven’t had a chance of hearing the new record, but the last one is one of our favorites, one of the LPs we always hear when we have parties at home. And I have learned some stuff from Bob, their frontman, about what he calls trade secrets.
As far as the cities in America you have played, where is you favorite and why?
S: Too soon to say. But from our European tour, the wildest was a bar in Antwerp, Belgium, with the people practically on our faces and trying to play our keyboards and stuff. And the sound we liked the most was in Den Haag, Netherlands, which we unfortunately did not record.
All of you are psychologists, correct? Do you think that has any influence on what you are doing musically or is the music much more of an escape from your careers?
S: Yes, we are all psychologists. I think there is some influence in the way we face unstructured situations, and in trying to discern when and how to stop playing when we are improvising.
You are often associated with all of the other lo-fi bands that you play with, but the latest album and the last two singles haven’t been as rudimentary. Is that something you wanted to happen, the sonic progression of the sound you put on tape?
S: Well, we wanted to be able to change some stuff after it was recorded and also to find a right mix. But we have never stopped doing boombox recordings, in fact, that is what we have been concentrating on the last months. There are things that only can be captured that way. What we haven’t returned to is to digital recording, which we used in “The Very Next Moment.” A friend did the final mixing and recording. He is a local hip-hop producer, and he did a great job and we were very involved in it, because it was sort of like rewriting the song after the fact. But we are not really interested in doing things that way. We prefer to allow things to just happen and to capture them in the most practical way.
I just read an interview where you said Los Llamarada was a much better band when you didn’t have instruments. Can you explain what you mean by that?
S: We spent some time saying we had a band before we got the instruments. People would ask what it was like and we had like this idea of what it would be. But when it really happened we enjoyed it a great deal more than we had hoped for. What I meant to say is that I guess some friends (or neighbors) would have preferred things to have stayed on the theoretical realm.
Is there any sort of philosophy that you follow as a band that comes above all else?
S: Maybe the idea that we are interested in sound, and not in some idea of music or genres or songwriting. It’s about creating situations that allow some sounds to appear.
Most of your songs seem very improvisational, at least when you play live. Is there any sort of ritual or preconceived form that you follow before recording?
S: We have some sort of rhythms or riffs that reappear, and some lyrics, and we try to make them fit with each other. But yeah, most of the stuff is improvised, and before recording we don’t prepare things, nor discuss them. We just play, stop, and wait for the next song. We only talk about them weeks or months later, when we are reviewing tapes for a record or something. We record every session so there is always a lot of stuff to listen to, and then we try to identify the songs that are different from the rest, the ones that we like the most, as if they were something done by other people and just rediscovered by us.
How do the crowds respond in Monterrey opposed to American audiences? Have you found that the more known the band becomes here, the more attention you’re getting down there?
S: I think people in our city would prefer to hear a band that actually knows how to play their instruments. Bands there have a great deal of technical proficiency and are very professional, and they prefer cleaner sounds and recordings. And I think more people know us than before, but in general people in Monterrey are not precisely following the current American underground scene. If we were to appear in Pitchfork or something, well, they would notice.
Do you think you are influencing young people in Monterrey, or Mexico in general, to adopt your method of making music?
S: Some friends started bands based on the fact that they noticed that we had one. It gave them more confidence in their skills. And in fact Estrella (who is a bit younger than us) was in one of those bands, Los Bla Bla Blas, which made some lo-fi recordings with more of an indie pop feel, and then we invited her to play in Los Llamarada. But for others it may have been more of a cautionary tale.
Are there bands other than XYX and yourself we should take note of in Mexico?
S: There are many entertaining bands here, so I don’t know what kind of stuff people would like. From the first Mexican punk bands, I would recommend Size. Danyhell and Juan went to a solo show by the Size frontman, and they tell me it’s one of the best shows they’ve seen. We would really like to see that stuff re-released (legally). But apart from some punk and noise bands, there’s not a lot of stuff that we like. And that’s the main reason for creating this band. We wanted to hear some sounds that we really like, and couldn’t find them anywhere else, or not as much as we would have liked to. In fact, we sort of thought that rock bands were on their way out and the only things would be overly processed pop or electronica or (in that time) trip-hop. A sort of apocalyptic outlook, and we felt like if we were the last rock band, playing alone in a darkened room a couple of days per week, communicating through a sort of telepathy.
What are your plans after this tour? Has there ever been any talk about re-releasing all of the stuff that has come out before The Exploding Now?
S: We like a lot of our old CD-Rs, particularly from 2003 to 2004, and we will probably look for a way to release one of those in vinyl. They include stuff from when we had a three-guitar line-up and Estrella was not yet in the band. And we are still playing and recording at home. There are still some sounds that have not been captured in our LPs or 7-inches, so next year we will release new stuff, too. And we would like to go back to the West Coast, and also to the cities that we couldn’t visit this time, like Chicago and Pittsburgh and Detroit, and also some day return to Europe, which we really liked.