Introducing you all to Ikkarus, a Mexican funk-grunge band who are tapping into some of the rock sounds of the early 1990’s and bringing them crashing into the present. What inspires a band to form a rock band in one of the less fashionable rock n roll centres of the world? We set off to find out.
Wendy Castellanos: Keyboards, Synthesizers, Vocals.
David Ramos: Drums.
Javier Lardizábal: Guitars, Vocals
What attracted you to the genre of music you work in?
The genre we are working on is very appealing to me because it incorporates a lot of elements present in the music I’ve always listened to, since I was a little boy. It is music that has marked many important moments of my life.
It has many elements such as rhythms, phrases and sounds that put together make me feel great. They are elements through which I can achieve a certain type of catharsis, relief, happiness, tranquility, and even a very particular bodily energy when we are playing live. It all becomes a great personal experience at the time of playing together, recording, improvising and especially when sharing our music with an audience.
This genre has basically spawned a lot of the music I’ve been able to connect to, emotionally. No real effort needed.
Within the Alternative Rock niche, I have been able to find an ample spectrum of sentiments that are very attractive. From mellow tunes to infuriating, distorted guitar riffs, inspiring choruses and reflective interludes… It has practically been the soundtrack of my youth, always present in important moments of my life.
What is your local music scene like?
There are many projects I’m a fan of. However, I feel it can be monotone. It doesn’t really explore an original sound or seek to create one. Many local bands sound pretty much the same, and I feel emerging styles such as Indie-Pop and Indie-Folk constantly influence them and so the product all around is too similar.
There’s a general lack of emotion in today’s music. You can hear it all around in the media: lyrics that have no meaning, almost like random nonsense put into a sequence with the sole objective of becoming a product to earn some people some money.
I feel it has been a difficult scene in Mexico, for many bands (us included). It’s generally difficult to get a gig unless you have some sort of connection. It also seems that in order to get a spotlight here you need to emulate 80’s and 90’s Latin Rock sounds, as if there is an unspoken pressure to pay tribute to old Mexican bands that made it at some point…
However, there is a lot of emerging talent that’s looking for something else and doing it outside the usual channels. The Internet has been a huge game changer. There are projects that are great proposals and need to be heard…
The Mexican audience is one of the greatest in the world… When we attend a concert, we love to connect with the artist on stage. We shout with everything we’ve got and sing back to them. We always let them know how much we love their music. Because of this, we hope that our music will be appreciated at home at some point.
How do you think you fit in?
Based on our live performances I feel we’ve had a good response from the audience, however, only time will tell what kind of part we played in our local music scene.
I think it’s possible for us to fit in, in spite of all the repetitive stuff going on. I feel we have the capability of moving our audience outside their comfort zone because of our friendly-sounding textures that could appeal to many different people.
It would be profoundly satisfactory to be able to make a difference in what is being heard by our Mexican audience. We want to be part of that wave of fresh and worthy (…and worldly) proposals!
We hope that the different elements we’re bringing to the table captivate our audience from the first experience, whether it’s live or listening to the studio record. If there’s something we’re looking to be, is emotional in our music. To create something that touches sensitive fibres and makes you want to connect and experience more. This is what we hope works on our local music scene as well as in any other.
How do you balance your ‘real-life’ jobs with that of rock musicians?
I think balance should come naturally with the passion one has for doing what they absolutely love. Fortunately for me, this has been the case between my Graphic Designing day job and playing with Ikkarus.
It all comes down to organising my time, which can be difficult occasionally since I teach at a Music School, give personal lessons and also play with a few other bands dedicated to Cumbia, Salsa and Mexican Folk music.
Playing with Ikkarus is something I love to do and fortunately I haven’t really encountered problems doing this.
We organise ourselves in our free time and we normally land 3 to 4 rehearsals a month. It’s really not too different to other bands that for example, rehearse once a week. It can be difficult now and again because of the inescapable, occasional priority. We’ve all sacrificed many leisure/personal times in order to make this work and so far all of this (Stains & Echoes album, Live Session, more music yet to come, etc) is what he have come up with. We hope we find the time in which we’ll be making a living out of this in order to be full-time, Ikkarus musicians.
You’ve got a huge concert lined up – what would be your dream venue?
Any music festival such as Glastonbury. Any outdoors festival, really.
Not a particular venue, but a place in which the audience will be expecting us with all the excitement and willingness to have a great time. Any place in which we can share our music with our audience and make it a great experience.
Any huge venue with a great sound!
Describe a typical live show by the band.
