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Tetris Punk Rocker Sacha Talens: Guide to Making an Album (Interview)

       

Sacha Talens

http://www.sachatalens.com

https://www.facebook.com/SachaTalens

http://soundcloud.com/sachatalens

“Think you are the greatest. If you are not convinced that your shit is the most amazing thing YOU have ever heard, don’t do it, because your ego won’t be able to handle all the bullshit you are going to hear in the future.”

This interview is really interesting. No kidding. When you get a musician (who also loves to blog) answer your questions, it always turns out great. Sacha explains his  journey putting songs together, changing producers and staying in different places to create an album. I tell you folks, if you are planning to be a recording artist, you better read this to save you heartaches and hassles along the way. Sacha tells us that getting into the music business isn’t a joke. It is a BUSINESS and not for the faint at heart. You have to believe what you do and must have guts to stay where you are or you will be crushed. His debut album ZAZAZA is out this October. Details:

“Track-listing and artwork are still secret. It’ll be titled ZAZAZA and will be released digitally through iTunes and other similar mp3 places and CD (mostly at concerts, to be honest).

If you’re asking, YES I will tour this album, even if it’s the last thing I do in my existence. I’ve been paralysed for years with production an relocating production and seeing production being shat on by incompetent people of this business (who don’t work in the business anymore, go figure), so, yeah, I’ve accumulated enough rage and frustration with this record to want to yell every song on your lovely faces, literally and/or figuratively. I can’t wait.

We’re still going through the booking process so dates are yet TBA, but if you go to my website www.sachatalens.com you have a link to my Songkick account where you can keep track of that. It’ll be mostly US/Canada/Europe dates.”

Now let us go to the interview:

 I listened to all your tracks via soundcloud. Will all of them make it to your upcoming album?

Uhm, you started with the million dollar question, friend. I’m gonna try to make it short:

I started working on this album a million years ago. 4, to be precise. I started recording at Ferber studios in Paris (where Feist recorded her first album), and after a million (let’s say 10) problems that lead me to change producers, self produce, record in the UK, Spain, shitty basements, back to Montreal, etc… I don’t know anymore, I stopped thinking about it.

You start being an artist because it’s fun writing, recording and playing songs and then next thing you know people start pitching in, having opinions, throwing around words like “hit”, “target audience” etc.. So you kind of have to start from scratch, and I totally understand. It’s a business, you sell a product. (by “you sell a product” I mean you make a product and people steal it from you if you’re lucky).

The problem, or, rather, the incompatibility, is me, the way I work. I write songs about things that happen to me, things I think about, mental puzzles I try to solve, so it’s not a long process, songs come very fast, but become obsolete (to me) also quite fast. I’m very prolific so I always have a new song I want to replace another one with. Obviously, my manager goes crazy and smile.

I’ve recently decided that whatever the songs will be, it will be none of my business to decide what makes the final cut. I’ll produce songs, and whatever works as a whole at that moment will be the record.

The soundcloud thing, I have it there because I really care about what people like, so it’s a good way of knowing what the actual value of a song is once it’s out of my emotional control.

Some of them will be on the new record for sure though, Quite Forever, Peaches d’Amour, Fish tanks blues.. they’re good songs.

You coined the term tetris punk to describe your music. Can you tell us about it?

Mount-Royal Parc East. #sachatalens #streettour #montreal

Uh… I’m what one could call “a punk” whatever that means. I think I have more NOFX and Ramones records than it’s actually acceptable. So, I guess the music I play is kind of punk, it has that same energy and melody thing, but it’s my “colourful squares are falling from the ceiling for no reason” take on it.

I was listening to Balcony Girl..and then the other day I was listening to Valley Girl by Frank Zappa. Is it coincidence or are these two songs about the same thing in a way…not directly but using the same sentiments.

HAHAHA awesome you made that analogy (grin) Also, respectively our most popular songs!

I guess, in a way, they come from the same place, Zappa’s song being very L.A. specific, and my song having a lot of Montreal references you can’t get if you haven’t lived there.

In fact It’s a song based on a real person, and our actual encounter. Not to get into details, but if it weren’t for those 5 minutes described in that song I probably wouldn’t be here talking to you.

