Spotlight: Santiago Fradejas

Listening to Santiago Fradejas can be painful, not because his music is dissonant and distorted, though it is often both, but in the way listening to Astor Piazzolla can be painful, because the depth and intensity of emotion in the music makes you feel at a level that can be uncomfortable. The Argentinian guitarist puts all his love and longing for life’s terrible beauty into his work and, if you are ready, takes you on a ride through the dreams and nightmares that infect us all. To quote Betty Davis: “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.”

What kind of music were you playing when you first became proficient on the instrument?

I’ve been playing for 25 years now. I started with the usual electric guitar stuff: psychedelia, blues, and a bit later, grunge and prog. I got very interested in stompboxes and loud amplifiers, and that means feedback and swirling stuff. At the same time I got into Laughing Stock, by Talk Talk and Pawn Hearts by Van Der Graaf Generator— all those atmospheric guitars and keys, diminished chords, the challenging harmonies and, most of all, the feeling that time stopped; that you can and should break free from the tyranny of the four-minute-song, from TV, and the commercial radio format.

I then, got more involved with textures than technique. I still love listening to a guitarist playing “Cherokee” or “Giant Steps,” but am always looking for a sound landscape, for rawer textures. I don’t know when it happened, but I stopped paying attention to songwriting and got immersed in sound, the beauty of one note ringing, changing, fading out.

What led you to create more experimental (non-mainstream) music?

The more I got obsessed with sound, the more bitter I got about songs being treated and perceived as second class entertainment; as background noise for conversation, marketed as the pop and rock stadium charade, the cult of personality and money, and all of that with “music” as the excuse. I thought it was insulting and sickening.

I was listening to all this amazing music—Diamanda Galas, Cecil Taylor, Alfred Schnittke—while the conversation was always about money; who was “making it,” who were the ones getting rich but still playing something “sincere, deep.” I just went away from all that, I needed something more meaningful, life-changing; I needed to make sure I would do my best to add something beautiful, or die trying. How could you have those shallow fantasies when people like Diamanda, Marc Ducret and Philip Degruy are out there, giving us all that beauty? So I started walking the—as you put it—non-mainstream path, in order to find the best way to communicate these very complex feelings. And here I am, trying harder. And it is harder every time.

Whose music inspires you? Past and Present.

Well, I already named Diamanda, Ducret, Degruy and Schnittke. Peter Hammill and Robert Fripp have been very important since I started, as have Scott Walker, Peter and Caspar Brotzmann, and Gyorgy Ligeti. Coltrane is constantly there as a reminder you need to go further and further. Also, Bartok and Penderecki, Edmundo Rivero, Alvin Lucier, Les Rallizes Dénudés, Keith Rowe, Tim Buckley, Throbbing Grisle, Bill Frisell, P.I.L., Piazzolla, and, again, Mark Hollis. His guitar playing is superb, but so ethereal that is never discussed. He’s very inspirational in many ways.

I would also like to talk about other influences. It’s easy to track my musical ones, but the others are as important. When I am recording, I never think of a particular musician to guide me; it is always painting and films. It is not unusual to describe—to myself of course—a specific guitar part as: sounds like that Francis Bacon orange on the wall, or that’s the Escena de Disciplinantes [by Goya] ring modulator thing. I obsessively think about Goya’s Incendio en un Hospital, Bacon’s Three Studies for a Crucifixion, Kurosawa’s Ran, and Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover. I am constantly referring to the Bible for images and beautiful poetry. So, even if a passage sounds a bit like Ben Monder, I was probably thinking of Sylvia Plath. No one wants to owe anything to his or her peers. Even when you ostensibly do. So it is better for me to think of Turner or Joyce.

But the biggest influences don’t have a name, or a shape; they are the fears and the pain that are there, constantly. The memories, the things you fear to remember, the things that you fear to forget. It is there, in every chord, in that oscillating fuzz that sounds suspiciously like screams, or that pitch shifting delay that sounds like laughs. All those wonderful artists gave me the tools, but the inspiration comes from somewhere else.

How did you get better at your current style?

Through constantly changing pedals, guitars, and techniques. After a few months, I get two or three new pedals and I get rid of some, as well. I do not store them. That would be too tempting. I need to start everything again, explore those new sounds and combinations, and try things that didn’t sound good with the previous set up. It could be different scales or chords or the whole approach to the instrument.

If I end up playing an uninspiring guitar, I just turn it into a tone generator and work with the pedals; if I have a sweet guitar, all those complex chords and arpeggios come back. I base my sound, or the sound of a particular album, on the gear I am using at that particular moment. I use everything: if one day I want a minimalist sound, I will have to get rid of all the gear, because if it’s there it will be used. I obsess over sounds that I can obtain with the particular setup of the day. At the end of the process, I usually have an album. I don’t know if I am getting better or not. But every recording has its own sound and that’s what I am looking for.

What are you trying convey with your music?

