Juan Galeano on bringing Colombian rock n' roll around the world
The next great rock & roll band might be Diamante Eléctrico from Colombia. On a recent trip to Nashville, they played a last-minute show on a Sunday night at one of the city's favorite music venues, The Basement, in East Nashville. And from the very first note, the trio transfixed the small crowd with a bolt of rock & roll lightning made of powerful songs, great harmony, and killer riffs. The collective reaction from everyone that night was disbelief: this was clearly a band that has a bright future. In November, the band won big at the Latin GRAMMYs. And in between festivals and tours in 2016, they will be recording a new album. Epiphone spoke with guitarist, bassist, and songwriter Juan Galeano about the Diamante Eléctrico--the band's origins and where they are headed.
Tell us the story of how the band got together. Where are you from and what was the musical scene like there? What inspired your name?
Actually we started the band because we were pissed off with the whole music business thing and with what you were "supposed to do" in order to make it--press, radio, kissing ass, forget it! I was signed to EMI for a while as a singer-songwriter and they didn't do shit for me. One day after a whiskey brand that was supposed to sponsor me for a new record dropped the project after a full year of working on it, I said I'm going to do it my way. So I called two of my good friends and two of the best musicians I know here in Bogota and asked them if they wanted to join me on a new project. We didn't even have a name; we just wanted to let all the anger and frustration go with some songs, and that's what we did. We had a song called "Diamante Electrico" and we thought it would be a cool name, we didn't even give it too much thought, we just wanted to write songs and play our music without compromise.
Was there a model for the band--a particular artist or sound?
Personally, I've been obsessed with the whole 50's and 60's sound--the reverb, the fuzz--that's what we were aiming for in the beginning. We are very influenced by black music from all over the world, from blues and soul, to son and salsa and Afrobeat and Cumbia. When we recorded that first record, we knew we wanted to have the upright bass, the fuzz, Farfisa and the reverb to-a-full on the whole record. We did it in 6 days. We were angry and hungry and people noticed. They started calling us to play and it went naturally from then on.
In America, to get into the music business a band usually has to make connections in a city known for music like Los Angeles, New York, or Nashville. How hard was it for Diamante Electrico to get music fans and industry fans? What were some of the challenges you've had so far?
Something special happened with Diamante. We did everything ourselves, we built our amps, recorded and produced our own records, made our own music videos, played killer shows since the beginning--so it actually was very natural. In the beginning, our fans were our friends who work with us in the business, but off course radio would not play us; no album reviews, no label, no distribution, we didn't care, we just wanted to play.
How did you discover your Epiphone Jack Casady bass and who are some of your favorite bassists?
I had the chance to meet Kike Rangel, the bass player for Cafe Tacuba a couple of years ago and he told me it was his favorite touring bass and he let me try it and immediately I noticed the fat round sound and the defined notes, loved it. I've been influenced by many bass players, mostly upright players like Charles Mingus, Ray Brown and Gary Peacock. On electric, I've always loved Jaco, John Paul Jones, and off course, Geezer Butler and Paul McCartney.
You do a lot of the songwriting for Diamante Electrico. Do you ever find it hard to write for a trio? In other words, since you're just guitar, bass, and drums on stage--everyone in the band has to work hard all the time. Will you stick with the trio format?
I do most of the writing in the band. Recently, I've been writing a lot with Daniel the guitar player. We write very simply and avoid the more "modern" harmonies. We like to keep it simple. I think that's the beauty of Diamante, simple songs that when we play live we have lots of space to interact.
"B" was recorded in a single night. That's unusual for a GRAMMY winning album. How was "B" different than what you've done before? Was the timing just right for you to break through or do you think "B" will prove to be a kind of blueprint for the future?
Haha! Yes, it's totally unusual. We were supposed to record a 5 song EP in one night and we had time left during the recording so we played a couple of ideas we had there on the spot and we ended up with 8 songs. We did a couple of extra nights where I layed down keys, Dobro and vocals and that was it! On this record we were less pissed so we had a bigger sound spectrum. More 70's psychedelic stuff--down tempo, more experimental with delays and space. For sure it's a blueprint for what is coming in the future.
Diamante Electrico have an original sound but also fit in with bands that have a deep love of rock 'n' roll. I know you opened for the Foo Fighters recently. What was that experience like? Did they give you any advice or take notice of your performance?
To be honest, I wasn't a huge Foo Fighters fan until I met them and saw them play. Now I'm their biggest fan. Amazing musicians and amazing human beings. You can see if a band is huge by the way their crew treats opening acts. They were so kind and humble to us, it turned out to be an extremely humbling experience. We had a couple of drinks with the guys and chatted about music for a while, then they took on the stage and absolutely killed it. I love them.
Do you feel pressure to make an English-language album to "break into" the American market?
Not at all, We love English, and we grew up listening to English spoken songs but we are Latinos and we are very proud of it, so, for now we are going to keep it in Spanish. It's a language that sounds beautiful in our view. The English and Americans do it so good it's kind of stupid to try and do it like them. I've always thought, if Ramstein and Sigur Ros did it, why not us?
For some rock 'n' roll bands, it's hard to capture a live sound in the studio. Tell us how you record the band. Do you produce? Do you rehearse your songs before you go into the studio or do you like to be spontaneous?
I've produced the band myself on the first two records and I think we did a pretty good job. Daniel Bustos, our engineer, has been a key player on the development of our sound in the studio. He is a wizard. We normally rehearse for a couple of months before going in the studio so when we get there we waste no time. It's expensive!! So we get in a room, the 3 of us, a Neve board, couple of good pre amps and compressors, 20 mics, and we are on! For a third record, we want to bring an external partner into the game, hopefully a non Latino--an engineer/mixer/co-producer would be awesome. We are working on it.
I know you're an excellent guitarist as well as a bassist. What other Epiphone instruments do you like to play--or would you like to play?
I've always been a fan of the Casino. It's such a beautiful sounding guitar. I'm also obsessed with old Epiphone archtops and acoustics from the 1940 and 50s. They sound beautiful. I also have a Dobro I love, but last time we were in the Gibson offices in Nashville I fell in love with the new all steel model. I'm still trying to get my hands on it!