Oihana Herrera of Spain-based Dreamy Garage-Pop band Melenas on new album Dios Raros: “It talks about strange days… wondering things about the past or wishes about the future”

Original photo: Sharon Lopez. Handmade collage by B.

Pamplona band Melenas have released a beautiful sophomore album – Dios Raros – full of sweetness, melody, sparkle and shimmer. A perfect soundtrack for spending a carefree summertime with your best friends making memories that will last a life time. Jangly guitars, cascading vocals, a lushness and atmospherics make this an unforgettable album. Sung entirely in their native Spanish the LP transcends linguistic borders, the emotion and sentiment present in every note played. Gimmie recently spoke with guitarist-keyboardist-vocalist Oihana Herrera.

OIHANA HERRERA: I work as a graphic designer here at my place, so I’ve been working a little bit until we have the interview. My day is usually from here where you see me working at my computer. I have a set up with my guitar and keyboard so sometimes when I am bored or I want to rest a little bit I go and play. After I meet with the girls sometimes and we rehearse or I go out and drink something.

How did you first discover music?

OH: I remember because I have some videos to remember it, when I was two years or so or three, I already spent so much time singing and dancing on the sofa with all of the family around singing with them. I was super young when I felt this interest for the music. When I was three my parents decided that they were going to take me to violin lessons. I’ve been surrounded by a very musical family, kind of a classical music mood. Afterwards when I was a teenager I started looking into other styles. My father and mother used to listen to the Beatles and classical rock, after that by myself I started discovering other styles too.

Is Melenas your first band?

OH: Yeah, it is. After I started learning violin, I went to the Conservatory and I have a very classical background but, I really wanted to play in a band. I didn’t see how with the classical music I could have this experience that I am having now. One day a friend of mine leave me a guitar and I started messing around and learning by myself and I felt more free because I didn’t have various tricks or ways of learning it was free. I started composing and felt like I could start a band or something, then I met my bandmates in a place called, Nebula, which is the rock n roll bar in our city. We live in Pamplona it is a very small city. It was a very cool place and it has lots of shows there. We became friends because we used to go to the same shows. One day we decided with these songs I had started composing with a guitar for six months, we started rehearsing. Some of the girls had played in other bands. For me and Maria it was the first time we play in a band.

Can you remember what your first impressions of them was when you first met them?

OH: It is a small city so we spend time in the same bars, when we started talking to each other is when we first met. I remember us dancing in the first row to the bands that would come. I felt we had the same energy. From the bar Nebula you would see the same thirty to forty people in different bars; we nurture each other, we share a lot. I think that has created this burning thing that made us want to have our own band. We share the rehearsing space with another friend of ours, another friend has the recording studio where we play, so it’s kind of like a little community.

That sounds similar to the music community that I grew up in. What was the first concert that you went to?

OH: I can’t really remember but maybe it was some classical music show when I was young and I was surrounded by all of this atmosphere.

Can you remember a favourite rock n roll show you’ve been to?

OH: Nebula Bar has this basement where they have the shows, they were so cool. We saw a band called Holy Wave, they are from Texas, we become friends with them. There was no space to dance and the walls were sweating. There was this energy all together that was very cool. It was a very special show because of the energy, and the contact we had with the band afterward; the human experience, the knowledge and the sharing. I really like this a lot.

Melenas have a new album out Dios Raros; how long did it take to make?

OH: When we made our first LP, then we started playing a lot. When we were playing we were also composing but we didn’t have a lot of time to practice the new songs. It already start when we were touring the first album. Last summer we spent two months rehearsing a lot the songs and thinking a lot; how did we want them to sound like? Finishing all of this work that we started when touring. Mostly last summer was the time we spent really composing and finishing the songs, three months deeply doing that.

Is there a song on the album that’s really special to you?

OH: Yeah, I will say “El tiempo ha pasado”, it’s the fifth song. It has no drums. It talks about being in your bedroom remembering someone that you don’t have contact with anymore and you wonder what this person will be doing. In this space I am talking about a guy and what he will be doing, if he will be the same person or different, where will he live. With the music, the music for me is very heart-touching. Do you say that in English?

