Making Pop Music In My Own Way: An Interview with Algodón Egipcio

By 10 October, 2011

There is little doubt that La Lucha Constante, the debut album from Venezuela’s Algodón Egipcio will rank high in our Best Albums of 2011 list at the end of the year. The album showcased the talents of Cheky, also a member of Jovenes y Sexys, as he forged his own distinctive sound somewhere between shoegaze and electro, a sound that he has also applied to remixes of El Sueño de la Casa Propia, Las Robertas and El Columpio Asesino. We wanted to ask Cheky about his work as Algodón Egipcio, when Jovenes y Sexys will release some new material and also about the Venezuelan music scene in general. Here’s what we found out…

First off all, congratulations on La Lucha Constante. It still sounds great! I was listening to the Bruno EP (a release by Jovenes y Sexys) recently and had forgotten how clean and bright the sound of that EP was. It’s a very different style to La Lucha Constante. How was the process of making your solo album different to being in Jovenes y Sexys?

Thanks a lot! I think the process was very different, mainly because with Bruno we had someone else helping us with the production and recording duties (José Ignacio, from Domingo en Llamas). He really knows what he’s doing and he made a terrific job making the EP sound so bright, I think that was what our music needed.

With my album, I made everything myself, trying to explore what I could and couldn’t do. I didn’t really have any outside input on the album until the very end, when a friend gave me a tip or two about the mixing. So, the sound of the final result is a mix of where I wanted to take my ideas and my abilities (or lack of, haha) to make that happen.

Was La Lucha Constante and the sound of that album always something that you’d wanted to make?

Definitely, yeah. Before I learned to play any instrument, I was already messing with production software when I was a kid, and I always had the idea of making electronic music but never really had the chance to actually go ahead and do it seriously until this album. When I was making the album, I felt I had for the first time the space to try stuff I’ve always wanted to try and just experiment.

Lyrically and musically what were the main inspirations behind La Lucha Constante?

Lyrically, it’s mostly inspired by the emotions I was experiencing when I wrote them. It was my first time writing lyrics, I had to sit down and think “what do I want to say?”, so I took the opportunity to get things off my chest. But I still wanted to keep them accessible, this way people can relate and feel these are their songs too. It is a very personal record, but it’s not in your face.

Musically, I wanted to pour in all my influences and the music I like, and see what could come out of that. I always had in mind the idea of making pop songs, and I think that’s how they turned out, but in a particular way, not necessarily in the classic structure of the pop song. And I think that’s what I want to do with Algodón Egipcio in general, making pop music in my own way, with elements from many different places and genres. I also get inspired a lot by sounds and timbre and noise, so playing and messing with synths and music making software is always a great source for ideas.

Algodón Egipcio “El Dia Previo”

Did you achieve everything you wanted with the album?

I think I did. Of course there are small details in like the vocal takes or the mixing that every time I hear them I say “I would have made that differently if I knew then what I know now”. But this was an album I deliberately made very quickly because I thought it was important to capture the moment I was living and to make it all very spontaneous. I’m very happy with what I achieved, this is an album I often hear on my iPod and enjoy it a lot, which is something I find very important.

You’ve played some interesting shows lately, especially in Spain. How has it been performing these songs live?

It’s very scary haha, I’m still getting used to being in charge of everything on stage and having all the attention on me. I’m also still in the process of becoming a strong, confident performer, but I think I’m getting there. It’s quite hard, though, because live I try to make it dynamic, rather than just a guy and his laptop, so it gets busy, I have to be aware of many things.

Do you have any ambitions to tour with a full band?

Not right now. One of the reasons is because I can’t afford it. At this stage of my career, I think I can reach more places by doing the shows alone. Also, I’m starting to feel confortable with my actual setup, and I’d rather polish that. But I’d love to tour with a band at some point, it should be interesting to try to translate all the sounds that are present on my songs to real instruments, it would be something tricky to figure out, kinda like covering my own songs.

How was the reception in Spain?

It was great! I love Spain, and love the fact that people there really pay attention to the music and the show. I think Spain just gained a special place in my heart, ’cause my first show as Algodón Egipcio was there, in Madrid.

You’re also one very busy remixer. What would be your dream remix project right now? Whose audio tracks would you love to have access to?

