Mexico, like any country, is awash in music. Yet, when we hear rock from Mexico is seems to be the "rock en Español" variety which seems closer to (at best) guys who feel that Pearl Jam is the end all and be all of the genre. Luckily, there are some people in Mexico's underground who are expanding the the definition of Mexican Rock.
Humus is one such band. With Victor Basurto (bass) and Jorge Beltran (guitar) as co-pilots, this Mexico City duo has been making guitar based psyche/prog rock that soars farther into strange and bizzare landsapes than most bands will even think of venturing.
Oddly, they are only now getting any publicity and will be touring the U.S. for the first time this fall. Heck we dug 'em so much we asked them for an MP3 which we featured in June 1999 and an interview. They actually agreed to both! So, chalk up nice guys atop all the critical acclaim. What follows is an Interview with Victor Basurto who currently lives in Europe.
WG: Why don't you give us a back ground on your work?
VB: I started to play bass around the end of the seventies, mostly with school mates and friends, like Jorge Beltran and Pepe Bobadilla in our first group ever: 'El Stomago Sagrado', we were attracted to music via The Beatles, The Stones, Grand Funk and later, to this day, via Hendrix, Sabbath, Zappa etc... As the years passed we started to get more and more into playing; first rehearsing and jamming all the time and playing concerts everywhere, then we started to compose and produce our own albums and we have managed, over the years, to assemble our own studios: Sky Corner and Egg'o and here we are all the time preparing albums and concerts.
WG: How do you feel you that your work is complimented by your long partnership with Jorge Beltran?
VB: I think we have a good chemistry dating back to our first compositions for 'EL Stomago Sagrado' in 1979, which were adaptations to poems of Verlaine and there was also at least one instrumental number: 'The Stomago's Theme' that we used to start and end our presentations.
WG: Why did you leave Mexico and is Jorge still there?
VB: It's not the first time that either him or me change city or country for undefined periods of time, we just surf along the unavoidable string of life-events but our goal is there and we both have a constant working discipline that we believe will create the necessary and optimal conditions at some point. We have installed the same kind of recording studios here and there so our work continues everyday regardless of our particular circumstances, for years we talked and talked over what we wanted and now we are just doing it.
WG: When you create a piece do you write it out or improvise it?
VB: It depends on a lot of factors but I'm sure it's mostly a combination of the two things, sometimes one more than the other. A big part of our style today started by doing a lot of jamming, just learning by trial and error.
WG: You use no lyrics but perform instrumental pieces. Why do you choose this route of expression? Is it because you feel that rock doesn't work well with a non-English language or what?
VB: Originally it was because we could not envision (for personal reasons) singing as part of our music, later on it became clear that the possibilities to grow in this direction were infinite, free from the constrains of the typical 'rock' paradigms.
Out of the record I will like to say that we don't exclude and in fact we have done it, to feature the human voice, our problem is more the difficulty to arrange the phrasing, we prefer to leave that to other people, if we would find somebody with the right profile no doubt we will collaborate.
Also, English is very well suited for rock, sentences can be compact and full of meaning, as you know, to say the same things in Spanish will require one to restructure all around it and then it just doesn't feel right, but again if we knew somebody who can sing in any language and is the right person, we don't exclude the possibility, until now it has not happed!
WG: What are the advantages of instrumental music that most appeal to you?
VB: On a practical level I think the power trio format playing instrumentals could be very efficient, it's a challenge to make it interesting all the time for your audience, be it in concert or through albums. The inherent normal architecture to songs suffers fundamental changes and the chorus/verse ritual won't work, but the advantages are evident: you are not tied to the abilities or the 'charisma' of a singer and everybody has a lot of space. Music itself becomes the protagonist and as interpreters we feel a very strong 'outdoors' feeling, with no singer there to distract the attention of the listener.
WG: Many artists feel that to cross it they must sing in English. Why is this so?
VB: Because they think that getting there is 'making it', but it is the biggest illusion; 'making it' should be doing whatever you want to do regardless of the general consensus.
WG: Why do you feel that Mexican Psychedelia is hardly heard in the United States?
VB: Well, we have to remember how things are run in Mexico, there's no support whatsoever, there is a lot of ignorance from the part of the public, not to mention crude repression by the authorities and the lack of proper forums; seen from the outside it is a very closed scene, destined to be crushed every time it surfaces. To that you can add that there is no proper diffusion in the States for anything underground from our country, and there have never been important countercultural collaborations in this field, then it's easy to imagine the cultural Berlin wall that surrounds us.
WG: Why does this wall exist?
VB: I don't know exactly why, economic reasons perhaps, the commercialization of music. People that control the media in Mexico are the famous Televisa, responsible among other things for a million 'soap operas' and of course they are in collaboration with the big American corporations. And they want puppet-artists that they can control and exploit for some years. During the eighties we'd had contact with that sort of people, just by renting a professional studio and seeing the native fauna you get a good glimpse of what can happen to you. There are cultural channels but they are more focussed on autochthonous or traditional manifestations. For us it is a deliberate effort to take us out of the national mindset or otherwise perish in that miasma.
