Mar de Robles

Nick: Would you mind introducing us to Mar de Robles? How did your story begin? Tell us about yourself and the rest of the members.

Cristián: Well, we began as a group of friends, we were all fans of progressive rock and Jazz rock. We used to get together to play guitar after school and like all teens at that age, we had a lot of free time. We thoroughly reviewed albums from bands like King Crimson, U.K., or Gentle Giant, just to mention a few. We listened each song paying a full attention to all sort of details. Our story started with Rodrigo Moris and myself (Cristián Larrondo). We met after receiving an invitation to play guitar in a Hardcore band. This band did not last much, but soon after we formed a tribute band to Pink Floyd. Here we refined our musical execution and we established the basis to start composing our songs. In those years, our idea was to create a band of truly progressive rock. It is then when we met Julio Tobar, who added vocals and flute. My brother, Ignacio Larrondo in percussion, Rodrigo as leading guitar and me on a bass guitar. At that time, drums were played by Luis Lopez who started with us in the tribute band to Pink Floyd. Together we made enough material to organize a couple of concerts in Rancagua (our native city) and other locations in Chile. At the beginning of 1998 Luis left the band and Victor Munoz comes to the scene. He was an excellent drum student with the desire and motivation to help us start things rolling for Mar de Robles.

Nick: Mar de Robles has released two albums so far, are you willing to share with us what the recording processes of these releases were like and also comment on their musical qualities, your ideas, etc?

Cristián: Each record had very different processes. 4 years passed between both records. I think the only constant was that the recording studio for both was Robledal. MdR was a conceptual work that contained themes composed from 1997 to 2003. Based on that work, we started building up the story of a being called Tantic, who begin a trip through time and the Chilean geography. This Tantic’s journey is a result of the prevalent involution observed in our society. Tantic is searching indications or signs that would have influenced the inversion of the process of evolution. It took about a month to record this album and we had a great time doing it, besides playing the instruments, making the vocals, sounds and creating the different ambiances that were part of the story. MdR was a self-produced record and released by Mylodon Records.

Indigena was a more innovative and fresh album. There were changes inside Mar de Robles that unquestionably made this new work different to our previous record. Victor Munoz left Mar de Robles after recording MdR and in his replacement entered Cristian Silva for only a couple of months. Finally, Jesus Parada became our current and definitive drummer. He returned to Mar de Robles the necessary vitality to confront the new ideas. In addition, I added to our instruments the Chapman Stick that, we all agreed, gave us a new musical vision. This is a really incredible instrument that gives you an infinity of possibilities both in sound as in composition. Most of the album was recent work, but we wanted to add a couple of old themes that needed to be registered. That is how the concept of the new album was born, like the roots of our music, unpolished music, created like we felt since our formation, like natives or indigenas in spanish. The majority of the album was instrumental, we work a lot on the acoustic details, arrangements and dynamics. Without a doubt is a much more aggressive and intense album. We finished recording Indigena the last week of February in 2007. In March of the same year, with recently released CDs (again by Mylodon Records), we went to Mexico to play at the Baja Prog. We gave 3 concerts, one in Mexico city, other in Toluca and the last one in Mexicali, Baja California where the Baja Prog takes place. We sold almost all the discs that we took from Chile.

Nick: How would you compare your selftitled album with its follower Indígena? Where do they compare in your opinion? If you ask me, the first thing that is obvious on Indígena in comparison with Mar de Robles is that the former is much heavier.

Cristián: Like we were saying before and in agreement with you, Indigena is a much heavier album than MdR. We do not think that it was intentional though, the music was flowing like that and it transformed into a native or Indigena from head to toe. A wild, fierce and ferocious savage or aboriginal warrior. MdR is a more explorative and introspective album. We think that the main similarity is in the configuration of the band, although we added the Chapman Stick, we continue to use percussions, traverse flute, tenor saxophone, fretless bass, and electric guitar. All these factors plus our way to compose give us an identity that people can recognize. It does not matter if it is heavier or softer music, faster or slower, 3/4 or 7/8, I think we always sound like Mar de Robles.

Nick: Maybe it’s because of the Chucaro track, which is by the way one of the best instrumentals I’ve heard in the last few years. So why is this? You impart into your music a variety of instruments that give you a very eclectic feeling. Is it hard to arrange and structure all the instruments in a song? Describe the creation process of a Mar de Robles track.

