Andino Suns

Andino Suns

Revolutionary Sounds

by Michael Dawson

February 1, 2017

The story of Andino Suns begins with family. As their story continues to grow, so does their family.

Born and raised in Saskatchewan, the band formed by drawing inspiration from the music they grew up hearing in their homes. Their parents immigrated to Saskatchewan from Chile, seeking asylum from a fascist regime and the songs of that era played an important role for the resettled Chilean community. Andino Suns are just one of many talents to emerge from a community that has also brought us Def 3, Descalso, and the Sepulveda brothers. Bridging the traditional sounds of the Andes Mountains with their own musical intuition has led the prairie boys to being one of the most respected and widely received world music acts in the province.

Since forming in 2009, Andino Suns have amassed an impressive resume - a WCMA nomination and performances at JunoFest, Mundial Montreal, Folk Alliance International in Kansas City, Ness Creek Music Festival, Regina Folk Festival, SaskTel Jazz Fest, Gateway Festival, Festival du Bout du Monde, and Festival des Traditions du Monde in Quebec. Most recently, they were a part of OSAC’s 2016 tour.

2016 saw the release of their third full-length album, “Madera”. It’s a lush and beautiful record that’s anchored around traditional Andean music but stretches wherever their hearts desire. The affair was once again recorded with Justin Bender (Third Ion/Into Eternity). This time around, they worked with co-producer Daniel Emden, a renowned South American percussionist who contributed heavily to the recording. It also boasts a healthy list of contributors including THe Dead South, Megan Nash, Keiffer McLean, Scott Richmond, and members of the Regina Symphony Orchestra. At the heart of it is the band’s focused vision and collaborative songwriting, spearheaded by frontman Andres Davalos with core members guitarists Andres Palma and Cristian Moya (formerly of Descalso). Rounding out their current performing lineup is Antonio Davalos on bass, and Justin Hauck on drums.

I sat down with the three of them to talk shop. When I suggested that we meet at Abstractions Cafe in Regina I did so because it’s my favorite falafel in the city, but what I hadn’t expected is that the entire band would being greeted with giant smiles and hugs from the staff the moment they entered. Andino Suns carry themselves with an infectious joy on and off the stage, but this interview served as proof that the joy extends beyond the music community. 

I wanted to speak to with Davalos, Palma, and Moya about their latest album, but it became evident from the onset that they were going to have trouble staying on topic. I wanted to talk about the present and they already have their focus set on the future. We spoke at length about songwriting, the recording process, artist strategies in the evolving music industry, and their influences. Without fail, every one of their responses led back to their “next album” and their “new songs.” There’s a fire in the band and it’s evident that seven years in, it’s burning brighter than ever before.

Andino Suns has had a long list of members and contributors over the last decade. It’s always anchored around Davalos and Palma, but with the addition of Moya just before heading into the studio to record, it feels apparent that they’ve found what they had been searching for. As we begin to speak about what it means to be a band and the value of collaboration, I am as struck by Davalos’ previous reluctance to collaborate as I am by his frankness as he opens up about his insecurities. He speaks of how the current lineup has shifted his perspective in the rehearsal space and in the studio. He used to cling to his ideas but is now inspired by trust and excitement in his bandmates, stating, “It’s been great for me to open up, let go, and just let people do what they’ve got to do to make the song better. And now I trust that’s going to happen.” The rest of our conversation continued with the same degree of honesty and openness.

SaskMusic: Tell me about the process of songwriting for Andino Suns. Where do the songs come from?

Andres Davalos: Basically Andres (Palma) and I are really good at providing a template with a good chord structure and progression, and then Christian comes along and does things to it that we couldn’t do. Although I feel on the next one, Cristian will be the one who comes with songs and we will add stuff to them. He did contribute to the last (album), but I feel like we were writing templates and getting him to splash his genius on it.

Cristian Moya: The last album was basically written (already) so when I joined it was sort of like, ‘add your spice to it’. With the next album I’ll feel more integrated into it. (The instrumental) ‘Invierno’ was sort of the last hurrah that happened.

AD: It was the last song we squeezed in.

CM: This next album I’m really pumped because it was be us putting our songs together. I’ll feel a little more integrated into it.

