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Bueno Interview

After his recent Andalusian tour, we talk to Javier Vallina, the soul of Bueno, the project of this Asturian guy who has played in a handful of bands such as Los Mancos, Lansbury, Sister Morphine or Hotel Vaqueros. His second work, Perros, Santos y Refranes, unveils as genuine pop music, with a wider range of resources and highly personal lyrics. We invited him on the occasion of Poplacara's 30th anniversary to speak about his new album and, above all, his way to make/see/feel music.

I think it's inevitable to speak about the name before we get started. “Bueno”. It looks like a kind of filler word or something we would answer if someone asks for our opinion about the album.

Before the beginning of this music project I played with several other bands, but, every now and then, I happened to write songs and record them at home in a 4-track cassette. I saved them and labelled “bueno” (i.e. “good”) either because they were the good versions or the songs I kept after a selection. When I already thought “I'm going to prepare an album”, I wanted to start with the first works and I was sure it was going to be a solo project, even if I played with a band in live sessions, but I didn't want to put my name on it: no Javier Vallina, no surnames at all. Then I started to think about names and the tapes showed up, the “bueno” tapes showed up. It sounded good, a single word, a common expression and, above all, a positive term. This is how I found out the name by chance, took it temporarily and finally kept it.

Since 9 canciones minúsculas, un huracán y un millón de lunares we have discovered a much more delimited work, with a quasi-novelesque structure. What has evolved in the years you have spent working on Perros, Santos y Refranes?

The first album comes from a very basic approach, with guitar and voice demos. Suddenly, something began to grow and, while finishing the songs, it took the form of what was going to be an album. Later, all the material was shaped as a band in live sessions and that's when we began to make some changes. The first album tracks sound in a certain manner because of the way they were recorded, and also because we wanted people to listen to them in a relaxed mood, and, in spite of that, the live sessions showed other components, we wanted them to make a contrast. The sounds of this new album remind us of those gigs because there are more electric guitars, not all those accoustic sounds, there's a greater presence of rythmic bases. Although it has been a studio job, it is intended for the stage with a band.

Speaking of electric sounds, electronics is manifest in songs like Respire con normalidad, as well as in the whole album. How important are electronics for your work?

I'm not very fond of pure electronics but taking all this technology and connect it to pop music, not with the intention of imitating a real musician, opens up lots of possibilities. It's like expanding the colour pallete. For instance, if you have guitar, drums, bass, keyboard, a Hammond organ.... and you say “what else do I have around?”, it's like when you are painting and find a new colour range that adds new shades to the whole picture. The challenge is to control digital technologies' capacity of copying and editing so as not to overuse them, you must reach the level where songs still sound human.

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Do you think this “expansion of the colour pallette” is on the rise among the bands around you?

Quite the opposite, what I've noticed is a turning back. There was a trend of bands overusing pre-recorded, electronic bases, synths and keyboards. In the musical environments I know, I do notice a tendency towards old ways of recording – with friend bands, 5 musicians recording bass and drums live and then spending the rest of the studio time working on these bases, recording voices and layering different sounds... I think we're going back to a vintage-ish recording system, which had something to do with that, with musicians recording live.

We know about your focus on self-educated work. You were involved in all aspects of your first album production. Have you applied the same philosophy to the new album?

Yes, it's true that all instruments you can hear in the first album were played by me, as well as everything related to the album edition, the covers we hand-painted... For this album, I've already assigned some duties to other people because we came from a live trajectory, with a band. The drummer recorded the drums, I didn't record all the guitars, the other guitar player does, and I am not alone in the production but there's a coproducer. This time I gave more room for ideas to come from close people helping to boost everything. However, I like to pay attention to every detail, not in the sense of controlling them but because I enjoy the whole process of recording and producing. You know, it's like when you get to the studio, push the play button and you don't have anything. And when you leave a few hours later, you managed to build two layers or two tracks, come the day after and keep on... I'm crazy about all that. And this can definitely be a problem because if you're very engaged in the studio work, you can finally collapse and run the risk of losing perspective and hesitate the process. But then, that's my way of making music. I'm not sure if in the next recording I would start with a base and leave it there for 15 days and afterwards come back to see what others made with that... but, for the moment, I do like being on studio doing everything, listening to everything several times.

It's somewhat like the composer's or the film maker's obsession. We're saying this for your involvement in some audiovisual projects as well as in art with Javier Otero. I would like to ask you about the front cover and what kind of personality you wanted to instill.