WG: Tejano is huge here in Texas but I don't hear too much along the way of what you perform being cranked out of pickup trucks and low riders. Do you have much of an appeal within Mexico itself?
VB: You got Sony, BMG or any other, big in Mexico, and naturally they produce local artists for the national market, which is very wide and rich if you happen to play tropical or romantic ballads for the masses using the usual formulas. If all goes ok then they cross the border to Texas and California where they appeal to Americans and immigrants. The template of 'making it' is still a lot like the Hollywood dream in Mexico for most people, it's more the entertaining side than the artistic proposal what matters. For more than 20 years that we've been out there, nobody, except Jose Luis Garnica from Smogless, has bet a peso on us.
WG: Everyone who plays music carries with them their culture. What of Mexico do you bring to Psychedelia?
VB: A very strong and unresolved duality that is common to all Mexicans, just filtered through our own personal extremist interpretation.
WG: I love the artwork you use on LPs, CDs and the poster one you did for the MP3 track you allowed us to post. Who are your inspirations for this art?
VB: Thank you very much for liking my poster that much, I certainly enjoyed doing it a lot, my inspiration has always been the great Moscoso, Mouse, Kelly and especially Rick Griffith, so it was constructed along those lines.
I recommend you the book: 'Poster Art: from Elvis to Punk' which is the absolute bible! There are great stories by the great artists I told you, I forgot to mention also Wes Wilson, David Singer and others. They were active from the sixties on, like Stanley Mouse who still does things, I know he has a site under 'Mouse Studios'. Victor Moscoso and Rick Griffith collaborated on the Hendrix at Winterland famous poster, Griffith is famous for the Aoxomoxoa poster for the Grateful Dead that is now in the Modern Art museum in NYC, Mouse (who created the famous Rat Thing character) and Kelly are responsible for most of the Grateful Dead imagery and all of them contributed to the dozens of Fillmore Posters and created actually a secret code for the psychedelically initiated, I can go on for ours praising them, go in that direction and be prepared for a lot of enjoyment!
WG: What do you think are the positive and negative effects of music being run through the wheels of capitalism?
VB: The positive aspect is perhaps the possibility of running a genuine, financially efficient art-music 'factory' (this meant in its most positive assertion) as Frank Zappa did: Barfco, the UMRK, Zappa Records, etc... The, let's say, negative aspect is that most of the times people are misled into what music can be and was intended for in the first place, with a lot of cosmetics and production and circus, so the contact with the musician or composer, and music itself, is not as clear as it is supposed to be.
WG: Speaking of art-music factories, you have worked with W. Dabliu Records (Mauro Bensi's Label) and are now about to release some stuff on Fleece records (Kurt Brennan's Label) any good or bad things to say about working with them?
VB: We were (and are) very very happy that Mauro Bensi decided to do a beautiful LP limited run of Frolic Froth's 'Ouroboros' and Humus's 'Malleus Crease' to start his company, later he even took a commercial risk in releasing 'Laervarium' by Semefo and then now he is doing 'Whispering Galleries', the fifth Humus, what more could we ask? When we met him in person at Paul Chain's studio he was really friendly and helped us a lot while we where in Italy recording. We sincerely hope that his label will flourish. Kurt Brennan, from Fleece Records, has been enthusiastic and we know, via Ramunni, the labour they are doing along the psychedelic frontline, not only as label but distributing their productions as well, all I can say is that we are looking forward to it.
WG: How do you feel about the whole idea of "owning" a song? I'm purposely leaving "owning" vague.
VB: I find it very natural that somebody who invested time and effort creating anything shall receive first credit and not least, money. You can easily protect your 'song' but in reality is not always possible to protect your whole concept from being copied, as soon as it is exposed to the public it's fair game and maybe the best you can aim for is to be recognized as the originator of a particular something.
WG: Will you ever tour the States and what do you hope to find if you do?
VB: We sincerely hope and think so and it's about time! We don't have a projection of how it will be or anything, we cannot imagine, we will just go there and do our best. As a matter of fact we are starting preparations for a small tour of the American southwest this summer and we hope to see a lot of people there!
WG: Do you enjoy playing live and what possibilities do you believe that it provides for you to exploit that a studio does not allow?
VB: There are a lot of possibilities that are impossible to recreate in the studio; music originally started as collective gatherings and ceremonies for the beyond, for the tribe or whatever and modern concerts in many ways recreate that, the music acts as catalyst and there is a stepping into what Mircea Eliade calls a 'sacred realm'.
WG: What will you hope to have accomplished through music in your lifetime when you kick the bucket (die)?
VB: We are into the kind of music that Jimi Hendrix defined as 'Electric Church', which as we have seen in the last 30 years has the ability to touch people and alter their consciousness...
We have a multimedia vision dating from years back and everything we do are steps on that direction; getting the technology and learning to use it, producing everything from the ground up ourselves. We learned the lesson not to wait for anybody to come up and save us. If you look back at our history and sort of figure out a graph, you will see that is directed towards our independence, this I think, is important, not only for us but to our listeners, because it means that what they get is absolutely corpo-free, home-cooked, heavy vinyl 'tortillas' on a regular basis. Before parting from this life it would be great to have reached our highest ground...
For More Information on Humus check out their website:Humus
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