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Espectrostatic interview with Alex Cuervo

When asked to define his music Alex Cuervo, aka one-man recording project Espectrostatic, simply says, “The quick and dirty reduction for non-music geeks is “Horror movie music”.  If that doesn't scare [people] off then maybe there's a longer conversation to be had” and that’s pretty damned accurate.  Yeah, there’s tons of Fabio Frizzi, John Carpenter and tons of other horror influences that really run the gambit going on in Espectrostatic’s music, but there’s also heavy roots in punk, garage and psych that a lot of people don’t seem to tune into immediately.  There’s a lot of the synth heavy Carpenter-influenced stuff going on, but not only does a lot of that stuff miss the mark, it’s just retreading ground that’s been covered before.  Espectrostatic isn’t interested in that though, taking the increasingly popular ‘horror movie music’ genre and adding some extra ingredients that really spice up the mix.  There’s a pure soundtrack feel to Espectrostatic’s back catalog you don’t hear often outside of the actual medium, drawing heavy influence from an immense catalog of work rather than dwelling on a small window or gap of a few years.  Escape From Witchtropolis Espectrostatic’s newest album, and second for Trouble in Mind Records, released at the tail-end of 2014 is a devastating masterpiece of spine-tingling, edge of your seat tension filled journeys through madness and mental illness!  There really aren’t many people going right now that I would put up against the heavy hitters like Goblin that were early explorers in the soundtrack and horror genres, but Espectrostatic easily earns a place amongst the greats with not one but two jaw-dropping full-lengths and a host of digital releases that will have you trying to figure out how to stuff money into the computer screen and make records fall out!  Needless to say, if you’re into soundtrack music, horror films specifically, you are going to need a copy of both Espectrostatic’s albums.  Don’t fight the urge.  Feed the need, click the link and help keep real music alive. 
                - Listen while you read:

Now, I know that Espectrostatic is essentially a solo recording project for you but I unfortunately haven’t had your releases sitting in front of me so I could pore over the liner notes and was curious if anyone else was ever involved in performing on Espectrostatic’s releases?

Nope, it's just me.

Are you in any other bands or do you have any side projects going on besides Espectrostatic right now?

Yeah, I'm in a band called the Hex Dispensers that have been around since 2006.  Some might consider Espectrostatic to be the side project.

Have you released any material with anyone else in the past?  I know that you have a 4-song 7-inch EP on Trouble In Mind Records and another solo 2-song single for Red Lounge Records both in 2011, but I didn’t know if you had any other solo releases or had put out anything with any other bands in the past?  If you have, can you tell us a little bit about that here?

Well, those singles were my first solo releases, but I've been recording with bands for over twenty years; Blacktop, King Sound Quartet, a Feast of Snakes, The Now Time Delegation, and the Gospel Swingers to name a few.

How old are you and where are you originally from?

I'm forty three and I'm originally from El Paso, Texas.

What was your home like when you were growing up?  Was there a lot of music around or anything?  Were either of your parents or any of your close relatives musicians or extremely interested/involved in music?

I wouldn't really call it a musical childhood.  I loved music, but there weren't any musicians in my family to learn from.  I wanted to take piano and guitar lessons, but those never materialized during my childhood.

What do you consider your first real exposure to music to be?

Probably my older sister's records.  Stuff like ELO, Queen, Kansas.

What was the local music scene like when you were growing up?  Did you see a lot of shows or get very involved in it?  Do you feel like that local scene played an important role in shaping your musical tastes or the way that you perform at this point?

I was heavily involved in the El Paso punk scene around 1987-1989.  I was in bands, booked shows and made zines.

If you were to pick a moment where everything seemed to change for you musically and your eyes were opened to the infinite possibilities of music, what would it be?

Definitely the first time I heard “Halber Mensch” by Einst├╝rzende Neubauten.  I was completely blown away by how immense and how totally fucking creepy it was.  Up until that point I'd only been exposed to punk and metal, but this was something from another planet as far as I was concerned.

What was your first instrument?  When and how did you originally get it?

