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Artist Spotlight: Los Esplifs releases debut album, talks recording process and building up the Arizona scene

Tucson, Arizona group Los Esplifs are celebrating April 20 as the release date of their debut album. Estraik Back is a bold, raw album that encompasses all of the band’s influences while staying original and true to their desert roots. The band finished recording this album in a frenetic week of old-school tracking and decided there’s no time like the present to release new music. With COVID still keeping the world of entertainment largely shut down, Los Esplifs are doing their best to make the most of this unexpected downtime. Atlas spoke with Saul Millan and Caleb Michel about the record, their musical aspirations and how the spirit of Arizona bleeds through on Estraik Back. 

How would you describe the evolution of your music from when you started to where you are now with this new album?

I think that the first EP is a lot more lo-fi and kind of youthful in a sense that it’s really trying to capture this youthful approach to a creation of a band, while our new LP is a more refined sound of what we got going on.

What was the process like putting this album together?

For this album that’s gonna come out, there were a couple of songs that we had written awhile before we got into the studio and we just played them at various gigs that we were having so that way we could rehearse them really well. And then the rest of the music was written in the studio together, and there’s one song that was written way later, too, after our studio session. But we all just got together as a band in our homie Wally’s house (the engineer and one of the co-producers on the album) and rehearsed and then just did as much live tracking as we could. We used a Tascam 388 just straight to a tape. We just went for it and then just fixed up little by little [and] mixed it there. It’s just like all the albums we’ve listened to.

Is that why you decided to record straight to tape?

Yeah, we always take the inspiration from the techniques- even if it’s from the technology that we’re using- we want to have the same type of approach with our music. So that’s why we use the Tascam 388- this machine from the 1970s- like that’s not how they make albums right now. 

Now that I think about it, that was a huge part of it. It was like a week where we recorded this. But I remember during the sessions, like talking about it and trying to figure out; well, back in the day, people wanted to record something so they just did it. They just got together in a room and they just recorded something. And it was as simple as that. 

Now there’s a lot of complication with new technology, which is great, but we were trying to stick to the old way of ‘all right, we have these songs that we wrote. We want to record them. We really like them. We know how to play them well. We’re good musicians. So let’s just get in a room and just play the songs and record it.’ And that’s it. It worked- there was very little mixing.

I feel like more musicians should do that. You know what I mean?

I highly agree with you. It’s just scary because you have to really be a musician. That’s the trick with tape. You can really hear the overdubs and you can really hear the experience when it’s to tape and when it’s really played by musicians rather than done in the studio. We highly recommend it, but you gotta be ready for it a hundred percent.

And I like a lot of new music that’s coming out that has this advanced method of dubbing and stuff like that. I like all that music and to each their own, whatever you want to do. I just really personally enjoy the process of getting in a room, recording it and that’s it. No going back- you stick with your gut.

When you go to play the songs live, they’ll be incredibly true to form.

Exactly. That’s the fact like with this album- you can put on the album and actually feel like you’re in a show. I can’t wait for audiences to see us live so that they can hear that we are not changing very much. The only difference is we drink when we’re live.

How did your musical inspirations influence the creation of this album?

We were trying to get a new approach to Latino music that is much more inside of a space of art music and the lore of art music. We wanted to create a Solange type of album, you know, but in our Latin world with actually the music that we like to record and to listen to.

When you play live, do you notice that there’s a particular song of yours that really seems to resonate with people? Is there one that resonates with you as a band?

I think that there’s two songs that people really like. The first single that we ever released, “De Rodillas en el Altar”, is a song about the desert and we’ve only played here in this area, so whenever that song occurs, it’s a magical moment where people sing it and they really like that song. It really starts off a good vibe. And I think the new song- “Perro Rabioso”- when we played it live, everybody really seems to get captivated by that song. We make it extensively longer and we make it really special because I feel like we noticed that. 

On everything we’ve released, there’s always a weird track. I remember on our EP, we released one called “Nengon”. People really like “Nengon” a lot and especially live because that’s the most fun song that we play because it’s the most relaxed and all of the musicians literally just grab whatever hand percussion instrument they can. And they’ll even go and dance in the audience and the audience gets involved with the chorus of the song. It’s just party music- it’s as if you’re at a backyard party. 

