XIXA — Bloodlin (Feb 26, 2016)
Location: Tucson, Arizona
Genre: Rock, Indie, World
Album release: Feb 26, 2016
Record Label: Barbès Records / Bloodlin
01 Bloodline 3:22
02 Vampiro 3:14
03 Killer 4:13
04 World Goes Away 4:02
05 Down from the Sky 5:26
06 Pressures of Mankind 6:17
07 Golden Apparition 4:38
08 Dead Man 4:44
09 Nena Linda 4:01
10. Living on the Line 16:08
℗ 2016 Barbès Records
♦≥♦ The desert has a frequency, a sound you can hear in the wilds around. XIXA tunes in and warps it, in glittering, gritty psychedelic cumbia tracks on their debut album, Bloodline, an expansion on their recent EP Shift and Shadow.
♦≥♦ The band hails from the Tucson indie rock scene–core members Brian Lopez and Gabriel Sullivan are also part of Giant Sand and play with the likes of William Sedlmayr, Calexico and KT Tunstall. XIXA wanders far and wide, into the psychedelia of Amazon backwaters, the bumping grind of chicha, quirky electronics and West African desert blues (Imarhan’s and Tamashek rock legend Tinariwen’s Sadam Iyad Imarhan collaborated with XIXA to write “World Goes Away”.)
♦≥♦ At turns rough and raw, scintillating and ethereal, the band evokes the stark magic and eeriness of the desert, in tracks that sound effortless, despite disparate source materials. Bloodline is a departure from XIXA’s first incarnation, as a chicha cover band inspired by vintage Peruvian tracks from the 70s featured on The Roots of Chicha, a compilation. The music came naturally to Lopez and Sullivan, Tucson natives with bloodlines reaching south.
♦≥♦ “All the Latin beats and rhythms are in your brain your whole life, so they make a lot of sense when you start playing them,” reflects Brian. “Latin music is part of Tucson’s sonic landscape.” Only forty miles from the border, the city’s laidback vibe and Mexican communities nurture everything from strong singer–songwriter and hardcore scenes to great cumbia bands playing at out–of–the–way Mexican steak houses on the south side of town. Latin music is everywhere.
♦≥♦ Yet it’s about more than where the musicians are from. It’s about the reinvention of a fragmented but powerful sense of heritage. Part of a wave of 2nd and 3rdgeneration Latin music experimenters, XIXA digs into various iterations of vintage Latin sounds to forge a new identity, one that is entirely domestic. It’s more about artistic affinity than blood–and–guts roots.
♦≥♦ “Until you dive into Latin music, you don’t know if you have a strong sensibility for it,” Brian continues. “I grew up speaking English, but went to bilingual dances and so on, your typical second or third–generation Latino family. My grandparents didn’t want my parents to speak Spanish, or to be Latino.”
♦≥♦ Fascinated with the music, they learned to musically speak chicha fluently, gathering musicians from the Tucson scene to form Chicha Dust, eventually growing to a sextet. “Winston played for Alice Cooper and Bob Dylan in the 90s. Efren ONLY knows Latin music, and didn’t know Led Zeppelin,” notes Brian. “You put them together,” that core combination of hard rock drums and Efren’s timbales, “and it’s XIXA.”
♦≥♦ Without trying too hard, they began to write originals, somehow getting six players featuring also Jason Urman on the Keys and Geoff Hildago on bass on the same creative page with remarkably little stress. “We’ve never had moments when we weren’t sure what to do with our sound,” Gabriel explains.
♦≥♦ That confidence busts out of guitar–driven songs like “Golden Apparition,” the most chicha–inflected track, or the dark, growling cumbia of “Nena Linda.” The band explores dreamy atmospherics (“Dead Man”) and wigged–out modal rock (“Down from the Sky”).
♦≥♦ The peculiar aesthetics of the desert permeates the entire album, including its visual elements, created by Tucson–based artist Daniel Martin Diaz. “When we started working on the album, Daniel was the only person I felt I could trust with the artwork, and by trust, I mean it would be an extreme honor to have him create our image,” recalls Sullivan. “The first concepts he sent us were absolutely stunning and were exactly the direction I had hoped for. The aesthetic of this band, I believe, plays an equal role to the music and creates more than just a band, but an entity that presents concepts and landscapes while allowing listeners to find reflection as well.”
