by Julio Nusdeo

For some time now, something like two years or so, the then sextet Les Mentettes released their debut album, Let’s Mentettes: a fourteen track disc that explored soft, mid-tempo rhythms, creating a rich acoustic pop, filled with vocal harmonies, Theremins, synthesizers and a mood that bordered between the dreamy and dark – a nod to the soundtracks of Tim Burton.

The band is formed by Adrián Rivoira (bass, acoustic guitar, voice), Eugenia Brusa (voice), the brothers Federico (guitar) and Juan Pablo Bolo (bass and guitar), Pablo Font (keyboard) and Tomás Molina Lera (drums). They worked on an edit of the first disc in order to “deepen the intensity” of the original music, with a number of friends from other bands (including Mataplantas, Brian Storming, Kingston Cable, and Los Hermanos McKenzie) to form an orchestra of more than fifteen members, utilizing strings and wind instruments, with performances that get better with each show.

At the beginning of this month, on the 4th of December in the Teatro Margarita Xirgu in San Telmo, this enlivened group presented their first LP as an orchestra, known as Les Mentettes Orchestra. The album, a homonym of Let´s Mentettes, includes revisions from that album as well as original compositions by the Orchestra – the instrumental “Obertura”, “Cosmic Sidewalks” and “Kusse”,  that amount to thirteen tracks in total that construct a “mini pop opera”, according to Manuel “Manuloop” Aducci Spina, the composer of the arrangements and conductor of the orchestra.

WUBA contributor Julio Nusdeo chatted with Adrian Rivoira and Manuloop about the birth of the Orchestra, their influences and the difficulties of live music.

Julio Nusdeo: Where did the idea to incorporate an orchestra into the band come from ?

Manuloop: The way I see it, we didn’t incorporate an orchestra, but rather re-imagined the bands formation. After listening to the first LP, I re-wrote Adrian’s songs for an orchestra with the intention of deepening and enhancing the music’s intensity, in order to give the album a narrative, a mini pop opera without the actors. The reformulation consisted in assembling an orchestra with rows of strings, brasses, wood instruments, and a rock band. The original lineup was adapted as a row within Les Mentettes Orchestra.

Did you orchestrate songs that had already been played, or compose from scratch ?

M: At first we started with a bunch of songs from the LP. Then added some other older songs, and brought in some new ones. We also incorporated versions of other songs, like “Ain’t Got No” by Nina Simone, “She’s Already on the Beach” by Pablo Dacal, “Life on Mars?” by David Bowie, the concerts and the disc also have pieces that are purely instrumental written exclusively for the orchestra.

What is the creative process like when arranging wind and string instruments ?

M: Eh, that’s my job, and I wish I could describe it as a method. It’s a job that demands that you learn the song in various forms, and then reconstruct it with other instruments. You have to put yourself in the composer’s chair, but with more tools. It’s indescribable, just as it is to describe writing a song.

Adrián Rivoira: I don’t know how Manu does it, lately I’ve been emailing him ideas and he returns them to me for an orchestra.

There are moments that the disc sounds similar to 60s pop, or a sort of Danny Elfman sound, do you use them as references ?

M: Maybe, I like to think that we share the same tastes as those guys, and later, like Elfman or Bowie. We don’t look at pop as a starting point, but rather as place we might arrive to. There are certain songs in the program that have a very clear and friendly dialogue with the baroque, the first and the last songs for example, and at the same time there are some songs that quite romantic, swing, hidden references to folklore…pop is the possible outcome of an entire journey, it’s the name of a gesture.

AR: Yeah, without a doubt there are references to that era but those aren’t the only references, it’s good to demonstrate a variation of influences. Music is a very powerful form of expression, and also a very fun way of recycling, with such an extensive musical history, one hears a reference in one way or another.

How would you describe this work with the Orchestra, compared to the early work with Les Mentettes ?

M: It’s the reworking of a code using a different format, an orchestra. Nothing more, nothing less.

AR: I consider myself really obsessive with the band’s music with or without the orchestra. The moment that the idea to create an orchestra came about, one of the things I thought was interesting was the return to our old repertoire that we had already presented live, but here in another form, to be able to squeeze more juice out of the music, continue improving it, putting some stuff to the side and incorporating new ideas.

The songs talk about money, misery, the business world, love, and even laziness. Who composes the lyrics, and how demanding is the process of composing in a foreign language ?

M: Here, I think that Adrián has more authority, but from my perspective, as an “analyst” of the songs – because my work with them has turned me into one – I would dare to say that the only theme is love; the encounters or the missed encounters of love, with all of the emotions that those situations represent. The other “topics”, money, misery, and so on, function more as frameworks to these stories than as statements within themselves. The enamored, or the disenchanted, live within a condensation of the relations of the world. A romantic delusion.

AR: The lyrics are birthed from a need to express, just like the music, and for me they also function as an unloading of emotional information. Information obtained through life experiences and simple everyday moments. Like Manu said, the misery, the money, the city, work, are the context of a modern life, and also the context of the emotions that are expressed in the form of a narrative song. As for the foreign language, I think I use it because that’s what comes out of me. I always listened to music in English. My parents were part of a crazy progressive rock group in the 70s called MIA (Independent Musician Association) and were huge fans of rock, my dad more than everyone. He had some really cool vinyls, from Frank Zappa to “The World Won’t Listen” by the Smiths, “With the Beatles” to the soundtrack to “American Graffiti”, those are the records I grew up to. That’s what I’ve had in my head since I was a little kid, it doesn’t come out right when I write songs in Spanish.

With a formation that exceeds 15 people, are there any difficulties when planning live shows ?

M: No, there aren’t any difficulties because of the amount of people, more because the medium doesn’t guarantee work, and you’ve got producers, promoters, labels and everyone else that want to take advantage of their share. The bands, as the functional units that they are, get absorbed in those problems, which is transformed into additional work on its members and a mechanism that forces its members to adapt and make the machinery work. When a project like LMO comes up, like so many others, you’re exposed to the miseries of local labor fraud, lack of foresight, the absence of cultural promotion, the tricks of the promoters and the labels, it’s not the formation of the band, but rather the environment.

AR: ¡Viva Peron !

What´s it like now deciding what material you should do with the orchestra and what you should leave for the band ?

M: How do you know, you try and figure it out.