I’m back with another review from my days at Examiner.com. This time it’s a review of ‘No Souvenirs’ and an interview with the album’s singer and songwriter.
Miguel Zelaya, lead singer and songwriter for the band ‘Harbours’ has a lot to say about his upcoming (March 3rd) album release ‘No Souvenirs.’ And so do I.
For me, his work is impressive because it’s easy to listen to start to finish. Unlike many albums, on ‘No Souvenirs’ there are no songs that you need to fast forward through. That in itself is rare. The album is an impressive blend of hooky psychadelic rock, americana, and a singing style that is at once modern indie and old school rocker.
The album builds on itself as you listen. At first, songs contain complex layers of catchy hooks that flow from one into the other without beginning or end. At the end of each song, you are simply left with a phrase that sticks out in your mind. But as the album progresses, the songs shift from unique conglomerations of catchy hooks into works that feature a short storyline combined with one or two hooks. The way the album develops is reminiscent of small streams joining together to form a flowing river.
One of the most unique elements of Zelaya’s work is the way he crafted the lyrics for this album. “I stopped working on lyrics at one point during the making of the second album,” Zelaya says. “The band was playing many of the songs live and I was intentionally not finalizing word[s]. Live I would come up with new stuff every show. The phrasing was always the same, since I get very attached to melody lines and the cadence of words, but I would plug in new words, old words, words from different songs of mine…it was nuts!”
Zelaya says he chose to do this because he could receive direct feedback on the lyrics as he went. “Many of the lyric ideas came from being on stage with a room full of people watching you perform and trying to read the room and come up with words that are moving or exciting. The new album was written in that way for the most part, written to perform and work well live,” Zelaya says.
He remained open to new changes to the chords and the lyrics up until the very last possible moment. For instance in the song ‘No Souvenirs,’ Zelaya made chord changes moments before the band recorded the song live, in one take.
The entire process Zelaya describes sounds nerve wracking to me, but apparently, Zelaya wanted this kind of energy based on his recording philosophy. “Many musicians do not work well under the pressure felt in the studio,” Zelaya says. “They play differently and forget to ‘perform.’ Rock n roll is about energy and attitude at its core. Capturing a great performance is far more exciting for me than playing perfectly. And, the added pressure of ‘you’re going broke making this album, you haven’t finished the lyrics, will we have time to redo that guitar part… seemed to fuel me.”
That being said, Zelaya was quick to allay any fears that he would use re-creating a live performance experience in the studio as an excuse for poor quality playing on his band’s latest album. “I never wanted the fact we recorded so much live to be a shield for criticism or some badge of honor, like ‘it’s not perfect because we recorded it live’ or we are so f**king righteous and rock n’ roll we recorded live.” He adds “An album should hold up with no backstory or reference. You should never have to read the liner notes or a music review to enjoy a record.”
While some songs on ‘No Souvenirs’ were recorded live, other songs did require a lot of mixing and difficult decisions. “I really attempted to adhere to the classic idea of everything must serve the song. We cut out cool vocal harmonies, guitars, and keyboards because they took away from the song or took the style somewhere it did not need to go,” Zelaya says. “You hear what you want the song to sound like in your head… but you also try to remain open to unexpected breakthroughs.”
The end result of the hard work accomplished by Zelaya and his band Harbours is a solid modern but old school psychedelic rock n’ roll album. It’s perfect for road trips and dancing. (And yes, I did test it on the road, that’s how devoted I am to getting you readers the best review possible!)
You can grab Miguel’s album here: No Souvenirs