Miguel Marín started to develop a taste for electronic music in his final stage as the drummer of Piano Magic, at the turn of this century. Before that, he had been an occasional collaborator of Spanish band Sr. Chinarro, before moving to London and becoming one of Glen Johnson’s musical partners during his best period, from “Low Birth Weight” to the soundtrack of Bigas Luna's “Son De Mar”. The man from Seville was in London, all alone and missing Spain, and the vision of a tree (“árbol”, in Spanish) got him the stage name he's been using ever since: a simple word, which to him represented being at home, with his family. That was five years ago, and he has since released five albums: “Arbol” (Indus Sonica, 2002), “Dreams Made Of Paper” (Lejos Discos, 2005), “You Travelled My Heart Inside Out” (Lejos Discos, 2007), his collaboration with Vicent Fibla on “Bu San” (spa.RK, 2009), and now “She Read The Wrong Book” (spa.RK, 2012), possibly his most complete and balanced work to date: a perfect mix of ambient, almost flickering electronica, soundtrack-like strings and song-like structures.
“She Read The Wrong Book” was released last January and acts as Arbol's ticket to a 2012 with a full schedule. As he will explain in this interview, he will be writing the music for a dance performance at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, as well as a few more scores. Alongside - of course – live performances, for example at the L.E.V. festival, to be held late April in the northern Spanish city of Gijón. All this prompts the perfect opportunity to get to know another one of Arbols digressions: his occasional DJ side. On this podcast, we hear him mixing his own (and unreleased) tracks with pieces by Aphex Twin, Delia Derbyshire and an unreleased song by Piano Magic.
You tend to work on different projects at the same time - for films, dance, etc. - and in different directions, too. What do you recall of the months you were working on “She Read The Wrong Book”? Did anything special happen?
I've been working on “She Read The Wrong Book” for the past three years, on an on-off basis. I normally take my time to make an album. First I think about the concept and title a lot, and then I'll start working on the music. What happened has to do with the final result of the record and what's still happening today; a lot of people who feel unhappy because of silly things.
What's different on this album from your previous efforts or even from your work for film and dance? Do you feel it's something completely different, or do you see it as a logical progression?
To me, this album is another development in my sound and the way I make music. I started playing the drums and then guitar and bass. For many years I was always playing for other people. I replaced the acoustic with the electronic (albeit not entirely) and now I'm back to the acoustic, but with experience in electronic music and in producing and writing music. Now I feel more at ease with my music, which allows me to take more risks. My work, whether it's for film, for dance or for an album release, always sounds like Arbol.
We're intrigued by the album title. Who is “she”? What's the “wrong book”? Does such thing as a “wrong book” exist?
The title could be “he”, too, but I just like to use the female figure in my music. In this case, she wants to feel complete and she's never happy with what she's got or achieves; she has chosen the wrong life manual, which is the book. I think most people let themselves be influenced by everyone and everything, so I feel some books are not right for those people.
The album features contributions by Bridget Fiske, Daniel Brillbrey, Eri Makino, Suzy Mangion and Teresa Navarrete. Why did you work with so many voices, and what does each one contribute that is so special?
Eva from Elika is on it, too. I like the people and musicians close to me to be on my records. In the case of the female vocalists, they're all very different. Teresa and Bridget are two dancers with whom I've worked and shared a lot with over the past three years, and in a way they have a lot in common with the album concept. Suzy, Eri and Eva are singers who, besides coming from different countries, each remind me of something different and who inspire me enormously. Daniel is a friend of mine from New York. One of the challenges I wanted for this new album was to use a male voice, so I thought of him.
What problems do you face when merging electronica and acoustic strings, and how do you solve them?
I've been working with strings for some time now, and - even though a few years ago it felt unnatural to me to combine strings and electronica - I learned that when I use violins and cellos, it's to create sound layers. I don't want them to sound like solo instruments.
Some time ago, you were working on material that combined your cinematic sound with touches of flamenco. What happened with that?
I have an album finished, on which I mix a score I wrote for a Bigas Luna-penned theatre piece for the Valencia Biennale of 2003 (based on Valle-Inclán's “Barbaric Comedies”), with flamenco singers: Manel, a Catalan singer, Jesús Corbacho from Huelva, and my mother, Mercedes Pavón, who quit singing over thirty years ago. I had a couple of meetings in 2010 with Mario Pacheco, boss of [record label and distributor] Nuevos Medios, to release the record - but then in November of that year, Mario passed away.
Tell us how you felt when doing this mix, what were you thinking of when you were putting it together.
I was at ease, at home, sitting by the fire. From the start I felt I had to use music that means a lot to me.
Did you decide on the artist on the spot, are they recent discoveries, or have they always been with you?
I've included a couple of unreleased tracks, like “Blood & Snow” by Piano Magic, a version with Suzy Mangion singing which was rejected by 4AD and never released. I also used “Carrot’s Dream”, a track by Eri Makino remixed by Arbol. I felt like using radio samples by Delia Derbyshire, which I find very interesting for her time. The rest is music I feel very close to, because of the sound or because I know the musicians personally. It's music that reminds me of Arbol.
What's going on with Emilii Records? We don't remember any recent releases and we don't know if there's going to be one in the near future.
It's very complicated to be a professional musician and direct a record label at the same time - updating the website, staying in touch with the retailers, all that stuff. I had a friend who helped me out for a while, but he had to quit because he had a real job. It's hard to do it on your own. I don't dismiss a release in the future, but it will be very limited.
What's your relationship with spa.RK like? Do you think you'll be with them for some time?
We were already friends before releasing the album, which is why I proposed to do something together. They're very professional and they're just great people. They know their stuff and that's what I'm looking for, no more bullshit. I don't know how long we will be able to release records, as artists, but I'm perfectly happy with spa.RK. If they feel the same way, I'll be releasing many more records on the label.
What's next for Arbol?
I'm preparing the live shows to present the album and after that I'll start thinking about a new one.
Will we see your film scores on a record one day?
I would love to do something with the music I've written for film and dance that hasn't been released yet. It's something I've been thinking about for a long time.
You're living in Barcelona now. Do you see yourself anywhere else? Do you miss London?
There was a time when I missed London, but not anymore. My life if very nice here and I'm perfectly happy. I travel to London a lot for work and some dance projects I've got going on there. In May there will be a dance performance at the Queen Elizabeth Hall featuring my music, for example. But, yes, I do see myself living somewhere else, especially if it's near the sea.
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