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Desaparecidos - Interview

  by Benjamin Howarth

published: 11 / 5 / 2002

Desaparecidos - Interview


The Desaparecidos have released one of the hardcore punk albums of the year with their debut 'Read Music/Speak Spanish'. Guitarist Denver Dalley talks to Ben Howarfth about the band's first eighteen months and its recording

Debut albums as good as 'Read Music/Speak Spanish' are hard to come by. This record is vastly better than the first Radiohead, Suede or Manic Street Preachers album, and better than the first Beatles, Dylan, Byrds or Stones album. It is easily as good as the first Smiths album, and perhaps only the tiniest bit weaker than the first Patti Smith or REM albums. And yet Desaparecidos have never been hyped up to the extent that they are already megastars or look likely of being so, and they look like they have no prospects of ever lining up against the jewels of rock history. But, they have just made one of the best albums in my record collection – and perhaps, most surprisingly of all, they made it in one week. The band, which includes in its line-up Conor Oberst on vocals and guitar, Denver Dalley on guitar, Ian McElroy on keyboards and Matt Baum on drums formed about a year and a half ago in Omaha in Nebraska. Denver Dalley was involved from the start. Gradually more members were invited to join including the already well known Oberst, who also performs as a folk singer under the moniker, Bright Eyes. He has already released several albums with that project, and is by far the most experienced member of the Desaparecidos despite being only 21 ; his recording career began when he was only 14. Don’t, however, go mistaking Desparecidos as Conor’s rock side-project. Denver points out that “everybody was really important. I wrote some of the songs, and, yeah, Conor did bring some songs and some were more a collaboration. Conor then went and wrote the words, but each member was involved in getting the music together.” The lyrics have a vital part to play in Deseparecidos' make-up , and it is their subject matter and articulate delivery that initially makes this band stand out from other American acts. Songs like 'Mall Of America' and '$$$$' have seen the band labelled as a political band, and also as the successors to At The Drive-In. Denver is perfectly satisfied with the latter statement, since he considers At The Drive-In one of his biggest musical influences, along with Nirvana and The Pixies. In fact you can clearly hear the influence of At The Drive-In in many of the songs,with their frantic pace and the strange, angular nature of their guitars. He is, however, uncomfortable with the band being seen as a political group. “I don’t really think of us see Desaparecidos as a political band” he says, “more as a social group. You might say that they are the same thing, but we certainly aren’t trying to write about political issues. We are trying to comment more on society.” He goes on to say that “we’re really proud to be American, and I feel patriotic, but one of the best things about America is that you can criticise society, and try to suggest improvements.” When you consider that measured response, a “social band” is definitely a better description than a “political” one. Beyond music, the band shares other similarities with At The Drive-In as well and also wants to challenge and change society , but there are subtle differences also. While At the Drive-In were extreme, loud and looked at things from an outsiders' perspective, Desaparecidos are less confrontational, and while no less challenging, slightly more accepting. That’s not to say that Desparecidos are easy on the ear pop fluff. Their music is at times as awkward as At The Drive-In, but it is definitely less loud and more melodic. Taken as a whole, 'Read English/Speak Spanish' is a poignant reflection on society. As well as the songs that have a political subject matter, there are several that concentrate on ordinary people’s lives. There are also three love songs, none of which look at romance in a straightfoward fashion . One, 'What’s New For Fall', the first single, is about the anguishes of trying to get a girl to like you. The two other are both entitled 'Man And Wife'. “When I wrote the music to 'Damaged Goods' (the first 'Man and Wife' song is subtitled 'Payment Plans', and the latter 'Damaged Goods' )" says Denver "I didn’t plan for it to be paired with another song, but Conor had the idea of writing two lyrics that work together. I think it worked, definitely”. The first which has Oberst singing “I just wanted to provide for you”, deals with a young couple planning for the future, whilst the latter has them falling out of love. “Will you stay like that forever, right in front of your computer" he sings. You look up one day but you won’t recognise me”. Desaparecidos also put a lot of emphasis on presentation. The sleeve for 'Read English/Speak Spanish' is simply awesome. Denver says that the idea for it came about when he was looking through his father’s science textbooks, which had “pictures and diagrams of plants, with see through pages over the top making layers. I took that approach and used it on the album sleeve, putting on it a desert landscape with the houses over the top. It fitted in with the general theme of the sleeve being a planning application for housing developments.” This idea came about because Omaha is the fastest growing part of America. Speech samples also precede most of the music, and go from girls from the local college being asked to describe their ideal man to members of the band talking about the expansion of Omaha. The function of this is to make the record feel a little special, and the album, not just 10 songs , but also a complete package. “I definitely think it added