That’s a tough one. There are audio tracks from my favorite bands that I’d kill to have access to, but probably just to study them, there are songs that would be almost sacrilegious to mess with. Can you imagine having access to the Loveless tracks? Haha. But yeah, remix-wise, maybe big R&B productions like Beyoncé or The-Dream or Janet Jackson, or something like Antony and the Johnsons, The Microphones… I like to work with music that maybe people wouldn’t directly associate with me and try to put my own twist to it, it’s always a challenge. Same with covers.

I read something on your blog recently where you said you despair sometimes about the other bands in Venezuela. Would you care to expand on this? Do you feel a connection more with artists from other countries than Venezuela?

The thing is, I think bands here are working hard on their music, there’s no doubt about that. But I think many of them, and this is my personal opinion, have their priorities in the wrong order. I hear bands on the radio, or see them play in local festivals, and I can’t relate to their music, neither as a listener or as a fellow musician. These are songs and records that sound very professional, music videos that look spectacular, tight live shows with musicians that execute their instruments flawlessly… They invest all their time and money and effort on those things, which is excellent, but seems like making good, creative songs is an item at the bottom of the list, and that makes me a bit sad. You can often feel the songs are totally made with the radio in mind, or they are trying to rip off foreign artists. This probably happens everywhere, anyway, but it affects me here because it’s the reality I live.

And you always here people say stuff like “you have to support the local talent, ’cause, you know, they’re local”, or “are they really from Venezuela? they sound like they’re from somewhere else, I like them”. Those kind of things depress me. But I try to stay positive and give them the benefict of doubt, most of the active bands right now are really young and maybe the music will develop into something else as time passes. I definitely feel a connection with, more than artists, scenes from other countries. I look at Mexico, Chile or Spain, and it makes me hope we can get there someday.

But, I know you do like a lot of Venezuelan bands too! Could you name a few artists/bands from Venezuela that people should check out?

Of course! There are amazing bands and projects here. I absolutely adore the music coming from Maracaibo, which is the second biggest city of the country. In particular, there’s a new label there called Entorno Doméstico, and all of the artists on it are awesome, like Ulises Hadjis, tlx, …Al Cruzar La Calle, Jan Pawel, Presidente. I’m really excited about those.

Besides that, Domingo en Llamas has always been one of my favorites. Also Sunsplash (which is half-Venezuelan, half-Brazilian), Pacheko, Cardopusher. And Violeta Vil! They’re basically from Spain, but 2/3 of the members are Venezuelan, so I guess that counts. Right now, my favorite definitely is Arca, a friend of mine who used to go by the name Nuuro and lives in New York.

I’m also really interested in the musical history of Venezuela. Is there an artist from the past that has had a big impact on your music?

My relationship with Venezuela’s musical history is relatively recent. But if there’s a band that really had a great impact on me, music-wise, it has to be Todosantos. I saw them first in 2004, and they blew my mind, and made me realise that people here could make creative and exciting music, and not fall into the cliché that is “el rock nacional”. They released an album called Aeropuerto which, as the time passes, has proven to be very influential in today’s music here. They really made me want to make music and take risks, and think big, and that means a lot.

What’s the plan with Algodón Egipcio? What have you got coming up next?

Right now I’m working on music for my second album, that’s taking most of my time. It’s in it’s early stages, but I’m really excited with how it’s turning out. I’m also planning to visit Mexico and Spain soon, and will do some shows here in Venezuela. I have a 7″ coming out by the end of the year in Spain, and I’m in the talks to release another one in the US soon. There are some remixes I made that will be released in a bit, for artists like Andrea Balency Trio, Wild Honey and She’s a Tease. And I’m preparing two little special projects with my label, hopefully you’ll know about those in the following months.

And, is there any chance of new material from Jovenes y Sexys?

Sure. We have a bunch of unfinished songs that we’ve been triying to mold into the shape of an album for quite some time now. I really love these songs, and we want to put them out, but we work at a slow pace. I can’t really tell when we’ll have this ready, we might as well just surprise you all.

Jovenes y Sexys “El Reloj”

Read our review of La Lucha Constante

For the latest Algodón Egipcio news as well as audio links go to:

You can follow Cheky on Twitter at @algodonegipcio

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