5 questions for Costa Rican band 424 – ‘An album is a photograph’
Costa Rican rock band 424 has made its mark on the country’s music scene with its distinct groove, obscure frequencies and atmospheric sound. Felipe Pérez (vocals and guitar), Guayo Mena (guitar), Leonardo Valverde (bass) and Juan Carlos Pardo (drums) formed the band on April 24, 2009, and drew their name from that day’s date. Their debut album Oro was released in 2012; singles have included “Lógica,” “Nocturna,” and a twist on Emmanuel’s famous 80s song “Chica de Humo” with their own twist. Their video for “Al Hueco,” released in 2014, was inspired by the artwork of Renè Magritte’s, and on Nov. 4 they released the video for “Chica de Humo.”
The band has participated in festivals such as USA’s SXSW, Colombia’s Estéreo Picnic and Mexico’s Vive Latino, as well as Costa Rican festivals.
Lead singer Felipe Pérez stopped by The Tico Times’ offices in Barrio Amón on a Thursday night to chat about the group’s process, his optimism about the future of Costa Rican music, and how a recent music video helped him check a dream off his bucket list. Excerpts follow.
Which are your inspirations and influences?
The lyrics I’ve written for 424 always contain a lot of melancholy and reflection about various matters such as love and heartbreak, which is typical and necessary. It’s a fuel that boosts us. That’s why I write so much about it. There’s also a lot of reflection about being good and feeling okay, and also contemplating detachment and not suffering. As for the music, it’s a lot about groove. Groove is a word that we began probing more when we were recording “Oro” with the producer Phil Vinall. The band is influenced by everything. When we’ve traveled we’ve listened to bands and learned from them just by watching. If you listen to something you liked in a concert, you return with the desire of portraying what you liked in your own way.
Which is the process you go through to create your music, and which is your favorite of the band’s songs?
We jam and record those jams. If we’re jamming and like something, we record it, and then we bring it all together. We take fragments, I begin singing over it and then we produce everything. Once I have the structure I define the lyrics and the melody. We then go back to the music and begin constructing it from then on. I sometimes present a melodic and lyric idea with a basic rhythm idea and a simple guitar concept. I need to be accompanied to know what I want to do. The music works as an inspiration for the lyrics and melody, not the other way around.
We all switch off on different instruments. Pardo has proposed various bass sections. Leo has proposed voice melodies and lyrics. These last three pieces, “Lógica,” “Nocturna” and “Chica de Humo,” have been everyone’s. There are no roles within the band. Everyone allows everyone to get into their space.
As to my favorite song, that varies. Right now I like “Lógica” a lot because it was well received this year and people sing along to it in concerts, so we have an amazing time. In last week’s concert when we played “Lógica,” I heard a lot of people singing along, and I could not believe it!
What can people enjoy from your live performance that’s not available when listening to the album?
I’m totally in favor of live performances because it’s the closest thing as to what the band is right now. When you record an album it’s a photograph that’s laid out there, a portrayal of the moment, [but] when you’re live, everything is generated in real time, and [the listener has] better equipment than at home. You really let yourself to be immersed in the moment. You’re connecting with other people who enjoy music, and as a band we are a having a great time. It’s more like a live communion. During a live performance there’s the human factor and the connection, and that will never be present in your laptop or iPhone.
What changes have you noticed during the 15 years you have been playing?
There’s been a lot of change, mostly during these past six years. At the beginning you had MTV, and then you had the Costa Rican scene. There have always been very edgy people here who’ve worked in music and have done the best they could during the circumstances at that time. There’s always been music here, people making others sing and dance, and that’s very cool! There was a time in which the scene was asleep, during the 2000s. Then it gained strength. In 2009 and 2010, a lot of people from the same generation began producing music in a serious way. There was a large group of people born in the last half of 80s that worked very hard on this. I’ve known el Pana and Bryan from Alphabetics since ninth grade and kindergarten. I met Paola Rogue from The Great Wilderness and the guys from Akasha and Meche Oller in high school. It’s been curious to watch so many contemporaries work in this.
There’s a lot of audiovisual production now. More people enjoy it and consume it. Not only do the bands’ dreams come true, but there’s more work for people who produce videos. There’s more work for people who record. It all begins transforming into an industry in which it’s more tangible to think about playing outside of Costa Rica. It’s becoming a livelier industry, more connected to globalization. The government has begun showing interest in the profits generated by this movement. It’s being recognized much more. I’m very optimistic. We’re on a good path, and you have to keep working hard.
Who does all of 424’s visuals, and what were the challenges you faced when doing the “Al Hueco” video?
We do most of it. I’m the designer and I’ve edited the live videos and “Chica de Humo.” Roberto Montero, our manager, and I work a lot on this. I made the art for our first EP and “Oro.” I usually do the posters when the concerts are completely ours. It’s a very natural process. It doesn’t take a lot of time.
Marlon Villar was the one with the idea for “Al Hueco.” He told us: “I love this song, and I think we could make a video like this.” We went along with his idea because he was very excited and we love Renè Magritte. The peculiar thing about “Al Hueco” was that it took us five days to film it when it usually takes one day. We were separated most of the time. No one knew what the others were doing until the end, when Marlon showed us the video and we were like, “Wow!” The hardest part was the fall with the harness. It was very cool. I was floating on the green screen. I always wanted to do that, ever since I saw it on Discovery Kids (laughs). “Al Hueco” flowed very well.
Our “Weekend Arts Spotlight” presents Sunday interviews with artists who are from, working in, or inspired by Costa Rica, ranging from writers and actors to dancers and musicians. Do you know of an artist we should consider, whether a long-time favorite or an up-and-comer? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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