I started out playing drums (badly) at sixteen, then sang for a few bands.  Many years later I picked up a bass and that was my main instrument for a very long time.

When did you decide to start writing and performing your own music?  Or was that just kind of an outgrowth of being given an opportunity to create something of your own and express yourself?

I've always had musical ideas that didn't really fit with any of the bands I'd been playing with, and a desire to do something more experimental and filmic.  The solo 7” records were kind of an outgrowth from the Hex Dispensers while we were taking a break, but Espectrostatic is another thing entirely.  I've been studying film composition for a few years now, and Espectrostatic started as a way for me to practice using the tools of the contemporary film scoring trade; to bridge the gap between what I had been doing, and what I was learning how to do.

What led to the formation of Espectrostatic and when would that have been?

I did the first recordings in 2011/2012: the Skeletactical EP.  That was my first attempt at this sort of thing.  It's evolved a lot since then.

Is there any sort of creed, code, ideal or mantra that you operate by or under?

On a personal level, I just try to be real, do what feels right, treat people respectfully, fairly and honestly, and to not act like some kind of affected phoney-baloney showbiz-type.

What does the name Espectrostatic mean or refer?  How did you come up with the name and how did you go about choosing it?  Are there any close seconds or runners up that you almost went with you can recall?

It's just a word I've had stuck in my head for a long time.  Espectro being spanish for “spectre” mixed with static, as in television or radio static.  It occurs to me now that TV and radio static are remnants of old technology, so that's kind of cool too, I guess.  I first came up with it as a name for a record label I wanted to start that I never got off the ground.  I'm glad I finally got to use the name.

Where is Espectrostatic located at this point?  How would you describe the local music where you’re at?

I'm in Austin, Texas.  There's a thriving music scene here – all kinds of bands and lots of different micro-genre scenes.  There're always shows, but I'm a homebody/recluse now, so I almost never go out anymore unless it's for film related stuff, or dinner.

Do you see a lot or book many shows there?  Do you feel like you’re very involved in the local scene?

I used to be, but not really anymore.  The Hex Dispensers play locally every so often.  I really like playing out of town, but I'm sick of touring...  So that's a conundrum.  The Hex Dispensers are doing four shows in the Pacific Northwest in late February that they're flying us out for, which is cool.  But in general I don't really feel the call or the appeal of playing live anymore, I much prefer writing and recording. 

Do you feel like the local scene has played an integral role in the sound, history or evolution of Espectrostatic or do you feel like you would be doing what you’re doing and sound basically like you do regardless of where you were at?

I'd probably be doing this sort of thing wherever I found myself, because it's really the distillation of things I've loved for ages.  That said, there's a good film scene here, and an amazing film festival called Fantastic Fest which is all genre films – and I guess that kind of affects me and exposes me to new and cool indie and foreign genre filmmakers, whose work I find very inspiring.

Are you involved in recording or releasing any music besides your own/Espectrostatic’s?  If so, can you tell us about that here briefly?

Yeah, the Hex Dispensers are actually going into the studio to record an album this coming weekend.

You seem like you draw sounds from just about anywhere you can find them; little slices and chunks of a ton of different stuff kicking around in Espectrostatic’s sound from Euro and American soundtracks to some killer rock and psych influences, at least from what I can hear.  I’m curious who you would cite as your major musical influences? 

The artists that originally got me interested in exploring these types of sounds would be Angelo Badalamenti, John Carpenter and J.G. Thirlwell.  That's the short answer, but really it's an insanely long list within a diverse range of genres.  I tend to be drawn to darker or melancholy stuff in general, and I prefer raw sounds to more polished ones, but I just love so many different types of music: Film Scores, naturally, Punk, Garage, Psych, Post Rock, Noise Rock, 60s Soul, Experimental, Electronic, Pop, Death Rock, Goth, Hardcore, Metal, Jazz, Industrial, Funk, old/classic Country, Delta Blues, the list goes on and on...

