Houstonians are more than likely familiar with Mario Rodriguez for his work with Tax the Wolf. The experimental powerhouse has been winning awards and critical acclaim for his experimental and cutting edge music for some time. Now, he's teamed with Elizabeth Salazar and Vik Montemayor on a new endeavor. It's called Bang Bangz, and we'll allow the band a little slack on the cardinal sin of using a "z" where an "s" belongs because they are so very nice to listen to.
Tax the Wolf fans can take comfort in the fact that Rodriguez's rather distinctive guitar sound and style have been maintained with Bang Bangs on their debut self-titled EP. The opening track "Wrong" could almost be mistaken for a cut from Hold the Sun at the beginning. However, differences become apparent immediately. The music is much more ethereal, with soft keyboard lines and drums from Montemayor that are masterworks of ambiguity. If we didn't know better we would swear a drum machine was responsible for much of the album (We mean this as a compliment), so connected to the matrix is Montemayor, but he often lashes out with peaks of rhythmic humanity that keep the tunes cyberorganic and fresh.
Salazar's vocals constitute a great deal of the album's appeal. Her throat must be a portal made of ginger and honey, and every note that she hits sounds like a subtle invitation. She features more on the microphone than Rodriguez, but he appears on many tracks as well, and the ensuing duet is part dance, and part duel. Nowhere is this better heard than in the crowning jewel of the album, "Night Souls." It's been too long since we'd heard a new song that made us want to use it as a soundtrack for a round of bedtime games, but the fire, tease, the tension, and the smoke of the almost-trip track has us getting ready to cue it up on the nightstand.
When Trent Reznor switched up from NIN to his work with How to Destroy Angels it was a breath of fresh air and a chance for a totally different aspect of his genius to get some air time. By our account, something very similar has happened here in Houston with Bang Bangz. Rodriguez, Salazar, and Montemayor have scraped together whatever free moments they could in some very busy lives to birth something new and powerful.
At times, the work is droning, maybe a little repetitious, but all in all the eight tracks that comprise Bang Bangz are solid works of alternative music in the original sense of the term. We felt the same way tuning in and turning off to the music that we did the first time we heard the Pixies, or Gorillaz, or Poe. It's a breath of steamy, scented air as intoxicating as any drink.
We talked with Rodriguze via email about the record. Click on over to page 2 for the interview.
Rocks Off: There's something very introspective about your songs, a lot of looking in. When you write music like that is it with the purpose of performing it, or just to record it?
Mario Rodriguez: There's definitely a lot of thought into each song. We wanted each track to interact with the listener. Like in "Wrong," Elizabeth's first lines are mesmerizing. I've always liked honesty or compassion in lyrics because it makes songs less excessive. It can make the listener feel like we're understanding or human as well. The purpose of writing music like this is to perform it and have an audience completely get sucked in; motionless.
RO: Favorite song is definitely "Night Souls," It's a real steamy tune. What's the story behind it?
MR: Awesome! Very steamy is what we wanted. "Night Souls" was one we wrote when we were in the middle of having so many ideas that we couldn't finish anything. Elizabeth and I would work our full time jobs and immediately after go into our small studio to write for hours on end without stopping. Days and nights seemed continuous because we would never leave our studio. The song constitutes for everyone that has sacrificed sleep, friends, time, family and everything in between for your passion or goal. We love this track because it reminds us of how much of a fun struggle an idea can become.
RO: There's so much that seems like a combination between you and Elizabeth, like the whole album is the chronicle of an ill-advised but necessary coupling. How are you playing off each other when you sing? What determines who sings which songs?
MR: Ha. "Ill advised but necessary coupling" has to be boldly noted. I'm not certain how we managed to craft this EP in the amount of time we did it in. We both have very different ways of working with music but we always met at a middle ground even if it led to a small argument or head nod. We wanted to make each other happy on everything we made and that was something we felt strongly about. If I played shitty guitar melodies or she sang like shit then we would call it out and that was okay. She gives me a look when it's all sounding amazing and that's when I know it's right. The lyrics seem to determine who sings for us. We trade lyric ideas and then decide which role it should take, Elizabeth or Mario... Maybe one day Vik.
RO: You've clearly put a lot into this, now what do you want to do with it? What is your ideal path with this kind of music?
MR: We want to use it as a tool to get us greater crowds, concerts, fans and everything in between. We needed this for us to continue to grow as artists; pushing boundaries. Ideally, this type of music may be what we love creating at the moment because it sounds refreshing to our ears but it may all change tomorrow.
RO: Any chance you'll do some music videos? Houston's woefully short on them lately.
MR: Yes, we definitely have plans and we are going to hopefully finish everything up by late May. The concept should be really pleasing and exciting. Yeah, I haven't seen many local music vids. The last one I saw was the Wicked Poseur one. That was fucking wicked cool.
Bang Bangz is available for download on the band's BandCamp.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.