Interview with Joao Da Silva

I first encountered Joao Da Silva many years ago when his band, Redencion 911, came to the United States from Chile for a tour with 1905. In an unforgettable show in Washington DC, Redencion 911 destroyed with ferocious punk rock steamrolling that featured sharp guitars and piercing shouts from Da Silva at the mic. A few years later a friend of mine told me he was in a new band with Joao called Birds and Wires. Joao had moved from Chile to DC and then on to New York and started the group with some kids from DC. Recently, he has started a cassette tape label, Fabrica Records and started blogging at discoparlante.

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I first encountered Joao Da Silva many years ago when his band, Redencion 911, came to the United States from Chile for a tour with 1905. In an unforgettable show in Washington DC, Redencion 911 destroyed with ferocious punk rock steamrolling that featured sharp guitars and piercing shouts from Da Silva at the mic. A few years later a friend of mine told me he was in a new band with Joao called Birds and Wires. Joao had moved from Chile to DC and then on to New York and started the group with some kids from DC. Recently, he has started a cassette tape label, Fabrica Records and started blogging at discoparlante.

KYS: What brought you to New York from your native Chile?

JDS: Well, before New York, I lived in DC for a four years and I moved to DC basically because I was in love. I don’t know if I could be considered a native of Chile, although I’m a Chilean citizen, I was actually born in Sweden and my family on my mother’s side is Basque/Greek/Croatian and on my father’s side Afro-Brazilian. I lived in Chile for a few years in the 80’s but then moved with my mother to the Big Island of Hawaii where I spent most of my formative years. I went back to Chile for High School and College where I got involved in the local hardcore-punk scene which led me to becoming friends and pen-pals with a lot of people from the U.S.. I first visited DC in 1999 and stayed with Brian L.(1905/Birds & Wires) for nearly a month during which I went to some amazing shows at the Wilson Center and I really just fell in love with the city and the music scene at the time. This may sound excessive to some but seeing Lungfish live played a huge role in that. I went back to DC a twice more before finally moving, once in early 2002 to tour with my band Redencion 9-11 and then again in 2004 because I was almost done with college and I wanted to see if I would like living there once I graduated. During that second six month stay I met my current partner and her presence in DC pretty much sealed the deal for me.

I made the definitive move at the very end of December 2004 and spent about 2 years pretty much living the “immigrant” experience doing all kinds of odd jobs and being paid under the table. I did everything I could to finance myself, from work for a moving company out in Virginia to landscaping, cooking at Asylum, DJ-ing, working as a door-man/bouncer, pet-sitting, etc. I was also really fortunate to get a few shifts at the old Smash! in Georgetown thanks to Matt recommending me to Bobby (previous owner). My experience was in no way comparable to that of those who make the trip through the Mexican border. I flew in and can kind of pass off as “white” since I barely have any kind of an accent, but I would still have some sleepless nights worrying about my future. There was a time during which I had recurring nightmares of the house I was living in being raided by ICE agents. But overall, it was a happy time because I got to spend a lot of time with people I liked and was getting to know the city.

I finally landed a full-time job with a human rights organization in 2006, moved into an apartment with my partner and things started getting easier. I forgot to mention this before, but part of my plan before moving to DC in 2004 was to try to be in a band but once there nothing really seemed to work out. Everyone I knew who played an instrument either had no interest of being in a band with me or weren’t interested in doing anything that would take up too much of their time. Then, at the end of 2007, Birds & Wires finally started practicing. A few months later, I got a job offer in NY and my partner and I both decided we needed a change so we found an affordable apartment in Brooklyn and decided to make the move. I now live in a tiny and affordable neighborhood called Gowanus which is nestled between Park Slope and Carrol Gardens. I work for a Latin American-policy journal based in Manhattan and my partner is getting an MA in Library Sciences.

KYS: Clearly, you’ve seen quite a bit of the world. How does all this travel connect with your love of music? Are there songs or bands that remind you of places you’ve been? Are there any bands that influenced your decisions on where you traveled?

JDS: I actually haven’t traveled as much as I would like to. I was moved around a lot but I was too young to remember any of it. I left Sweden for Brazil when I was like 2 and then my parents divorced and my mom took me to Chile where I lived until I was 5 or 6. While living in Hawaii I got into skateboarding and mostly metal, bands like Sepultura, Slayer, Death and Celtic Frost were all introduced to me by older kids. Before that I mostly listened to 50’s rock, glam rock and some hip hop.