Javier Otero is the singer frontman in a band we play from time to time with. We have a new album and we're Los Mancos. We have some experience in Asturias and so on. He's graphic designer, worked in London and is very creative, has many and good ideas. And at the moment of dealing with the covers, he was the best choice. We tried to make something a bit different for the first record, white boxes, 500 boxes painted separately creating a new piece, a mural in which every cover was different from one another, and people could later re-build them online with a card we put inside. In this album we turned to a very thorough design, using different resources: he looked for a picture from a japanese photographer, Yuichi Sakakibara. The idea was to represent a more luminous, fresher interior. I definitely gave him some guidelines, ideas he then may or may not consider, but in the end the result is there, it's worth it. Then you take the album and see the kind of cardboard it is made of, not industrial, the cover's polish, the type of paper, the typography... I love a careful package. Music is now anywhere, you can download it or listen to audio stream or someone gives it to you; nowadays we listen to songs separately from one band or another... but the important thing is to stand up for the idea of album, with an added value.

We want to revise every song of the new album with you and tell you our impressions for you to comment on what inspired you, what made you give those names... by the way, are the lyrics the central part of your songs?

Not necessarily, because I don't usually beging the process of writing songs with lyrics, but I try to work everything altogether. Despite the fact I go back to them and change a thousand things, the central part of the lyrics comes out in quite a fast moment, they come out together with melody.

In a general overview, the first thing that catches our attention is the use of street sounds.

There's an introduction a the beginning. At that time I liked to think that the album would have a beginning and an end, where you can hear the sounds of the streets, of the bells and kids... it was the sound I heard when I came out of the studio, and as I heard it so often, I felt it was part of the recording, that's why I thought it was a good idea to add it to the record. It was also to get people into the scene. Then, of course, since the record was finished in a different studio, I also considered a good idea to record the sound of that neighbourhood, the street where this other studio was located and end with that.

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Amplifícalo and Cintas de cromo bring about positivity and expansion of emotions. Does it have something to do with the album start scheme?

They are the first two songs of the album, right because of the contrast between one another. Cintas de cromo is the opening track and I didn't consider it was necessary to start with it. But in the course of the recording process, I realised I had to open the album with a peaceful, profound feel, attract the attention and later give way to Amplifícalo, which is closer to the essence of the album, with quicker, more electric melodies on a quite pop-ish ground.

Perros, santos y refranes, the song that names the album, seems to have the most critical lyrics. What's the meaning of those proverbs you talk about?

That song emerges when you're on a trip, in the experience of being away things come to mind, and finally, they're materialised into songs. It talks about a journey to a distant country where all the towns were named after saints, and my trip companion was constantly building and destroying proverbs. In this song, melody brought about lyrics. It's the typical song you come up with and repeat in your mind trying not to forget it, so you can remember it back home.

La gloria de los que fracasan and Todo el mal have discouraging, even resentful lyrics which are in opposition with a cheerful, light-hearted melody.

That's a way of searching for contrast, you take music to a pleasant field and then you take out its dark side. In the case of La gloria de los que fracasan, it seems to be talking about a personal situation, a relationship between two people but it's really about music. There are several songs in this album dealing with love-hate relationships established, apparently, between people, but in my case, they're established with music.

When we get to Maratón, we see these relationships sprinkled by incomplete dialogs, misunderstandings, conflict, incommunication... like in a couple relationship.

Sometimes you represent this in terms of a romantic relationship but in the end what you're talking about is life, its details and disillusions. You take a person but the marathon is not with someone but with life, and that's when you face its disputes, starts and stops... this is very common in some aspects of a person's life experience.

As a conclusion, we would like you to reveal your future horizons as “Bueno”, since, as we can see, you're not alone but you count with your band and equipment.

The album was self-edited and released in December, but, of course, my working habits, since I'm on my own and have my own record label, the production... swing from side to side. I certainly have to make the album, release it, make it work and find support. Now I'm working with Astro, in a collaboration to promote them, distribute and so on. Despite this, we're about to tour. After the presentations in Asturias and Madrid, I stopped for a while to organise 12 to 15 dates. I want to see how this goes and next summer, work in new songs, some of them are already finished and release the new album. There has been a long time between the first and the second albums, not because of some sort of pause but because of the fact that the first record was better received than we expected, moreover, I was also commited to other bands and projects. That's why I'm trying to devote summer to creativity, in order to be touring again by the end of the year.

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