Soft Glas no le tiene miedo a lo que está por delante
De cómo la era de Tumblr tuvo una influencia que sigue presente, consciente o no, en mi escucha. Estoy casi segura, pero sigo sin poder confirmarlo en su totalidad. A estas alturas, no me parece relevante ahondar en ese primer momento de interacción. Lo importante es poder decir, 10 años después, que algo bueno agarré de ahí. Musicalmente, fue una época de nuevas propuestas que cumplían con una estética y sonido específico. Quien estuvo en esa red, no lo puede negar.
Fue una época de ensueño, especialmente para interactuar con nuevas influencias y propuestas que no se veían en este país. Aquí es en donde tuve la dicha de escuchar, por primera vez, a Soft Glas. El virtuoso compositor, multi-instrumentista, quien también mezcla y canta, es uno de los artistas más consistentes de los últimos años. Él es el resultado del amor hacia elementos que conforman el proceso para crear. No ve géneros, él ve expresiones. Esto ha sido fundamental para seguir creciendo, musicalmente, como artista.
Joao González, mejor conocido como Soft Glas, nació en Cuba y creció en Florida. Vivió unos años en Nueva York. Claramente, esto influenció su música en ese momento. Las colaboraciones de ese pasaje son el reflejo del entorno en el que se desenvolvía. Hay un sentimiento de paz y tranquilidad en su música, a pesar del caos que la ciudad puede provocar. El primer álbum expresa una musicalidad precisa de ese momento en su vida. Claramente, el uso del instrumental fue fundamental para expresar lo inefable.
El pasar del tiempo ha permitido tener una mejor perspectiva de lo que se vive. Es esa manera que tiene para entender el presente, recordar el pasado y descrifrar lo que el futuro trae para el. Al fin de cuentas, ese el tiempo el hilo conductor en los álbumes que están fuera.
Contando los días para el 19 de marzo y el lanzamiento de ‘How Strange‘, platicamos con él acerca del crecimiento musical desde su álbum debut, la dificultad de etiquetar su trabajo, de cómo las circunstancias que le rodean juegan un papel importante en lo que se escribe, la transición a la guitarra como instrumento principal para componer, por qué no ha lanzado música en español y el futuro como el tema de conversación para esta nueva etapa.
La entrevista se presenta en el lenguaje original.
¿#Aquésuena Soft Glas?
It’s very strange to try to articulate what my music sounds like. To me, I’ve always had a hard time seeing clear lines from different music styles or genres. I know people say that because the listen to a different music, but I don’t hear a difference between Debussy, classical music, Radiohead or Flying Lotus. I don’t really hear them as different forms of expression, it’s the same form. They use different techniques, languages, but they are still saying similar things. That’s how I approach my music.
I try to take all of my references, however they manifest themselves. I let it come out as natural as possible. Sometimes, it will sound like rock or electronic music. I try not to limit myself. I don’t ever think to myself, ‘oh, this sounds too much like this’. I need to sound like myself. I don’t know what I sound like. I sound like whatever comes out.
It’s hard for creators to categorize it. How do you even classify it? I’m talking about the label, how do they even PR the work?
That’s an issue that we have, still. When it’s time to decide a release, I just let them take care of everything. I don’t know, I really don’t know. That’s an honest answer. I wish I could easily say, ‘I make this music, I wanna be mentioned in this other group of artists’. That’s for other people to figure out.
You can do it all. You write, produce, arrange, engineered, do the mix and master of your music. It says a lot about an artist that’s willing to take the time to learn a craft.
I think that I have a very clear idea of what I want things to sound like. Doing and having a hand in every part of it helps me execute the idea as closely as possible. I wish that I didn’t feel that way because it can be very stressful. Especially mixing the music yourself. The process of making, writing, recording the music is a very organic and natural process, it’s pure. Then you go and mix it. It deludes it to levels and numbers.
