Dancy drum machine beats layered within dreamy synths and funky guitar riffs, weaved into subtle vocal melodies.
INTERVIEW WITH MAURICIO OSSA (GUITARIST/VOCALIST)
(Interview written and conducted by Connor Sullivan)
Q: Listening to your music, it’s very hard to ascribe it a particular genre. If you had to pigeonhole your sound to one or two genres, what would they be?
A: Electronic indie rock. With a lot of pop. So electropop indie rock — if that’s one word.
Q: Who’re your primary influences?
A: Definitely a lot of the college rock bands from the early 2000s. Like The Knife, Hot Chip, LCD Soundsystem, and even the Arcade Fire. I was really inspired by them. What caught my attention with these bands is that, while they all had synthesizers, their overall sound was still really raw. Wolf Parade, for instance, was another band that had a lot of synthesizers. And I would look to that and aspire to do something like that while smoothing out the sound of the synthesizers. I even look towards The Get Up Kids as an influence. I was born in the 80s so I came of age in the 90s with all that grunge and everything. Lately there have been more bands like the xx and M83 that I’m familiar with and I feel like we may have the same kind of sound. I like their soundscapes, but when people compare me to them, I feel like we have more energy.
Q: As far as the Arcade Fire goes, are you more of Funeral or Neon Bible kind of guy? How did the band influence the direction of your life?
A: I like Neon Bible, maybe a lot more than Funeral. But I like Reflektor a lot and love The Suburbs too. And I’m excited for their new stuff. The thing about Funeral is that it marked almost a comeback of the folk scene. They had all these instruments like mandolin, but they were adding effects to them. So they would play violin but also incorporate these pedals. They were beginning to make these new sounds and on Neon Bible they really got there. And when Funeral came out they had a lot of “hey ohs” and every band began doing that. So it wasn’t entirely original on Neon Bible, but it’s still one of my favorites.
I really like the Arcade Fire and all those bands — they influenced me so much that I even moved to Montreal. I grabbed my bass and a cable, and moved there because I wanted to be in a band like that. But it just didn’t work out. And that’s actually how I ended up in Providence, because I didn’t want to move back to Florida, where I was living before Montreal. I wanted to be somewhere where I could drive six hours and be somewhere entirely different. In Florida, if you drive six hours, you’re only in Jacksonville or whatever. Here, you drive six hours south you’re in Philly, six hours north and you’re in Montreal. Three hours north and you’re in Portland, ME. Three hours south and you’re in New York City.
Q: Bellerophon is an allusion to Greek mythology. Can you expand on how mythology has informed your music?
A: When I started writing music on my own, I wasn’t a strong vocalist. So I was really focused on honing a sound and making sure my lyrics were only an adornment and garnish. I was trying to get the most out of one sentence. Since I wasn’t a strong vocalist, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t doing something I couldn’t achieve. So I definitely am not the type of writer like Bob Dylan, real wordy and everything. I like to have a dense message with only a few words and sentences. I was aiming for a mix of lyrical and poetic. The reason the band is named Bellerophon is because I really wanted people to be thrown off by the name. My name, Mauricio, is hard enough for people to pronounce, so I wanted the band name to follow along those lines. The fact that Bellerophon is a mythological hero — neither a god nor demi-god — made it cool. Bellerophon isn’t some super powerful being; just someone that works really hard. His story is a little tragic. He dies by himself, all alone, and that’s not something I’m looking to replicate. But I really want to personify his struggle and the fight he puts up. He used to work in a barn with horses, so he was really in touch with the struggle of the working man.
Q: How does your music encapsulate nature?
A: There’s a connection to the big picture. It transcends anthropomorphism and makes it known that we’re all connected to everything. The way a planet is located and the ways energy radiates through space are sure to affect you. So there’s this whole macrocosm idea of connecting everything together. When I think of Bellerophon, I think of space and going back in time. That whole fourth dimension. The synths and everything make it feel like you’re bending something, bending the fabric of the universe. All the sounds I create from scratch make me feel like the fabric of the universe is folding into more dimensions. One of our albums is called Teosinte, after the god of corn. Corn is the oldest genetically modified food. The teosinte seed was put into the ground and corn rose out of it. I’m an American, and by that, I mean I’ve spent time on the American continent. I was born in Chile and I live in the United States. And that corn imagery is meant to reflect that. It was found by the Aztecs and raised by the Incans and everything and it’s just a way of making you feel connected to the continent. And it also emphasizes that same universal to nature. Teosinte was my first release. As the beginning of something and the cornerstone of what I’m trying to realize as a musician, it felt appropriate to plant it and reap it later. Maybe I’ll do something with potatoes soon. Originally I wanted to do Teosinte, and then maize, and then popcorn. Maize was what I was thinking the next project would be titled, but that depends on the state of politics. Sometimes it’s not as important to address nature. While it’s always important, sometimes you need to denounce something first. But the truth is, if you can’t understand nature or realize how we’ve gotten here right now, then what’s even the point of addressing more urgent matters, if in reality you can’t even speak about what started it all?
Q: Do you redress corrupt politics in your music?