♦≥♦ “When one lives in the desert for so many years you begin to have a dialog within the artistic community. We are all searching for a common mystery that lurks out here,” remarks Diaz.
♦≥♦ “In our work together with XIXA, we were going for a Desert Noir vibe. The shadowy figure in the pictures is based on a sketch of a character I was thinking about after a conversation Gabriel and I had about sleep paralysis. It’s also reminiscent of ‘La Llorona,’ the weeping ghost of the southwest.”
♦≥♦ XIXA hones in on new sounds in very old places, regardless of bloodline.
♦≥♦ Brian Lopez and Gabriel Sullivan are two of the most recognizable musicians from Tucson. Both are members of Howe Gelb’s mythical band Giant Sand and between them, they have collaborated with an wide variety of artists – from Calexico to KT Tunstall – as arrangers, producers, writers and sidemen.
♦≥♦ Four years ago, they discovered Peruvian Chicha and as Chicha Dust, started exploring the tropical universe of psychedelic cumbia. After a few years spent playing Chicha classics, Gabe and Brian started writing their own songs, mixing their experience as alternative musicians and their passion for psychedelic tropicalia. The result is a sort of Desert rock with a Latin heart and a marked taste for hallucinogenic experimentation.
♦≥♦ Their first EP, Shift and Shadow, came out this past fall, and helped them reach a new audience that seemed to equally appreciate their cumbias and their the Meat Puppet tribute.
♦≥♦ Their debut album, Bloodline (out 2/26) evokes the baroque magic of the desert and a certain Mexican mysticism, but never lets go of its taste for the kind of Latin parties where cumbia and melodrama both have a place. The sound can be raw, but the compositions remain sophisticated with an obvious sense of nostalgia for the analog productions of the 1970’s
♦≥♦ Bloodline, genealogy if you will, holds an important place in the band’s personal mythology. ““I grew up speaking English” says Brian Lopez, but went to bilingual dances, was part of a folkloric group, your typical second or third–generation Latino family. My grandparents didn’t want my parents to speak Spanish, or to be Latino.”
♦≥♦ Chicha is what led Brian and his bandmates to renew with a certain Latin tradition, and link it back to the rock and roll with which they grew up. “Winston played for Alice Cooper in the 90s. Efren ONLY knows Latin music, and didn’t know Led Zeppelin,” notes Brian. “You put them together,” that core combination of hard rock drums and Efren’s timbales, “and it’s XIXA.”
♦≥♦ This symbolic bloodline allowed the band to re-invent an American identity anchored in the Arizona desert — a place where Navajos, Mexicans and European have more or less successfully cohabitated for a few centuries. The mythology of the Southwest owe a lot to its multiple roots and is at the heart of the music of XIXA. It can be found in the western inflected–guitars that owe as much to Ennio Morricone as they do Latin guitar heroes. It can be found in their collaboration with a musician from another desert — Sadam Ivad, guitarist for Tinariwen and Imarhan who co–wrote and recorded the song “World Goes Away”.
♦≥♦ This mythology can also be found Daniel Martin Diaz’ esthetic. The celebrated Tucson artist responsible for all the visual aspects for the group — from the cover to the videos. Daniel calls his style, “Desert Noir”
♦≥♦ Bloodline can be viewed as part of a new trend in American music where artists find inspiration as much in their own bloodlines as they do in an invented genealogy. Second and third generation Latinos seem particularly fascinated by South American roots, but their fascination and the artistic process they lead to are not fundamentally different from that of a Beirut or a Vampire Weekend. Whether it be Chicha, Balkan or African music, these are artists are devising new identities, borrowing outside references.
♦≥♦ Bloodline is a seminal album. A founding myth. The beginning of a long lineage.