Whenever I talk to people I have to describe how they sound to an increasingly large group of people who might not have ever heard them before and it can seriously be a daunting task, especially with people such as yourself with such a varied and intriguing sound.  I’m really curious, how would you describe Espectrostatic’s sound to our readers who might not have heard you before in your own words? 

The quick and dirty reduction for non-music geeks is “Horror movie music”.  If that doesn't scare them off then maybe there's a longer conversation to be had.

What’s the songwriting process for Espectrostatic like?  Is there any kind of usual process you go through when writing or arranging music for Espectrostatic material?

Visuals are a must.  I'll either have a movie or trailer going silently in the background, or I'll have my tumblr page open, which is basically just a collection of images that look like what I want this music to sound like.  My studio is filled with all kinds of weird and creepy toys.  I like having a lot of visual stimulation.

What about recording for Espectrostatic?  I’m a musician myself and while I think that most of us can appreciate all the time and effort that goes into making an album once it’s finally done and we’re holding that finished product in our hands, getting to that point can be an excruciating process for some people.  Getting things to sound the way you want them to, even small things like getting things properly mixed and mastered can be difficult to say the least.  What’s it like recording for Espectrostatic?

It can be challenging because I do it all myself, but I learn something new every day, which is great.  The thing about mixing is that it's done when you decide to stop, because you could always keep going.  I still think I have a long way to go as far as refining my mixing skills, but luckily I'm not drawn to super glossy/slick sounding stuff, so I don't kill myself about it either.  Mastering is a mysterious dark art and I have a lot of respect for people who do it well.  I self-master a lot of functional/media music that I write for clients because time is usually an issue, but for anything getting released physically, I leave that to the pros.

Do you like to take a DIY approach to recording where you handle most of the technical aspects of things on your own time and turf with your own equipment so that you don’t have to work with or compromise on the sound with anyone else?  Or do you like to head into a studio and let someone else handle the technical side of things so that you can concentrate more on the music and getting things to sound the way you want them to?

I do everything in my home studio using Logic Pro X.

Is there a lot of time and effort that goes into working out exactly how a song’s going to sound with the arrangement and composition meticulously planned and worked out beforehand or do you get a good skeletal idea of what a song’s going to sound like while allowing for some change and evolution during the recording process where you feel necessary?

For Espectrostatic stuff, I think I tend to start with a single musical idea or figure and just build organically from there.  I usually begin with improvisation and experimentation, and then apply some music theory to help me build structures around the initial skeleton.

Despite the, at least in my opinion, ass backward laws across the globe right now, people have been tapping into the altered states that drugs produce for the purposes of creating art and I’m always curious about their usage and application when it comes to the art that I personally enjoy and consume.  Do psychoactive or hallucinogenic drugs play a large or important role in the songwriting, recording or performance processes for Espectrostatic?

I stopped taking drugs a very long time ago, but I experimented a good bit when I was younger.  Suffice it to say, I can recall those experiences vividly enough to tap into that energy, which can be good creatively, but absolutely terrible for my mental well-being.  It's all fun and games until somebody has a bad trip.  I had one in particular many years ago that was so terrifying and so disturbing that I'm still affected by it to this day.  That was the last time for me.  So yeah, in a sense I guess substances do indirectly affect my writing.

The fist material that Espectrostatic released I know of was back in 2012, Skeletactical a digital three track EP.  None of those tracks have been included on either of your two full-length albums.  Are there any plans to release that material physically in the future or have those recordings time kind of come and gone at this point?  Can you share some of your memories of recording those first tracks?  When and where were they recorded?  Who recorded it?  What kind of equipment was used to record Skeletactical?

I've discussed releasing that EP as a 7-inch with some people, but I think that endeavor might have died on the vine.  Those were recorded on my older workstation just as I was finishing up an online orchestration class, so I really wanted to do something loud and non-orchestral with the same tools I had just figured out how to use.  I did those in Logic Pro 9.  They were mixed and mastered by Jack Control.

