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Martin Méndez: “I am not a fan of too technical music, because I think when you focus on technical things, it takes over the atmosphere and the feelings, so I am very careful with making it technical. Atmosphere and emotions should prevail.”

We kennen Martin Méndez allemaal als de sympathieke stug headbangende bassist van Opeth, maar dat hij nog meer pijlen op zijn boog heeft bewees hij vorig jaar al toen het debuutalbum ‘Kuarahy’ van White Stones uitkwam. Dat is een band waar Méndez in alles het laatste woord heeft. De tweede vrucht van zijn noeste arbeid vanuit het warme Spanje heet ‘Dancing Into Oblivion’ en daarom hadden we een volgend gesprek met Méndez zodat we alle ontwikkelingen op de voet kunnen volgen.
Vera Matthijssens Ι 10 september 2021

We have a sophomore album of White Stones ‘Dancing Into Oblivion’, sooner as expected I guess, due to the circumstances. But first I like to hear how do you look back at the receipt of the debut album? Did it come up to your expectations?
Well, to be honest I did not expect much, since it was the first album. The situation where we released the first album was when the first lockdown started the same week. I guess that is a very strange period to release an album. At first I thought maybe it is a good thing, because people are in a lockdown, but it was not the case, because music streams got down like 70%. People were just paying attention to the news in the beginning of the pandemic. So I think it was a very bad period to release albums. Then we did not have the chance to present the songs live either. It always helps to play live and reach more people. So we did not do anything. I guess, considering the circumstances, it was good received in the end. We got plenty of good comments about it in the beginning, but it was a strange situation. Same as this one (laughs). I only release albums in strange situations, so it seems.

When adapting to this new situation of a pandemic and cancellations of concerts: what was bad in this situation and what was good in the end for you?
Well, for me was bad – and I guess for the rest of the world – being in a situation with lockdown and the fear, I guess. In the beginning, when you hear all those things in the news, I think everybody thought it was more dangerous than it is, maybe. But then the good thing for me, for sure, was to take advantage of the time and the situation to make the new album, because the new album, it took me overall almost a year to get finished from the writing process to the mix and the artwork. I was involved in everything, so it took me a year. It kept me sane in a way, it kept me busy in my head. That was a very good thing for me I think. I am very glad that I took advantage of this time this way.

The first song written for this new album, appeared to be ‘Chain In Command’. Can you tell something more about this song and how it came into being?
Well, actually I started to write this song a week after we released the first album ‘Kuarahy’. And it was the first or second week of the lockdown. I don’t know, I just had the feeling that we would be home for a while and I got inspired. I remember I was listening to jazz, a John Coltrane’s album and I just got inspired. I don’t know why, when you get inspired you don’t really understand why at that moment. It just comes and then I understood that I had to write a song. When I started writing that song, I understood at once: okay, this is the second album. I liked the vibe and the feeling and so I felt it right away when the first part of this song had been written, these are the first steps for the new album.

Since you were in isolation, is this album written by you only or did you involve the others pretty soon?
All these feelings I had in my body: the uncertainty, the fear I got from the news and everything, I specifically put in the sound of the music and that was quite therapeutically for me. It was really good in that sense, I like music which is dark and kind of melancholic feelings in the music and this helped me a lot to develop these feelings into sound.

One of the titles that struck me, was ‘Freedom In Captivity’. Makes me think of the fact that you can have to stay home, but in your mind you can always be free…
Yes, that song is more or less about the situation we live in, in this society. We are having freedom, but at the same time we are not in freedom. We have been told since we were born: you have to do this, don’t do that, otherwise you have consequences, so there is not really freedom in this society. We think we have, but I think it is not really.

I agree. Something that struck me in this whole covid-19 situation is how greedy all governments reacted, to take advantage from the situation and improve their hold on people…
Indeed the people up there don’t really matter about the masses, they force us to be vaccinated. Nobody really wants to be vaccinated with something you don’t really know what it is. But these are the rules and you have to follow the rules if you want your freedom, you know. That is pretty much the situation.

In the meantime the band has developed with more members. We have the same singer, Eloi Boucherie, who wrote all the lyrics this time, but can you introduce the new members?
The drummer who helped us on the first album moved to Germany and since he was working there, he could not come to the recordings in Spain. So I was forced to look for another drummer. I found this drummer, Joan Carles he is called, and sometimes things happen for a reason. This drummer is so perfect for this album, because this album is a bit more complex, a bit more technical than the first one. It requires a bit a more technical drummer in a way. So I found this drummer and I called him two months before I entered the studio and sent him the demos. I met him the first day in the studio. So we did not rehearse before, we even did not met before. It is one of those things you cannot explain, when you meet someone and it feels like you know him for years. That was the situation, a very good chemistry between everybody. So that was very nice in that sense. And then, Joao Sasseti, the lead guitar player, he is living in Portugal. The idea was to come and play the rhythm guitars as well, but he could not fly, because of the pandemic. It was very difficult for him to do it at that time. So he sent me all those guitar solos, I think there are four or five solos on the album. He recorded them over there and sent it to me and I added it to the mix. So that was pretty much it, because the rest was Eloi singing and me doing all the guitars and bass playing. For me it was not really hard, because at the first album, I did all the guitars as well, except the solos. So it was kind of the same recordings.