Your songs are definitely naughty. I can’t help but laugh while listening to some of the tracks. You must have a lot of comedic experiences in life

I don’t think there can be any kind of poetry without humour, regardless of how dark or sentimental. Poetry without comedy is nothing but mere statement. I was reading Brendan Kelly’s blog “Bad Sandwich Chronicles” a few months ago (a must read, by the way) and he was writing about something I completely agree with. I think I’m paraphrasing, but he said something like “once you get rid of your serious/emotional shit, you start writing good lyrics”. I’ve always thought that. He used Coldplay’s song “Yellow” to illustrate this, pointing out that even though it’s a love song and all that, the chorus is “And it was all yellow”, which I think is hilarious especially for serious musicians, which Coldplay appear to be. I have the impression that comedy happens when something builds to an unexpected yet somewhat linked conclusion, and good lyrics tend to do that to. “I am the Walrus”?? What the fuck is that?? But it works.

You played bass and according to your bio, you are influenced by both punk and classical music. Your house must be teeming with music.

I started playing bass because when I was 14 I auditioned for this band who was looking for a guitarist but I sounded so bad they said “ok, you have to leave NOW”, but I tried to convince them that I played bass too, we started jamming and I got the gig, then eventually fell in love with the thing.

As for the punk and classical music thing… well, I’m the second musician of my entire family. My dad’s dad (do the math) was a professional clarinet player in the army in Spain during the Franco years. He tried to teach music to his kids but they just decided they weren’t interested and became accomplished writers. So he had to wait one more generation to find someone to indoctrinate grin He passed away over a year ago, but even now when I write strings I try to pay attention to get the intervals right to make him proud (or not piss him off!). The punk thing came later when I was a teenager and I started going to rock clubs in Dublin, I heard “Sheena is a punk rocker” and it never left my body.

What’s it like being signed to a major label?

Well, first of all I’m signed to a major publisher (BMG publishing), which is a notable distinction. They are not releasing my records, they manage my royalties. However, they do help with tours and have payed for some of the recording that has been done in studios, and many other things I’m extremely grateful for. But, in many ways, it feels the same as a major label. You owe them a product, and one they can work with.

Major labels are like the music business equivalent of the QI, they’re both like boxes. You can have a small box, or a big box, in the end it’s all about what you put inside of your damn box.

I’m saying this because, unlike what is commonly believed, getting signed to a major company doesn’t constitute “making it”. The ratio of artists/bands signed to majors to artists/bands actually getting exposed to the public is ridiculous. I have friends that have signed shitty deals with majors and they’re fucked for years, they can’t even play their own songs. Others are doing wonderfully.

Right now I’m in that intermediate position where they let me do my thing but are waiting for me to stuff my box. And I’ll do it as well as I’m capable of and hope for the best.

You’ve been to other countries. What have you learned so far that you think became the foundation of your music making?

I don’t think there’s a general thing that I’ve learned from other cultures. There are things that are specific to each country I can think of.

The traveler

Brazilians are the masters of chord progressions. They are insane. Harmonically, they go to places I’ve never seen any other group of people go to. In Brazil (well, in Rio, I don’t know about other places) I’ve learned that even though we only have 12 notes to play with, you can do WAY more than what we actually do. Also, They play FUCKING hard. I saw Green Day live many many years ago (before their FM transition), and though it was loud and fast, NOTHING compared to any borderline homeless samba band I’ve seen in Rio. The guys wouldn’t even have pauses between songs. Punkest place ever.

The French are special. They love their language and, generally, themselves so much, they have generated the greatest lyricists in the world. People talk a lot about Jim Morrison and Morrissey a lot, and even though they are absolutely mind blowing, nothing compared to Alain Leprest or Jean Fauque. They just don’t have the same expansion or exposure because they had the misfortune of living in a heavily anglicised era (celebrity-wise). When you read their stuff, believe me, it hits you out of nowhere. There’s this line in a Jean Fauque song (it’s not as cool translated, but what the heck..): “At the museum, there are men, in formalin. I know, it’s tough. Especially for them” You can’t explain the human tragedy better than that, or with fewer words. Problem with France is that they think they can sing in English and they think can rock, which they absolutely can’t.

Spain is special, they are always navigating between two extremely distant things: tradition and modernity. They have a great history of traditional music that they are constantly trying to re-invent, quite successfully. Artists like Bebe or La Shica, or Enrique Morente (who fucking sang flamenco with Sonic Youth, man, how cool is that??) before them have carried Spanish music into the 21st century. Spain allows modernisation to some extent (even though La Shica would probably disagree with me) and that is a good lesson for musicians. You should always look to what has been done, and it’s your duty as an artist to destroy it with respect. Problem with Spain is that when they try to navigate more “pop” waters, they almost invariably hit the kitsch wall. Radio there is unbearable. I’m not a violent person but whenever I’m driving around Spain with my dad and we’re sick of listening to Slow Train Coming for the 100th time and turn the radio, I consistently want to shoot every singer on there in the mouth.

