Henry D'Arthenay sits in the living room of his new apartment in Mexico City, thousands of miles from his hometown of Caracas, Venezuela. We're a few weeks shy of four years from when the singer-guitarist for Latin rock group La Vida Bohème spent two hours with me on Skype, explaining the massive protests in Caracas after an election placed the deceased Hugo Chavez's chosen successor, Nicolás Maduro, in the presidential seat. Neither of us could have predicted then the upheaval he and his bandmates would endure in order to complete their latest album, La Lucha.
“It was like a month after we talked, actually. After we talked, everything changed!” he says, explaining the earth-shattering abruptness of it all with a snap of his fingers. Their homeland began its political deterioration with continued inflation and devaluation of the bolivar, international airlines abandoning the country, lower oil production and food shortages. The band made a last-minute decision to remain in Mexico City after their appearance at Vive Latino in 2014. D'Arthenay's mother died in Caracas from cancer the following year.
“I really understand, now that we're in Mexico City, how closed we were from everything else, from everyone and everything happening, because the country started to build a fence around itself,” he explains of life back home. “For me as a human being, returning to my country right now is not a possibility. For me to make a living there, there's no future I can bring for myself there, and the only way I can bring a future for my country is by making my art.”
La Lucha (The Struggle) is the third full-length album by D'Arthenay, Daniel de Sousa, Sebastián Ayala and Rafael Pérez Medina. It serves as a bookend to their 2011 debut, Nuestra, and its 2013 sequel, Será, and completes the trilogy of Nuestra Será La Lucha (Ours Shall Be the Struggle).
“Those three albums, we always felt it in a way but we now know it,” D'Arthenay explains. “When we formed the band, we were 16, 17 in 2006, 2007. Now it's 2017, it's been 10 years. For us, it's the end of a cycle. For us, it has to be. Some things you have to end, and the endings are good.”
The band's evolution and maturity is evident when you listen to the trilogy in its entirety. Nuestra is a package of jangly dance-punk anthems brimming with youthful energy. Será takes a more serious turn, with lyrical themes based on Venezuela's political situation at the time, which also drew influences from the country's political, musical and literary history. La Lucha ends the arc with an album that is equal parts melancholic and hopeful.
“I believe during the three albums, what I personally learned was to open myself up to the world,” D'Arthenay says. “You don't have to be in control. It's an illusion.”
Former president of Uruguay José Mujica, who was famous for his humble lifestyle — living on a small farm with his wife and their three-legged dog rather than in the presidential palace, and driving a 1987 Volkswagen Beetle — sets the tone for the album and provides it with its title in the spoken-word opener.
“Mi lucha más dura ha sido conmigo mismo,” he says. “Vivir lo más cerca posible de lo que pienso.” (“My greatest struggle has been with myself; to live as closely as possible according to my beliefs.”)
The album then explodes wide open with “Você,” on which D'Arthenay asks himself and the listener, “¿Que o que voçe a vai a fazer?” (“What or what are you going to do?”) as a direct challenge to live out Mujica's “lucha” outlined in the opening track.
“Lejos” continues the energetic pace established by “Você” but takes a somber tone lyrically, as D'Arthenay reflects on his wandering ways as a globetrotting musician over the past few years. As the band toured the world for both musical and personal reasons, D'Arthenay and his bandmates wrote bits and pieces of the album in Venezuela, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Chile, Germany, the United States and other countries.
The psychological toll of leaving their home country to continue working on their art weighs heavily on them. “Escaparme de mí en Caripe o París/Una lejana canción sigue llamándome,” D'Arthenay sings, as the distance, separation and sadness become more palpable with each passing verse: “Escaping from myself in Caripe or Paris/A distant song keeps calling to me.”
La Lucha retains its emotional punch throughout the rest of the album, but D'Arthenay lifts the overall mood lyrically with each passing track. The short track “La Luna & el Sol” (“The Moon & the Sun”) marks a transition in the album's midpoint, with only four lines that describe how both the moon and the sun fall and rise every day, unperturbed by the world below them. D'Arthenay spends the rest of the album singing and describing in various metaphors and emotions what Ernest Hemingway conveyed in For Whom the Bell Tolls: “The world is a fine place and worth the fighting for and I hate very much to leave it.”
“When I started writing La Lucha, the most struggling thought that I had was the fact that, with Será, I didn't contribute to things,” says D'Arthenay, who has written all of the band's song lyrics since day one. “I believe it was selfish in a way. My surroundings were burning. My life was in a very dark phase so I saw it [with] tunnel vision. Either it will be light or it will be dark … north pole or south pole.”
D'Arthenay made one final trip to Venezuela to visit his family following his mother's death two years ago. “I believe that the cancer with my mom taught me a lot, because we have to be patient and you have to understand that life is a very weird thing,” he says. He spent a few days there holed up in his old home, armed with the thousands of audio files stored in his audio recorder and laptop, organizing and labeling them all to begin the process of creating the new record with his bandmates in Mexico City.
“It's like gardening, you know?” he concludes. “When you garden, you have to be very patient. Things don't grow from one day to another, the same way they don't die from one day to another. I really thought the new stuff I had to write … even though I could acknowledge things I don't agree with, it doesn't have to be north pole or south pole. There's a lot of color in the midst of it, you know, funny things, ridiculous things, and things that make you cry and things that speak to your inner child.”