Cristián: Truly it is not hard to arrange and structure the song based on our instruments. It is the most entertaining aspect of the composition process. Generally, the ideas are born from improvisations with a guitar, bass or stick. Then, we start working those instruments as a group, adding drums, winds and percussion. Most of the times we go by steps, working in detail beat by beat until each instrument sounds the way we like. Another less common way of working this arrangements is through written music in a computer. This process is a little more individual, but effective. Then, we e-mail each other ideas and finally we work them during a session of practice.

We strongly believe in the idea that the majority of our songs have life and they are part of the experience of seeing Mar de Robles live. After a while though, they start a mutation or transformation.

Nick: The title of your website says you are Avant Prog Rock. Do you find this genre label to be correct? I think that you surely do not have any limitations in your music, as there can be heard a lot of latin music, fusion jazz, folk, progressive too, heavy metal, the list goes on. However, I can’t say I agree that your music is very avant-garde. Would you mind defending the label?

Cristián: Well, the term avant-garde is related to innovation, renovation, exploration and a constant artistic re-invention and its relationship with life. Perhaps is a more personal definition, since we are fans of the music in this category both classic as rock. We like Bartok, Stravinsky, Present, Universe Zero, Magma and others. It is clear that our music is not so close to them in form. However, we believe that they are similar in the vision that they have for music, and in the way they were confronting the music. That is why we see Mar de Robles as an avant prog rock. It’s a label that is not limiting us in anything.

Nick: One of the differences between your two albums is that your second one is entirely instrumental. Why did you decide to “remove” vocals? I would say that both approaches work very well. Is it just temporary or will your next albums will be fully instrumental too?

Cristián: It is not something definitive. The fact that Indigena is a more instrumental album (not totally though, since Chileneos has some vocals) lies in the simple aspect that the lyrics were not coming to us. We did not wanted to force them either, so the majority of the composition process of this album was created just like that. If the lyrics are not at the level of the music, the best thing is not to use them. Now, if in a future we can work well those lyrics, it is probable that we can go back and use them. From my music perspective, instrumentals work as well as songs with lyrics. All has to do with the sensations and the way to communicate ideas. Songs with lyrics are more explicits, on the other hand, instrumentals give you the option to think and imagine, it’s like reading a book or watching a movie.

Nick: Speaking of lyrics, what is discussed on Mar de Robles albums? Do you think that the music you serve is enough to present all you want to express to non-Spanish speakers?

Cristián: The subjects are related to our perception of the society we are in, the music in our lives and the beautiful geography of our country and finally to the endless quest of cultural roots that empower the vision of humankind in the present and future. As said before, the lyrics are very explicit, therefore it would be easier for non Spanish speakers to have access to them in their language; maybe it could be a good idea to include translations of them in the albums artbook, but we will continue to sing in Spanish: it’s part of Mar de Robles’ identity. As an example, in my opinion, Premiata Forneria Marconi’s albums lose very much when they began to been singed in English, they are undoubtedly good, but the ones singed in Italian are incredible.

Nick: I have to ask you about the track called Ubuntu, precisely about its title. It’s an ancient African word that roughly means “humanity to others”, though there is also the Linux operating system that takes the same name. Do you guys like and use Linux operating systems or do you like the original word because of its meaning?

Cristián: I met Ubuntu by the operating system which I don’t really use but tried, and I think it is great. It’s remarkable the way a community with no profit between programmers and designers could deliver something that complete such as an operating system besides being esthetically and functionally excellent; I think Ubuntu and every open source softwares are the future. In general, internet and computing should be equal to everyone; it’s irrational there’s people that can’t access to something so basic because they can’t afford it. On the other hand, the concept Ubuntu carry along with our ideas for the native (Indígena), it nailed it. Native (Indígena) doesn’t refer only to Mapuches or Selknam, it has to do with everything native, with the roots, with what we are above all.

Nick: Many critics recognize through your music the influences of King Crimson and some other bands, but KC is cited more than others. It might have to do with the fact that both you and Tony Levin both play Chapman Sticks, haha. How much of Mar de Robles would you say is influenced by King Crimson? I can hear a little of it from Thrak and Discipline, but let’s see what you have to say. Feel free to mention other bands that were a big influence on you guys as well.

