I’m a reporter. And I’m a musician.
This makes me a particularly bad interview subject. I’m also too critical of the way music is written about.
I did music writing for years for a local publication—some of it good, some of it rough. I know one of the problems from the start is that there are so many words in our language to describe visual features of the world, but few to talk about sound.
The best stories, though, are people stories. Even when you’re talking about a band, or an album, you’re talking about people—what they’re like, how they struggle, what makes them laugh, what motivates them, the ways they deal with what they can and can’t control.
It’s funny how instinctively my bandmates picked up on that without any conversation. I asked all the members of Chicharra, a band I’m in, to come up with three questions for another player. And it’s like they’ve been giving interviews their whole lives. Their curiosity about the nuances of how music is made, how the other people in our band-fam experience practice and performance, was so spot-on. I loved hearing them talk shop.
I sometimes do get kind of sweaty and shaky before a performance.
Chicharra is made of three experimental bass-playing, songwriting vocalists. I’m one of the bassists, and so is my sister, Monica Demarco. The third leg of the bass tripod is one of our oldest and best friend-sisters, Mauro Woody.
Many great people have played drums with us lately, but for the album we’re releasing, it was the originators of the band: Henry Hutchinson and John Butler, who compliment one another so well as they drum simultaneously throughout the album. “We are the drummer,” they joke sometimes. They’ll both be at the upcoming release show; Butler’s making the trip back from his new home in Florida for it.
To make this album, Let’s Paint This Town In Craters, we squeezed ourselves into an old hair salon in downtown Albuquerque and pretty much wrote and recorded these 10 songs in a single weekend last year. We’re so glad to be releasing it on fierce Santa Fe label Matron Records.
I pulled songs off the album to emphasize the points everyone brings up in our self-interview. Listening to the audio is probably your best bet for consuming this thing. But if you’d prefer to read it, it’s transcribed below.
Chicharra Album Release
With Lilith, Mirror Fears and Church Fire
Friday, Nov. 24, 2017
Launchpad (618 Central SW, ABQ)
8 p.m. • 21+ • $5
Monica Demarco (bass/vocals) came up with questions for Henry Hutchinson (drums).
Monica: Describe to me what it feels like to play drums in a live setting, in enough detail that it’s like a scientist describing a bioluminescent mushroom, like getting down to the cellular level of the experience.
Henry: First I would say my brain chemistry changes, and there’s a lot of chemicals being released that are kind of telling me like, “You’re totally right to be afraid right now.” And that kind of washes over me in a wave of, it feels like, heat. And I sometimes do get kind of sweaty and shaky before a performance.
But then once like a good couple waves of that feeling wash over me, I usually start breathing really deeply and kind of like do a little meditation. And then it feels like my whole body becomes very still. Maybe it’s like a hardening. I have an armor almost. As I’m preparing to play, my thoughts become very still. And then I kind of like open up to the music that I’m hearing. And then at that point, I would say I become very gelatinous, a gibbering mass of tentacled gelatin.
I remember the first time I ever heard Nirvana, that kind of made me want to play the drums.
Monica: If you think the sound of your drums when you’re playing them could make a visual structure, like a sculpture or something—it doesn’t have to be three-dimensional space, you could chose other dimensions—describe to me what that structure looks like.
Henry: OK. I’ve actually described it in a drawing before—that exact thing. Because I was taking a geometry class, and I was doing a lot of thinking about geometry and how you can use geometry to figure out distances without having any measuring tools or anything like that. So I’d been just really thinking about shapes and distance.
And I had this dream. In the dream, I’m playing my drums, and the sound of the drums is visible, and it would be like these little eruptions coming off of my drums. Like angular things coming off of the cymbals, there were these angular shapes kind of like expanding infinitely, starting infinitely small and expanding. I was in a big room, a big square room, and the sound and the shapes were mapping the room. They were like washing all of the details of the room and stuff. It felt like I was echo-locating with my drums.
Monica: Awesome. That kind of dovetails. My last question was if you had any dreams about Chicharra specifically or playing that you wanted to tell? That one’s awesome. Do you have any other ones that are like playing (live) dreams?
Henry: When we were talking about making videos and brainstorming, I’d had this dream, we were all in kind of a black swamp together. I don’t remember my dreams super well usually or in very much detail. But one part I do remember is all of us kind of like emerging from this really black, inky water, all covered in algae and dripping in various rotting biological matter. Swamp denizens.
You guys were there for sure.
I had just been thinking about subterranean themes, and I have a couple different projects that I want to film and animate that have to do with earth kind of like animating and coming to life and building itself a human body. So I had been thinking about that a lot.
Henry Hutchinson (drums) came up with questions for John Butler (drums).
