out on a limb Jon Arga   A few different voices have made their presence felt on the Basque music scene lately. Voices with a different way of seeing things. These next two weeks will see the release of work by two of those voices. On the one hand we have the rock, blues and electric folk of “Petti & etxeko uzta” (Gaztelupeko Hotsak, 2002) by Petti from Bera and, on the other, we are treated to “Ni ez naiz Xabier Montoia” (Metak, 2002) by the artist of the same name. This is Xabier’s fourth solo disc and is basically pop as understood in its widest sense. There’s plenty of experimentation going on on this record. Hints of black music are also present. I got together with both of them for what promised to be an enriching interview over lunch. The village Bera hangs heavily over both records. It has witnessed the writing, development and, in Xabier’s case, the recording of the music. Is there something special about Bera? Is there any particular reason why a new innovative scene in the Basque Country (Borrokan, the Ertz Festival, Xabi Erkizia and Onddo) happens to be taking place in a village like Bera?
Xabier Montoia (XM)- Well, it’s definitely the one thing we’ve all got in common. Everybody goes their own way, does their own thing, but we’re all doing it from the same place. Each one to his own style and all that. You (to Petti) don’t do what could be called standard. I mean, you’ve got other reference points, haven’t you? Mark Lanegan isn’t a standard, he’s no Joe Cocker or the like, is he?
Petti (Pt)- I think the place is greatly reflected in the music... Don’t you? The climate and surroundings. The fact that the heads in Borroka were listening to Fugazi and the likes at the age of 15 is an example of this. It’s also well known that Baztan has the highest rate of suicide in Europe. That’s seemingly because of the climate and surroundings. They must have some kind of influence in the music that comes out of here.
XM- That’s what I mean. You can play blues but it’s not going to be your standard blues. This place will always come through in your music. That’s the way I see it anyway. Rock, Pop, experimentation, Xabier Erkizia’s stuff. A festival like Ertz in a village like this...
Pt- The stuff that came from the relationship with people from Iparralde has a lot to with what Erkizia and Ertz are doing. Stephan (Krieger) and Amanita have been heavily involved with the whole thing.
XM- Yeah, but it’s all in Bera.
Pt- Yeah, sure, of course.

The Record
XM- Petti beat me to it. He’s come up with a really beautiful name for the group (etxeko uzta – the home harvest)… I’ve always been on at the group to think of a nice name but they’re never up for it... they never think of anything.
Pt- I basically did it to differentiate between acoustic and electric shows.
XM- Yeah, but it’s still beautiful. I really like it. It’s a great name. Our record is much the same, the record we’ve made is also a “home harvest”. Made and recorded at home by people from home. It’s very “home-ish” if you know what I mean. And so is Petti’s, even if it was recorded in a studio. The pre-production, everything, even the photos.

Home versus The Studio
Would the records change in different circumstances?
Petti, what if you had recorded the record at home?
And you, Xabier, what if you had gone to a studio?
Does either place limit what you can do?

XM- No, not really. The concept is the same. The sound might change...
Pt- Maybe on the technical side of things, but the songs are the same.
XM- I record at home and the guitars and drums are recorded the same. I’m happy in a studio, but I’d use the same equipment and the same people would play.
Pt- I think, well, we’d been playing the songs live for over a year. That’s when we went into the studio to record. I’m sure there would have been a noticeable technical change in the record if we had done it at the Aduana in Bera.
XM- It’s like using a Telecaster or a cheap guitar. Maybe you would notice the difference, both good and the bad. I recorded my first album in an amazing recording studio and there’s no way it has a better sound than this one. A studio means a lot but not everything.
Pt- I have noticed the change because we went to the studio and stayed there. If we had done it in Aduana, it would have meant going to the studio and then straight back to Bera. Record and back down. Loads of to-ing and fro-ing...
XM- Yeah, but you recorded the record in 2/3 weeks. I started a year ago, I recorded the backing tracks, then I had to wait to do the voices. I mixed it later on...
Pt- Well, that to me... I prefer to do it in one go.
XM- So do I, but the circumstances were what they were. It’s just the way things go. Is that a drawback? The thing is you’ve got to make the most of what you have or the situation you’re in. The studio? Fine. At home? Fine, too.
Pt- I’m thinking of doing an acoustic blues album next time round. Something a bit more intimate, and maybe Aduana is the best place for that. I’d like to use less instruments and take things more easily. I’d go to a studio if I was going to record a load of guitars or instruments. You know, go along first thing in the morning, stay there all day, get into the right mental mood for it.

Songs, writing, the group, recording, the process.
Pt- We... what I do is come up with an idea on the guitar. I record that and use a keyboard to sort out the bass and drums. Then I bring it along to the group and they add their bit to it.
XM- I do something along those lines as well. First comes the music, then I bring the idea along and we work on it in rehearsals. I write the lyrics a month or two afterwards, when the song has changed a little.
Pt- Me no, I start with the lyrics and then come up with the music. I have different versions of each song. Three or four musical arrangements for each set of lyrics. I really notice Fernan’s (Irazoki) input here. He’s a producer. On earlier records it was more just me and my ideas. Now I have him to say “this way is better” or “try that like this”...
XM- Yeah, I do the same with Mikel (Irazoki). You’re better off having someone there who can tell you where you’re going wrong. Someone who’ll tell you what doesn’t work or if something is overdone. The person who writes the song cannot distance themselves from it. They can’t step back and see the song as a whole. You’re too deep inside the song.

You’re saying that you need a producer?
XM- It’s not a set rule. In my experience... sometimes good and sometimes bad. It depends on the producer. I think that a producer’s job, in theory anyway, is really important, but the thing is; who is the producer going to be? It’s the same as everything else. There are good and not so good, good but not the right ones, bad, pissartists... it’s your own decision. Not everybody can do the job. I mean not every producer can do the job for every artist. It depends.
Pt- Fernan knows us really well; he’s our soundman for live shows.
XM- He’s also been around. He really knows that type of rock music. He knows how to capture that live buzz in your records. And even if he was the perfect choice for that record, that doesn’t mean he is for any kind of record.
Pt- We’ve tried to capture our live sound a little on this record. You know, a dry sound with few effects and songs that people know. It was easier to make changes with him as well.

Are you not afraid of what might happen when you leave one of your songs in somebody else’s hands?
XM- Well, I’ve never actually been frightened by that. It changes? Why not, if it’s for the better!
Pt- We prepared the songs with Fernan before we went to the studio. We worked on any changes in the songs in rehearsals beforehand. There was the odd slight change in the studio: the odd chorus, the song you (to Xabier) sing on,... Just about everything was ready before we started recording.
XM- You always get a surprise or two. Some songs sound really great in the rehearsal room and then I don’t know what happens to them in the studio, they lose whatever it was they had. It happens the other way round, too.
Pt- I think that in my case the songs have really grown. I used to sing most of them on my own and now Beñardo gets in on the choruses and backing vocals. There are some lovely new guitar bits... Yep, I really feel the songs have gained something.
XM- The studio is another tool to be used. The songs open up; backing vocals here, a bit of guitar there, reverb, etc... You can pull the song together from any angle.
Pt- Yeah, I write songs about my little things and the songs are one thing live or in rehearsals and another in the studio.

Will they change again with the jump from the studio back to the live arena?
Pt- The songs more or less change back to their original form. You maintain the backing vocals, the arrangements... but live it can be long one day and shorter the next...
XM- Yep, it’s also sometimes difficult to play live what you have done in the studio. You might have to re-arrange it, change it or you just might get fed up playing it one way and you decide to do it another to breathe new life into it...