A mixture of excitement and anxiousness, typical of a live gig. For my part, I give everything on the drum set. I absolutely enjoy the music, all the movement and the applause from the audience. I see Wendy projecting all her energy and talent on the piano and Javo connecting with the audience through the lyrics and his musical presence.
The fact that we have an upcoming gig, gives me an explosion of positive energy. Just knowing that our music will be heard by others… We always try to make people feel happy and enjoy the moment with us. We’re just delighted; we jump, shout and run all around and seek to transmit to their hearts every sound charged with who we are.
It is what I love the most to do. Once “I find myself” on the stage it just feels like home, but in all honesty, everything that goes on before that, from the moment we’re unpacking our instruments, the plugging-in, to the sound check, up to the first song out of my throat, it’s all very nerve-wracking to me!
Tell us about how you go about creating your music, from initial idea to completion.
Normally, Javo gets to the studio with the main ideas, or sends them to us through email or any other means. When I listen to a “skeleton” I start to think about patterns, rhythms and fills that would fit into it. Sometimes I just work on it by humming.
Another “work-mode” we have is to jam over one idea with a specific, creative mindset. It is something I like to call “Cinematographic Simulation” (I hope you love my Cinematographic term!) and it goes something like this: We put ourselves to think about a specific intention from a specific movie scene, as if we were writing a film’s soundtrack. We go ahead and say something like: “Ok imagine you’re James Bond, you’re at some port in Italy at night, hiding behind some boat, the bad guy’s about to escape and you’re about to break all hell loose to catch this guy and fire upon all his guards. How would you print this whole situation into a rhythm, a melody or a riff?”
To write and play a song, it is really important for me that we are “synchronised” with each other musically yes, but also personally. We constantly hang out and that lets us be in the same high frequency vibration and emotion in order to come up with something new.
Sometimes we start by playing phrases or tones that detonate a deep emotion in all of us. Then we start thinking of rhythmic ideas and melodies and soon we land a base that we start giving structure to. After a while it starts to adopt a form.
We also play and jam for long periods of time. We normally start with powerful bass and atmospheric sounds and just let them take over our feelings. See where that takes us.
Other times Javo brings ideas to the table, whether it’s on rehearsal time, or sends them to us so we can let them sink in for a while. I listen over and over and see what kind of feeling it evokes on me and I take it from there.
When creating music, I try to make it a spiritual thing. I ask for guidance within my beliefs and I start playing for a long time until something jumps out and catches my attention: Maybe a simple melody or guitar riff. Maybe just a chord sequence. I record that onto the computer, leave it sounding on and on for a while. Either the next musical phrase comes along in my train of thought and I record it, or if nothing comes at that moment, I start thinking of rhythms that could go with it, bass lines, variations, etc. I just listen to everything millions of times over. Every so often something comes along and many other times I just have to let it rest for a while. Then come back and see if anything from the already built phrase, melody, chords or textures is activating or provoking some new sound route in my mind. I also start experimenting with my voice over this structure. Just humming/singing random lines, or more bass lines, guitar lines, or just improvising on top of it with the guitar.
Other times I just have a tune going on in my head. Maybe it’s a male voice singing or saying something. A riff, a bass line or a melody that could do well with some weird synthesiser. If I’m not near my computer or my guitar, I simply hum it and record it onto my cell phone. It sounds really funny all by itself, but when I actually get to my recording software (Logic Pro X and before that Garage Band) I use bass, guitar, Reason software to write down a few chords and textures and rhythms. It just becomes a minute of a song. It’s normally the beginning. Occasionally it can be a sort of interlude, so now I’ve got to figure out the beginning and the ending movements! Then either I send it to the guys or just show them when we get together and start working on it.
On the Stains & Echoes record I practically finished the whole music before I met Dave and Wens. One of the things we also do on rehearsal is experiment on top of a song’s defined foundation. This has been the point in which Dave and Wens have imprinted the already existing songs with their personal touch.
When we came across this “work-mechanic”, we decided to keep doing it in order to play a slight variation of the songs for our live performances. We want the live experience to be entirely different and personal to the one with the record.
This has also become a sort of “standard operating procedure” with each new melody or phrase we’ve come up with. There is a lot of new material; we’re trying to condense it into the second Ikkarus’ album. Yeah. We’re already thinking about that! So now when we rehearse and experiment over given lines we’re all part of the creating process together. Ikkarus is supposed to be the three of us.