Yes. Even though I don’t speak much Spanish, I’m still happy that I can in a way understand your songs, I can still feel the sentiment behind it.

OH: I love that. That is very special to hear. Some other people tell us that too. I think that the music will represent what the lyrics talk about a lot of the time. The lyrics are usually the last thing we do and we try to relate it with the mood of the music; maybe that’s why you can feel it.

When you were making the album did you have any challenges?

OH: We have our level high always. We like to have some kind of quality. We have our limits, I know how I play but I want to do the best I can. It’s sounding better I think. Trying to find special sounds for each songs was the most challenging thing for us.

Why do you like writing songs?

OH: I love music so much, I am always listening to music. It’s another form of expression after that, playing it for me. I can start playing and spend so much time and I don’t even notice that, that time is going. It’s very relaxing for me. A lot of times doing a song is like, it cannot be from me somehow! I take this nervousness and whatever that is happening to me and filter it by the music I play.

I really love the seventh song “3 segundos” on the LP, which translates to “3 Seconds”. It talks about how things can change in just a few seconds; is there a moment in your life that something like that has happened that you could share with us?

OH: With the band I feel like that happens a lot. For example the last time I remember that happening is when we received an email to see if we wanted to go play New York Fashion Week! It didn’t happen yet but just the proposal is like, what?! It marks something very big in my life. There have been so many moments for me like this one that is just, WOW! It means something very big. The song talks about the power of some people to make some things change with their persons, someone who has that energy that makes you do things. They have some special energy, no?

Yes! Why did you decide on “Vals” for the last track on your record?

OH: We thought a lot about the order, we tried to keep our rhythm with the whole record. We thought that was a nice way to finish. Somehow I think this song makes you think a little bit about the rest of them and a little bit you let them go. I like that song because of that, it talks about spending time with a friend and just being together, not talking just being a companion and just sitting and the time go by. It’s a cool way to finish the album. It talks about strange days and days you were thinking about your own stuff in your bedroom and wondering things about the past or wishes about the future. This song is about being with a friend, time goes by and I’ll see you tomorrow. I like that.

Why did you call the album Dios Raros? Rare Days?

OH: Yeah, Rare Days or Strange Days, something like that; I don’t know the little differences in English. It talks about these days where you feel somehow disconnected to what is going on outside, you are in your bedroom in your world. This is what a lot of our songs talk about.

How has being in isolation because of the pandemic been for you?

OH: Our record has been released during isolation. We’ve been working a lot on the promotion not having to combine it with playing or rehearsing, which has been good and let us focus on that a lot. We are very happy because the record has worked very well. At the same time we have plans to play and we can’t play. That’s a little bit frustrating because you put a lot of energy into creating the album and all the work behind it, like the videos and promotion; you need that energy back from playing. Playing is what we love most! It’s good to have the feedback from the people, knowing it’s helping them and they’ve been happy because they could listen to it!

As well as music, as you mentioned, you also do art; what made you want to express yourself that way too?

OH: As a graphic designer?

Yes.

OH: My father is an architect and I felt that I really like that world but I felt that it was too technical. I didn’t like all the technical part, I thought it was too hard for me [laughs]. One of the partners of my father had a son that was a graphic designer, I didn’t even know what one was! After he explained to me one day when I was trying to choose what I wanted to do, I thought this is what I want to do. It was something creative but I like the functional thing also. Graphic design is communication and it has function—I like that combo. I didn’t see myself creating art with no function, different parts of the brain, rationale and artistic.

You also mentioned before that you have a setup in your room with keyboards and guitar; have you made any songs lately?

OH: Yeah. I’ve been composing a little bit, so there are new songs on the way. We will be rehearsing the new record and preparing the new songs. Sooner or later we will do something with these new songs.

When you’re writing songs do you write more on guitar or keyboard?

