SONUS UMBRA (Luis Nasser)

PLACE: E-mail



Sonus Umbra consists of Andres Aullet (vocals and keyboards), Ricardo Gomez (electric & acoustic guitars), Jeff Laramee (drums, percussion and vocals), Luis Nasser (bass, keyboards, acoustic guitar and vocals). Additional musicians include John Grant (electric and acoustic guitars), Tapabrata Pal (tabla) and vocalist Lisa Francis.
"Snapshots From Limbo"  is their first album as "Sound Of Shadow" (thatís the english translation of Sonus Umbra) but they previously released "Laughter in the dark" as Radio Silence back in 1999. Please read my "Snaps" review to know how much I liked it or visit SU official site for further information.
I recently asked some questions by e-mail to Luis Nasser. Read his loooong answers below :

Hello Luis, first of all I want to thank you for being at my disposal, itís very nice for me to know something more about your wonderful music..
It's my pleasure. I just hope you are patient, because I sure love to talk!

Well, this is the right place !! In Sonus Umbraís history there was an important change Ďcause you moved from Mexico to Usa where youíre currently living: itís no use to ask if you feel yourself more mexican or american but how much this move influenced your music ?
Well, the only significant difference is in the number and nature of opportunities. It is a LOT easier and cheaper to get quality equipment and instruments here than it was back home. I have also met very valuable people here, especially Jeff Laramee who eventually became our drummer, and many other wonderful players and people here in Baltimore who have supported or influenced me musically, especially Mike Potter and Jay Valenzuela who operate Orion studios, and John Grant who is in charge of Secret sound and with whom I have always collaborated closely on everything involving Sonus Umbra. With the new material especially, he is really getting his hands dirty, trying very interesting tricks and playing more guitar than he did in the past. We have similar "mix" tastes, he's usually excellent at making things sound the way I like them and he's great to work with (when he's awake and his kids are not running around...).

Now letís talk about "Snapshots From Limbo": In most of the songs you suceeded in mixing warm and acoustic sounds, hard and darkish rhythm sections and very progressive keyboards. The result sounds very good and varied. How did you create this beautiful marriage of styles? (Oh yes everybody knows Cokeís formula is a secret, so donít answer if itís a secret too ....) ?
I don't know. This is not a deliberate process and it's certainly not a formula like coca cola's, which is a shame because if it were we would all be very wealthy. With me, it all starts with some melody over a droning chord I hear in my head, usually in response to a feeling. The rest is just trying to move fast enough to capture that feeling in a musical context before it's gone. All of us also come from very varied musical backgrounds. For example, I am totally self-taught, and my favorite band is the Who; evidently, I later fell in love with many others, like Black sabbath, Pink Floyd and Jethro Tull, and therefore I tend to favor composition, delivery and power over precision and chops. Andres, on the other hand, is firmly founded on Cuban folk music, which is mainly acoustic guitars and voice, and his rock interests were always along the lines of bands like Queen, Rush and Peter Gabriel. Ricardo is a classically trained guitarist, and his interests hinge around bands like Led Zeppelin and king Crimson, while jeff is equally influenced by Marillion and Yes as he is by Kiss and Van Halen. He likes to rock, and eventhough Pink Floyd is his favorite band, i don't think he'd like to play such sedate music all the time. What you hear is just a mixture of all these things we grew up on.

Whatís your favourite "Snapshots.." track and why?

I don't really have a favorite. The one that means the most to me, for personal reasons, is "Season in hell". It is sort of part two to "Seven masks", and it chronicles a difficult time in my life, shortly before I moved to the USA. Most people tend to like "Lupus', which naturally makes me appreciate that track more for that reason.