I remember becoming obsessed with music at a very early age and daydreaming about being a “famous musician”. My step brothers and I used to dress up, make instruments out of tennis rackets and lip sync to songs we liked. Later, in Chile is when I really become more of a “researcher” of music, for example, if I liked a band I wanted to know everything I could about them: where they were from, what their influences were, how they wrote what they wrote, etc.. One of the first bands that I really obsessed about was The Doors, I thought Jim Morrison was god. My interest in The Doors then led me to The Velvet Underground, early Pink Floyd, which made me start thinking about music in a different way. Not as a discipline but more as just a means of expression with which you could do anything you want. Something my grandmother, a former classical pianist and musical teacher, didn’t really appreciate.

Later that made it easier for me to really appreciate punk and other forms of “outsider” music. Music plays a really important role in my life. When I think of visiting Brazil for example, the first thing I think about is what kind of new music I could discover there and where the record stores are.

DC in particular seemed really attractive to me in the early 00’s because of bands like Q And Not U and Black Eyes, they were doing something very original, different and at the same time very “DC”. They couldn’t have come from anywhere else, and I thought that was awesome. I did and do love a lot of the hardcore bands that were around at the time as well but I think they could have been from anywhere and still sound the same which didn’t necessarily make them stand out for me. I tend to take in interest in music that sounds and/or has elements that show you where they’re coming from, who they are as people and the places and experiences that shaped them. This is probably attractive to me because I feel like I’m not really “from anywhere” specific.

KYS: I feel like DC now is blossoming again, a lot like DC in the turn of the century. There are a lot of new, young bands that have the same mentality as a lot of former bands, but have a unique sound that’s not like anything from before. Even though the members of Birds and Wires live in DC, Philly and New York, I still feel like they were on the forefront of a new surge in bands. Where do you see Birds and Wires within what feels like a rebirth of the city’s punk scene?

JDS: I agree, although I’m not in DC nearly enough to attend any shows or get to know more about what’ going on. I do really like some current bands like The Fordists, The Gift and Cephalopods. I’ve heard a few other bands in passing that I think are good as well, but I’m not really involved in the scene so I can’t say much. Birds & Wires to me feels very isolated because well, for one, we don’t all live in the same city therefore we don’t get to play and interact with other bands as often as we’d like. We’re also not really a “career” band, we’re not planning any big tours, looking to get signed or anything so we move at an incredibly slow pace. Also musically, I have a bit of difficult time seeing where we fit in… and I don’t think, well I hope, that whatever we record next sounds nothing like the 4 song EP. I like those songs but I think they were the result of us trying to sort of finish off what had been left over from our previous bands. Those songs really just sound like if the dudes who played in 1905/Red Line Index/Redencion 911 got together and wrote a record. I’d like to think that we’re capable of moving away from that and doing something new and different. I don’t much care for bands that don’t challenge what they’re doing and I hope we don’t fall into that.

KYS: How does the distance and the previous experience in more traditional bands inform the way Birds and Wires works? How do you think being in your thirties and still being into punk and the DIY model influences the band?

JDS: I think that the fact that we have a lot of other things going on our lives it puts the band in the backround. We’re having fun with it and not attempting to make a living off it, that doesn’t mean that we don’t take it seriously, but it does mean that were very realistic about what we can and can’t do. Sometimes it can be frustrating because months can go by without practicing and the when we meet we need to relearn things. I wish we lived in a society where we could spend less time living to work and more time creating, but it doesn’t seem like capitalism is going anywhere anytime soon.

KYS: You recently started the tape label, Fabrica Records, which is releasing ambient and experimental music. What made you decide to start this label? Why did you choose cassette tape, thought to be a dead format, over other available formats?

