When Julian Casablancas isn’t busy being in one of the most iconic bands in the world or making the kind of bat-shit sonic innovations that completely fuck with your brain via The Voidz, he runs his own indie label. Cult Records‘ discerning and eclectic roster includes everyone from established heroes like Karen O to new and exciting discoveries.
One example of the latter is Rey Pila, a synth-pop four-piece who sound like they were raised on a diet of The Cars, David Bowie and Kraftwerk. The band released their ‘Wall Of Goth’ EP on Cult last month, which features four songs of fuzzy synths, polished pop melodies and a ton of effortless cool. Julian also took on production duties on the record. We got the two parties together and asked them to find out more about each other. They did us proud – read on to find out which unlikely European R&B group Julian is “all in” for, who would win in a football match and discover some Mexican musicians to check out.
Julian also gave us a little update on what he’s working on currently. There’s no new word on The Strokes, but you can get excited about a new record from The Voidz. “It’s sounding more sleek and polished, but it’s still futuristic prison-jazz,” he told us, promising it’ll be out “early 2018”.
Rey Pila: “How exactly did you first come across our music?”
Julian Casablancas: “I was in our office in New York – the Cult Records office when it was above the famous Strand book store – and I heard this song blasting out of a car radio from the street below, and I thought, ‘Wow what a cool sound, this sounds like some modern hit, but if pop music was actually cool.’ I was actually genuinely distraught and bummed that I might never know what this magical song was… So as I walk out of Cult a minute later, in tears probably, I realized to my amazement that the song was actually playing across the hall. It was a different office than ours and when I went to ask what the song was, it turns out it was an unsigned band looking for a label. Song was ‘Alexander’, band was Rey Pila.”
RP: “We’ve played football with you and NYC friends countless times, but we always wondered…What would you predict be the final score in a Strokes/Voidz vs Rey Pila 20 min football match? (Be honest)”
JC: “Thought we’ve already done that and won? Ha. Oh wait, that was Americans vs Mexicans. Sorry to bring that up. I think Voidz would be a close game. I think we could maybe pull it out, we’d have to see though. We played Phoenix and won, and they’re French. Though Thomas [Mars] and Beardo [Voidz guitarist] swapped teams. Against The Strokes you would win, ha.”
RP: If you had to cover any Rey Pila song, which one would it be?
JC: “‘No Man’s Land'”.
RP: Whose faces would you put up in the Wall of Goth?
JC: “Robert Smith, Dracula, Siouxsie Sioux and The Undertaker.”
RP: We’ve always felt very at home around you. In a parallel universe you could definitely be Mexican. You’ve been here several times. Would you ever consider living in Mexico City? What’s your favorite aspect of the country?
JC: “Some of my family lived there in the 1940s, I think. My uncle was born there… I think the best part is the people. I love the family culture, it’s not part of American culture so much right now it seems. Also the toughness.”
RP: What’s the best and worst part of producing a band?
JC: “Best part is you don’t have the preciousness and second guessing. Better perspective I guess. I always wish I could hear something I wrote or recorded with fresh ears or for the first time, to assess it without bias and expectation. When you’re producing someone else you can come in with a blank slate. ‘Cause you become too familiar with your own songs and then it’s hard to judge sometimes. I’ll see artists going through that same thing, but I can unemotionally see, ‘Oh this part is amazing’ or ‘This part, maybe not so much’ without that lack of perspective, without that emotional blind spot going on. So being unemotional and objective is great, as opposed to anxiously second guessing yourself when it’s your song.
“The bad part is easy. It’s being overridden but personal, emotional attachments or dislikes. Some of my favourite songs will be abandoned and some of my least favourite songs will be laboured over because of something I’m sure I’ve been guilty of myself many times, and that’s having personal attachments and dislikes cloud my judgement. that can be a bummer sometimes.”
RP: What song made you become a musician?
JC: “It was a long journey, but if I had to single out one, probably [Pearl Jam’s] ‘Yellow Ledbetter’. Heard it on some poorly recorded mixtape and it awakened a recognition for the power of music in me.”