Do you like mexican progressive scene?
I am not very familiar with it, actually, I am embarassed to admit. When we lived and played down there, we always thought we were the only ones playing prog. Nobody else that played with us in the clubs seemed to be interested in that style, except for a band called Viento de Fuego, but they went pop faster than Genesis and with much less commercial success! They lasted even less than Radio Silence, which is pretty sad because they had many amazing, quality players. You did hear about the "dinosaurs" like Iconoclasta or Chac Mool, but they never played anywhere so I couldn't tell you much about them. I know there are many bands down there now, working hard to get heard. I am a big fan of Cabezas de Cera. I think those guys are making very interesting music, and I would like to encourage europeans to give this music a listen. It is, I believe, the best prog being made locally. I also know some of the players in Kromlech, who released an instrumental album "La Soledad de las Sombras" that earned them very good press among the underground, but after their performance at baja I haven't heard anything more about them. I got a CD once by a band called Codice, which was instrumentally great though I wasn't impressed by the lyrics, and of course there is Cast who always organize the Baja prog festival. It is very ironic that discovered these bands when I was living in the USA. In Mexico, we were all ghosts...

What's in your opinion the main difference between european and american/southamerican progressive rock ??
I honestly don't think about music in those terms. When I listen to a band I try to focus on what they do, without thinking about where they are from. Obviously, it's sometimes difficult to ignore nationalities if a band is singing in Hungarian or Italian, but you know what I mean, right? Or put another way, I could say that Scandinavian bands like Anekdoten or Valinor's Tree, say, tend to overindulge in their slow, ponderous 3/4 beats, whereas the Flower Kings or Par Lindh are totally different. My experience so far is that you'll find similar variation anywhere you look, and American bands are certainly no exception. In Baltimore alone you have bands like Iluvatar, Uncle Gut, Chaos Code and Dark Aether Project who share almost no sonic traits.

Which are your worldwide favourite bands and albums, except Radio Silence and Sonus Umbra?
Oh... That's a long one. As I said earlier, I always loved the Who, along with Jethro tull, Black sabbath and Pink Floyd, but there are many many more. Believe it or not, although I absolutely hate almost every hair metal band from the 80's, I am a huge Iron Maiden fan. I am a total Frank Zappa addict. In my opinion, and I know many people would disagree, he could seldom do wrong, just as long as he kept away from orchestras. I love the music of Tom Waits, and "blood money" has to be one of his best albums. I love Discipline, which is Matthew Parmenter's band. You should check out "Unfolded like staircase", which i think is one of the greatest prog albums ever made. I dig Primus and I am always listening to Rush, especially their latest album, Vapor Trails, which is awesome. Of the current "popular" prog bands I really like Spock's Beard, Pain Of Salvation, Porcupine Tree and Dream Theater, although Mike Portnoy is sometimes a chore to watch live when he gets silly. Among the less "popular" I like Echolyn, After Crying, Sleepy Time Gorilla Museum (these guys are KILLER live) and Somnambulist. I have to say that a few Italian bands have a special place in my heart, and none more so than Banco. I had never even heard one of their songs before I saw them perform live at NEARfest, and I almost had tears in my eyes when they were done. Simply unbelievable. I dig Il balletto di bronzo as well. As Chris Lamka (the godfather of Baltimore prog) puts it, it's like ELP if they had been banned to hell.

As far as the best albums? I don't know. I have always believed that "The Dark Side of The Moon" is quite frankly the best album ever made. That one has it all, and it is the only album I could really call a masterpiece in every sense of the word. The rest, who knows? You would have to include "Aqualung" and "Quadrophenia" there somewhere, along with Zappa's "Joe's Garage", "Pros & Cons" by Roger Waters, Marillion's "Misplaced Childhood" and the Beatles "Abbey Road". "Music Must Change", by the Who, is the best song I have ever heard, but I can't say "Who Are You" is such a great album. Very uneven... but anyway, you should get a sense of the sorts of things I like (I hope).

Can you tell me something about the new SU album ? Will the "Snapshots.." lovers find any difference ? Is it true you would have enough material for a double cd ?
Well, there will certainly be many differences. The biggest one is that Pablo Garcia has now officially joined the band. He is really a superb pianist, composer and arranger, so his contributions on all three areas will immediately improve things, and allow me to focus on playing bass. Indeed there is a LOT of material we are recording, and we will release two Cd's, instead of a single double disc. The main logic behind that decision is that we are really not a very well-known band at all, and it would be simply too pretentious to release a double disc. On the other hand, we all liked the music and we have very tight schedules, so we decided to record everything we could now, and just time and spread the releases properly later.

