But enough about that. Borracho fell upon the scene like a tidal wave with their 2011 debut, 'Splitting Sky', making almost everybody's year end best albums list. Since then, they've gone through the ups and downs that bands sometimes go through with personnel changes and staying active live and on record through various splits and 7" records. This summer the band released their second major effort, 'Oculus' and it was time for me to jump on the drunken bandwagon. It's a super addictive album and ... well, we'll get into all of that during the course of this two part Paranoid Hitsophrenic / Sludgelord cross-over interview starting now!
1. STEVE - Hi guys. Can you give Sludgelord and Paranoid readers a brief history of how the band came about and where it currently stands today.
Hey Lucas, Steve. thanks for having us. The band came together out of some jamming we did while in our old bands. We wanted to switch instruments and lay down some heavy grooves. Have a bit of a new challenge and a lot of fun. It was basically a side project. We put out a split 7” in 2008 with Adam West, and our debut LP Splitting Sky came out in 2011, after our old bands had hung it up. We’ve release another two 7”s and a 10” since then, a couple of videos, and played a lot of shows with some excellent bands. Earlier this year we parted with our singer/guitarist Noah, who moved abroad. Steve took over on vocal duty and we’ve morphed into a trio. We released our 2nd LP Oculus digitally in July, and it’s about to come out on vinyl this month.
2. LUCAS - You released ‘Splitting Sky’ in 2011. By the end of the year, it seemed as though it was on every critic’s year-end list of favorite albums. How has the reception been for the new one, ‘Oculus’ and in the band’s opinion, how does it stack up against its predecessor?
We were humbled by the response to Splitting Sky. As our debut full-length LP, that record was a long time in the making and is literally the document of our founding. We had attempted to record our debut LP in 2009. Ultimately we weren’t happy with those recordings, and we serendipitously met Frank Marchand, who’s become our go-to man in the studio. Debut releases typically have different goals and pressures than sophomore releases. Splitting Sky was an introduction - it had to have immediate impact and it had to be memorable. It had to put Borracho on the map and hopefully make people notice us. Based on the response we've gotten to Splitting Sky, we're psyched to think we accomplished our goals there.
Oculus is the next chapter - it had to maintain that quality, but also had to continue the journey, to confront the unexpected, to explore and continue to provide that awesome musical experience. In thinking about it, it had similar trials getting developed - basically being written in the middle of the uncertainty of Noah’s status in the band. We also struggled with the length a bit, wondering if we should release it as an EP to introduce Steve, and keep our powder dry for an "official" second release. In the end it didn't matter what type of release it was or how long it was, the critics and our fans have had lots of very nice things to say. And people have been buying it and eagerly awaiting the vinyl release. So I guess in that sense we've been more impressed with the reception Oculus has received, given the added expectations and trials involved in getting it out.
Yeah, it was not fun going through a personnel issue with one of your best friends. It sucked the most because it was only about logistics and not about personalities. I guess it'd make a horrible situation a bit better if the guy leaving the band was being an asshole. But with us, it was only about how far away Noah was from us, not at all about whether we still wanted to play together and keep it going. How many doom bands do you know that spend their rehearsal time Skyping with the lead singer 3000 miles away about lyrics! We basically wrote Oculus in this way. And as hard as it is/was for all of us, the burden on Steve, stepping up on vox and covering for a missing second guitar, was really awesome. He’s proved more than up to the task.
4. There’s a lot of open space on ‘Oculus’, plenty of improvisational moments. How do these sections play out live? Are they pretty much like on the record or are these the moments where the band goes crazy, Steve pulls out the violin bow and solos extend for half an hour?
Fans that have caught us live over the last year or so before Oculus was released know that we were using our live sets to work out the Oculus material as a trio. Back then we were still a four-piece-on-ice but we still wanted to play while Noah was out of the country so we started writing instrumental material for the trio lineup. Our first shows in this period were all instrumental with the occasional Splitting Sky track. So in that sense, all of Oculus is kind of a jam, right down to the fact that we tend to play it live as one continuous piece of music. So I guess when you write material in a jam environment, it'll tend to take on those improvisational and open sections. There's very little studio trickery on Oculus besides the psych track "Eye" - so we feel that the live versions of the Oculus tracks are pretty similar to the record. And this vibe of course makes it easier to go off on tangents and be able to bring it right back, which we like to do on stage when the moment strikes.