OH: When I started I felt free when I started playing guitar, because I didn’t have to read notes; I never composed with a piano or violin, it’s difficult. When I played guitar with no teacher or reading notes I felt free. After I play it on guitar myself for a little while I start playing it on piano too, with the keyboard. I did something that I couldn’t do before, it was to compose with it. I spent five or six years learning piano after violin. On this record we’ve got songs composed with guitar and some with two keyboards and no guitar. It’s a different feeling in different songs, I love that. I love growing and experimenting with new stuff. I just got a new little synthesiser two days ago and I’m trying new things with that, experimenting and putting them in new songs and see what happens.

Please check out MELENAS; Melenas on Instagram; Melenas on Facebook.

Melbourne Jangly-Reverbed-Indie-Pop band Swim Team: “Sarcasm and self-deprecation is embedded in our personalities and sense of humour – we certainly don’t take ourselves too seriously”

Original photo by Kalindy Williams. Handmade collage by B.

From the first jangly-twang of song ‘Everyday Things’ that we heard while watching Rage one morning last year, the Gimmie team have been addicted to Swim Team. Their infectious sweet melodies, hypnotic harmonies and catchy hooks reel you in. We interviewed Sammy to talk about their debut LP Home Time, their beginnings, self-care and more.

How did Swim Team first come together?

SAMMY: I had been thinking about starting a new band for a while. At the time Krystal was playing in Bad Vision and I was playing tambourine with the Pink Tiles, and we were gigging around a lot and I was really into the scene and the kinds of garage pop bands that were popping up. In 2016, Krystal moved in with me and we had already been friends since we worked together in Perth back in 2005. Back in those days she was playing in punk garage bands and I was playing in twee indie bands. I suggested that we should start a new band together with both of us on guitar and so we both just started jamming at home.

I asked my friend Esther to join – I really wanted her to be in the band even though she had never played the bass, and Krystal recruited TJ even though she had never played drums. We built our band based on how we thought the dynamics would work with the four of us hanging out together, not for how technically good a player or songwriter anyone was. It was kinda like building our own fantasy football team or something, and luckily they were both keen to give it a red hot go haha.

We got together in a rehearsal room and the first song we played together was ‘Green Fuzz’ by the Cramps. Eventually I booked us our first gig which was with Girl Crazy at their Tote residency, and that meant we had a deadline to write a few songs and get our shit together. If there’s one thing that Swim Team are collectively good at, it’s working under pressure!

We love the jangly guitars in Swim Team’s music; what inspired you to choose this sound?

SAMMY: A combined love for bands like The Clean and Go-Betweens, a tendency to lean towards Fender and a penchant for chorus pedals haha.

I think that given mine and Krystal’s backgrounds in music and the kinds of bands we were both used to playing in and listening to, when we brought them together we ended up with this kind of sound naturally. It’s kinda a combination of my pop background, Krystal’s punk background, and both of us meeting in the middle, then evolving together.

Last year you released your LP Home Time which was written over the course of a couple of years, one of the main themes of the record being change; over the time of writing what do you think was one of the biggest changes you went through in your own life that helped colour the songs you were writing?

SAMMY: Oh boy, there was a lot of change during that period for us all, not to mention that in the time it took us to start writing the songs, recording and then releasing it, we had three different bass players.

Krystal and I are the main songwriters in the band and we both had a lot going on over the course of a couple of years. Krystal’s dad sadly passed away while we were writing the album and so there is some really personal grieving there. There are relationship breakdowns for both of us, whether it be family or friendships or just simple observations. For me, at the beginning it was the end of a long-term relationship, and then by the end of the writing process it was meeting someone new. So yes, it’s quite the rollercoaster thematically!  

Many of your songs can be self-deprecating; where does this come from?

SAMMY: Haha you might have to ask my therapist that! At the end of the day, I think that sarcasm and self-deprecation is embedded in our personalities and sense of humour – we certainly don’t take ourselves too seriously most of the time.

Your songs are deeply personal but written ambiguously so listeners can imagine themselves in the song story; who are the songwriters that you admire? What is it about their songs you love?