I was a bit disappointed by the state of Irish music. I’ve traveled all across that Island, trying to find genuine Irish music, but all I found was stuff for tourists. Every traditional band is just there to entertain tourists. If any Irish person is reading this and disagrees, please let me know! I personally haven’t found non-Disneyland Irish music on your island folks. I did find one awesome band once in a tiny pub in Galway, and, turned out, they were from Galicia!! (great band though, they’re called Alale). What I have learned of Irish music is that those bastards (as long as their UK bastard neighbours which I love too) are so great at coming up with hooks!! I don’t know why but I’ve never found anything catchier than music from those two islands. (examples would be too obvious). Hooks are the foundation of post-modern music, and sure enough, they’re leading the Waltz right now and will do so for a very long time.

To make this short (too late..) Canadians and Americans (sorry I’m putting them together) are great at sound. Everything here, no matter how insignificant the writing is, has more depth and sounds better than in any other place. If you want a great drum sound, call a north American. North Americans use lower ranges and tones than Europeans, per se, it’s music you perceive less with your ears and more with your thorax, which I think it’s good and necessary, not everything has to happen in your brain.

I’ve been to other places, but these are the places that I’ve been living in for enough time to actually understand a little bit of what’s going on musically.

Also, Toronto has in my opinion the greatest combination of the qualities I’ve mentioned above. The music scene here is outstanding.

( As a reaction to Sacha’s opinion about the state of Irish music, I think most of them(doing original stuff) are no longer found in pubs but in Cyberspace. That is the joy of blogging and networking. You get in touch with musicians who do really interesting and progressive things that you normally wouldn’t find offline. That’s why I am running another blog called http://www.celticmusicfan.com)

 

Apart from making music, you also cook(sinfulkitchen). Who taught you the love for cooking?

#SinfulKitchen Episode 2! Chili con seafood.

When I was a kid in Montreal, my dad was busy working and my mom was in a bad situation, so I spent a lot of time with my grandmother. She is a great food person, she would spend all day long cooking, so that was my first social experience: watching this lady cook more food than we would actually eat. It was a very interesting thing, because she is an amputee, she only has one arm. Try to watch someone peel a potato with her/his left hand only. It’s fascinating.

Then, later on, my dad decided me and my sister had to help with chores around the house, because he was busy writing and my mom was nowhere to be found. I’m terrible at cleaning, so I decided to do the cooking thing. I had no idea what I was doing or what a recipe was so my family has been eating absurd combinations of food for years. Recently my sister moved into her own apartment so she jokingly suggested I should start a blog to help her combine whatever food she has in her fridge. I found the idea amusing so I started the food blog thing (@sinfulkitchen on twitter). I’m busy doing a million things right now so I can’t update as much as I would like to, but I have some ideas for upcoming posts.

Let’s say I am a 20- year- old, fresh-eyed musician wanting to make an album in the future. What are the things I should consider and avoid?

Well, I can’t tell you what is gonna work for you, but I can tell you what I would say if I could go back and talk to teenage Sacha.

1-Think you are the greatest. If you are not convinced that your shit is the most amazing thing YOU have ever heard, don’t do it, because your ego won’t be able to handle all the bullshit you are going to hear in the future.

2-Learn song structure. I don’t know, google it, pay attention to how songs are structured, whatever, but learn it. Because the second you enter a studio and you are not sure about your song structure and it shows, someone is gonna make sure to CUT CUT CUT into your stuff and some good parts will end up trashed and lost forever.

3-Avoid singing the root note of the chord. It’s a natural thing to do, but don’t. This has exceptions, obviously, but in general, if you’re playing C#minor, don’t sing C# over it. You probably should be singing E. Or G#. During production, someone will end up changing that chord into something you don’t want, and your thing will be ruined. I produce records and sometimes I end up changing chords, but this should not happen 10 times per song. If it’s the case, that song is not finished and you should go back to your room and figure the shit out before recording anything.

4-Make absolutely sure the song works if you play only the chords and the vocals. If you get to a weak point and go “meh, there’ll be a solo there”: NO. From beginning to finish everything should be fluid.