AD: Even though Cristian came in late, in the past we would have been “oh I brought that chord progression, that’s my song 100%.” Whereas on this one Cristian came in and made the songs so much better that we couldn’t cut him out. The three of us are listed as the songwriters.

SM: I think that’s so healthy for a band. That spirit of being open to collaboration and not clinging to the idea that ‘I did this, so this song is 100% mine.’ It’s such a valuable part of bringing out the best of each other. For example, Cristian doesn’t have ideas that he clings to as his own to sit on ‘for someday’ because he feels someone doesn’t value them.

AD: I think in the past, especially with the first album when I had an idea in my head, I felt it had to be that way and there was no flexibility. Now it’s a relief to be in the studio with these guys and I don’t feel I’m trying to micromanage creativity.

SM: Has that process changed since you first started? Do you see an evolution?

CP: It’s funny for me because the first time Andino Suns started jamming I was 15 or 16 and actually sat in on the first three jams. We actually played that first gig together too. I remember it was just about fun. Just a box of Pil and jams. It’s funny seeing now it’s such a different atmosphere - there’s spreadsheets and calendars involved. Everyone’s at a different point in their life. This guy (points at Davalos) is a dad. And this guy (points at Palma) is an engineer. I myself left and I guess you could say I grew a little bit.

AD: The first album I pretty much wrote myself. When I first met Andres he showed up with this amp and all of these effects. He had an electric guitar and I was like, “Nope. No, dude. Nylon strings.” I was also so insecure and felt like we had to write only high-energy songs or else we were going to lose the crowd - because we were always playing bars.

AP: I think it was also just general insecurity because we started off playing Casa Latina, a fine dining restaurant, and we didn’t want it to become background music.

AD: An insecurity that if it wasn’t exciting enough they’d be bored. It used to be one volume and one energy.

AP: But I also think we’ve progressed more as musicians, things have grown more dynamic and can get softer.

(The band reminisces about some harsh early criticism they received from a patron of the restaurant.)

AD: He was right but it’s tough. I’m sensitive. I get hurt by peoples’ comments. I’ve got a tough outer shell but…

SM: And how did Cristian come in to the picture?

AD: The summer before last we kind of had some songs, and I needed someone to come to Quebec with us really quick. I had just gone to his final Descalso show, and then I texted him and said “Hey, learning 25 songs in 2 weeks.” And he said “Cool.” We took him on tour and that was it. I also knew him as the young Chilean in the community who was really talented but I didn’t know him as a friend yet. I just knew that he’s good, he’s a good kid, and I know his family so we brought him in and then over this year we’ve become really, really close. We’ve become really good friends and we’ve built a really good energy and chemistry for writing songs.

SM: Andino Suns are a shining example of the ‘artist as manager’ model in the music industry. You’ve confessed to not even knowing where to begin the early days and yet you’ve remained eager to learn and pushed yourselves further with each album. You developed and embraced an album release strategy for the new album to ensure it made a splash. Did you ever imagine that being a band would be this much work?

AP: No. I didn’t realize how much behind-the-scenes work would be involved. Sometimes 99% of the work is you just grinding behind a computer talking to people. But for me, the big thing in my position is the mental toll that it takes because I communicate with everyone in the group. I’m the bearer of bad news and it’s tough sometimes. You become super good friends with these people, so it gets toughs when you have to deliver it.

AD: He’s really good at making people feel safe with his critiques. No leaves hurt, and in the past, people would leave hurt with how I would address things.

AP: With releasing records though, looking back you find ways to make it way more efficient. You build strategies that make it quicker over time and still get the same results, if not better.

AD: Doing it properly is way more work. You create a lot of the work. What I realize now is that I generate a lot of that activity. My inbox is always full but when I stop reaching out, then suddenly I don’t have emails anymore. We have to be noisy behind the scenes though. It’s a hard sell. We’re selling Latin American music on the prairies. I’m banking on people to come see us. We can’t always communicate to people through our lyrics on a CD, so we’re banking on them seeing us live and feeling our energy. It’s hard though. We’re competing with bands who the audience can identify with. With that said, our audiences have been so supportive.

SM: Let’s circle back to the beginning of your process in making the latest record. 