Henry: Hey John, how’s it going? I miss you, dearly.
John: I miss you, too.[Editor’s note: John moved to Florida a while back, and is coming to town to play the album release party on Nov. 24.]
Henry: Okay first of all, how are you doing?
John: Pretty good, how are you doing?
Henry: I’m quite well, indeed. We’re post-jam session so I feel like, very nice. Do you think that there’s a facet of your childhood or an early experience that led you to your proclivity for percussion? And what was the experience or event that inspired you to be a percussionist?
John: I guess I’ve been just kind of smashing stuff ever since I was little. I always liked to bash things. So maybe that led me to it.
I remember the first time I ever heard Nirvana, that kind of made me want to play the drums. And that just kind of how I learned how to play the drums was just listening to Nirvana records.
Despite the disastrous potential consequences, selfishly, I would like to teleport.
Henry: A combination of bashing and Nirvana. Excellent. How would you describe your process for coming up with material on such a loud and unwieldy instrument as the drums? Do you play a lot by yourself? Or are you mostly collaborating when you play?
John: I would say mostly collaborating, but when I play by myself, I usually just like jam along to something. What really makes sense for me when I play is to play with other people, and that’s how I figure I want to play, is based on what they’re playing and what the mood is. So it’s just kind of like bouncing whatever you’re doing off of the other people. I don’t really like come up with beats and stuff ahead of time.
Henry: When you’re among people that you’re jamming with and you’re coming up with a new beat for whatever music they’re playing, how would you describe how you feel when you’re doing that? Is it a very involved process in your head? Is it cerebral? Or do you just kind of shut your head off and just go for it?
John: I think it’s more kind of shutting my head off and just kind of feeling whatever is going on and reacting to that with the drums. And then later on, even if we just record the jam session on somebody’s phone or something, then going back and listening to that is a lot more cerebral. And I’ll pay attention more to whatever I’m doing on the drums and how exactly it matches with the rest of the music, more than it would when I’m just playing it.
Henry: This last question is inspired by a question that I was asked by Monica that I liked a lot, and it is: Do you conceive of your percussive musical pursuits in any somatic way other than temporal and physical? So when you’re playing your drums, you’re obviously doing this intense physical activity, and you’re breaking down your music and other people’s that you’re playing with music, you’re breaking it down in time. But is there any other way that you think about it, visually or anything like that?
John: I definitely see it visually in my head. I don’t know how to describe the way that is. It’s kind of a weird mix of, seeing it more mathematically, just like, the beats and things like that. And then at the same time, seeing this weird visual landscape of the way the music feels in my head, kind of helps with what I’m playing. I don’t know how to describe it very well.
Henry: Your visualizations give you further cues or something?
John: Yeah, if you’re playing something kind of fast and punk rock, in my head that would kind of be like running down stairs, maybe, is how I would describe it.
John Butler (drums) came up with questions for Marisa Demarco (bass/vocals).
John: If you could pick one thing about being a musician—one aspect of it, or one trait that you need to do that—anything like that and apply it to being a journalist, what would you pick? Or do it the other way. Any trait about being a journalist and apply it to being a musician, what would it be?
Marisa: That’s an awesome question. I think they both require—and they’re actually not known for this—but I think that they both require so much tenacity and so much self-discipline. They’re both like trades that you have to get at every single day. And you either are practicing a little music, or you are thinking about how a song is written, or you’re thinking about how a news story is structured. They really are things that you can get better at over the course of your whole life if you do them on the regular. Almost like exercise.
Journalists get shot down all the time. I try to talk to student workers about like, “Hey, get comfortable with getting rejected when you’re out there trying to get an interview. It’s fine. It happens.” And I think being a musician, especially a performing musician, takes the same hard-headedness about it. Because all kinds of stupid things happen, you know what I mean? It gets expensive. You play stupid shows. Whoever is booking the show is an asshole…or, I don’t know, crazy stairs in front of the gig. Whatever it is. They just both require a lot of hanging in there and mental buoyancy, trying to ride on top of the waters instead of sinking all the way in them when it gets hard. You have to stay up.
And actually I think that pretty much all the whole band is really good with that for the most part. I noticed doing this recording project and traveling and stuff, that this band has pretty good mental buoyancy, which I appreciate. Some people even have more than I do, you know what I mean? Probably a lot of you have more than I do.
I like these really crazy songs about mudslides.
John: If you could interview anybody in the world alive or dead, who would it be? And what would you ask them first?
Marisa: Oh man. I’ll just say the first thing that popped into my head, which was Gabriel García Márquez. I love him. And I love his mind, and the stories that he made. Honestly, you asked the question, I’ve never contemplated this before, and that’s just the first thing that went in my brain about it.
