We spoke with Jose Boyer of Las Rosas shortly after the announcement of their new album Everyone Gets Exactly What They Want out March 10 on Ernest Jenning Record Co.
Your debut full length is coming out this year. What can we expect from it? Is it in line with your previous releases or did you try some new stuff out while recording?
This record has actually been on the shelf for a while, so we're pretty excited to get it out there. Since we started out and released two EP's, we've definitely moved further into a zone where there's slower songs, maybe longer songs, inching away from the "garage" style we kind of were born into. This record shows a step in that direction, I think. As for the recording process itself, we worked with producer/engineer Missy Thangs out in an amazing studio in the woods of North Carolina. She was a tireless worker and so inspired, and there's lots of little choices she made that really add dimension to a bunch of the songs.
What were your influences and inspirations for the songwriting process?
I don't know who influences my songwriting. I don't listen to much music at all, so it must be the bands I was into when I did listen - The Kinks, Squeeze. Normally I bring a song more or less intact to our studio and then we collectively polish it, or take it apart, or whatever needs to be done, and then, musically it's finished. Often I'm still writing the lyrics to the song on the way to the show, or in the recording studio, because I generally write the first verse in stream-of-consciousness just to have something to sing as we arrange the song. Later on, it's a bit of a chore to go back and tease subject matter from that verse and create a full 2 or 3 stanzas of content.
How long has Everyone Gets Exactly What They Want been in the works? Are these all new songs? What's the meaning behind the title?
Some of these songs are older, from the very start of the band. Those tend to be the short boppy ones. There's others, like the song "Silver Lining" that I wrote later on, as we moved away from turning band jams into songs. A few of them I wrote specifically as the recording dates approached, to fill roles in the album flow. For example, the first and final songs were both written with those specific placements in mind. The title is just a phrase we'd been throwing around in the van on tour, and to me it strikes a cynical kind of tone that reflects similarly cynical themes in the songs. It's a nearly impossible proposition, so there's some sarcasm there.
Can you tell us more about the recording stage and your style for that process?
It was recorded at Mitch Easter's studio called the Fidelitorium, out in Kernersville, NC. He's got a cute guest house there, so we were able to spend a couple of weeks living on the grounds of this beautiful studio, cooking meals and playing bocce on the lawn. It's the first release we've done that I haven't recorded myself, with my extremely limited technical knowledge. It was really fun. Missy is a musician I've known for years. I remember meeting her at some party in like 2008, and going on Myspace to find her, and hearing all these amazing solo songs she'd made. I couldn't get them out of my head. Later on I moved away, and in the meantime she'd been learning to engineer, so it was great to reconnect with an old pal in a new way.
How has living in New York City impacted your creativity and how is your time living there reflected in your songs?
I moved to New York from Austin, TX. My previous band, Harlem had just broken up and I had begun to realize what an enabler Austin can be for anyone with any slacker tendencies. At least at the time, you could work three days a week, live in a big house and just hang out all the time. I remember sitting on my front porch one day and realizing I needed a kick in the pants if I was going to get any new musical projects off the ground. New York seemed like an atmosphere where you have to keep swimming or get sucked in, so I decided to come up here. I have to say I was totally right. I feel like I can never relax here. In a good way, I guess?
What things did you learn during your time with Harlem that has helped your Las Rosas project?
Well when you're in a band that gets tossed into the process of album cycles and nonstop touring, you certainly get to know your limitations and learn to recognize those of your collaborators. I learned how tough full-time touring can be and I learned that I was at least capable of doing it. Lots of folks can't handle it and I don't blame them a bit. It's a bizarre lifestyle. I also learned what it takes to really go for it, in terms of trying to do a band in a serious way. My bandmate in Harlem was always really good at making analogies, and I remember being hesitant to leave a job in Austin for a long tour. He said it was a situation where you have to let go of one safety handrail in order for your other arm to reach the next. I guess you have to embrace that scary moment of letting go of both hands for a bit, and take a risk. And the risk, to be specific, is money, housing, relationships, physical and mental health and wellbeing. I'm not complaining! I think.
You're taking off for a pretty lengthy European tour in February. Do you have any favorite spots to play in Europe? Does any certain city just really feel like the best fit for your style of music? What are the challenges of touring overseas?
Touring overseas has a bunch of added logistical elements like equipment and vehicles and work permits and stuff, but it's quite different from touring in the U.S. I have a feeling it has to do with the way the two cultures value art and artists. There's more of a sense that there is value in making space in culture for music at all levels, so that's encouraging. I don't have much preference in terms of places to play, but we all really love food and personally I'm always excited to eat in Spain and France - U.K. not so much. I'd like to teach them how to cook a damn egg. Really sweet folks though.
What ways do you motivate yourself creatively? What are the things that are catalysts for your songwriting abilities? What are some things that reduce your songwriting motivation and imagination?
I don't really know. It's definitely a tide. It rises and falls and there's currents, and I've just learned to be receptive, and be ready to grab an instrument when the water's right. I normally don't start out with any subject matter in mind, but as I try to match vocal tunes with the guitar/piano parts that I'm writing, I tend to just babble random words as a way to try out melodies. After a while, I realize I'll actually be babbling about an actual topic. It's a Freudian process, because normally I had no idea I had something to say but clearly my unconscious was writing lyrics ahead of time.
I have to say that it's great having bandmates who are eager to hear something new. They're really good at adding elements to the songs that go beyond their individual instruments. Backing vocal parts, ways to break with established habits, etc. It can be a challenge to let people mess with your idea, but it's almost always for the best. You gotta trust your pals.
Preorder the new Las Rosas album, Everyone Gets Exactly What They Want. Also, find the tour dates below.