And the same guy for the mastering, Jaime Gomez Arellano in the UK…
Yes, I thought it was very easy to work with him on the first album, so I thought it would be a very good choice to keep him on the second album as well.

You already mentioned that the album has a bit more technical approach, didn’t you dare to do that on the first album or was it a conscious decision?
Yes, a little bit. On the first album I remember, when I was writing the songs, I wanted to make them easy to hear, easy in a good sense. I wanted to create more atmosphere, rather than technical skills. That was my idea for the first album. This album – I don’t know why – but when I came up with the song ‘Chain Of Command’, I noticed it was a bit more technical and I decided: okay, this time I am going to make it a bit more technical. I am not a fan of technical music, because I think when you focus on technical things, it takes over the atmosphere and the feelings, so I am very careful with making it technical. Atmosphere and emotions should prevail. I wanted to do it a bit more complex when it comes to writing and Eloi’s lyrics, but still it is not a super technical album either, yet more than the first one.

With 35 minutes length, it is a rather short album. Is there any reason for that?
Yes, I think also that both albums are short and this is the perfect length for me with this kind of music. If I make an hour of this music, I think nobody will listen to it from start to finish and have a pleasant listen. I think you get tired in the end and it is too much information and heavy sounds. They take a lot of space in the ears and the mind. So for me this is a perfect length, I have done this on purpose. Same as it is with the old jazz records. They were 32 minutes, 30 minutes, back in the day and I think it is a good thing, because you listen from start to end and you can get the feeling you want to listen a bit more. That is a good thing I think, instead of getting exhausted after listening to it. I prefer that people get the need to listen a bit more and give them a pleasant listening experience.

For the artwork you work together with your wife Sandra. Can you tell a bit more about this?
I already had the idea of the two colours, the red and black, because I think it is a strong combination. I like the combination of these colours and I think they represent the sound on this album. That was the first idea and then I asked her to make some samples and examples with paintings. She is a photographer, so she works digitally. I am happy with the result. It looks like a kind of dust cloud or something. The colours tell me the feeling, I like the haziness. There is not much information either.

Another thing that struck me, are the short interludes. What is the reason for those short songs?
That is something that I had in mind when I started writing this album, to have those kinds of calm interludes between the heavy songs. I really like the style of both heavy and calm music, but then also I liked to have these interludes between, because I think when you listen to the heavy song, these interludes kind of bring you back again to start a new one full of heavy sounds. It is a bit like a rollercoaster. Up with the heavy song, you go down with the interludes, you go up with the heavy one again and so on. It is done to make it a pleasant listening adventure for the listener as well.

In these times when people have few visuals experiences with music, video clips might become more important. Do you see that the same way as I?
Yes. Video was very important back in the days, in the eighties and nineties, then the interest for videos went down in 2000 or so, but now it is getting important again for a band for sure. People are always looking on their phone, for images. They get all the information on the phone or the computer. Indeed, it is playing a very important role again in music as well.

What about the making of the two new videos, for ‘Chain Of Command’ and a lyric video for ‘New Age Of Dark’?
‘Chain Of Command’ was done first. I got an idea and I got help from a friend of mine, shooting the video and editing it. I am very happy with it, it comes very close to my main idea. The second one is a lyric video and I made it myself, that one for ‘New Age Of Dark’. It is just images with paint into water, trying to get some emotions with the colours. It is a lyric video, but not something very technical. I think it is okay though.

Can we say that you get involved and become experienced into all kinds of art in the end?
Yes, since I started with this band I am involved in almost everything, so I learn a lot.

What came closest to your heart to discover?
I really enjoyed doing all those things, especially the video. Images and so. I have never done that before, but I like to learn more, for sure. It is a new world for me, I am not a professional in making videos, but it is something that I like to keep doing and see if I can develop my skills of it.

Let us hope that you can support this album with live concerts. Is there something in the pipeline?
Well, we don’t have anything yet. I think once the album is out, it would be easier to start looking at that. I think we are still on the Prognosis festival 2022. I hope at least in 2022 or 2023 we can make some nice shows and festivals. That would be nice.

What about the situation with Opeth?
Well, once we start touring with Opeth, that is my main concern. White Stones is not a band that will be touring so much. I will do some shows in between the free time I have from Opeth, it all depends how it goes with Opeth. We surely hope to start touring as soon as we can. We have plans at least, let us see if they can happen, but with White Stones it all depends on Opeth, that is my main act. I have to look if I have some time in between. I don’t want to do things in a rush either. With White Stones I just want to do things in a nice way, you know, without pressure. If I have time to rehearse doing a proper show, without thinking I have to fly with Opeth the day after, or something like that. So it all depends on what I am doing with Opeth, let us put that straight.