Interview: VIERNES talk about their ‘Sinister Devices’

A big part of Viernes’s appeal seems to spring out of a successful pairing of opposite traits.  Warm, shimmering sound is married to wistful vocals; propulsive beats are covered in blankets of fuzz; digital sequencing leads into virtuosic playing, and so on.  The band’s debut album – Sinister Devices – came out back in June on esteemed indie label Kanine Records (Grizzly Bear, Surfer Blood), and we’ve been playing our copy pretty much nonstop since.  The album was well received by the music press, which means we can expect to hear more from the experimental duo of Alberto Hernández and Sean Moore soon (there’s already an EP on the way).

Alberto was gracious enough to answer some of our questions about the record via email:

PRI: Congratulations on the record’s release and the well-deserved review in Pitchfork (we know how influential the website can be – in fact, that’s where we first heard of Viernes).  It must feel great to finally hold a vinyl copy of Sinister Devices in your hands.  When you started the project over two years ago, did you envision it taking off as it has?

Alberto Hernández: Thanks so much. We definitely are excited about the record and the overall positive response it has received. When we started the project, we only had intentions of recording some off-the-cuff experimental music after our workweeks each Friday, not really to form a band or play shows, so everything since then has been a cherry on top. Receiving the first copies of the our lovely gatefold vinyl at my doorstep was one of the most exciting moments for me in recent memory. You nailed it, holding the LP in our hands feels really great. It’s like a physical sense of accomplishment, having your music pressed on vinyl and knowing it has been released around the world.

PRI: You recently played some live shows in Florida and New York City. How did it go? Is the album transferring nicely to the live setting?

Alberto: NYC was a lot of fun, we have some great friends up there and made some new ones. Our label Kanine is based out of Williamsburg, Brooklyn and the owners were at every show. We were only there for 4 days, and in 3 of those days we played like 5 or 6 shows. It was pretty hectic. But as a new band with only a handful of shows together under our belts, it was good for us to throw ourselves into something like that before we do CMJ or SXSW. Our favorite show was probably at Cameo Gallery in Williamsburg for the Northside Festival. That one was for our label’s showcase. The shows are getting better and better, I think. We just recently added a drummer to the live show and it’s been really neat because we’ve eliminated the laptop and sort of stripped away some layers and tried to only keep what is essential to the songs. But the energy is still there.

PRI: People who’ve yet to listen to Sinister Devices and read about online first will probably find comparisons to Grizzly Bear (in the beautiful, ethereal vocal melodies and chants) and My Bloody Valentine (in the shoegaze-y fuzz of its guitars), but a lot more seems to be going on here on these tracks. Album opener “Glass Windows”, for example, makes me think about Bjork’s music and some of Mike Patton’s experimental work, while “Ancient Amazon/New Fashion” reminds me of The Dust Brother’s work on the Fight Club soundtrack.  Where you looking to capture any specific sounds going into your collaborative work in Viernes?

Alberto: It’s nice to hear those new comparisons. The Grizzly Bear and My Bloody Valentine comparisons were sort of the first things that popped up when we first started getting press, and I think people just jumped on that by default. Grizzly Bear is understandable, with the harmonies and quiet/loud/quiet asthetic we share. Songs like Glacial Change of Pace and Faulty Investments have similar baroque movements. Not to mention they started out on the same label as us, Kanine.
But I don’t think we were looking to capture anything specific because as you can tell, the record is all over the place and the whole point for us was to not put limitations on what we could do. I think the one thing we kept in most of the songs was the freedom to experiment. But we did want the songs to fit together cohesively as an album, start to finish, and we definitely had that in mind along the way.

PRI: When you started making the album you were both playing in other projects. Is that still the case or has Viernes become your main musical outlet?

Alberto: We both still play in other side projects, although Viernes has been the main priority as of late for both of us. Right now we are finishing up an EP we are very excited about, which we will release late this year or early next year on Kanine as well. As for our other projects, we both have some releases coming up. I have my solo stuff I just started working on under the moniker Galleries, a more indie rock thing called Young Brother-we just finished our first EP we’ll put out soon, and a project with a friend of mine that just relocated to NYC called Father Figure, which we just tracked a few songs for a 7″. Sean has his 4th full-length solo record coming out soon, and a full length with a jazz/yacht rock project he does called Estate Sale Boat. We try to stay pretty busy.

PRI: My favorite moment in the album occurs midway through “Glacial Change of Pace” as pounding drums give way to the line “respect is our currency.”  It’s a beautiful moment that suggests confidence and conviction without loosing its warmth.  Can you talk a little about the sentiment or ideas behind that particular lyric?  What are some of your favorite moments during the album?

Alberto: That is one of my favorite moments on the album as well! The lyrics at the beginning of that song are very political. We wrote it around 2008, when the election was going on, one we felt was very important. As you know the economy was in shambles, the country was divided, and in a time when everyone was fixated with money, we saw the possibility of a slow (glacial), but positive change happening. We both wanted to encapsulate the idea of people forgetting about money for a bit and paying others with something very simple: Respect. Not to mention, a major thing we seek ourselves as artists first and foremost, is the respect of others we hold in high regard.

Another favorite moment of mine was on the 2nd interlude, “Liquid Tunnel”. At that point, we were done recording most of the album and could communicate musically without any premeditation whatsoever. The wordless vocal harmonies on that track were done one evening, on the first take, with one mic in the middle of the room, not even looking at each other, completely improvised. I feel like those happy accidents are my favorite moments on the record.