The first release will be called "Spiritual Vertigo", and it will be somewhat similar to "Snapshots" in intent, but with what we think are much stronger songs. The songs on that album are almost finished and are the following: Rust in my Sleep / Fool's Arcadia / Self-erosion / Snakes and Ladders / Timequake / Man of Anger and Light / Amnesia Junkies / Dark Tide / Fascinoma / Bone Machines

The other release is a "concept" album. It's a very creepy, disturbing story, about a murderer from the past with multiple personalities and a kid in the present who finds his diary and gets inexorably drawn into a world that both terrifies and fascinates his young mind. This is a story that me and Andres have been developing for some time and has what I think is the best musical material we have ever worked on, so we'll take our time to make sure we get every detail just right. Pablo will be adding a lot of his strange ambiental work to make it a real trip on headphones, and the tentative title for that album is "The invisible world". I can't tell you when exactly these will be out because we all have other jobs, so we can only do this in short controlled bursts, but hopefully by the end of the year, at least the Spiritual Vertigo disc will be finished and ready.

Always for Musea records?

Bernard Gueffier, who is the president of MUSEA, is a terrific person, and he is honest to a fault. Both of these qualities are rare, especially in the business world. We are greatly indebted to Vitaly Menshikov of the webzine Progressor, for having put is in contact with him, and having said enough good things about us to merit his interest. Our contract is only for Snapshots, so we'll have to wait and see if he's interested in the new material. I am also starting a small label called Out of Phase with Mike Galway and David Grollman, who are my friends and bandmates in Uncle Gut, that will handle all distribution of the new Sonus material in the USA, but we could really use Bernard's help and experience elsewhere!!

Are you planning tour dates after the new album? What about European dates ?
There is nothing I would enjoy more than to be able to perform this music live, and of course Europe would be great. Unfortunately, this could be problematic in a finantial sense, but one never knows... the bottom line is that whether we tour the USA or Europe we would need to play in support of a well-known act. We just wouldn't have the necessary draw otherwise to prevent us from going totally bankrupt, playing in a bunch of empty rooms. Sad but true...

Iím so much looking forward to see you in concert that I could arrange a small stage in my garden but maybe my wife wouldnít be happy....ah ah...
Just tell your wife we'll do a nice, civilized unplugged set. Then when we rock out, it will be too late...

Have you ever been to Italy even if as tourist only ?
As far as being in Italy, I have to say it is a fantastic place, and I'm not saying this to be a kiss ass - I really mean it! I have been to Rome which is just unbelievable, to Florence, Siena and Venice, plus a bunch of smaller cities that you pass by on the train. Venice was very interesting. Ursula (my wife) and I went there in the summer of 1997, and we were warned that the canals smell, and that it's a tourist trap, but that's all just a bunch of crap. In fact, the only really malodorous things I encountered in Europe were inevitably parisian, so don't buy the hype! The city of Venice is truly spectacular, almost magical, and if you avoid the tourists and follow the construction workers, you can end up having fantastic meals and seeing many other aspects, besides the "usual", canonical attractions. And that's just it, you know? even if you are not interested in culture or architecture, the coffee, food and wine alone are worth twice what you pay for in air fare. Best of all, the people tend to be very warm and funny, in spite of their fashion and catholic obsessions. I swear I saw designer sandals for priests on sale near the vatican. Unreal. Extremely vocal people everywhere, who love to yell and gesticulate when they talk, and who are all very human. In Rome we were staying in a convent (don't ask me why, Ursula made the arrangements...), and as soon as she saw me, the mother superior made the remark that I looked like Jesus Christ, only "bien alimentati". It thought it was great, and now every time I see Pavarotti on TV I have to laugh. I really enjoyed the time I spent interacting with italians. You guys aren't terrified of ridicule, nor obsessed with privacy and germs and television like Americans. People are kind to cats on the streets, plus you guys gave birth to Banco, so yeah, I'll go back there the first chance I get.

Thank you very much, Luis. Hope to hear from you soon...
Dear Luca, it has been a pleasure.

Luca Alberici