AP: It started with just getting the songs together. I think we did a lot of that individually, just have something to give the guys. For example, I came up with a riff for what became the first song on the album and I took it to Andy and we worked out a chorus. He took over lyrics for that song. It changes. There’s one tune where I kind of did everything for it – the Megan Nash tune. I put together lyrics and chord progressions but then everyone else laid so much on top of it. From there it was really ‘Ok, what do we want to do from here? How big do we want to make this? Talking about radio trackers, publicists...After we had all that mapped out we started researching different producers.

AD: Also coming to the decision of what the focus of the album was going to be. Using acoustic instruments. Woodwinds. That was going to be our guide. I think we trailblazed hurting people’s feelings on the way through. We brought in a percussionist producer. That was another conversation - deciding we don’t want drums, we want this guy who is a pro at Latin percussion. He was great - he was the ninja on production, but also a ninja at bringing the best out of people.

AP He was really good at communicating and making you feel at home. Not sure about that with Christian though. Haha.

(The band erupts with laughter)

CP: There was just that one time…Haha. As a metal head you just always want to “chuggachuggachugga” and then there’s parts where you need to chill out. I didn’t want to chill out. (more laughter). With that said, he really brought so much to the album. He knew Latin rhythms. He knew acoustic instruments. He knew a cajón inside out. He could dissect our rhythms better than he can. Not unlike other bands whose rhythms we’ve heard, they know their origins and where they come from, but we just sort of bastardize them, in a sense. He helped us educate ourselves.

AP: He was good in the sense that he took the push and pull from us too. We weren’t just going to stay within one genre.

AD: He wanted us to be traditional.

AP: He wanted to, but he was good about it. In the end he was like “Ok, this is cool.” Something that was super helpful too was that we had a five-day pre-production rehearsal with him before we started recording. It helped with being really efficient in the studio, but we also got to know him and he got to know our personalities really well.

AD: Another thing is the decisions that come on the fly. “Hey, this song would sound great with a female singer. We’re friends with Megan, let’s try to get her in here.” Or “Hey, Keiffer would sound sexy on this song. Let’s get him in here.” All the little decisions that come about in the studio. Bringing in violins…cellos…I get obsessive compulsive about songwriting - all of these melodies in my head and I can’t even focus on anything else.

SM: You’ve touched on some of the assumed or more widely recognized North American instrumentation including the violin and the cello. What’s some of the more interesting instrumentation that the casual listener may not pick out?

AD: Dojo, charange. There’s the Cuban Tres that Cristian uses in the Megan Nash song. That’s a Cuban–Dominican Republic instrument. It’s a three-stringed instrument that’s doubled up to get a tropical vibe.

CM: Yea, it’s used in Afro Rumba or more traditional Cuban and Puerto Rican music.

AD: So there’s an example of how we had a Chilean-style guitar, added a tropical instrument of top, and even used a tropical style of picking. We mixed them together. One of the first comments someone wrote when we released it was a rant about how this ‘isn’t traditional Andean music.’ We were like of course, man. It’s not. Another thing we used were these massive pan flutes that were almost the size of you. A guy in Montreal laid that track. He won World Solo Recording Artist of the Year at the Folk Awards. He’s just an amazing musician.

CM: Some of the percussion is unique too. Daniel was playing goat nails. They are just dried out goat nails. The cajon - I feel like everyone knows (that one) now. There’s bombo. It’s almost like a kick drum. A big bass drum made out of leather that’s old school and very traditional.

(At this point I confess that I’m going to have to Google how to spell a lot of these instruments.)

AD: It’s been awesome having Cristian because it opened up another door. It’s like having another weapon.

CM: It helps with the collective mindset the three of us have. With these guys I can bring in syncopated rhythms I’ve wanted to do forever and they just pick up on it. It’s stuff that’s hard to define unless you’re educated in it, but for me I learned on the streets in Cuba and in our kitchens and our basements. It’s easy with these guys. It’s the same story. It’s “I may not know what it is but I can do it and I recognize it.” It comes easy.

AP: It’s internalized and it’s easy to communicate amongst the three of us.

CM: We know the rhythms. We know where a kick drum should sit. We know the triplets. We know what’s supposed to be happening but sometimes it’s hard to communicate it to someone who didn’t grow up with it.

(At this point the band discloses top-secret information about an elaborate concept album they plan to work towards over the next two years. I’ve opted to remove the details so I don’t ruin the surprise, but rest assured it will be well worth the wait.)

