Strange and exciting things happen when creative minds decide to drop everything they were doing and move to into the woods. Whether it is the falling away of urban overstimulation, the closer contact to nature, or just the increased focus on the task at hand; beautiful and meaningful things are made. Novels are written, poems are conjured out of thin air, and musicians find new sources of sound within themselves. Tajak definitely did. Their previous album Ciclos was a great album of noisy shoegaze, but it did not fully prepare of what was to come…
Hailing from Mexico, one can imagine that the forest Tajak chose for a creative hideout is rather a different affair than let’s say than Thorough’s when he wrote Walden. I recently got to see the second Avatar movie, and I feel Tajak would have done a much better job scoring the beautiful rain forest and underwater scenes. The music on La Sombre Del Agua (The Shadow Of The Water) is rich and dreamy, layered, and filled to the brim with tiny little sonic easter eggs that make it a true headphone feast. This is a studio album mind you, but one that feels organic, a living breathing thing.
The songs are set up like paintings, and can spread out often longer than twelve minutes. When there is the need for a word or two there are some sparse humanoid voices, but they mostly remain whispers or echoes of wavering guitars and synths. The roots of this psychedelic soundscape music lie in improvisation, but like the grand maesters of kraut Can, Tajak have filled in their jams in the studio for an optimal sonic experience.
And that is why La Sombre Del Agua is what it is; a wet rainforest of sound with a sonic palette as rich as the flora and fauna. Tajak dares you to put on your headphones and disappear with them, away from the hassles and speed of modern life, into the shadow of the water.
Ok, so I had to talk to this band. I needed to know where they came up with their beautiful ideas and how they worked on it. The language can sometimes be a barrier though, standing in between a short and stand offish answer, and the whole thing. I am therefore glad that Tajak gave theirs in their native tongue. I would like to send mad props to Roman Tamayo of Doomed & Stoned Latino for the translation into English so we can all follow…
How are you? How has the pandemic period been for Tajak?
We are fine, everyone surviving as they can. We live in different places so we could only see each other once in a while. During the pandemic, we were recording La Sombra del Agua, in La Orduña, and Zoncuantla, Veracruz. We spent a year over there recording and producing the album, first in a place that a friend lent us in the woods and the rest in an abandoned factory.
Can you introduce the band and how did you meet them?
Alvaro Castro: Drums + FX and Synth + FX.
Carlos Arias: Electric guitar, effect pedals, and voice, he generally uses other instruments such as Sitar on the album Ciclos and LSDA, Didgeridoo on our self-titled Ep. And flutes and thunder drum on La Sombra del Agua.
Coco Badan: Bassist + Effect pedals and voice, just like Carlos he uses instruments like flutes, and ocarina on tracks like Camino.
Coco and Carlos are originally from Ensenada B.C. for what has been known for quite some time and Alvaro de La Paz B.C.S, we met at the university, and we met during out studies of Audio Engineering.
What can you tell me about your musical background?
I (Alvaro) started playing electric bass in a black/death metal band, when I was 13-14 years old, I started to be interested in drums. I played drums in a band called Orthodox. After that, I started taking classes and playing as a session musician in several bands. I went to a music university but I didn’t feel comfortable, so I left and began to study Jazz with a private teacher, this was in the city of Guadalajara.
In 2013 I moved to Mexico City to study Audio and that’s where I met Carlos and Coco, we lived together for a few months and one day we jammed at a colleague’s house. From that day we kept playing and that’s how the first songs of Tajak were born. It is safe to say that there was never the intention of starting a band, we would get together to play for pleasure.
Carlos started playing the guitar at the age of 12 and formed his first band in Ensenada at the age of 15, called Mr. Saldos (shoegaze, noise pop), Coco was part of that band for a while playing the keyboards and singing as well, it was the first time they experienced playing together.
Coco: I started studying music at an early age, taking flute classes from the age of 7, and then I went to a formal music school where I played clarinet in an orchestra, but the truth was that the whole experience was quite unhappy and I almost lost myself. They made me hate music. For me, all those years were a waste of time. It wasn’t until I dropped out of that school and started teaching myself guitar that my musical journey really began. Since then, I have continued on a self- taught path.
What is a typical day like in your life?
Alvaro: I work in a dubbing studio as a Pro Tools operator, usually, I’m recording most of the day, I come home in the afternoon, spend time with my girlfriend and play video games or read some manga or books. Sometimes I do sound design, and effects for audiovisual material such as documentaries or advertising.
Carlos: me and my wife own a vegan restaurant in Ensenada, we are both the chefs there, plus we do music events right there since we have a great outdoor space. Excellent projects from the independent scene in Mexico have been presented. In addition, sometimes I did work related to audio, mainly mastering, recording and production. I really like watching movies and series, playing video games, and sometimes I take the time to record new music or write.
