In Spanish the word for cicada is chicharra—a word that sounds like something the insect might say—but it’s also the name of a local musical project that’s defining the direction rocanrol may likely take in this town. Chicharra is heavy, intricate, informed and affirmatively experimental. The ensemble is disposed to jam the fuck out, just like their spirit animal, possessed of glittery rocanrol wings that rattle with the wind and roll like thunder into the early morning hours.
Three bassists and two drummers comrpise Chicharra. Their new album is called Let’s Paint This Town In Craters and it’s about everything I mentioned in the two paragraphs that came before this one. Serio. The band (bassists/vocalists Monica Demarco, Marisa Demarco and Mauro Woody; drummers John Butler and Henry Hutchinson) will perform their new work at the fabled Launchpad (618 Central Ave. NW) on Friday, Nov. 24. The week before, Monica and Henry breezed on over to Alibi HQ. It was a sunny, windy day, so we wandered down to the park to talk about music. Here’s what was said.
Weekly Alibi: What is Chicharra?
Monica: So, Marisa [Demarco, Monica’s sister] approached me about wanting to start a new project, something really heavy. So we got together and we were really jamming and started auditioning a lot of people. And Mauro came on board, we had heard her in Animals in the Dark, I’m sure you remember …
Yeah, Mauro has been deeply involved in Albuquerque’s music scene; she’s Lady Uranium, yo.
Monica: She’s amazing and she’s a good friend. She said, “I don’t really play bass,” and we were like, “Just come jam with us.” It was kinda magical. We had wanted it to be bass heavy and she was down to try it; so we had a really great time and then started auditioning drummers; that’s how we found Henry.
Henry: I don’t know where Marisa had seen me play—
Monica: I saw you play at one of Manny’s [Rettinger’s] shows! Manny had his ‘chupper’ shows; do you know Manny?
I’ve known Manny since I was very young, a kid. He’s like the generation before me; when I went to UNM he was producing stuff as UBIK sound; important recordings of northern New Mexico folk artists and early Albuquerque punks like Cleofes Ortiz and Cracks in the Sidewalk. He’s a huge influence.
Monica: Yeah, he’s a great guy; he had this show with sculptures that can be played, called chuppers. Henry was playing—
Henry: They’re made of, like, the inner workings of a piano or a typewriter and they’re all loaded with contact mics and triggers; they’re really fun instruments to play, especially for a percussionist. But anyway, Drake Hardin, who is tight with Manny and was playing a lot with him, he created a drum with electronic triggers. If you hit the drum in different areas, it would produce different, sampled parts of human speech. He was in the linguistics department at UNM.
Monica: He was just playing that instrument with his hands and we were like, “Who is this guy?”
Were you from the UNM Music school like Monica was, Henry?
Henry: No, I just … I played violin when I was about eight. It just wasn’t my thing. I think I was probably about 10 when I started getting into percussion. I was already banging on stuff and in high school I had a band. As time went on, I got more technical. I’ve always been hammering on things as hard as I could.
After Henry joined Chicharra, how did you all progress toward becoming a quintet?
Monica: We were working together, practicing in my little basement and Henry had to go to the jungle …
Henry: I moved away to work on an organic farm.
Monica: We were, like, shit, we have to audition more drummers! We went through the audition process again and we started playing with John Butler; he had been the drummer for Mauro’s band, Animals in the Dark, for a long time. He’s a really solid person, fun, consistent. But then Henry came back and we decided we should have two drummers.
Henry: It was already maximalist; we made it ultra-maximalist. I’ve collaborated with a few other percussionists and I’ve always liked the experience. I found that Butler’s style and my style were so disparate that we were able to mesh really well. A lot of my background, the stuff I listened to when I was young was jazz. My father had an amazing jazz record collection … John is a real rock-steady drummer, so I’m always interweaving my fills with his drumming.
Is the Chicharra compositional model improvisatory, collaborative? Monica, do you write charts for all of this stuff ahead of time?
Monica Demarco: It’s all written by the band, we write the music all together. We each bring in ideas and then build them together. I think what’s so important about the new album is that it’s something we recorded in one weekend, in an incubator format. We had a few ideas and decided to commit a weekend to recording at Ocotillo Room.
That’s Joe Cardillo’s DIY venue, ¿que no?
Yeah, it used to be a beauty parlor. It still says “Mood Salon” on the outside!
Good acoustics, good recording?
Monica: Well, yeah. It’s pretty reflective, there’s nothing in the building. It’s kinda a long hallway. But it has separate rooms, so we were able to put the drummers in different rooms. We wrote and knocked out the album in one weekend.
Henry: Everyone helped everyone else flesh out all the parts we had worked on before. It seemed like someone would play their idea, just a couple of chords, and then everyone else would jump in with ideas of their own. It blossomed really quickly. All of a sudden, we’d have a song.
So most of this got recorded on the first take?
Monica: We’d hit it a few times and then just lay it down.
Henry: Yeah, we’d practice a couple of times; some of them we recorded a couple of times and then ended up using the first take.
Monica: We also had some guest musicans stop by. We just had them scheduled for a time to pop in and whatever we were making right then, they sat in on. It worked out great, like there was a perfect song for each guest performer. These were really focused sessions.
Given all that, how do you like the new Chicharra album?
Monica: The thing that we thought would be challenging was writing lyrics in that sort of incubator environment. We did bring in some words and fit them in and a lot of those are themed around chaotic, apocalyptic references.
Henry: Overall, I think those themes dovetail with our traditional theme; like the chicharras of summer, they get a drone going, at times it builds to an overwhelming crescendo.
Monica: It’s a cacophony—
Henry: It gets that way, especially with two drummers. We play with a multiplicity of rhythms and meters … I’ve thought of our music as baiting these crescendos and riding on the consequent waves
Monica: I would describe it as when clocks become clouds, like you have this riff that’s fairly rhythmically complex and then you keep going with it, adding to it so that there is so much complexity that you no longer have something linear, it’s shaped like a cloud, like the sound cicadas make.