Steve: I play a Gibson Flying V through an early Sunn Model T. My pedal board has a few go-to pedals on it. A modified Buddha wah pedal, and LPB-1 clean boost, a Boss Super Overdrive for leads and a Phase 90. I’ve got a basement full of guitars, but the Gibson V is the one. I worry about going overseas to tour because a non-reissue Model T isn’t exactly readily available. But the V and the Model T are pretty much what combine to create my tone. Nothing secret beyond that.
Tim: I’ve recorded both Borracho records through a 60s Ampeg SVT stack owned by Frank Marchard at Hudson Street Sound. It is the best sounding bass rig I've ever played through. During sessions, I'll just stand in the isolation room playing that amp standing right in front of it. Outstanding. I remember the first day of the Splitting Sky sessions, Frank was so excited to fire this amp up for our us because it had just come back from a complete tube job and he finally wanted to hear it turned UP. The bass tone on these records is just this amp - no DI, no process - just a mic. You just don't need anything to make this amp sound sweeter.
Mario: I’ve used a 5 piece Pearl Master RetroSpec kit on both records. I bought the kit about a month before we recorded Splitting Sky, and I’ve used it on the road nearly exclusively. It has such booming and rich tone, and is a joy to play loud. It actually holds up in practice and small-room live situations against the Sunn and the SVT without being miked. No trade secrets on my end. Just bashing it out.
We had played with the sequence quite a bit at shows, since we were playing all of the Oculus material live before we recorded the record. That helped us understand the dynamics and be very comfortable with the ebbs and flows well before committing to an album sequence. Also, because Oculus is a relatively short record comprised of a relative few, relatively long tracks, sequencing was an issue. We were always conscious that Oculus would eventually be released on vinyl so the 12-inch side time limit was also a factor. For us, we've approached both our records from the "whole listening experience" perspective. We want to draw the listener into the record, keep them there, take them on a journey and leave them wanting more. So we don't have "favorite" tracks per se, we have tracks that sound perfect going into another or coming out of the previous. We intend Borracho records to be albums in every sense.
7. What is the song-writing dynamic in the band? Is it a group collective or down to one individual. Plus have you ever disagreed on certain songs and riffs you have written in the past.
Song-writing in Borracho is a group activity. Except for a couple of examples, our tunes come together really slowly and deliberately. We'll jam on a collection of riffs for months, slowly refining them, extending them, etc. we're not hot to come up with a complete 4:30 rocker in three sessions and I think we like keeping the process fluid up til we commit them to wax so we can make sure the tune is the best we think it could be. That's probably why we have so little disagreement in the writing process - time heals bad riffs! Noah pretty much wrote all the lyrics on Splitting Sky. Oculus is sort of a transition when it comes to lyrics - Noah penned two of them, Steve wrote one and we wrote one together. We all put in on a single from the Oculus sessions we've got coming out next and the stuff we're working on now is all collaborative so it looks like we'll continue the group vocal writing dynamic.
8. Well, Borracho never seems to sit still (maybe all that drunken swaying), it seems like the band has a million things on the horizon (video, new songs, more vinyl, etc.). Would you care to tell us about what’s coming up and why 2014 will be the year of Borracho?
We’ve tried to keep it pretty continuous since Splitting Sky came out, just keep ourselves out there with a couple videos, 7”s, compilations, and of course playing shows. This year won’t be any different. We’ve got the Oculus vinyl coming out this month, and will have an announcement about a killer split single coming out in February after that. We’ve got another new track in the can that will also come out on a 7” a little later in 2014, and a couple cover songs we’re contributing to a compilation next summer. We’re planning a tour of Europe in the late spring, and will be launching a crowd-funding project in the new year to help us make that a reality. Otherwise we’ll continue to play shows stateside and widen that net as well, so no rest for these weary guys any time soon.