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Ocote Soul Sounds: The Ocote Way

By Published: December 30, 2009
Ocote Soul Sounds"The difference between Alchemist Manifesto and [the new one] is this one is more focused. El Nino y El Sol came together... magically? I don't really know how—a lot of it was already recorded by Martin. With [The Alchemist Manifesto] we set out to record a lot more but because of scheduling it was hard to do so it ended up not as well thought out. It's a good record and I know a lot of people like it but it's a lot of stuff that was just laying around and sounded completely different on an album."

[Coconut Rock] is the record we've spent the most time on so I think the songs are fleshed out more. You mentioned David Axelrod, who did a lot of big arrangements and compositions where everything was real well thought out and super orchestrated. This is the first album where we actually had the time and the resources to actually flesh out ideas. So it's not just grooves—all the songs start with a groove but this is the first time we actually had the time to sit down and turn them into real songs, to call up our friends who play instruments we can't play. In that sense, this is the most composed record."

"I wasn't going for that [Axelrod-like style] specificall,y although I do admire his productions, both under his own name and other stuff he did. Adrian definitely has a very cinematic ear and brings a lot of that aesthetic to the sound. In the back of my mind I am constantly thinking of the dancers—you can hear that in the 'Cockroach Peoples,' 'Coconut Rock' and 'Prince of Peace'"

Working within a community of musicians that includes members of Antibalas, Grupo Fantasma and Brownout, Perna and Quesada have had no problems finding experienced musicians to help them actualize their ideas.

"John Speice, who plays with the Austin-version of the live band, he played a huge part in this record," Quesada admits. "We wanted to incorporate more of the live element and the way the band is sounding on this record and he is the one who came in and was the glue that pulled that together. He plays drums and percussion on almost every song so [Coconut Rock] has more of a live feel than the last few, where some of the drums were samples or random percussion that we could round up. He's really the third member on this record."

The biggest problem for Perna and Quesada seems to be the final step in the music making process—figuring out how in the world to play these songs live.

"Brownout, Grupo and Antibalas are such live machines, huge bands that beat you over the head with music. And because they come from a live setting, all three of those bands' music is based on getting people dancing," Quesada says. "With Ocote, that need to get people dancing goes out the window, allowing us to do whatever we want really. The music has more of a cinematic quality because songs are built around sounds and not necessarily what works live.

"We don't play a lot of our songs live," Quesada jokes. "But we have no sense of that when writing. Afterwards, we go back and figure out what we can play live. We just went on tour with Thievery Corporation again. They're more electronic-based and Martin and I come from a live background and little by little we're realizing that short of hiring an orchestra and taking all those people on tour with us, we're going to have to start using a sampler or computers. I love watching a live band trying to recreate the record.

Ocote Soul Sounds"There is some material that is heavy on the studio production, and we've either chosen not to do it live or to do some sort of reduced version of it with the instrumentation we have live," Perna continues. At the band's most recent gig at the loungey 6th St. bar Momo's in, Austin, TX, that live set up consisted of two guitars, Quesada and Arturo Torres, bass, congas, the aforementioned John Speice on drums, Perna's flute and baritone sax, and a second saxophone. "I've been learning Ableton Live and am going to experiment a little bit with integrating some pre-recorded stuff (both musical and ambient sounds) into the live set. If it can work organically with much drama, cool. If not, I'll leave it in the bag."

The Roots

Two years ago I had the pleasure of working with Adrian Quesada at the Fun Fun Fun Fest music festival in Austin. As Quesada's Grupo Fantasma shimmied their way through a silky smooth set of horn-heavy cumbia, salsa and funk, I stood at the back of the stage alongside Dead Milkmen lead singer Rodney Anonymous, his band having played a reunion show at the festival the night before. Rodney was ecstatic, literally freaking about this band "playing the sort of Chicago funk my father used to listen to."

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