At this moment, I am high on music. I have just hit some very rockin’ paydirt.
Recently I found myself in Santiago, Chile, after a visit to Easter Island, with a day and a half before wheels up to USA. Before I hit the streets, I wrote an email to Blow Your Mind (BYM) Records, a label that had been recommended to me when I was in Santiago the week before. I asked if there were some record stores that carried their stock because I wanted to check them out.
I got a reply from a man named Juan Pablo who basically said to just come over to the label headquarters for a tour and a vinyl hookup. On it!
A few times in Santiago, I found myself in taxis with drivers who had no idea where we were going. I was unable to determine if the destinations were all that obscure or if the drivers were new on the job. On the way to Blow Your Mind headquarters, the driver was pointing to the address and talking to me in Spanish. I tried to explain that he was the driver and this was his city. We both started laughing. We had to stop twice and ask for directions, but eventually we arrived.
Juan Pablo met me at the door of the old building that houses not only BYM but musicians and painters as well. He took me up the stairs to the second floor and showed me around. A small room serves as a recording studio and practice space. An adjoining room filled with rudimentary equipment allows them to record, mix and master, all in one space.
Often the bands that share this space start playing with one another. From that, new bands form, and BYM releases the results. BYM has had some success licensing titles to U.S. labels such as Sacred Bones, but for the most part, this is local music.
Juan Pablo was very generous with his time. He laid out several records and explained how the guitar player in this band formed that band with the bass player from another band. I was soon confused, fascinated and beyond curious.
He and I spent a good deal of time talking about the independent music world and how next-to-impossible it can be to keep the lights on and the music happening. You get the idea that BYM, like so many great labels, is in a perpetual state of financial insecurity.
Labels like BYM are the ones I root for and play on my radio show in an attempt to inspire listeners. I am quite convinced that if they were to die off completely, due to the myriad dangers that bedevil almost any small label, we would lose an ecosystem that is as important to music as the music itself. It is such an old story at this point — a label that is trying to do great stuff has to continually carry the weight of risk, while so much mediocre material enjoys such relative ease as it dulls down millions of people.
I left BYM in a state of giddy euphoria. I am always like this when I hit a new vein of music. It’s like fire finding air to consume. I got back to my room and started listening to the digital versions of the albums he gave me, spending the next few hours immersing myself.
Soon enough, it was time to board the first of two flights back to Los Angeles. The time passed easily as my mind ran in place, watching blockbuster in-flight movies.
I arrived in Houston at dawn. The United States woke me right up. After three weeks of hola and buenos dias, it took me a few minutes to reset. The woman who almost threw my food at me at the restaurant counter reminded me where I was. We are a rough bunch.
Hours later, I was walking out of LAX toward the taxi stand. A little less than an hour later, I was at the office. My curiosity overcame my exhaustion and I started listening to more of the music that Juan Pablo gave me.
Wow! Records by Föllakzoid, The Ganjas, La Hell Gang and Chicos de Nazca made for a great afternoon of listening, even if I was a bit out of it from the travel. The potential downside is that soon I will want to hear more, and Internet searches have proven that more records by these bands will be difficult to procure.
I might have to find an excuse to get back to Santiago. It wouldn’t take much, really. I liked the place as soon as I arrived. It was great to see BYM and other small labels in Chile hard at work getting these records out.
As soon as I started traveling as a young adult, the best common denominator I found was that there is great music everywhere. I have also found a common thread of passion, intensity and determination in the musicians, labels and fans. This is a universal language I can live with. All I try to do by learning about and listening to bands from all over the world is become more fluent.
I’m glad that no matter what has become of humankind over the last few centuries — the advanced technology in weapon-delivery systems, the increased displacement of people from their native lands and other examples of humanity’s sadistic ejaculations — that no matter how hard we try to snuff ourselves out, the music will not be stopped.
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To meet Juan Pablo, tour the environs of BYM Records and see how so much can be done with so little, if there is enough willpower and commitment, was not only an honor but another indicator that the highest road always has a great soundtrack.
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