JDS: I’ve been making recordings of sounds and modified guitar since the late 90’s but I would just show them to a few friends and not really do anything more with it. Earlier this year I decided I wanted to try doing this as a project/solo thing so I recorded about 90 mins worth of tracks and released half of it as Luciernaga. I only realized this last year, but there’s a huge tape trading scene of people doing noise, ambient, power electronics, etc and since I started the label I’ve traded with a lot of really cool people who are very enthusiastic and interested in hearing new things. I’m doing tapes for now because I like the format, it feels less impersonal, than the cd-r and there’s no demand that would justify me doing vinyl or a run of audio cds. Also each tape has a handpainted label and i do all the inserts, so it ends up becoming a sort of “art object”. I would like to eventually do a few things on vinyl but I’d rather build this up little by little.

KYS: Have you considered releasing this music as a pay-what-you want download on the internet? Though it seems like the tangible object is important to the presentation.

JDS: We actually tried doing that with the Birds & Wires EP, anyone can download it from the Amor y Lucha website but we included an option so people could donate whatever amount they wanted and we’ve only gotten one donation of $5 since it came out, which was a year ago. I think there would be even less of a demand for the stuff we’re doing on Fabrica. I think trying to charge for anything on the internet in this day and age is kind of obscene and people are going to share files and upload your stuff for free anyways. I never buy mp3s or movie files, I don’t really get the point of “owning” a “file”. And yes, presentation and packaging are really important to me, I like to sit down, look at the artwork, and read the liner notes while listening to the music. The Birds & Wires EP for me can’t be separated from it’s sleeve and lyric sheet, it’s all one package and it’s how it makes more sense to me.

KYS: You talked a lot about how DC in the early part of this century effected you and some of that is apparent in the music of Birds and Wires. What do you drawn on that informs Luciernaga?

JDS: The Luciernaga tape is a compilation of recordings done over a two-year period so it has a few different things at play: drone guitars, space echo, synth, found sounds. I think that the artists/bands that inspire me are the ones I like to listen to on a daily (or weekly) basis like Psychic TV, Total, early-Sonic Youth, This Heat, Six Organs of Admittance, Mars, Glenn Branca. There are also a lot of literary influences like Philip K. Dick, Octavio Paz, Cormac McCarthy.

KYS: How did you get hooked up with Adrian Varallyay and his Covered in Diamonds and Jewels Project?

JDS: I’ve known Adrian since we both worked at Asylum in 2004-2005 but after I quit working there we lost touch for a while. I’d run into him occasionally at St. Ex or the Black Cat and I was aware of Brontosaurus and his solo project Stymphalian Birds but never really got to see them/him live. Later Adrian had to deal with some really serious health issues so he went AWOL for a while.

After I moved to NY and I’d go back to DC to practice with B&W I started running into him again after he’d recovered. And well… because I kept running into him I just made the assumption that he was still in DC. We’d chat about our mutual projects and talk about doing something together but nothing ever came about. Later I found out he’d been living in Brooklyn for about a year but would go back to DC to work at Saint Ex on weekends, so we were both living in NY but completely unaware of each other’s presence in the city.

We finally met up and I insisted he record something that I could release on tape and so he agreed and decided to do it as Covered In Diamonds and Jewels. We’re now planning to do a Stymphalian Birds and a Silver Serpents (one of his other projects) “best of” kind of deal on cassette. He’s extremely prolific.

KYS: What’s next for Fabrica Records and Joao Da Silva?

JDS: Well, I’ve been trying to get a more stable and better paying job. I’m currently one of those NGO employees working for “movement wages” and life keeps getting more and more expensive. Of course I’ve had no success there, in this economy, people with PhD’s and 10-years or experience are competing for start-up positions. As everyone knows, in NY “the rent is too damn high!”.

I think I’ll be in NY for a few more years, unless I die, it sinks, or gets blown up by terrorists. I’m working on a new Luciernaga tape and also playing music with another fellow Chilean who lives in Brooklyn. I may try to play a few local and out-of-town shows with Luciernaga as well, but I have to figure out the logistics of traveling with the whole set-up since I don’t have a car nor a drivers license. If anyone out there wants to do a noise/exp mini-tour through a few college towns, hit me up! I’ll help with the gas and make some mix tapes for the long drives.

As for Fabrica, I’m just going to keep at it, do a few more tapes and then eventually try to do a few vinyl releases. I’m not a good planner, I try just take it as it comes, see how it goes. Money is pretty short these days, so it also depends on how much disposable income I can count on to use for projects where I don’t mind working at a loss.

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