♦≥♦ “Every time we’d play a chicha song, it would steal the show,” exclaims Gabriel Sullivan of Tucson’s XIXA. He and fellow XIXA member Brian Lopez were touring Europe with Giant Sand, Howe Gelb’s pioneering Americana group. On the road, they started experimenting with chicha, the guitar driven, psychedelic cumbias born in the Peruvian Amazon, after obsessing over cult compilation The Roots of Chicha, released by Barbès Records ten years ago.
♦≥♦ “People would mob us after the show, wanting to know the name of that one song. It was always the chicha cover,” “Cariñito,” an emblematic chicha song that Gelb ended up recording for one of his albums. They took the hint and started their own chicha cover band, pounding hours–long sets. Before they knew it, they were writing originals in the same vein, finding where north and south, rock and Afro–Latin rhythms ran together.
♦≥♦ Shift and Shadow, the band’s debut EP (Barbès Records; release: November 13, 2015) shows this easy alchemy, blurring rock, punk, synth–pop, Afro–Latin rhythms, and Amazonian riffs in a north–south feedback loop. “It’s weird. It’s effortless,” states Brian. “I don’t know if it’s our backgrounds, with just enough Latin, just enough rock. Alchemy makes it meld. We never sat down in a room and said, ‘We need to sound like this.’ It’s not contrived. When we started playing chicha covers, we learned songs inside and out, and at some point that filters into your original music.”
♦≥♦ Brian was in spitting distance of indie stardom with his band Mostly Bears. Gabriel hit the road with metal and punk bands in his mid-teens, but over the years he found himself fascinated with everything from Howling Wolf and Townes Van Zandt — “They made the most punk music imaginable” — to Prado Perez Perez Prado and Balkan brass music(Gabriel founded his own Balkanesque band, Taraf de Tucson). They both worked with Giant Sand and Calexico, when not pursuing their own solo songwriting. And they both moonlighted with Sergio Mendoza y la Orkesta, falling hard for cumbia and mambo. Then they discovered chicha, and when they saw how fans clicked with the covers, they decided to launch a band that did nothing but.
♦≥♦ It felt like a peculiar homecoming. Both Gabriel and Brian, like many young artists in Tucson, are second– or third–generation Latino. Though they never went in search of this identity, it found them in chicha. They felt how that music, those rhythms had always been there.
♦≥♦ “All these beats and rhythms are in your brain your whole life, so they make a lot of sense when you start playing them,” reflects Brian. “Latin music is part of Tucson’s sonic landscape.” Only forty miles from the border, the city’s laidback vibe and Mexican communities nurture everything from strong singer-songwriter and hardcore scenes to great cumbia bands playing at out–of–the–way Mexican steak houses on the south side of town. Latin music is everywhere.
♦≥♦ They learned to speak chicha fluently, gathering musicians from the Tucson scene to form Chicha Dust, eventually growing to a sextet. “Winston played for Alice Cooper in the 90s. Efren ONLY knows Latin music, and didn’t know Led Zeppelin,” notes Brian. “You put them together,” that core combination of hard rock drums and Efren’s timbales, “and it’s XIXA.”
♦≥♦ The effort comes in the studio, a recording space the band members built themselves. They will play with a track until it sounds right. “We come from that indie rock DIY mentality. You sleep in your van. You steal food from big box stores because you’re broke. You scrape together the money to record in a couple of hours,” says Brian. “We’ve come so far, and we realized we could build a studio, record our own songs, and not be satisfied with just anything. We could rearrange our songs until it’s right.”
♦≥♦ The cumbia beat sneaks in everywhere, even covers like The Meat Puppets’ “Plateau.” “I was listening to Nirvana’s Unplugged set, and that song came on,” Brian remembers. “The song was perfect for us. The Meat Puppets are from Phoenix, very Southwestern, with that desert mystic feel. I kept hearing this classic cumbia beat behind it, and I suggested we record it and see what happened. The band thought I was crazy, but we just did it.”
♦≥♦ “It’s so natural; it’s very strange to me that we haven’t been doing this longer,” muses Brian. “We don’t have to try to make something more rock or to incorporate cumbia into it. It’s just I think what each person brings to the table comes out in this blend of rock, cumbia, chicha. There’s no effort involved.”