In 2013 you released your self-titled debut album on Trouble In Mind Records.  Was the recording of Espectrostatic very different than the session(s) for Skeletactical?  Can you tell us a little bit about the recording of the material for Espectrostatic?  Who recorded that?  When and where was that at?  What kind of equipment was used?

The first Espectrostatic LP was composed and sequenced in Cubase 6, which I had transitioned to because Logic 9 hadn't seen a significant update in so many years.  I've since moved back to Logic since it was updated to X.  On the hardware side, everything was in the box, sampled analog synths and some virtual synths, except for a Waldorf Rocket hardware synth which I used quite a bit.

2014 saw two digital only releases from Espectrostatic, the first was the Phantominom VGS six-track EP for April Fool’s Day and later followed by The Daemonum EP in October.  Phantominom VGS is a loose concept album based on “the urban legend of a video game console no one had ever seen or heard of purchased at a mysterious garage sale. The peculiar electrical and television hookups were not compatible with any existing or historical connections, leading some to speculate that this console was not of our world, but from a nearby parallel universe”.  There are three original Espectrostatic compositions and three VGS remixes of Hex Dispensers tracks.  Can you tell us a little bit about where that concept came from and how those recordings came about?  Are there any plans to release that physically in the future or is that a digital only thing and going to stay that way?  Were those original tracks leftovers from an earlier session or sessions?  If not, can you tell us a little bit about recording those tracks?

Phantominom VGS was just a fun, goofy idea.  I'd wanted to dabble in a video game chiptune kind of sound.  I took some, albeit small, liberties with the technical specifications of chiptune music, so I created a goofy back story to explain its plausibility.  I'd always intended it to be a novelty release, and I was initially going to do it as a benefit for some kind of mental health charity, but a bandmate of mine had some health problems and subsequent medical debt, so it ended up being a benefit release for her.  I raised a small chunk of dough for her, but as sales tapered off, I switched it over to a “pay what you want” release so people could grab it for free.  All of the newer, original tracks have since been re-worked, quite a lot actually, into full-blown compositions on the new LP.  The other three tracks were remix/de-makes/reductions of older tracks, and yeah, one was a reduction of a Hex Dispensers tune.

What about the The Daemonum EP?  There are two tracks on there composed for other projects, “The End Of Lexie” was done for the short film “Lexie” by Matt Cunningham and “The 447” was composed for a haunted house.  Can you tell us a little bit about the recording of the material for The Daemonum EP?  Were those tracks recorded specifically for the projects I mentioned above or were they part of previous sessions?  What about the other three songs that are featured on The Daemonum EP?  If they were recorded apart from the sessions we’ve already talked about, can you tell us a little bit about that?

The Daemonum EP was just some stuff I had lying around.  A couple tracks were leftover from the Escape From Witchtropolis sessions, and there were a couple excerpts from some scoring work and demos I'd done.  I just wanted to release something for free and digital-only ahead of the Escape From Witchtropolis LP.

You recently unleashed your sophomore full-length Escape From Witchtropolis on the world in the end of 2014 again on Trouble In Mind.  Did you try anything radically new or different when it came to the songwriting or recording of the material for Escape From Witchtropolis?  When was that recorded?  Where was that recorded?  What kind of equipment was used?

Aside from the transition back to Logic X and the acquisition of some new sample libraries, the only different gear I used was an Arturia Microbrute and a Korg Volca Keys.  Stylistically, I had just wrapped up a Composition For Film and Television course, so a few of the tracks had begun as cues from school assignments.  I definitely went into this record wanting to explore a more filmic sound, and also weave in some other styles of music I like.  Another goal was to try and distance myself further from the 80s pastiche synthwave sound.  I like a lot of the stuff being done in that style, but some of it is just too ironic and too dancey for my personal taste.  Plus, there's just a shitload of it being made right now.

Does Espectrostatic have any music that we haven’t talked about, maybe a demo or a single that I don’t know about?

I make my living as a composer, so I'm always writing music.  Some of it gets released as Espectrostatic, but some of it ends up in music libraries or TV commercials, or TV shows or films.