And he was a journalist, also, in addition to being a amazing fiction writer, obviously. I guess probably I would start by asking him about the reporting he did on the toughest stories, the disappearances in Colombia, where people were getting disappeared or getting kidnapped. First I would want to know about how he went about getting those stories together.
But also, I don’t know, how do you ask him a question about: How does your brain make such good stuff? How does it work in there? So I probably would think of something smarter to say than that I hope, but probably something like that.
John: If you could pick any superpower that you could possibly imagine and give it to yourself, but it would also automatically be applied to every spider in the world, what would it be?
Marisa: Wow, that is super hard. Maybe I would take a power that spiders already have…no cuz that just makes me Spider-Man. Never mind.
Obviously I really think it would be sick to teleport. Honestly, if I could have any power it would totally be teleportation, but I don’t know if I want to see a bunch of teleporting spiders. Like that’s freaky. Especially if they all teleported to your house for a party or something. Then your house has got a trillion spiders, and then if you tried to trap them or kill them, they would just teleport away. So really, it feels like a problem.
John: And they could like teleport into your lungs or something.
Marisa: OMG! John! That’s terrible.
Monica Demarco: But can you teleport into people’s lungs?
Marisa: I guess you can! Give it some thought. I’m still, I’m going to say teleportation for sure. Despite the disastrous potential consequences, selfishly, I would like to teleport.
John: And everyone else just has to deal with the teleporting spiders now.
Marisa Demarco (bass / vocals) came up with questions for Mauro Woody (bass / vocals).
Marisa: You were talking about this earlier. You were talking about being inspired by food, right? What kind of flavors especially inspire you to make other things that are not food? Flavors that that inspire you to make a song or a poem or a painting or anything?
Mauro: I really love umami. I love that extra flavor of savory, sweet, salty and a bunch of things mixed together that you normally wouldn’t think would go together but they do. Because you’re changing the profile. I have this weird thing that I do with people’s voices or songs, they remind me of food and textures. So I start from there, like a textural place, and then I do think about if it would pair with food. If a song or a melody that I wrote, I’m like “Would this sound good with a green chile stew or enchiladas that I’ve made?” I’ve actually done this.
Marisa: So you’re saying umami…
Mauro: …is the flavor…
Marisa: …of all your songs.
Mauro: Of all my songs? So “Wilderness That Waits,” I was eating ramen, Mari and I came up with that line when I was playing with it. And I love ramen noodles, and I love the ramen place—that O Ramen place on Central—and when I do that line it reminds me of a long ramen noodle in this delicious chicken broth, and it’s umami.
I just draw a lot of inspiration from those ancient beings and all they’ve been through to be here.
Marisa: So I was going to ask you about “Wilderness That Waits.” The lyrics on that song are unlike anything I’ve ever heard in the sense that it’s about falling in love, and then you and your lover like jumping off a rock or jumping into the dirt. It is like suicidal apocalyptic love song. On its surface, it is that. Okay, this is my read on it. I don’t think it’s actually that. I feel like it’s about that crazy abandon, the really wild tip of falling in love. There’s this part where you’re just, you’re nuts. I feel like it’s that coupled with this death wish that we all experience a little bit. I honestly have never heard that kind of love song ever. And I think it’s great. So I was wondering if you have certain love songs that you really like, that felt like a relationship that you’ve had.
Mauro: One comes to mind is a love song, actually, that my partner and I Mike both really love. It’s kind of a popular new wave song by this band Modern English called “I’ll Stop The World And Melt With You.” I really love it, because it’s about, how I interpret it, is that the world is falling apart, and I will gladly fall apart with this one person. It’s Ray Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles, everything’s melted, people’s bodies are displayed on walls, everyone’s dead, and it’s like, I will gladly die with you. That songs kind of captures that, all this crazy feeling about being in love.
And then another song that I really love that’s about loving somebody so much and losing yourself is “River” by Joni Mitchell. How you loved somebody so much, and it didn’t work out, and you wish you could just run away. Those songs are very different from each other. But they’re both about falling apart in different ways: one’s with a partner, one’s by yourself. And how you have to reconnect and recollect and reconnect yourself.
I do like doomed relationships in a weird way. Because I feel like when you love somebody, it is a violent love, you’re crazy when you first start falling in love with somebody, because you’re nuts, like you said. You’re willing to do anything, because you’re just like high. It’s amazing and terrible at the same time.
Marisa: Another question is: Is it cool that I invited Marceline to join the band?
Mauro: Yes! She’s the vampire queen! She’s actually going to take over, and anything red, she’s going to suck the red out. So are you OK with that?
Marisa: I’m OK with that.
Mauro: I’m OK with that, too.