What equipment do you use (the more information the better – that way we can also target publications relating to specific instruments/brands)
I really like the sound of Premier drum sets as well as Pearl snare drums. At the moment I’m using a Premier Cabria Drum Set and a 14” Pearl Maple Shell, that has quite a versatile sound, works well in many genres and fits great with the spectrum of genres we play.
For details such as bell overtones, atmospheres, etc, I chose a custom set of Paiste 802 series cymbals, consisting of two pairs of Hi-Hats, a Crash and a Crash Ride. A 16” Sabian Pro Crash, a 19” Custom Hybrid Zildjian China and a couple of 6 and 8” Zildjian Splashes.
I use a Roland GW-7 Workstation (I really like the strings patches on this one) and an AKAI MPK249 Controller. At the moment I use it to control the Reason 8 software by Propellerheads. There are times in which Javo and I sit down for hours to try and come up with different, custom sounds apart from the pre-designed ones.
I use a Parker Fly Mojo Midi electric guitar. I really like the endless possibilities you have with midi instruments. Like making a sitar, an organ or a trumpet out of your guitar with some weird effects. This guitar has basically become my personal synthesiser to spend hours and hours of fun with. I use it with the Roland VG99 Guitar System. For travelling light purposes, I use the POD X3 Live pedal by Line 6. Awesome delays.
In general, I’m in love with the atmospheres one can build with a delay and a Wah pedal.
I also like to sit for long periods of time at the computer using the Reason software by Propellerheads, exploring sounds and textures, choosing a few of them for our live and recording set, as well as making a few of our own along with Wens.
You took a particularly long time to put the songs on the album together – how did you decide on the final tracklisting?
We practically went through all the finished songs we had. We took care that the ones chosen for Stains & Echoes were all part of the style and genre we’re trying to work on; and at the same time that they all had something to do with each other. The resulting record is a narrative, phonetic and conceptual unit.
Writing a musical piece is not easy at all and finishing a whole album does take time. Javo has worked on the project over the years and when I got to know it and work with it, he practically had all the material selected. It merely was a matter of working on the songs and enriching them even further.
The music was practically all finished when we all met. When we started working together, new ideas started to flow. Some of them became part of the existing songs and others were totally different: darker, heavier and even progressive. They’re part of the new lot. Part of what’s coming next for Ikkarus!
What would be your ultimate aim in the industry?
To build a solid career in music, make a living out of it and to put Mexico’s name way up high musically. To become worthy representatives of Alternative Rock. To keep creating spiritual and emotional art for everyone, specially for people in time of crisis and with the need of unburdening. It would be an awesome thing that our music could prove useful in this aspect.
Our aim or in other words, the musical dream of Ikkarus, is to be heard all over the world and that well into the years we’re able to create and produce more music.
We want to touch people’s deep, spiritual and emotional fibres with our music. When you go to a concert to see your favourite musicians live, it is something that’s simply otherworldly. A connection’s made from the moment you make their music your own; when a certain song of theirs “soundtracks” an important event in your life. It just becomes part of who you are, so when you experience this in front of a stage it’s one of the most meaningful experiences I feel one can have.
I wish our project would cause that same effect on many people. We want our music to be the life soundtrack of many. To know that what we did leave a mark somewhere. Transcendence.
We’d like to be heard all over the world. To play all over it. All the time.
Is there anything you would like people to know about your current release?
Stains & Echoes is our presentation card to the world and at the same time seeks to be an instrument to find some good vibes, solace and consolation through art.
Sure! I want to say that Stains & Echoes has a little piece of our hearts tattooed into every single song of the album. We want it to be a good medicine or antidote to each soul that wishes to listen to it; we really hope our songs give out something good to every heart, as it was the case with me. A huge detonation of good vibes and a relaxing voyage in which people want to remain constantly…
Stains & Echoes is a huge thing in my life. The hope of its existence at the beginning led me personally through many rough places, helped me push through a multitude of musicians who just wouldn’t believe in this project, through a huge lack of self-belief and many other things. I would listen to those great records like Pearl Jam’s Ten, Vitalogy, Yield, etc Nine Inch Nails’ Pretty Hate Machine, Downward Spiral, The Fragile, etc Porcupine Tree’s In Absentia, Soundgarden’s Superunknown, etc just thinking what must have went through these musicians’ heads when they were creating, recording, rehearsing all of it. Just dreaming and dreaming and keeping hope that one day, an album would be finished and that I had something to do with it.
It took its time, but everything inside is filled up with our passion and our love. We tried to be thorough artisans with every single sound, chord, texture, word, etc.
Countless sleepless nights, crying, fighting, making up with each other made of this set of songs an album and a family out of us.