It takes the magic away. It happens to me everytime I work on a project. I’m very excited about a song, and then I mix it, and it strips it away. I hear the song, and all I can hear is the panels, levels, I should have done it differently… there’s pros and cons to it. I think it’s important to me, at least to be involved a little bit. I’ve worked with Adam Straus on the last two projects now. He’s been great because he takes a lot of that responsibility. I’m still very hands on. We mix everything together. I like to be involved from birth to release.
It’s the musicality of it all. ‘Late Bloom‘ It’s such a dreamy album. A bunch of horns, wind instruments. It feels like a serious introduction. What was the mindset at the time?
I think it was a result of my circumstances. I had a lot of fellow artists and musicians that were willing to record horns for me. They wanted to be part of the project too. It’s one of those things where I was able to put horns because I had friends who played them and that’s what I heard for specific songs. Maybe on the more recent songs you don’t hear them and that’s because I haven’t been able to record them.
It wasn’t a conscious decision, ‘I’m going to use horns and now I’m not’. It wasn’t like that. My collaborators at the time were kind enough to record horns for me. I think it’s all about instrumentation and arrangement, it is very important to me. It conveys a specific mood. The sound of a saxophone, a trumpet, the strings, they are pallets. It’s like paint, they are different colours you can play with. They can evoke different emotions. I was lucky enough to have friends be a part of those projects.
I’ve seen the names. They contributed for the album, and my guess is that they are studio musicians?
Yes, some of them are incredible musicians and producers. I feel very lucky and grateful that they wanted to be part of my music because I’m a big fan of everybody that I work with. I’m their biggest fan. If you are reading my album credits, I really hope you listen to all of their music.
There are a lot of instrumental songs in there. It brings me peace. This debut is so peaceful, as a whole. I think your music has that, it’s a recurring theme. You come off as a calm person and it translates in your music.
It’s very funny. I put out a song, ‘Prudence and Poise’, and to me that song was one of the most volatile songs I’ve ever done. It came out, and I saw someone describe it as ‘chill and calm’. I guess I don’t know how to make angry music. That was one of those things, you get to notice how other people perceive your music. I remember recording it, I was yelling and so animated. It comes out and people are saying, ‘another chill song from Soft Glas’.
‘Orange Earth’ feels like you were on a completely different mindset. A little bit upbeat, compared to the previous releases. ‘Coral Springs’ has that bossa feel to it. It has some jazz as well, It’s quite broad, but the guitar chords are always the standout. What changed, in between albums?
Two things changed, actually. The first album, I was strictly using keys to make my music. Everything started on the keyboard, whether they were synths or piano. Between albums, I wanted to learn how to play guitar. I wanted to write songs on the guitar. There’s a different place you can get to with a guitar, it’s just the way that it sounds. You can do guitar voicings, there are these unique chord progressions to that instrument, and that’s what happened. As I learned the guitar, I started writing songs on it.
The second thing is that I wanted to sing. I felt it was another way to express myself, whether it was through the writing or the singing itself. That presented another challenge. Some songs on ‘Late Bloom’ aren’t meant to be sung on, by nature. Those two things were the biggest changes in my approach that led to the music feeling different. It was excited because a lot of the music that I loved was guitar based.
I always felt this was, there’s something really magical to it. Bossa is guitar based, and I wanted to try that. I wanted to get to a point where I could perform my music stripped down. With ‘Late Bloom’ is so dense, the song itself depends so much on the production. I wanted to get to the point where the essence of the song could be just the guitar and vocals. That was a very interesting challenge for me.
Let’s talk about the ‘Perks of Being a Sunflower’ video. The colours, one take! You directed the video as well. Did you write the video treatment?
Yes, that was something I’ve always wanted to do: make a video where it’s clearly a set, and everything you see was made for the video. At the time, I was watching Wes Anderson movies, I was really obsessed with that colour palette, the yellows and oranges. That was something that I thought it could be fun. Aaron Vásquez co-directed it, and he has worked on a lot of stuff with me. This was the opportunity to scale up. All of our videos, to that time, up until that point were very ‘on location’, kind of ‘let’s show up and we’ll figure it out as we shoot’. That one took months of planning, we had to build the sets ourselves. It was our first official production.