A: I don’t denounce corrupt politics. But in my last release, No Ban No Wall, I do denounce wrong-doings by states. It really denounces the occupation of Palestine, it denounces the race problem in this country, it denounces how we don’t acknowledge the first people in this country, and it denounces how we just shit on the environment without acknowledging it at all. That was written fairly recently, pre-Trump in his campaign. It was really fueled by the Dakota Access Pipeline, which saw native land being pillaged. But it also goes back to ancestral warrior chiefs like some of the Indian chiefs from Chile. I try to reflect the big picture and bring it all full circle. If you think about native land here, it’s the same thing with Palestine. Just people trying to kick out the natives that legally occupy that land. I don’t think it’s corrupt politics — just wrong politics. I haven’t taken time to denounce money in politics yet. But I will.
Q: Is Providence the creative scene you’re most established in?
A: Yes. I was fairly established in Miami before this, doing pretty well for myself. But I was just playing events and doing nothing creative for myself. What Providence, on the other hand, does for its local artists is amazing. I spent a lot of time working in Boston and they don’t do as much for local artists as we do. With PVDFest and everything, it all goes right into the community and right back out. I like it here and enjoy being a Providence-based artist. Not to bash Boston, but I take a lot of pride in being from this city. I’m an immigrant and this is the city I’ve been here the longest. So I’m just really grateful for everything here.
Q: When you moved here, did you anticipate just how nurturing the creative community would be?
A: No. The whole New England vibe honestly threw me off, since it felt so cliquey. But I quickly saw how symbiotic the creative scene here is, with me feeding other people’s ideas and them also feeding my ideas. When I was leaving Miami, everyone told me I had to move up north where all the gigs were. Which was totally not true. There are way more gigs in Miami; the ones here are just so much more meaningful. So here you may have to work at a job other than artist and then do your art, but it feels like you receive so much more recognition and validation as an artist.
You’re respected by the city and the institutions. It’s not like you’re just treated with a spaghetti dinner at a restaurant after you’re done playing. You’re not given $100 to play “Autumn Leaves” or whatever jazz standard for all these people that don’t care. But here you can do a naked performance and people will take it for what it is and applaud. In our capitalistic society, the arts is doomed. Nobody cares for the arts. Operating as an artist in a capitalistic society, you recognize that you’re not going to be making money. So you just do art for the sake of doing art. And I’m grateful for Providence because in other places, being an artist means you’re just playing Top 40 covers on the sidewalk or whatever. You might be making money, but you’re also failing to meet your expectations as an artist.
Q: Can you think of any particularly memorable shows you’ve played in Providence?
A: There definitely have been quite a few. PVDFest was remarkable — it was just really nice to play on the city’s streets and the treatment we received was awesome. The Rhode Island Electronic Music Conference was remarkable. It was just full of great bands and to have it in Aurora was nice. I’m just really pumped for Foo Fest. I’ve been going to every Foo Fest since I’ve been living in Providence and it just seems like an incredible opportunity.
Q: What’s your history with AS220 like?
A: I have a short history with AS220. My first and only show there was in 2015. Nevertheless, I’m extremely excited to be a part of Foo Fest this year, which should definitely make our history together a pretty good one. I’m really looking forward to participating in more of their events.
Q: You work as a culinary arts instructor at a community college. Does the improvisational element of cooking impact your approach to music?
A: I think it’s the other way around. It’s actually music that makes me a good chef. The fact that I can understand the ingredients as elements of music, like how the different intensities of spices reflect the different ways you could hit a volume in music. And just how delicately you have to handle ingredients. It’s a shame that arts are always getting cut because anyone that approaches a different art like cooking after making music. Because art makes you more sensitive to people and your surroundings. It really shifts your paradigm. When I was growing up, if you wanted to make a home movie with your friend, you had to have a friend with a camera, friends that were artists. Nowadays, if you have an iPhone, you can make one in like an hour. To get good at music, you have to sit down and practice for hours and hours and hours. And this society just isn’t used to sitting down like that. If you can take an instrument and make something beautiful, there’s no reason why you can’t open a book and write a good essay, or take numbers and solve an equation. There’s no reason why you can’t be good at art and not be good at any other academic ability. Same thing for art; if you can take a pencil and draw something or sculpt something, there’s no reason why you should have problems with any other academic ability. As a teacher, it’s something I really try to emphasize. Culinary arts is an art. You should feel like an artist, not like someone that’s just picked up some trade.
Q: What was your introduction to playing music like?
A: When I grew up in Chile, I lived with my mother, my sister, and my stepfather. And my stepfather was really into classical music. There were shelves upon shelves of classical music in the living room. There was a radio in the shower that would play opera while he bathed. Mozart, Bach, all of it. I was really inspired by that. From far away, classical music all sounds the same, short note to long note. But it’s not all the same. One day I listened to “Turkish March in A Minor” by Mozart and that really caught my attention. I thought it was so great and I just kept getting into music from there. At age four, my mom bought me my first toy guitar. That didn’t do much for me, but by age 12, I started playing drums. From there, I moved on to bass to guitar. And by age 16, I started studying bass. I studied that through high school and then went to music school. But my stepfather was the introduction to my love for music. He would always be like, “Listen to this and see how it affects your head.” He wasn’t a musician at all, he just really loved it. So it became important for me to create music and to create feelings for people and that was just the main introduction.