Coco: I am currently living on my family’s ranch in Ensenada, B.C. A rather lonely life but one that I really like, especially in winter. I work in tourism, but during my free time, I paint, read, make music and walk in the countryside. I am preparing a drawing and painting exhibition that will be on February 16 in Ensenada. In Mexico City, I am managing a gallery/venue with a group of friends where we will do a small festival for our label in March.
What is the best thing about La Sombra Del Agua?
Alvaro: The whole process: we went through together recording and producing this album, for my very uncomfortable moments, where I felt that nothing was flowing, but even so, I kept looking for a way to improve the tracks. The best thing was to give ourselves the time and space to be able to work on each track carefully and be as satisfied as possible.
Coco: That such a long and arduous effort has given a very satisfactory result.
Where do you live and what is the environment like for musicians like you?
Alvaro: I live in Mexico City, and there are many places to play music of any genre, and new bands emerge very often. It is more difficult to earn enough money to live with your band: festival fees are generally very low for Mexican bands, compared to foreign bands that visit our country.
Carlos: In Ensenada (where Coco and I live) there are few places to play, there is much less public for this music than in CDMX, that is one of the reasons why I promote shows and bring projects from different parts of Mexico, to contribute this to my city.
Who are some contemporary musical heroes of yours?
Alvaro: I really enjoy some Oneohtrix Point Never records, like Replica. Darkthrone has always been a band I enjoy listening to, their record A Blaze in the Northern Sky. I’m also a fan of Beherit, they recently released an album called Bardo Exist, which oscillates between black metal and dark ambient. Mabe Fratti is also a great influence in the way she uses her musical resources and presents ensembles that I have enjoyed very much live. I also admire Pedro Tirado a lot, his album SalsiPuedes, his lyrics touch me in a deep way. I also really enjoy Container. Lately I’ve been somewhat short on new music, recommendations are welcome.
Carlos: I don’t believe in heroes, but the music that has influenced me the most in my life is: Bardo Pond, Slowdive, My Bloody Valentine, Swans, Wolf Eyes, Donovan, Bhimsen Joshi, A Place To Bury Strangers, Celestial Processions, Mabe Fratti, Sunn O))), The Shangri Las, Jorge Berumen, The Ronettes, Nada, Mito Del Desierto, Coco Badan, Cloks, Jesus And Mary Chain, The Residents, Fernanda P, Oneohtrix Point Never, Silver Apples, Lorelle Meets The Obsolete, The Kowalskis, Alice Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, Curvo, Julee Cruise, Dirty Beaches, Pedro Tirado, Manto Blanco and many others that I can’t remember right now.
Coco: It makes me very happy to be able to say that many of the projects I admire are people close to me. If Tajak has given us anything, it is the opportunity to meet all these people.
Celestial Processions, Myth of the Desert, Electrical Services, Aviation School, CCOOWWSS, Beru, Mr Saldos, Cloks, Nada, le trash can, Choco bestia, Shax, Mental Induction, gnois, José Orozco Mora, J Zunz, Concepción Huerta, Love Die, Nine Lives, Rogelio the 3rd, etc. etc.
Outside of the local scene I’ve been listening to KMRU, Lucrecia Dalt, Coby Sey, Aaron Dilloway, Lea Bertucci, Keiji Haino, Jun Konogaya, His Name is Alive, Alex Zhang Hungtai, John Tavener, Wolf Eyes, Cindy Lee, Cosey Fanni Tutti , Brin, Ryuchi Sakamoto, lots of rapping and my two biggest obsessions: Nocturnal Emissions and Coil.
Can you tell me about how you go about composing and recording songs?
Generally, we get together to improvise, we come up with something we like and we record it with our cell phone, then we record with bass, drums, and guitar microphones. On top of that we are adding more layers of other instruments such as synthesizers, flutes, etc. Then we edit and select what we like the most about what is recorded, we add effects and volume automation.
On La Sombra Del Agua, we had so much time to do it, we would sometimes spend a month without listening to the tracks, then we would listen again and when we listened again, we would think of new things to add to give each track more depth and dynamics. This was only the case on LDSA, our previous albums were recorded very quickly and mixed in a short time as well.
Being from The Netherlands, I am quite interested in the background story of Amsterdam 211, did you live here for a while?
Amsterdam 211 is the address of an apartment in Mexico City where Carlos and Coco lived. Much of the beginning of Tajak we spent a lot of time there, listening to records, talking about music, experiencing sounds, and having a good time with friends. We listened a lot to Black One by Sunn O))), Amanita by Bardo Pond, Cop, and Filth by Swans, Wolf Eyes, Boris, Barn Owl, Fuck Buttons, Oneohtrix Point Never, among others.
What are your immediate and long-term future plans?
Getting a European and American Booker to spin La Sombra Del Agua, we’ve struggled with that. Record new material in February.