With the release of Escape From Witchtropolis only a few months ago as I write this, are there any other releases in the works or on the horizon from Espectrostatic that you can talk about?  And are there any major plans or goals that Espectrostatic is looking to accomplish in 2015?

I'm working on scoring a couple short horror films right now, and I've got a couple feature films on the books for later this year.  I really want to do another Espectrostatic LP this year, but I may not have to time to devote to it.  Hopefully the feature films actually happen and one or both of them end up getting released as soundtrack records, but it's all speculation and wishful thinking at this point.

Where’s the best place for our interested US readers to pick up copies of your stuff? 

Ideally, at their local record store.  You can also order them directly from Trouble in Mind, and hopefully by the time this goes up, I'll have some LPs available on my Bandcamp page.

With the completely insane international postage rate increases over the past few years that don’t show any signs of letting up at this point I try and provide our readers with as many possible options as I can for picking up imports.  Where’s the bets place for our overseas and international readers to score your stuff?

Right at this moment, there's still some color vinyl on the Death Waltz Records web store, but I've noticed a few other UK and European distributors offering it.  I can't vouch for any of them other than Death Waltz, but they're out there.  Death Waltz and my Bandcamp page are the best places to get the LP on color vinyl though.

I did a little bit of poking around and from what I can tell Espectrostatic is a studio only project.  Is that true or do you play out as Espectrostatic at all?  If you do play out, do you tour at all or just play locally at this point?  If not, are there any plans to do so, or is that not in the cards for one reason or another right now?

So far it's only been a studio project, but my wife Alyse, who is also in the Hex Dispensers, and I want to work out a live set.  I really don't want to do the “guy gesturing dramatically at a laptop on a folding table” type of live show – so there's some logistics to work out before it actually happens, but it's definitely something we'd like to do.

Do you give a lot of thought to the visual aspects that represent Espectrostatic to a large extent to people?  Stuff like flyers, posters, shirt designs, cover artwork and that kind of thing?  Is there any kind of meaning or message that you’re attempting to convey with the visual side of Espectrostatic?  Is there anyone that you usually turn to in your times of need when it comes to the visual side of Espectrostatic?  If so, who is that and how did you get hooked up with them originally?

I give great deal of thought to the visual aspect.  It's kind of inferred that this is music intended to accompany visuals.  As far as the packaging and presentation go, I really put a lot of stock in that.  I've been fortunate enough to have some incredibly talented folks involved on the visual front.  Jason Willis designed the first LP cover, and even went so far as to make a music video with the 3-D art assets he'd built for the cover illustration.  Jason and I collaborate on a few different things from time to time, and he's helping out with a video I'm assembling for Escape From Witchtropolis.  The incredible cover illustration for Escape From Witchtropolis was done by Drazen Kozjan who some people know from his comic The Happy Undertaker, that guy is so skilled.  I'm just thrilled with what he came up with.  He was nice enough to let me use another one of his illustrations for The Daemonum EP.  As far as meaning, it's kind of all over the place, but the guiding aesthetic concept for this project has always been “Occult Science-Fiction” and the myriad of interpretations that can spinoff of that.

With all of the methods of release that are available to musicians today I’m always curious why they choose and prefer the various mediums that they do.  Do you have a preferred medium of release for your own music?  What about when you’re listening to or purchasing music?  If you do have a preference, what is it and can you tell us a little bit about why?

Vinyl is the ideal format.  Aside from some kind of implied legitimacy, there's just something so great about the big cover artwork and holding the thing in your hands that no other format can offer.  Plus, the geeky color vinyl thing is just super cool.  CDs themselves are basically just landfill garbage in this digital age, but I do like how the Espectrostatic CDs come in mini cardboard LP-type sleeves.  I just think the artwork on both LPs is worthy of being seen at the intended larger size.