Cristián: I’ve noted that reference too and it’s quite accurate, we do have “something” of them but I don’t think it’s exclusively cause the chapman stick. The reference was already there since the MdR album. As an anecdote, in the year 1998 we were participating on a kind of “introduction” to the Craft Guitar, with guitarist Christian de Santis from Gauchos Alemanes and Jorge Salinas, both Fripp disciples. Craft Guitar is about experiment, but the experience was unforgettable and very enriching. We have very different tastes, but there’re bands that we all agree, among them is obviously King Crimson, Ozric Tentacles, Rush, Gentle Giant, Genesis, Tribal Tech and Chilean bands such as Congreso, Fulano, Inti Illimani and Tryo. For us musicians it’s impossible not to have influences, the thing is that you have to know how to separate them from what we really want at the time of writing.

Nick: How is your music being accepted in Chile and South America? And what about the rest of the world? I come from Serbia, which is in Europe, and surely the music you play would be received well if you guys were more well-known.

Cristián: Inside the progressive and it’s variants circle we are OK, even between metal fans, but we are very far of having the acceptance level of popular bands. In Chile and the rest of South America, this is cataloged as “underground music” even elitist. We’d love the audience to take time to listen different kinds of music to the ones that sounds on everyday-radio. And there we are, working on it. Making our small contribution in our city and the rest of Chile as well as other countries, where we have received very good vibes. Our only tangible experience was in Mexico. The albums and concerts sale was quite good but the reception of the Mexican people was excellent. We have received very good critics from Europe too through our website (www.marderobles.cl) and MySpace, which leaves us very happy with what we’re doing. I think that if we can concrete one trip to European lands we could have a little audience willing to hear us.

Nick: Would you recommend us some Chilean music that you like? We always look for new bands that will blow our minds. I know a few bands such as Aguaturbia, Barocco Andino, Embrujo, Cometa, Entrama etc. And, I’m in generally in love with south American music, especially if it’s a mixture of progressive rock and folky/jazzy motifs.

Photo: Miguel Parada

Cristián: There’re a lot so I will name only the ones I like the most. From the oldies, Congreso; master of all with many many albums, “Pájaros de Arcilla” and “Viaje por la Cresta del Mundo” are my favourites. Fulano is one of the most avant-garde Chilean bands and are an undisputed referent to many musicians. Inti Illimani, it isn’t rock, but their music is beautiful and without match. More contemporary are Araukania Kuintet, with some members of Fulano and other Cuban musicians. They are mostly Violeta Parra and Victor Jara jazz rock arrangements. To complete the list, MediaBanda, Tryo, Exsimio, Akinetón Retard, Autómata, Junios, Octopus…

Nick: What have you been listening to recently? If you’re in psychedelic/space rock mood, maybe you should check out My Brother The Wind’s Twilight in the Crystal Cabinet. It’s a fantastic album.

Cristián: Within the last I’ve listened is the “Tattoo” album by Rory Gallagher and “Heroes Symphony” by Philip Glass, but there’s isn’t a day in which I don’t listen to Present, One Shot, Magma or Univers Zero. Plenty of Rock in Opposition, also a lot of Astor Piazzolla. The truth is that there’s always something worth listening. I will give a shot to the band you mentioned, Space Rock is always welcomed.

Nick: What comes next? Should we expect something new from Mar de Robles in the near future?

Cristián: We’re recently back to stages after a year of recess. We performed on a “Fonda Rock” the past September 18th in Rancagua, our independence day and this year the celebration of Chile’s Bicentenary. We’re currently preparing for a concert in November and focusing specially on working on some new ideas. On the other hand, we are readying a Live Album, recorded at our 10th anniversary celebration on October 25th of 2008. It may include a DVD of the concert. As soon as we get it ready, we’ll let you know.

Nick: I’m practically out of questions, would you like to add something that I didn’t ask?

Cristián: I think we talked about almost everything, I just thank you for taking the time to make this interview and I hope we can visit Serbia in a not too distant future. All the best to everyone there.

Nikola Savić is a prog enthusiast, blogger and author, in addition to being the founder of Prog Sphere, Progify, ProgLyrics and the ongoing Progstravaganza compilation series.
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