I am patiently waiting for the spanish EP. Has it crossed your mind, at all? Why hasn’t this happened yet?
It has, and the reason I haven’t is because I don’t want it to feel forced. Specially now, spanish speaking music is very popular. In the last five years, it feels like everybody has a song in spanish. It feels a little opportunistic to say, ‘now I want to make a song in spanish’. Until there is a very pure reason for making that song, I don’t want to do it because I can. If I haven’t up until this point it doesn’t feel genuine, it doesn’t feel honest to just write something.
I’m not ruling it out. I’m sure one day I will. But, I don’t ever want it to feel contrived.
As a form of exercise, have you written a song in spanish? Even though you understand the language, it’s a completely different approach.
I think it’s a beautiful language to write. The poetry that I based the last two album names, ‘Orange Earth’ is a reference to a Pablo Neruda poem. The language lends itself beautifully to songwriting and poetry. I think it’s just about practicing and I feel like I can do it. Again, one day I might be inspired to write about something that makes sense to write it like that. It could be about my culture, my family. I’m sure it will come.
‘Stunned’ was released last year. We are weeks away from the new material. There’s an itch, isn’t it? There’s a need to put out and share feelings. Otherwise, I feel like you wouldn’t release anything, for a long time, you would be creating and working for other people, without the need of exposure like this. Why now?
I think the way that I write is intrinsically tied to the way that I’m feeling at the time. The further you get away from that moment, when you write, the less you connect to it, the less power it has. With ‘Stunned’, that was very much what I was going through at the time. It was a transitional phase.
With ‘Orange Earth’, it was the same thing. I mean, I started writing it when I went home for the holidays one year and then I put it out in less than a year later. It was still very fresh. With ‘How Strange’, the new album, some of those songs are two or three years old. I started the songs in 2018, and I’ve been writing since then. I think if those songs don’t get released, the further away I get from that moment, when I wrote them, the less timely they feel.
I think it’s important to put music out when it’s still connected to the source of why you wrote it. And I have new things that I want to explore, I have new ideas for the songs, I have new emotions I want to write about. It’s just about getting it out of the way, putting it out so I can move on, in a sense. I think if I keep waiting, it’s just strange. It’s like having a conversation about something that happened years ago, you’re not connected to that anymore.
Is it easy for you to let go of the process, as a whole? Once it’s out, it’s out.
Yes, and almost to a fault because it’s hard for me to enjoy a release. I’m always looking forward. Often when I put music, I don’t listen to it for six months. When I put ‘Stunned’ out, I didn’t listen to the album until this year. I don’t know why. I feel anxious about it. I don’t feel connected to it, but then I go back to it and I can appreciate it. For me, it’s harder to hold on to stuff for too long. You’re not as excited about it. When you make a song, you are very excited, and the further away from that, the less excited I get. I like to put things out, as quickly as possible so I can still feel that way about it.
Makes sense, completely. Can you imagine Justin Bieber having to perform ‘Baby’ at this stage of his career? How connected can he be to it?
Yeah, and it’s funny because I know Radiohead didn’t perform ‘Creep’ for 10 years. They chose not to, and recently, they started performing it. I think they just needed that break, that space. I imagine that happens with releases. When you’re so connected to the work, you are so tied to where you are emotionally. If you are not there anymore, it’s hard to feel that.
The ‘Just Bright’ lyric video has an interesting narrative. Such a simple setting, but it’s a full thought. How specific are you with the visual part of the project? I have a feeling that you might curate the typography, even.
I do. I think I’ve done every design in all of the videos, so far. It’s the same thing, the same way I don’t really think about genres, I see visuals and music as the same form of expression. It’s very important to me to have the video tied in some way to the music. For this, basically the song and the album, ‘Stunned’, as a whole is a very self reflective kind of glimpse into the idea of looking at yourself in the mirror and asking yourself what’s happening right now?
