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.

Violeta from Madrid punk band Rata Negra: “Sadness, anger… feelings are more interesting than positive ones ‘cause people can relate more easily… than when you are proclaiming how happy you are or how wonderful your life is”

Handmade mixed-media collage by B.

Great music transcends language because it is its own form of communication, it expresses feelings and captures moods and sparks the imagination, speaking volumes beyond words. Rata Negra are from Madrid, Spain and sing in Spanish; when we first found them we didn’t know yet what they were singing about (English being our first language) but the power of their great songwriting, their music and its melodies spoke to us. Rata Negra are one of the coolest punk bands you might not know yet. We interviewed bassist-vocalist Violeta to get to know Rata Negra better.

Rata Negra are from Madrid, Spain; what’s it like where you live? Can you tell us about your neighbourhood?

VIOLETA: Madrid is the capital and it’s a big city in the centre of the Spanish peninsula. It’s a pretty cool city with lots of things to do, but I live in the worst neighbourhood ever. Right now I live in an apartment which belonged to my grandmother. When she moved out here at the beginning of the 80’s this was the outskirts of the city in the north, and it was lots of open space. Right now it’s the rich neighbourhood of the city where the worst people live, all of them unsupportive rich bastards with a total lack of respect or solidarity. So right now I’m trapped here and can’t wait to move out.

What were you like growing up?

VIOLETA: I was a total loser, had lots of problems making friends and going through high school. That made me who I’m now, a total hater. Thankfully that hate was pretty productive so I came out as a very creative person and my concerns kept me making things, drawing and composing music.

How did you first find punk rock?

VIOLETA: My best and only friend in high school was from the US. Back then, we didn’t have internet or such an easy access to the culture as we have right now, so she introduced me to the Ramones first and then we started exploring punk music.

I understand that one of your favourite bands is the Adolescents; what do you love about them?

VIOLETA: Their music sound immediate and fresh to me. They have the best energy. Simple and perfect at the same time.

I know you are inspired by pop punk from Spain from the 80s; what are some of the bands you would recommend to us?

VIOLETA: Some of my favourite pop ones are Alaska y Dinarama or Pegamoides, La Mode or Los Zombies. Also some more punk like Deshechables, Parálisis Permanente or Ultimo Resorte. And finally the sad and darker ones like Décima Víctima, Ataque de Caspa or Golpes Bajos.

What made you start a band?

VIOLETA: I’ve always find making music a very fun process. I met our guitarist Fa the last year of High School and we used to spend the afternoons making songs with an acoustic guitar and recording them track by track in a double deck cassette player. Time went by and we met other people interested on music so we started Juanita y los Feos.

Can you tell us about your process for writing songs? Is it collaborative?              

VIOLETA: Some of the songs just come up at our practice space, but most of the times we start from an idea, the most common thing is that Fa composes a guitar line at home, record it and shape it adding other instruments in a digital format and then send it to the rest of us by mail so we can start thinking about our part and finally we put all the pieces together at the rehearsal. So yes, we all collaborate in the process.

What are some of the feelings you’re trying to get across in your music?

VIOLETA: I always say that sadness, anger or other obscure feelings are more interesting than positive ones ‘cause people can relate more easily when you are telling your problems than when you are proclaiming how happy you are or how wonderful your life is. So normally I talk about things that I find frustrating or that I’m struggling with. Mostly death and getting old. But also things that I see and find interesting.

Where did the title of your last album Justicia Cósmica (Cosmic Justice) come from?

VIOLETA: In the song ‘te elevas’ we talk about this person who is not moving on while everybody else is doing great, we try to reflect the frustration behind that feeling, and also how we find peace on thinking that the “cosmic justice” will put everyone in place sooner or later. We believe in karma in that sense.

What is the song ‘El chico de las estrellas’ about?

VIOLETA: ‘El chico de las estrella’s tells the story of a friend of us who is certain that some of these days the aliens would come and take him with them. He loves psychedelic drugs, and he is very serious about all that. I found a resemblance somehow with David Bowie and the Spiders from Mars, also inspired by Rocket Man by Elton John…you mix all that and ‘El chico de las estrellas’ came out.

Your latest release is the EP La Hija Del Sepulturero (which translates to The Daughter Of The Gravedigger); what inspired this song/EP?

VIOLETA: The song “Que tendrá” is based on a poem with the same name by Gabriel y Galán, a Spanish poet from the XIX century. My friend Hector from the band Sudor, found it and sent it to me because he knows very well the things I like and the poem is very dark but also very funny. It tells the story of this girl who happens to be the daughter of the gravedigger whom nobody likes but is always happy, and nobody likes her cause she is always showing off with new clothes and people gossip about how all of those clothes come from all the bodies his father buries.

I love that you include your lyrics with your music; why is this important to you?

VIOLETA: I’ve always loved to sing along with my records, so I try to help people to do the same with our music. Is not essential but I think that is important to know what a song talks about.

Outside of music what are some things that are important to you?

VIOLETA: Art and Literature. I’ve studied Fine Arts and I love drawing. I love making posters for the incoming shows. Pablo, our drummer and I screen print. Also love comic books and really enjoy reading.

What are your working on at the moment?

VIOLETA: Musically we are working on our third album. In the real world I’m an art teacher in High School. Pablo works as a printer in a workshop. Fa is a graphic designer and illustrator and he designs most of our artwork.

Please check out: RATA NEGRA. RN on Facebook. RN on Instagram. La Vida Es Un Mus Discos Punk Records.