I grew up around this massive collection of music and both of my parents encouraged me to listen to just about anything that interested me growing up.  I think it was my dad taking me out to the local shops to pick up random stuffs on the weekends that left the biggest impression on me though.  I developed this kind of ritual for listening to music and it became this kind of obsession that I’ve never fully gotten over.  I’ll rush home with an album, grab a set of headphones, read the liner notes over and over again, and stare at the cover artwork just devouring everything in front of me letting the whole experience transport me off to another universe of sorts.  Having a physical object that’s concretely connected to the music that I’m listening to that’s always made for a much more complete listening experience for me.  Do you have any such connection with physically released music?

I used to do that when I was younger, but not as much any more.  I do still collect records, and enjoy them, though.  In our house, we spin records mostly on the weekends during breakfast and listen to digital formats the rest of the time.

Like or it not at this point digital music is here in a big way right now.  I personally think it just depends on how you look at things, you kind of have to roll with the punches in the music industry and I think that just about any situation is going to have upsides and downsides, it just depends on how you deal with it.  On one hand, people are being exposed to all this amazing music, not just from around the globe but they’re even becoming more aware of the music in their own hometowns.  On the other hand though, while people are being exposed to all this amazing music for the first time, they’re not really that interested in paying for it.  While people’s interaction and relationship with music is constantly changing and evolving, a lot of people have started to see music as this disposable form of entertainment, a kind of free soundtrack to their lives that will always be there whether they pay for it or not.  As an artist during the reign of the digital era, what’s your opinion on digital music and distribution?

Well it's complicated, isn't it?  I love the accessibility and convenience of music acquisition these days.  People can be easily exposed to such a wide variety of music.  But the real casualty for me has been the evaporation of the local independent record stores in smaller cities.  The renewed interest in vinyl seems to be helping their return to some extent.  To be fair, it's never been easy for independent musicians to actually earn a living doing it and it's always been more of a labor of love for them.  The people who suffer most from this environment are the big mainstream acts and the people on the business-side of the music industry and I can't really say that breaks my heart.

I try to keep up with as many possible bands as I can but with all the amazing stuff out there and the unprecedented access that we have to it, it’s hard to even know where to start sometimes.  Is there anyone from your local scene or area that I should be listening to I might not have heard of before?

There's a ton of bands here in Austin.  I just can't keep up.  A few that come to mind are Survive, The Ugly Beats, Crooked Bangs, The Suspirians, and Lazerhawk, but I'm terribly, embarrassingly, out of touch with what's going on in my own city these days.

What about nationally and internationally?

Some current favorites are Pye Corner Audio, Chelsea Wolfe, Matchess, Mogwai, Verma, Haxan Cloak, Umberto, The Limi├▒ianas, Wolves in the Throne Room, Ty Segall, Pallbearer, Bohren & Der Club Of Gore, The Advisory Circle, Grave Babies, Bersarin Quartet, Pampers, Pop. 1280, Blanck Mass, Tobacco, and True Widow.  There's also been some great film and TV scores this year: The Guest and Cub by Steve Moore, It Follows by Disasterpeace, Starry Eyes by Jonathan Snipes, and The Returned (Les Revenants) by Mogwai; plus the big shots like The Knick by Clint Mansell, and Gone Girl by Reznor/Ross.

Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me so in-depth about your music and background.  Since you were so generous with your time I’d like to open the floor up to you for a second here.  Is there anything that I could have possibly missed or that you just want to take this opportunity to talk to me or the readers about?

Not really, this has been very thorough.  I thank you for your interest!

© Nicole Truly

(2012)  Espectrostatic – Skeletactical – Digital – Self-Released
(2013)  Espectrostatic – Espectrostatic – Digital, CD, 12” – Trouble In Mind Records (Limited to 200 copies on Coke-Bottle Clear Vinyl Wax)
(2014)  Espectrostatic - Phantominom VGS – Digital – Self-Released
(2014)  Espectrostatic - The Daemonum EP – Digital – Self-Released
(2014)  Espectrostatic – Escape From Witchtropolis – Digital, CD, 12” – Trouble In Mind Records (Death Waltz Exclusive limited to 100 copies on Smoke Coke Vinyl Wax)

Interview made by Roman Rathert/2015
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