Marisa: No real last question is: What do you think we’re going to do next?
Mauro: What do you think we are going to do next? As a band or as a species?
Marisa: Either. Both.
Mauro: I’ll do a two-parter. This is bonus. I think as a band we’re going to write another apocalyptic album. I think it’s safe to say.
Marisa: Really? You don’t think we can do anything else?
Mauro: Do we want to do anything else? That’s the question you need to ask yourself there, sister. I like these really crazy songs about mudslides. We have to pick other natural disasters, though, you guys. We do. Let’s get creative.
And as a species, I don’t know! I’m kind of worried about everybody right now. But that’s why it’s wonderful to be in a doomsday band. Because everyone’s planning for the future. I feel like we’re going to make another really fun, cool album and probably go on more tours and play more festivals, and we’re going to play a really rad album release next week. That’s what we’re going to do.
Marisa: Daaaaamn. Worked in a little promo even.
Mauro Woody (bass / vocals) came up with questions for Monica Demarco (bass / vocals).
Mauro: My first question for you, Moniker, is a lot of your songs are about the ocean or creatures in the ocean. Do you think you were once an oceanic creature or part of an aquatic organism? I just feel like there’s a connection with you with the ocean in a lot of your songs. Your solo stuff is about that. So do you feel like you’re really a jelly? Or some kind of air plant?
Monica: The sort of creatures that I like in the ocean the most are very ancient creatures. I like that they have existed on this earth the same way for like millions of years, like nautilus, or other creatures that we haven’t even discovered are down there, and we don’t even know what they are. There’s a lot of mystery there, and I like the idea of just these ancient beings. And I wonder if maybe I was an ocean creature, that maybe I have some ancient pieces in me or something, and I want to return to the ocean.
I also really like ocean creatures because of their adaptability. And we just saw this cool “Galapagos” thing at the Dynamax theater, and it was all about these animals’ adaptations and stuff. It evokes emotional responses from me to see how animals strive to live, how much they want to live, and all the physical changes and adaptations they make to live and survive. I resonate with that. And I feel like all the things you have to do—like I don’t know, you can relate it to being a musician, all the things you do to survive and be an artist, the adaptations, the mental, physical, all those adaptations. Trying to learn an instrument, you’re adapting your mind and your body to be able to do that, as well as your environment in performance spaces and stuff.
I just draw a lot of inspiration from those ancient beings and all they’ve been through to be here.
Nobody has our same hands.
Mauro: It sounds like that in your music when I hear it, all the things in context that you’re saying. You do aerial work and you do martial arts, too. Do your movements influence you in that medium and vice versa? Are your influences as an aerialist and martial arts badass person, does that influence you in Chicharra? Does the physicality of it influence you musically?
Monica: When you think about the different ways that people learn, I would actually list my first and best way that I express myself and learn as a physical thing, a kinesthetic learner. You would think it would be auditory, but I think it’s kinesthetic first. Because after I build a bass line, however complicated or whatever it is, I remember the gesture. I remember my hands and the shapes that my hands make. I remember the physical act of the line. So sometimes when we’re trying to remember a really old song, my hand knows what it’s supposed to do, but it will be on a different note or something. And then you have to like access the other part of your brain that can take apart music and think about theory and all of that to fix it.
But my body remembers, and I have really strong body memory. So any time I’m expressing myself through any discipline, my body memory is first and foremost the thing that I need.
Mauro: What is a secret skill of yours that you’re proud of that nobody knows about?
Monica: A secret skill? That’s funny. I don’t know if skill makes me feel pride. I usually feel like I’m terrible and need to practice more. Like that’s always the place that I’m coming from. Like go home and practice, asshole. Let me think. Let me get a positive answer going.
Man, that’s so tricky. I’m trying to think of something that I’m proud of. Like, “Oh man, I can do that.” When do I feel that way?
I was taking these dance classes, and I was told that my hands are extra flexible and really expressive. I was trying to do dance improvs, and they were all wacky at first, and then as soon as I had gotten that compliment about my hands, it was all about hands. It was like the ends of my fingers, and if I use my hands to lead any movement, I feel proud of how expressive my hands are, I guess. I don’t know if that’s a skill, but that’s something that I was like, “Oh cool. I have that.”
They are. They’re really flexible for no reason. And they look really different. Me and Marisa’s hands, look like, if I saw somebody with our hands, like you would know they’re related to us. They’re like really familial. And they’re both flexible and both shaped the same way. And nobody has our same hands, so it feels like family pride I guess. Yeah. Totally.
Listen to the Interview
With Lilith, Mirror Fears and Church Fire
Friday, Nov. 24, 2017
Launchpad (618 Central SW, ABQ)
8 p.m. • 21+ • $5