What are you hoping listeners will take away from your music?

Well for me, the message is just that this music, anybody can enjoy it and that you can put this on and feel a certain way. You don’t really have to understand the lyrics or the content, but it just makes you feel a certain way. That’s what I’m trying to portray- that this music is a universal music and it should be treated like that. 

I always think back when I think of Los Esplifs performing live to an audience and how the audience reacts- I always think back to one of the gigs we played at this place in Phoenix called The Rebel Lounge. We played with this band called Pro Teens and there was another indie band playing. But the audience was like a typical indie audience where in order to dance to the indie music, you stand still and sway. And it was like the typical dance and it was mostly a white audience, too. I remember going into that gig- Saul and I are brown and the rest of our band is whiter. And then we’re playing this like super Afro Latin music and singing in Spanish and we’re talking to the audience in Spanish- this audience that obviously doesn’t speak Spanish- but everyone was like hardcore dancing to our music and getting down and really enjoyed it.

I think about that moment all the time because I think that is the message of Los Esplifs. When you see us, we look inviting, we wear clothes that are hip, we’re hip people, we speak multiple languages and we communicate well. And the music that we play that communicates us to our core is music that is inviting to anyone- whether you belong to the same cultural background as us or not, you’re going to feel okay. 

As a native Arizonan, this state means so much to me and to so many other people as well. What does being from AZ mean to you as a band?

I am from Nogales, so I’m from Arizona all my life, you know? So it is what I think of when I think of songs or the art that is surrounding me just because anybody’s surroundings influence everything. So for me, it’s a very big thing- showing that as a big centerfold of music and not in a very cliché, stereotypical [way] but really trying to deconstruct what really means to be from Arizona, which is this laidback, slow, but really pensive environment. [We’re] just really trying to get to the core of what it is to be from Arizona and how the people are here and then make music that reflects that. 

What are your goals within music?

Caleb: Just being involved in the music as an art form for the rest of my life. And hopefully that wouldn’t mean that I would have to struggle with my bills. Hopefully I could sustain myself doing that, but either way, I think that’s just how my life is going to play out. 

Saul: For me, talking more personally about the project, I just want Los Esplifs to be coming up with the best possible quality work that is original and really high quality to raise the level in Arizona music and the whole scene.

I think that if bands put out really good content, it just inspires kids five years from now from Arizona to make bands that are way more killer than Los Esplifs, you know? To set a new standard, which I feel like is the responsibility of artists inside communities. That’s just my big thing of this project specifically. That’s my main goal- to up the bar in Arizona and in our region about what is a band and how we function. 

This last year has been crazy with COVID shutting everything down. With things starting to move forward again, what’s in the pipeline for the rest of this year?

Well we’re recording again, which is super cool, in the next couple of months. So that’s going to pump out another record probably. We have a lot of videos coming out in the next couple of weeks. Following that after 4/20, which is the release of our album, there will be another video being released for one of the singles, as well as there’s a live session that’s going to be released through other conduits that I will not say- so there’s a lot of stuff that’s happening in the next three months. Also just recording with other buddies, like there’s other projects that we’re recording on. That’s what we’ve been focusing on. 

Is there anything else that you want people to know about you or your music, or is there anything you wish you got to talk about more that you may not get asked?

We like shoes. So if anybody works for a shoe company, try to get us sponsored. If y’all need some diversity models, we’re down. Also, we have an Instagram for you to follow. It’s called @LosEsplifs.

There’s one thing I want to clarify. So Los Esplifs- the reason for that name is because it’s Spanglish for a spliff and a spliff is like a joint that has tobacco and weed in it. Saul came up with the name of Los Esplifs because I smoked cigarettes a lot at the time and Saul smoked substances. And so we’re Los Esplifs for that reason. 

I feel like the last thing is just everybody that’s watching the video and has kept up with the music and everything- I just want to say thank you. We are literally some cats from Arizona that are really trying to uplift Arizona and trying to use our voice to uplift Arizona. So everybody from Arizona that’s been listening to us and going into our shows since the beginning, like we wouldn’t be able to do it without that.


Story by Olivia Khiel
Image courtesy of Los Esplifs