SM: It’s apparent that your families and culture play a huge role in the band. Your heritage has been an important part of the band’s story from day one and Andres is now a father of two who often shares personal and sentimental tales as part of your stage banter. Obviously you are of Chilean descent, but there are a lot of people of different backgrounds who play very North American music. I’m curious to what led you to have the skills that you do and to play the music that you do.

AD: What I find about the Chilenos who immigrated here is that they are the poets, the songwriters, the (artists) – that when a fascist regime comes in they are the ones who get the boot. You look at talent like Cristian, Danny Fernandez, etc.

CM: The other thing about playing Chilean music is that it’s very closely tied to what our parents went through. At that time the movement was personified through Andino music, so when we were growing up our parents would listen to nothing but that music. When we would get together there was music like salsa, but really most of the songs were just pan flute, charango, quena, and so you’d see our uncles and aunts and some of our parents playing these instruments and writing songs themselves. Back in those days, when I first started strumming a guitar it was in a Chilean folk band. We all grew up playing that kind of music. It feels like we know it well; we were born into it.

AD: But if we were to go to Chile and they listened to our music they would say “this isn’t Chilean music.”

CM: They’d be like, “What the f…? This is blasphemy.” We’ve stirred it up for sure.

AD: For example, we don’t follow traditional Cueca patterns. We’ll do the rhythm but not follow the pattern of a dance, and so Chileans would probably say “That’s not Chilean,” but we’re just like “We’re Canadians. That’s what happens.”

AP: It’s pretty much the same thing for me. It was pumped into me as a kid – that appreciation for the arts. I danced all my life too. That, along with seeing my dad playing guitar (while I was) growing up, because he used to play a lot and sing a lot with other people in the community. It felt like if you weren’t doing it too you were left out.

AD: You felt odd at Chilean functions if you didn’t play music or you didn’t play soccer.

AP: Or if you didn’t know the national anthem.

AD: (jokingly) I still don’t know it. Don’t tell anyone.

SM: Are there Chilean artists that you look to?

CM: There’s tons and tons of new music. When we’re on the road to somewhere we’re always listening to new music. There’s guys like Nano Stern, bringing in fusion. Juana Fe is another band, fairly new and it’s like prog-folk. It sounds like the perfect party that you could have in Chile. It really reflects the culture in a huge way. I think that’s also what we are trying to do, but from our perspective here.

SM: What are some other artists that you listen to? What are some non-world music artists that you listen to or that inspire you? Road trip music.

AD: What we listen to in the van. A lot of Rage Against the Machine.

AP: A lot…

AD: And Red Hot Chili Pepper’s ‘Blood Sugar Sex Magic.’

CM: We know those by heart.

AP: I’m the most indie guy out of the group for sure. I listen to that on the side because these guys will get on me. But stuff like Mac DeMarco. I do listen to a lot of world music as well. Lhasa de Sela, she’s one of my favourite artists. I’ve listened to her for years.

CP: A lot of Tool. Meshuggah.

AP: Some Pink Floyd. Anderson .Paak.

SM: I don’t think this is the answer I was expecting.

AD: There’s a lot of metal heads in the band.

There are a million and one reasons to play music, each one as valid as the next. As my time winds down with Andino Suns they take control of the conversation and I’m suddenly reminded of some of the most inspiring reasons. As they speak amongst themselves about reaching a balance in and out of the band, Moya speaks to the role music plays in his life stating, “I can’t sit still. Ever. It made me struggle in school. I could never pay attention. But if you put a guitar in front of me then suddenly I’m sitting focused. Or a paintbrush. Now finally I’m finding that in the kitchen, with a knife. Now I can stay focused. If I didn’t have music I don’t know where I’d be.”

Davalos is quick to rattle off a long list of reasons that he started, including being a rich rockstar, before he settled on one defining reason. “We do it because it’s fun. That’s the only reason.” The band is quick to qualify that the fun extends from rehearsals to the stage. If you’ve seen them perform live you know the fun they speak of is contagious and it’s a major reason why crowds love them. They speak about their music with the same sincerity and messages contained within the Andean folk songs that led them to form a band - looking toward the future with joy, hope, and passion.

For more on the Andino Suns, check out their website,
www.andinosuns.com.

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Andino Suns

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