‘Orange Earth’ is about looking back, and the new album is about looking forward. ‘Stunned’ is very much about looking around and the present, trying to be at peace. The video is about looking at yourself in the mirror and having this conversation with yourself. When you get older, you don’t have that sense of security around your home, your family as much. It doesn’t feel like that. I remember going home and it didn’t feel like my home, it felt like my parent’s home. I’m a visitor at their place. It was about that.
I read that your dad, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, is making an appearance in your new album. How was the dynamic between you two?
He’s the easiest person that I’ve ever worked with. The amount of love and trust that we have for each other makes that collaboration feel like this. It’s not as different as you would think. It’s rooted in love. Any hesitation always came from me. I felt I wasn’t ready to collaborate with him. I felt like I needed to get to a certain point in order to even ask for some sort of collaboration.
I am so grateful that he’s in the project. Especially because a lot of it is about my parents. That song that he’s on is about my parents. It’s great that he’s able to play on a song that I wrote about him, in a sense. The process is great, it’s so easy. We’re always on the same page. He respects me, respects my creative process and that means the world to me. I don’t have to be nervous or embarrassed to show him my ideas. I’m still nervous, sometimes. He does an incredible job of making me feel comfortable in that collaborative process.
What can you tell me about ‘How Strange’? The cover is beautiful, quite simple, but I feel there’s more to it that it shows. Side A | Side B. What’s the feeling to it?
There’s no way of knowing this by looking at the cover. The cover was shot directly below where ‘Orange Earth’ was shot. That’s really what the album is about. ‘Orange Earth’ is about looking back. There’s some warmth to it, this nostalgic, beautiful and romantic feeling. ‘How Strange’ is almost the opposite. It’s kind of looking forward, being scared and not wanting to see what happens next.
It’s a scary thing to think about the future in regards to your loved ones. That’s one of the guarantees of life, one day the people you love won’t be around. We can’t run away from that, there’s no escaping the passage of time. That’s what the album is about, confronting that fear. If I’m getting older, then everybody else is getting older, and that’s terrifying. I think you can expect this to be a little less optimistic. It’s a little colder. That’s what I wanted the cover to resonate to.
I wanted the cover to be the opposite of the warmth of ‘Orange Earth’, this one feels chaotic. I’ve always been obsessed with how water relates to time. I’m sinking and trying to stay above water. That idea stuck with me for years, and I think that a lot of my visuals have that water element to it. Whether it’s me being under water or surrounded by water, it’s because I do feel like I’m trying to stay afloat.
What are you listening to right now?
Do you obsess over songs?
Oh, yeah, all the time. If I’m listening to something, I’m listening to only that for a month, straight. This Blake Mills’ album? I’ve listened to that since December. I’m always listening to classical music, movie scores. The ‘Phantom Thread’ movie score is incredible. I think I’m boring like that, I don’t really listen to different things at the same time. I’ve listened to a lot of things in my life, but at one time, it’s one thing.
What do you do when you’re not working on music?
I like to be active. Music is such an internal thing, everything is in my head. I like to exercise, play basketball, go for a run or ride my bike, just to feel the rest of my body. Just to feel energy because music, whether it’s writing, mixing or producing, or even videos, everything is neck up.
If you are in front of a door and ring the bell, who opens it?
I would want my grandmother to answer it. My grandmother, on my mother’s side, passed away when I was one. I didn’t get to know her that much. She was an incredible artist, Maria Eugenia Haya. She was a photographer, filmmaker, and one of the most important photographers in Cuba, at the time. She documented the Cuban Revolution; has an exhibit in New York for her photography.
I’ve always been drawn to that and filmmaking and I have a feeling it has a lot to do with that side of my family. That’s in my blood as much as the music, from my dad’s side. I would have love, the same way that I’ve been able to talk to my dad and get some insights from him, I would love to have that conversation with her.