Issue 5, Article 4

El Guapo

by Kim Wetzel

The interview with El Guapo ('98) started with Justin Moyer via email. First I asked if he would be willing to do the interview. Justin said I should interview a "real band with a viable future." I said "don't be so hard on yourself." We caught up a little on our personal lives, then got down to the real (impersonal) interview questions. Justin is very honest and critical in his answers (maybe a little too negativeŠ). He also helped me out by forwarding my questions to the other band members. Justin's responses start with a J:, Nate Smith's responses are N:, Peter Cafarella's poetic responses get a P:, and Rafael Cohen's brief responses are R:.

WMJ: Why don't you consider El Guapo a real band with a viable future?

J: El Guapo lacks a certain rigor and always has. It's a shame, really...I think we could accomplish a lot more if we worked harder. Especially on the "business" end of music, which is always annoying but, in my mind, necessary. WE will never be all that we could be.

WMJ: Catch us up since El Guapo graduated from Wesleyan and moved into a big, beautiful house in Mt. Pleasant, Washington D.C.

N: In early June me, Rafael, and Justin moved into a three story rowhouse in Washington D.C.'s Mount Pleasant neighborhood. El Guapo played a few shows in Washington and a few in Philadelphia and other nearby places during the summer. We didn't really have a good place to practice. At the end of July we recorded with Davis White, and mixed on subsequent weekends. We went out for a week to play shows in New England at the beginning of October. The stuff we recorded came out at the end of October as the Phenomenon of Renewal on Resin Records. After much appeal from the three of us, Pete (Cafarella) came down at the end of that month and began playing with the group. All of November was spent on tour with the Better Automatic. In December we didn't play very much. Since New Year's we have gotten a practice space and are playing as much as we can.

R: One new member (Pete Cafarella), some new songs, a new record, a tour, new instruments.

WMJ: What about the incorporation of Pete? How is your musical style evolving?

J: I'd like to think things are getting a little looser...more improv., more humor...I hope more humor. We've been known to take ourselves too seriously in the past. Personally, I'm not entirely comfortable with Pete in the band right now...I like a lot of the old stuff, and we have to forego a lot of it because it doesn't fit with the new style...whatever that is. And, with some of the old stuff we still play, it's like someone stuck an accordionist on a track which didnšt have one because it didnšt need one. So it's a touchy situation. But having another mind around...especially a mind like Pete's, who's probably the best musician I've ever met and certainly the most creative person I know when he's not watching bad TV...keeps the bag of ideas full. And the bag of ideas has been pretty fucking empty in the past.

P: Sometimes my accordion sounds like a circus is coming to town. Notwithstanding, the music occasionally finds a locale where "stylistic evolution" ceases to impress itself as a goal; where the concerns and hang-ups of forward or backward idiomatic/non-idiomatic progression depress under the weight of the activity.

N: The addition of Pete on accordion and keyboards is one of many instrumentation changes that has happened, including Rafael playing the oboe in the guitar's stead at times, my playing the glockenspiel, and Justin's occasional drumming (sometimes with me, sometimes without). Aside from the instrumental changes, we've been struggling for the last couple of months with coming to terms with what we are trying to do with this band, a question that was tested to the extreme on tour with improvisations and experiments in performance strategy. As of now, the question remains explored but unanswered.

R: Things are looser.... things are a little more abstract... x-treme even.

WMJ: Tell me [us] a couple stories from your last tour. When is the coast-to-coast extravaganza and who should be expected on the bill?