5-Most important: HATE MUSIC. Listen to music, but don’t LIKE IT. If you are a Gaslight Anthem fan, and you love them, and they inspire you to start playing music and writing songs, you are WRONG (and not only because it’s Gaslight Anthem..), you will end up sounding like them and they already exist, so you are basically cutting air with a ghost blade. I know it’s not a popular thing to say! But hatred of music is what makes people make great music. You have to fucking NEED to write new music because you don’t hear anything out there that is satisfying you. You need to hate Paul McCartney to be a great John Lennon. You need to hate pop music to be Frank Zappa. Etc. If you say “I want this to sound like AC/DC guitars with a Robert Plant-y vocal and some Terri Bozio drum breaks”, shut up. Nobody wants that. Those three entities exist, nobody wants to hear how those things go together but you. I’m convinced anyone has the intelligence to create beauty, don’t let fandom ruin that for you and everybody else. Before Tom Waits, there was no Tom Waits.

6-Write AT LEAST x4 more lyrics than you need. the more you write about something the more you will pull out unexpected stuff, then pick and chose. Also, if you feel like re-writing more than 10% of your lyrics, your lyrics aren’t that good.

7-Producers are great to work with but sometimes (most of the time) they are twice your age, and have worked with people (if the guy/lady doesn’t do a little namedropping, he is not a producer smile ) Be prepared to say “NO, I’M RIGHT, YOU’RE WRONG” to a guy that knows more stuff than you. Be prepared to confront him regardless of how little you have accomplished compared to him/her.

8-Don’t sign anything that has not been reviewed by a competent lawyer. If you get to the point where you have a contract in front of you on a table, it means there’s money involved, so it’ll be TOTALLY WORTH paying a person to adapt that contract to your needs (mostly, your need of not being scammed)

9-Get a portable device where you can record any musical idea that comes to your mind, no matter when or where. Same thing for lyrics. You should be writing songs in your head 24/7. You never know something good will be created in your brain. Same thing with lyrics. Digital is better, in my opinion paper is unreliable. I use an iPhone for both things, it has been working well so far. But many other cheaper options exist.

10-Like lyrics, you should write at least 4x songs than you need for a record. In this era, albums with filler half- assed songs only exist for bigger acts (Aerosmith will have the occasional crapper, U2, etc..). If you’re starting from scratch, every single one of the songs in that record MUST be a total KILLER (in YOUR opinion).

11-Don’t let other people’s opinions distract you. Good ones or bad ones. Songwriting is a lonely task, it happens in your head. Input is distracting. Opinions are mundane. If you don’t write songs, if the painter doesn’t paint the world, if the writer doesn’t code reality into symbols for eternity, we are nothing but animals with planes and trains, the world will cease. People owe you for being an artist so don’t let them distract you from making their lives better.

Music & Lyrics by Sacha Talens
Produced by Phil Avril & Mike Lapie.
Direct By S. Talens & M. Lior
All rights reserved to BMG Rights Management & Albeancia Publishing.
Shot in Montreal, Canada.

LYRICS:

Fish!
we are rapists when we’re one,
We’re pondering when lonely.
Growling timidly, forsaken,
as a quenched beast on its tummy.
I’m calling, ooh, ooh
We should be friends on
The amphibian path
I’m calling, ooh ooh,
The sea can kiss us with a frown
I can see you’re borderline…

So come with me tonight
On a trip to further seas
Our blooming lust has groused
eating from the prunes of Proust
Bleeding in the river tides
Paint the landscape with my life
But it all seems very hard
Given that we seem to have the fish tank blues.

I can’t see through my tears
even though I live underwater,
us vessels navigate seas of rejection
but facing the flow
and harbors are dry
above and below.
I’m calling, ooh, ooh
We’re all destined to die facing the sun
I’m calling ooh ooh
Like a vulgar bubble-gum
But I see you’re borderline

So come with me tonight,
Elope from our home of gallets
Biting on acceptance
With sandpaper on our palates
If this choice is right or wrong,
We’ll decide it later on
All my dreams seem doctrinaire and unlikely to acquire
Because we have the fish tank blues.

No wonder we’re borderline
Oh yeah, so distinctly borderline

But try to come tonight
Come together as a song
Leave from this tap water hell
Among creatures, friends among
In fish tanks no one can tell
If we’re planking or we’re dead
From now on: be our own ballast
And get rid once and for all of the fish tank blues.

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