RP: Favourite cheesy nineties song?
JC: “‘Yellow Ledbetter’. kidding. Probably ‘Girl I’m Gonna Miss You’ by Milli Vanilli? I genuinely still like that band, or art project, or whatever you wanna call it. I’m all in. I love the look and the music and the concept. All of it. Couple of gorgeous basquiats on sail boats making awesome music… what’s not to love?”
RP: What movie would you like to have to starred in?
JC: “If I choose something cool like The Adventures Of Sebastian Cole, which would be my choice, I would probably ruin the movie. So I’ll say the feminine-looking long-haired guy in Dazed And Confused cause I was that age and looked like that when the movie came out, so I could have maybe pulled that off.”
RP: Marijuana or LSD?
JC: “For recreational, everyday use, and legalization? LSD, definitely.”
Julian Casablancas: Who’s your favourite Mexican boxer?
Rey Pila: “Well, Julio César Chávez is the greatest so far, but our favourite might be Jorge “Maromero” Paez. He was a circus perfomer-turned-boxer who could really put on a show. He applied some of his circus tactics in the ring. He dressed up, threw somersaults, danced around, embarrassed his opponents, appeared in music videos… the works. He was really fun to watch. Think his son is a fighter too.”
JC: “Who’s your favourite Mexican musician/artist or group?”
RP: “That’s a tough one, and there is no unanimous winner within us… Might need to divide by genre. Juan Gabriel is our fave in Mexican traditional music. He just passed, but was a true artist, amazing songwriter and showman. Many of his songs are deeply engrained in Mexican culture, and became a loved icon being gay in a traditional Mexican macho culture. Nortec Collective, from Tijuana, revolutionized electronic music in Mexico and became popular worldwide some years ago. An original blend of Mexican norteño music and electronica. Luis Miguel is the one and only Mexican pop idol/sex symbol. One of the best Mexican voices, thousands of Mexicans try to (grotesquely) emulate his fashion and lifestyle. In rock, our favourite might be Caifanes. Great 80s/90s band, incorporated Mexican mystique and folklore into their heavily influenced The Cure/Bauhaus/Dead Can Dance sound.”
JC: “Always thought it was funny how before election they said America was gonna need a wall to keep everyone from trying to get out once Trump was President. So my question is, has America lost some magic in the eyes of Mexicans or has not much changed?”
RP: “Well, it was hugely disappointing to see Trump being elected president, as he targeted and labeled Mexicans as some sort of cancer of American society & economy. Trump piñatas were a blockbuster these past holidays. The Mexico/USA relationship has always been a symbiotic, true love/hate relationship… I think USA did lose some magic in the eyes of Mexicans, many have been deported, and many others depend on their jobs there and need to stay in the US. If not, we think many Mexicans would be leaving the US on their own foot. Just read that the influx of Mexican tourism in the USA has dramatically decreased. On the other hand, I feel that the Trump hate has also brought other people together and strengthened ties… We have a solid American brethren and always will.”
JC: “Who’s more powerful, government of Mexico or cartels?”
RP: “The lines blur between both… probably cartels, sadly.”
JC: “What’s your favourite Mexican movie?”
RP: “Like the favourite musician question, the band can’t reach a unanimous answer… Very glad to see so many internationally recognized Mexicans in the movie scene, it’s at an all time high… Our favourite or most iconic Mexican movies might be Cronos (Guillermo Del Toro), Amores Perros (Alejandro G. Iñarritu), Y Tu Mamá También (Alfonso Cuarón) and Allí Está el Detalle, by the most famous Mexican comedian, Cantinflas (could probably be described as the Mexican Charlie Chaplin of sorts).”
JC: “Who would win in a fight – Madonna or Lady Gaga?”
RP: “That would make an amazing Celebrity Deathmatch! Used to love that MTV show… Madonna could throw burning crosses to Gaga, but she could jump from the top of the stadium Super Bowl style and crush Madonna.”
Rey Pila’s ‘Wall Of Goth’ EP is out now via Cult Records.