J: The stories are pretty grim. We didn't have shows the whole trip West...we would roll up to coffee houses in places like Des Moines and Salt Lake City and play jazz standards for food. Which has a charm...but also is depressing. Sometimes we would play jazz standards and originals, and not stop between them. It was that kind of trip, and we're that kind of band. Really just... doomed. Many shows were cancelled... in New Orleans, we got locked out of where we were supposed to stay and had to sleep in the van...which has a charm, I guess. Not everyone has slept in a van in the French Quarter...or would want to. When we played in El Paso, Pete and I walked into Mexico...very strange border town called Juarez. If you're not a citizen of this country, it's very hard to get here...the barbed wire/dogs/border guards were unbelievable. There was a huge portrait of Ché drawn on one of the walls though, on the Mexican side...pretty inspiring. Pete and I didnšt last in Mexico long. No new tour is planned for the near future...though some guy in Vermont wants to book us on a few things for unknown reasons. Even when touring sucks, it beats the shit out of "straight life"...and you're talking to someone who likes his job, sort of. I could tour forever, maybe.

P: 1. In New Orleans, I and two other men in the group sat down at Cafe Du Monde. We ordered sodas and 9 benier (the French donut! We were eating at the "N'awlins Dunkies"!). Each man would receive 3 benier. When the order arrived, one man excused himself to place a phone call. The other man at the table ate 1 benier. I ate 8 benier. The man who had left to place a phone call returned to the table a few moments later and ate 0 benier.

2. In a traveling van you can build up quite a thirst. Just ask me or the other men in the group. Because we were thirsty in the van, at gas stations we would buy sodas. Most of the time the sodas tasted sweet, like fruit or candy. I haven't heard anything of a coast-to-coast tour or of what groups would be playing.

N: In Houston the 'all day rock fest' we were supposed to play at a skate park didn't really exist. So we drove around trying to find something to do, and ended up playing second stage between acts for 20 minutes at a Less Than Jake / All show, where we got no money and had to spend the night in the van in a rest stop. ...my grandparents came to see us play in Tempe and then took Rafael, Pete and I to their home in Sun City West, where they made us lots of food and Pete and I drove their golf cart around the neighborhood ...There are no plans as of now for a tour...

R: I met a girl who seemingly had never met a Jewish person. She tried to get us to come to an all night prayer meeting. she would ask me questions like "Have you been baptized?" and I would answer uncomfortably, "I'm Jewish." That was in El Paso, Texas. She also asked if I accepted Jesus Christ as my savior... wait no, she asked if I accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as my savior. I answered same as above...

WMJ: Can you give some advice to Wesleyan musicians who will be graduating? How can music to be a big part of their lives post-college (and still have money for food and shelter)?

J: I would rather elicit advice from them than give it. How can I make music a big part of my life without feeling like a total failure? I know I'm not a failure...but I sure fucking feel like it 24-7. Someone still in school has a better answer to that question because they aren't dealing with day-to-day bullshit, i.e. "where's my next meal coming from..." Not that they're not dealing with a bunch of other bullshit. Idealism untainted by "real world experience" is sometimes more instructive than the practical version.

P: I implore the undergraduate musician to regard her/himself as an opaque object which casts shadows of varying lengths, like a post in sunlight. Before graduation, the sun resides fairly high in the sky; the musician's casted creative output covers a ground close to the body. The projection is clearly defined, hard-edged, amorphous yet succinct (perhaps "curtailed" when the ballasts of academia are considered as informative strains.) "Post-college," as the day grows older, the musician's projection lengthens and widens, creeping slowly over the new landscape, yielding to yet simultaneously enveloping the foreign topography. The casting adopts a gentle sfumato, and uncontrollably adheres to its canvas (e.g., a house without an appropriate space to play in, a new venue to visit and/or perform at, a distinctly non-collegiate music community, etc.)

WMJ: Who is your favorite New Kid? Backstreet Boy?

J: Don't know any of the Backstreet Boy's names. New Kid...obviously Donnie. Actually, I thought he was in that Boogie Nights movie until I realized it was his brother.

P: My favorite New Kid is Danny Wood. I'm not familiar with the Backstreet Boys, though I respond positively to the whiskered gentleman with styling gel in his hair.

N: I like the ugly New Kid, Jeffy, and the Backstreet Boy who has the blond mop. My favorite N' Sync guy is the guy with the little ponytail braids. And Sporty Spice remains my favorite Spice Girl.

R: Justin from N' SYNC


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