Exclusive: George West's "Broken" Creates an Atlas of Sound
Photos courtesy of George West
Traveling in Texas to anywhere causes weary-eyed travelers to relive the scene from Children of the Corn in which poor Burt and Vicky think they have escaped the child-occupied death-cult town of Gatlin, Nebraska, only to wind up in the same exact place they started each time. But other travelers have rosier-colored lenses when traveling through the largest state in the Lower 48, especially kids. Before the onslaught of digital devices robbed children of opportunities to stare at wide-open landscapes during long car rides, they might see strange Texas roadside attractions like Hildalgo's World’s Largest Killer Bee or giant sculpted legs outside of Amarillo. For Vik Montemayor, long car rides from Houston to Gonzalez, Mexico — a small town outside of Monterrey — permitted his young mind to capture the taken-for-granted moments and capitulate ideas for future endeavors.
“Spending my childhood split between Gonzalez and Houston, we would pass a small town called ‘George West,’ and I starting thinking, ‘If I ever do a solo project, it will be called George West,’” Montemayor reminisces. Born from vast landscapes and one-stoplight towns, George West allows Montemayor to explore music under the name of a tiny Texas town without the same constricted confines found in megacities like Houston. His project, like the city, creates abstract terra firmas filled with the same space that occupied his many childhood road trips.
Unlike his primary role playing drums for Houston’s synth-pop revivalists Bang Bangz, George West (the solo project) takes electronic pathways similar to Thom Yorke or Jamie XX. Yet his time in Bang Bangz also helped to influence his sudden turn toward solo explorations, Montemayor explains.
“Bang Bangz has been something good for me,” he says. “I have learned things from each band I have been, but Bang Bangz has been the type of music I have wanted to drum for since I heard The Killers' Hot Fuss album back in 2007 and saw them play at Verizon Wireless Theater in Houston. With Bang Bangz, I was introduced to producing music and messing around with keyboards. That give me the push to start my own project.”
In 2015, George West released Silverio, a ruminative album that maintains a delicate, yet experimental quality by subverting the genre Montemayor takes on with some reservation: chillwave. Subdued, the album opens up with a one-minute track, “Leon,” which showcases his penchant for downtempo beats while oscillating wildly with tone. It is playful and does not yield to any specific form. “One to Start,” on the other hand, plays with space using a toy piano sample looped beneath a beat worthy of a verse from trip-hop pioneer Tricky.
Those long drives as a kid meant Montemayor would bond with family members and listen to people take turns telling personal stories as they remembered them, with music from his Mexican heritage playing in the background; that closed-in intimacy is found throughout Silverio. Equally evident of his Northside upbringing than his musical affinities, “There Is Always Another Option” brings in the vintage sounds of Choppin Em Up-era with screwed down horns and chopped-up samples over smooth synth lines that blend with each of the elements instead of dominating the finer elements.
“My influence has been those memories that are locked in my mind of the road trips we would take to Mexico as a family every holiday we had,” remembers Montemayor. “I picture open landscapes and small, chill towns when I create music. As I grew older on the Northside of Houston — Greenspoint — I grew up with my mom playing traditional Mexican music in the house, to my homies playing Swisha House in the street make the trunks rattle. So, I think all that mix of music, mental pictures, and memories has all crashed into what George West is now.”
Montemayor received a huge break in 2015: performing at Free Press Summer Fest. Seizing the opportunity by the throat, he knew the risk when he played his experimental, yet playful variations on electronic elements for a summer crowd. Undeterred, he went for it, carrying out his esoteric samples of found sounds and let the music speak for itself. If permitted, a listener can easily fall into his spell and connect with his art by removing any and all expectations. “I really enjoy playing for other people, but I know that not everyone will like my music, and I am cool with that,” Montemayor remarks. “I am into what I do, the vibe I create that is what I enjoy.”
George West’s newest offering, “Broken,” conveys his artistic tabula rasa by allowing rising elements to converge. The track features Virginia-based rapper WilkJayy, whose sleek, laid-back ILoveMakonnen delivery melts into West’s opium den-like atmospherics. Make no mistake, each one of WilkJayy’s verses depends on his Swisha-influenced production. “Broken” is a benchmark achievement for Montemayor — one that boasts what he can do not only for himself, but for others.
“But one thing that really gets me motivated is when people tell me they connect with my sounds, when they say, ‘Man I was listening to your album on the way home,’ right when you feel like giving up on this tough music world," Montemayor says. "Those words give you oxygen to continue creating.”
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