SAMMY: I have a deep appreciation of many different styles of songwriting, whether it’s poetic and metaphorical or literal story telling. One of my favourite songwriters is Mara Williams from the Pink Tiles. If you want deeply personal but ambiguous and completely charming, she is the queen of it!

What’s the significance of the album’s title, Home Time?

SAMMY: Aside from being one of the tracks from the album that we thought tended to sum up the entire vibe pretty well, it’s also a play on the title of our first EP ‘Holiday’. We went from ‘Holiday’ to ‘Home Time’ with these releases which is kinda symbolic of us growing as a band as well as our own personal situations.

Why did you decide to kick your record off with the track ‘Grown Up’?

SAMMY: We wanted something with a bit of an intro to kick things off sonically, but we found ‘Grown Up’ set the tone for the rest of the album in terms of context. It’s kinda a proclamation of this feeling of never really quite achieving those expectations that we set for ourselves as adult humans, and then bam – the rest of the album runs through and it’s a continuation of those general musings. Thematically we write about all aspects of life, whatever takes our fancy at the time: our crushes, our bad habits, our ex’s bad habits, our dysfunctional families, our grievances – both serious and silly.

The song ‘Everyday Things’ is an ode to first world problems; what first sparked this song idea?

SAMMY: Basically one long complaint about all the things that didn’t go right in a single day. They’re all a part of daily existence and not ‘actual’ problems. The song is laughing at the way we tend to complain about everything when in all reality the scenarios mentioned are trite and trivial.

What’s your favourite track on Home Time? What’s it about?

SAMMY: For me it’s probably a tie between ‘Time and Sacrifice’ and ‘New Year’. ‘Time and Sacrifice’ I feel has a different vibe to it than the rest of the album. The subject matter is far more complex and I think it ended up that way musically too. It’s also the one we experimented with the most as far as production goes, which was really fun. ‘New Year’ has been a favourite for a while, I have always loved what everyone has brought to the song in terms of parts and the feel – Anna really brought this to life for us!

Could you tell us a little about recording the record please?

SAMMY: We were lucky enough to have our dream team for our album recording. We had Anna Laverty produce and engineer it at our favourite studio in Melbourne, Audrey Studios. We tracked the majority of it live, all four of us in the room playing our parts, and then afterwards we did a few guitar overdubs and vocals. Working with Anna is always a real pleasure. We were lucky enough to have a bit of extra time to play around, and some of the songs had parts that were written on the spot which was something I’ve never had the privilege to experiment with before.

You’ve mentioned online that there’s been “a bunch of personal and health stuff that’s gone down since late last year” which has made you take a little break from making music. I hope everything’s alright? During the downtime what do you do to take care of yourself? Self-care is so important!

SAMMY: Thank you! Yes, self-care is super important for both our physical and mental health. For us it means eating well, exercising, doing things that make you calm and happy (for me it’s things like listening to music, pottering around the house, cooking and tending to plants), and not being too hard on yourself or having unrealistic expectations of yourself (that part is hard sometimes!) We had a really busy year with the release of the album and then with the personal stuff happening on top of that it felt like we needed to just step back and look after ourselves and put a priority on those things. We are actually really close friends outside of music so we have a really strong support network in each other – we are really lucky to have that level of support and understanding from one another I think.

Other than making music do you do anything else creative?

SAMMY: Krystal has a podcast that she hosts with her friend Ruth called ‘First Time Feelings’ that you can check out here. TJ is a tattoo artist and when there’s no pandemic you can find her at her shop Heart & Soul Tattoo in Melbourne CBD. Our original bass player Esther is a designer and owns the label Togetherness Design. Our newest member and current bass player Jill is involved in a bunch of comedy and fringe festival shows, but is known best for her role in co-founding the iconic Shania Choir. I don’t have many creative talents outside of music, but it keeps me busy enough for now.

What’s something – band, album, song – that’s really cool you’re listening to at the moment?

SAMMY: RVG’s new album Feral, and patiently anticipating the new Dianas record Baby Baby.

Please check out: SWIM TEAM. ST on Facebook. ST on Instagram. Home Time out on Hysterical Records.