Everything I do is an attempt to overcome or, at least, recognize the horror, the fears—the ghosts. I am trying to get empathy from the listener, to share the disturbing noise, bringing it to the outside, not to make anyone feel bad, at least not maliciously, but to invite them to suffer with me like I suffer with them—mutual compassion. I suffer with Bacon and Von Trier, by their side. Watching Von Trier’s Idioterne, why should I do that to myself? I do it to feel that we are all together; we are One in those fears and inner torture, that we can keep going because we can feel what the others feel and vice-versa. If I put a lot of darkness in my music, it is not to get pleasure from scaring the listener, quite the opposite. It is way to cry and freak out with the others, by their side, knowing that, maybe, they’ve got your back as well.

Which guitars, amps, effects, plug-ins and software do you use to create your music, and why?

As I said, the set up changes constantly. As of today my pedalboard consist in an Infanem Second Voice Deluxe, a PTD Tornita KS and Dr.Scientist Bitquest for fuzz; and a Montreal Assembly Count to Five, Strymon El Capistan, and TC Electronics Ditto X2 pedals for looping and delay.

I don’t use an amplifier. Instead I am using a Sansamp clone. Also, a Boss FV-500H and a TU-2. A brilliant French luthier, Loic Le Pape, is building a stainless steel body, Klein-type guitar for me.

I recorded the album I Am The Room (2015; Layma Azur ensemble) with a ’95 Parker Fly Deluxe and an ’82 Fernandes SG Custom. I used the Piezo pickup a lot for the fuzz guitars. The walls of noise were made with Ghost FX Pep Box and Warmjet V pedals, plus a Rockett WTF Fuzz and a Lastgasp Art Laboratories Super Oscillo 88 for the solos. I also use The Super Oscillo’s oscillation for generating a constant tone I can modify with the pedals, much like a modular synth. I treated that signal with a Z.Vex Super Ringtone (all the arpeggiated, sequenced stuff) and an EHX 16 Second Digital Delay, which is an instrument in itself. I’ve been working with that one and a Memory Man Deluxe for all the looping albums in the last ten years.

For the live albums I used a more “rock and roll” set up: same looper, Empress Vintage Modified Superdelay, a Moog ring modulator, a Univibe and tremolo for the clean parts, and a JMI Tonebender MKIII, a Foxx Tone Machine, a Fuzzy Lady, a WMD Geiger Counter, a Devi Ever Rocket, a Digitech Whammy and a modded Dunlop 535Q wah.

Today, the pedalboard is divided into a Looping/glitch section and a fuzz section (the Tornita! KS provides the oscillation for the modular-synth-type sounds). I always stack two or more fuzzes and at least two looping devices at the same time. The delay is always on.

The live setup is very simple: guitar-pedalboard-Sansamp-PA. For recordings, even simpler: same thing without the Sansamp. Just straight to Logic, without a mixer. I really love the straight-to-the-sound card approach, which was perfect with the Parker Fly—the cleanest sound possible. I also use the fuzzes that way. Hence, the “horrible” wall of fuzz. It reminds me of Jesus & Mary Chain’s Psychocandy—that noise. I keep coming back to that. It was my first concert experience as a kid. You can see the results, decades later.

Which do you enjoy more: recording or playing live and why?

Definitely, recording. I do play live (I recorded two live albums in the last couple of years: Chamber Works Vol. 1 & 2) and it is, well, bittersweet. But the recording studio is home. I know musicians that feed off the audience and play like never before. I, on the contrary, feed off my own music, a sound calling another sound, building it up—it is a solitary process, where a contemplative state is required, which is not possible in a concert for me.

But, playing live is the best excuse to unleash the part of you that wants to play loud and feel the vibrations on your body, to “feel” the feedback, even disturb yourself with the noise. It’s a beautiful thing. It’s a powerful thing. But layering parts on the studio, sculpting a piece from scratch, from one chord, or a sound—that’s the real moment of joy, even when it mostly comes from an unpleasant place.

How have you built up an audience for your music?

I don’t know. I make albums, post them on the Internet, sometimes I offer physical copies, and then I come back to work. I have no control over it. From time to time there are beautiful surprises: a thoughtful review, an e-mail from someone who enjoyed the music, or musicians who want to collaborate in some project. What else can you ask? I do not know who my audience is or if it exists, but I’ll keep working, recording and playing concerts. We will see.

With whom would you like to collaborate and why?

A few weeks ago I went to see Marc Ducret in concert. I was dying to jump onstage and jam with the trio. Not long ago, I said in an interview I would love to collaborate with David Torn; I think we speak the same language. I not only admire him, but also the people who influenced him: Holdsworth, Belew, and Rypdal. I think it would sound, at least, homogeneous. Last time, I got no answer. Maybe after this one, somebody will get on the phone and tell him. I love that guy.

Two artists I love are Nicolas Ojeda and guitarist Alejandro Pavlovic. I would love to collaborate with them as much as I can. I think about them and their style when I am writing, in the hope one day it will happen.

What is your latest project? When will it be available and where can people in different parts of the world get it?

It is Layma Azur, a joint project with A.M Ferrari Fradejas. The new album, I Am The Room, has just been released online and is available through Bandcamp. There will be a limited edition of the physical format next September and pre-orders are also available through my website.

I am currently recording a prepared guitar album, which will soon be on my website (discography section) and at the same time playing guitars and co-producing A.M Ferrari Fradejas’ third solo album.

 

 

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