PRI: “Enhance Pendulum Channel” suggests (to me at least) the crystalized remembrance of our personal past, echoing with tinges of our Sci-Fi futures.  Are you big fans of Sci-Fi?  What film (either made or imagined) would Sinister Devices provide the perfect soundtrack to?

Alberto: I can’t say that we are both big Sci-Fi fans, however we were both completely blown away by that Sci-Fi movie Moon. David Bowie’s son Duncan Jones made his directorial debut on that film. It was so fucking good. That soundtrack also ruled. I don’t think we could top it. But we’d love to score another sci-fi movie of his, or any movie for that matter. People often say our music sounds like music for soundtracks and movies.

PRI: The album cover fits perfectly with the songs you’ve come up with for Sinister Devices.  It’s also what initially pulled me towards the band when I saw it online.  How did it come about?  Were you familiar with the image before or during the process of composing the songs or did it come later in the process?

Alberto: It came after the album was finished. We had a few different ideas we tossed around with our friend and designer Charles Bergquist. He also directed the video for “Liquid Tunnel“, as well as creating visuals/projections for our live show. But as soon as we both saw that cover out of several he threw at us, we all agreed it fit perfectly. He took that photo during a really nasty storm in Washington and it is actually inverted so that it looks like you are looking down. (Fun Fact)

PRI: Often successful debuts encapsulate a band’s sound in such a way that it becomes much like a curse for those musicians when trying to expand their sonic palettes (re: The Strokes, famously).  Sinister Devices, however, seems to exist at the opposite end of the spectrum in that the ‘Viernes’s sound’ is hard to pin down.  One of the nicest surprises in your record is that it suggests many different paths for your future musical explorations.  Have you begun thinking about what album #2 might sound like? Any particular ground you would like to explore that you felt was not as represented in the record but is essential to Viernes or something you might want to expand on further?

Alberto: We are finishing a followup EP which is really cool, I think people are going to like it a lot. It’s material we worked on at the same time as the Sinister Devices sessions, but these were songs that felt like they belonged in a separate “family”. And we started demoing material for the next full-length recently. We may be adding our live drummer into the recording process too, we’ll see.

We actually have one new demo called “Coquis” that you can check out on our Myspace. It actually features some analog drum machine and some Coquí frogs I sampled in Puerto Rico earlier this year from my late grandfather’s bedroom window. I just recorded them with my iPhone, right before he passed away. I flew down to help my father take care of him while he was in hospice with a very short and aggressive battle with cancer. As you know, the Coquí has such a unique sound, and being that my family is from Puerto Rico, it was neat to tie it all together in a song. They chirp in a rhythm that totally fit the beat Sean sequenced, and I put it in the middle of the song. Where I placed the samples in the track, the Coquís sort of represent the idea that even after he passed, they will continue to chirp in his courtyard, and that life continues on. The song isn’t done yet, we’ll probably take it down soon, so check it out now in it’s demo form while you can.

PRI: On your interview with REAX Magazine a few months ago, you mention that the song “Regressive Soul Pollution” includes a Puerto Rican cuatro in its layers of sound. Its very nice to see an instrument that is associated with such distinct music used within the context of an experimental – lets say ‘rock’ – group (Balún, a local indie band that relocated to New York City is also known to incorporate the Puerto Rican cuatro into their music in non-traditional ways). Did any other particular Puerto Rican or Latin influences seep into the record?

Alberto: As I mentioned, the new stuff will feature coquís! I think on this record though, that was probably the only Puerto Rican/Latin influence, other than taking our name from the Spanish word for Friday. We did use a bossa nova analog drum machine beat for “Ancient Amazon/New Fashion” but really, the cuatro was only used for “Regressive”. I loved the idea of having a unique sound, I’ll probably use it again in the future, especially now that I have more pedals to run it through.

PRI: Do you visit the island often?  Has Sean been to Puerto Rico? How about taking a trip soon and playing Sinister Devices live in front of the ocean, perhaps somewhere along here?

Alberto: We would love to!! I visited 3 times since December and I try to visit as much as I can. I have plenty of family that live there. And one of my cousins, Marise, is an actress there. She had roles in a few films shot there on the island, Maldeamores and Che which Benicio Del Toro produced. Sean has never been, but he and his fiance would really like to go visit with us next time we go. I say we stay in touch with you, and we will make it happen next time we are there!

PRI: Definitely! Let’s make it happen! Thanks for taking the time from your busy schedule to answer our questions and we wish you and Sean both the best with your musical endeavors.

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Download “Entire Empire” via Pitchfork.com

Download “Honest Parade” via Fader

Download Viernes “Swimmer’s Ear (Golden Ages Remix)” via xlr8r.com

Pitchfork reviews Sinister Devices

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Empresario, escritor, productor y diseñador radicado en San Juan, Puerto Rico. Fundador y Editor-en-jefe de Puerto Rico Indie. Si tuviese que vivir por el resto de su vida escuchando solamente cinco discos, en estos momentos seleccionaría: "Fabulosos Calavera" de Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, "Girlfriend" de Matthew Sweet, "Marquee Moon" de Television, "Lateralus" de Tool y "Staring At The Sea" de The Cure.