something to the album" says Denver It was just an idea that we had and it seemed to feel right and to work with the songs.” As well as Oberst with Bright Eyes, some of the other Desaparecidos are also members of various other groups, notably the Good Life. Denver himself is one of the few members that concentrates full time on the band, so it wouldn’t be too difficult to come to the conclusion that the project is like a super-group (without the millionaire celebrities of course, and in their place a bunch of music mad kids from Omaha) but Denver insists that the band is a special concern for all its members, and dismisses claims that the band is unlikely to ever make a second album. “At the moment we all want to be in the band, and we haven’t even thought about breaking up. But if anybody ever decided that they weren’t enjoying themselves we would stop, but at the moment it's all fun.” I asked Denver whether any added pressure was put on the group because of people’s other commitments. “Well obviously, Conor’s on tour with Bright Eyes a lot" he reflects "But the band is still a concern. We all just try to fit it in when we can.” The band has also been tagged with a variety of labels already. The two most prominent are “emo” and part of the “Omaha scene”. “I don’t mend being called emo" Denver says. "It’s just a way of classifying the music and helping people to know what it sounds like. It’s quite a broad term anyway so I don’t think it limits us. It's like with punk, which can mean all kinds of things now, when very poppy bands are called punk like Blink 182, and I think it’s quite similar with emo.” As for the Omaha scene, well there clearly is one, since bands like Desaparecidos, Bright Eyes, The Good Life, The White Octave, Lullaby For The Working Class and the Cursive all come from the area. Much of the credit for bringing the scene to wider attention can be accredited to Saddle Creek, the local independent label to whom Desaparecidos are signed. “They have worked hard for us, and certainly have helped out the local music scene but I think that their influence over the music is quite small. They certainly don’t tell us what we do, and ultimately the final decision is ours. But we do respect their opinions and they always know what they’re talkingabout. I don’t think that they would ever suggest anything that would harm us anyway, and I suppose that’s the major advantage of working with an independent label.” Desaparecidos, as individual band members' schedules allow, are also a regular live act,although they are yet to perform outside America. Reports, however, seem to suggest that when they eventually come to Europe (which Denver assures will happen at some stage soon , despite Conor’s fear of flying) the band will be exceptional. Denver says that at the moment the show is currently very energetic. “At the moment we do concentrate on the louder stuff, and we try to be exciting ” he says This attitude extends to his views about crowd control . Unlike some groups (especially At the drive-in, but a growing number of emo bands) Denver has no problem with moshing and such like. “We tend to be pretty wild on stage ourselves, so we expect the crowd to enjoy themselves. Obviously, we don’t want people to get hurt but at the same time we don’t mind the crowd being energetic”. Denver has also noticed that “at the beginning a lot of people, I think, came because of Conor’s reputation but I think that has changed and people are now coming to see us as a band”. Apart from being in Desaparecidos, Denver has one of the strangest rock star jobs around. He is a part time model. “I was just noticed, and ended up going up to New York for some trials and that’s how it came about. You can actually make some pretty serious money doing it, but I can’t see myself doing it all the time. I suppose it is quite rare. But there’sa band Phantom Planet, I know. One of them is a Hollywood actor, but I think one of the other guy’s in that band is a model.” All of this adds up to give an impression of a band that are different and unusual, but not in a deliberately antagonistic way. Proof of this comes from Denver’s response to any criticism the band receives : “ I don’t really mind because a least it means people are taking an interest in you”. The band are loud and intense but have a mature, sensible side as well . It makes them a better band, and will hopefully allow them to carry on producing great music for years to come. Ultimately, it’s hard not to compare them to At The Drive –In for this reason: In both cases they came into wide attention directly after the emergence of some superb loud, aggressive music (then bands like And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, and now bands like the Icarus Line) but Desaparecidos have added a social conscious feel. The beauty of the band is that , whilst a lot of the punk/garage/rock ‘n’ roll bands playing have a smilar edge, the Desparecidos also give the impression of really caring about something. Ultimately, the At The Drive In comparisons are a waste, however, because the band are likely to go on to make albums that go beyond any notions of emo or hardcore music. The fact that they aren’t isolated but are part of the Omaha scene can only help their growth as musicians This band rock, but they can do way more than just that.

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Desaparecidos - Interview

Desaparecidos - Interview

Desaparecidos - Interview

Desaparecidos - Interview

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Read English / Speak Spanish (2002)
Experimental, but near perfect debut album from hardcore punk band, the Desaperecidos, whose frontman Conor Oberst also works as a folk/country artist under the moniker of Bright Eyes

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