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Escape Velocity

Blues Involution: Guadalupe Plata Interviewed
Julian Marszalek , August 16th, 2016 09:55

Like all good bluesmen, the Spanish trio swear by the Devil, and they tell Julian Marszalek why they're hell-bent on saving their genre from tedious operators by fusing together the spirit of Hound Dog Taylor with punk

It's one of those moments to savour when the realisation sinks in that something genuinely special is happening before your very eyes. The Spanish trio Guadalupe Plata are hurtling towards the end of a show that has gradually and methodically turned the heat right up. The temperatures may have dipped outside and a few sweating punters will undoubtedly be suffering colds by the following morning, but here, inside the packed and heaving locale of the Shacklewell Arms, things have been cooking nicely and the pressure is about to blow. As the band summon up a whirlwind of feedback, low-end and drums for the climax of the sleazy grind of 'Lorena', one girl, overcome with emotion and excitement, leaps to the stage, grabs the mic and yells out: "I fucking love Guadalupe Plata!"

It's hard to disagree and easy to see why. For too long, both the blues and punk rock have suffered from a position of derision thanks to no end of tedious and unimaginative operators working within the genres. What Guadalupe Plata are most definitely not are purveyors of the tasteful and ultimately mind-crushing dross that say, Joe Bonamassa, a technician of little substance, dishes out in between rolling up his jacket sleeves. Similarly, these aren't the kind of punks who think that wearing bondage trousers and shouting "bollocks!" a lot qualifies as some kind of rebellion.

Over nearly a decade they've left a trail of devastated venues and breathless audiences in their homeland and have released a series of self-titled EPs and albums, the latest of which came out last year. Their short, sharp visits to the UK have seen the band increase their profile thanks to the kind of word of mouth that only happens in the wake of truly explosive gigs. Hailing from Andalusia, Spain, the trio – that's Pedro de Dios (guitar and vocals), Carlos Jimena (bass) and Paco Luis Martos (drums) – are closer in spirit to the late and much lamented trailblazers The Gun Club. That's not to suggest that they sound like Jeffrey Lee Pierce's outfit but they've harnessed that same exploratory drive that comes with fusing roots music with the power and fury of punk rock while adding something distinctly Spanish into the mix. Factor in Guadalupe Plata's worship at the altar of the holy trinity of reverb, tremolo and feedback and the resulting music is a refreshing and downright exciting counterpoint to the whitewashed guff tossed out elsewhere.

The band's sound fuses punk rock with blues with an almost indecent ease. To what degree is that by accident or design?

Guadalupe Plata: It's always been a band where we just play what we like and what we're all feeling at that moment. We never stopped to think, we're going to play this style or that. You can sort of tell that maybe we were listening more to Howlin' Wolf or Charlie Parker when we composed this or that song, or maybe it morphed as we played it live. Anyway, the obvious starting point is the Delta blues and setting off from there we've always felt close to punk, in that punk is a liberation – and not a straightjacket. We're most interested in the very first, earliest blues as escapism from a very difficult, painful, hard way of life because it didn't have any norms, any restrictions.

Punk and blues are very much genres that get a bum rap thanks to some genuinely horrible performers working within those areas. How is it that you successfully avoid contributing to that?

GP: Yeah! That's true. There are people and bands in both those genres who can be unbelievably tedious. And obviously on occasion we've ended up on bills with them. Purists, dullards. We deal with that by sticking close to the Delta and commending our souls to our maestro, Hound Dog Taylor, who protects us from bad companions.

The sound that you create evokes sun, heat and wide-open spaces with a sense of genuine abandon. It also sounds distinctly Spanish. How much of an influence – either consciously or unconsciously – is your homeland on the music you make?

GP: Where we come from is fundamental to the music we record, the way we sound, who we are. You can't run away from that. We come from Úbeda where it's very hot and parched. It's a city of stones, of huge landholdings, and it's because of the olive groves; the people of Úbeda work those fields and the people that come from there are a certain way and we can't help it, we can't be any other way. Anyway, if an artist tries to escape where he or she comes from, there will be something missing in his or her work; it always has to be present, where you come from and who you are.

Your live shows are very much characterised by an almost relentless amount of energy. As artists, where do you feel most at home: the stage or the studio?

GP: We feel totally at home on stage. And we always try to make all our records work live, on the stage. And we go back over our records and work them out anew on stage. So you never see the same show twice, our songs are basic and there is a lot of room for improvisation, and that communicates to people our energy, I think.

The live versions of the songs are subject to some reinterpretation where you stretch out way beyond the original version. Have you got to the point where, as musicians, you all know instinctively where you're heading or does someone call the shots?

GP: Well, we have a base, which is the songs, and when we play them we all have freedom – and there are things you will keep, so over time a song can change a lot. Our dedication to the Delta blues is what defines us as a band and we three have to defend that! You know, the fact that we love to change the songs every time we play them means we never get bored, the music never gets paralysed, each song evolves, or 'involves', and goes through an involution at every show.

Your new album was recorded in Toe Rag Studios with Liam Watson. What were you hoping to achieve with him? And how well do you think you succeeded?

GP: That was [Everlasting label boss] Mark Kitcatt's idea. He encouraged us to go and have a look at the place and meet Liam, and it felt like walking into a Second World War submarine! That whole album is recorded live, no splicing, hardly any overdubs, with a maximum of two takes and usually sticking with the first. We're proud of it. And the way Liam has his studio and the work he puts into it, of course, influenced the record.

Your videos are very much works of art in their own right. What involvement do you have in their creation?

GP: In the videos, the same as the artwork or the photos, we are 100 per cent involved. With the videos, we always get outside help but we make sure it's someone like us and of the same sort of stripe, people who will understand that we aren't perfect and shiny. The artwork is by Pedro and Carlos takes the photos and designs the sleeves. And for all these things, we get to a consensus within the band.

Animals feature very highly in your song titles and lyrics. What's the fascination?

GP: Yes, the Guadalupe Plata bestiary gets bigger with every release! It's always everyday animals – dogs, cats, rats, snakes, milana sheep (this is a Spanish breed, luxurious coat) and animals we see around. Not mythical beasts like unicorns or griffins. They're animals that can represent people or states of mind, animals you can identify with.

Your publicity photos have you sporting horns and red eyes. Are you acknowledging that the Devil has the best tunes?

GP: Yes, he does, in music. He's the winner for sure!

I understand that the Guadalupe river's name is supposedly derived from the Arabic phrase, وادي اللب, 'Wad-al-lubb', which means 'hidden river'. What does your music reveal about you?

GP: It reveals a lot when we get up to play. There's a change of attitude, we become someone different. On stage you always leave something which isn't a normal part of us, the rest of the day.

Guadalupe Plata is out now on Everlasting Records. Guadalupe Plata begin a UK tour in September; full dates are below and head here for tickets:

Wed 14 - Jug Jaws @ The Crypt, Norwich
Thu 15 – The Castle, Manchester
Fri 16 – Rainbow, Birmingham
Sat 17 – The Stow Festival @ Ye Olde Rose & Crown, London
Sun 18 – The Phoenix, Exeter
Tue 20 – Start The Bus, Bristol
Wed 21 – Broadcast, Glasgow
Thu 22 – The Cluny, Newcastle
Fri 23 – The Moon, Cardiff
Sat 24 – Camp & Furnace, Liverpool International Festival Of Psychedelia
Sun 25 – The Hope & Ruin, Brighton