Monday, October 8, 2012

Email Interview: Rebeca Suarez (Palankeen/Mostecelo)

For a while now, I've been thinking about expanding the content of this blog a little.  Don't get me wrong: reviews of live shows will always be the bread and butter of HCTD.  As I hope my previous posts indicate, that's where the real action is.  With live music starting to wind down a bit, however (not to mention with my day job putting restrictions on how late I can stay out), you may see a CD review here, an interview there over the months to come.  Which brings me to this post.

I've wanted to interview Rebeca Suarez of Palankeen (formerly Mostecelo) since I saw her perform at the Red Room's Atypical Tuesday in May.  Her album The Last Possible Tense got played pretty regularly at my house and in my car during the summer.  Drawing from European and classical music as well as from folk (from what my untrained ears can tell, anyway), Suarez's mature, sardonic, occasionally heartbreaking songs stand alone in the Boise music scene.  She really doesn't sound like anyone else around this town.

I caught the tail end of Palankeen's performance at the Red Room last month.  Not only did the songs sound as good as I remembered, they took on an extra power thanks to the support of two musicians on drums and keyboard.  As Rebeca Suarez mentions below, the three of them have started work on the material for Palankeen's second album.  I can't wait to hear the results.

Anyway, without further ado, here's the interview:

It's been a while since the Red Room show back in May.  What's been going on since then?

Well... a lot, and not much.  My kids got out of school at the beginning of June, and when they're home it's hard to get anything done.  So the things I did do were more along the lines of camping, being a chaffeur back and forth to the swimming pool, and generally just trying to keep things interesting for them.  I did, however, manage to write one new song, do a little bit of recording for the next album, and I've been working on a couple of Chopin pieces on the piano... Something I've always wanted to do.

I understand that you've recently changed your stage name from Mostecelo to Palankeen.  What prompted the change?  And what does "Palankeen" mean?

Mostecelo was the name of a creature that my daughter invented when we still lived in Spain.  Everyone over there could pronounce it and I liked the sound of it.  But since we've moved back to the States, no one here seems to be able to say it or remember it, so I had been thinking of changing it for a while.  Now that I have a band and things are evolving, it seems like a good time to go ahead and make the change.  A "palanQUIN" is a carriage that is set on poles and carried by servants.  I changed the spelling, so for the purpose of the band, it has no meaning... or I suppose I could attach some meaning to it at some point.  But to be honest, I just really love the way the word sounds: it's easy to say, unpretentious, and has a great ring to it.

I've read that Stewart Copeland (or a picture of him, anyway) inspired you to become a musician.  Who else has inspired you?

Wow, that's a really long list.  I'm influenced by so many things.  Sometimes I'll hear some godawful song that my kids are listening to on the radio but there will be some tiny part in it--maybe a drum beat or a bassline--that is really cool and it will give me an idea.  A few favorites that come to mind immediately are Queen, I've been really into Henryk Gorecki lately, classical music is a very big inspiration... There have been so many artists that have inspired me over the years, but if I were to boil it down to one album that has made an impression on me more than any other, one that I go back to over and over again, it's The Juliet Letters by Elvis Costello with the Brodsky Quartet.  I'm a big fan of Elvis Costello.  Not to say that I love all of his work--in fact, there's a pretty large portion of his work that I don't like at all--but that album is a masterpiece.

Tell me a little about your musical background.  Did you go to school?  What kinds of bands have you been in?

I've always wanted to be a musician/singer for as long as I can remember.  My parents had been involved in musical theatre since I was tiny.  My stepdad is a jazz musician, his sister was my piano teacher, I started ballet at age 5 and played in band throughout school.  So the more traditional forms of music were my biggest influences growing up.  Though I've never been fond of jazz, I've always loved classical music.  Of course, once I got into junior high and high school, I branched way out.  Once I got to college, I had no interest in studying music formally.  I was turned off by the classical world.  I don't think I have what it takes to succeed in that discipline.  I majored in fine arts with an emphasis in photography, which was my focus for quite a few years.

As far as bands I've been in, there's been nothing I've honestly enjoyed until I started doing my own thing.

You mention on your Facebook page that you've done a fair amount of touring.  Where have you gone?  Any memories you're comfortable sharing?

I don't think the page says anything about touring.  I've just performed in the different places I've lived, which involves a few different continents.  When I lived in Venezuela, I sang for different Flamenco performance groups and that occasionally involved travel, but nothing major.  I think the most interesting experiences I've had have been studying music.  Especially in Ghana and Spain.  I studied Flamenco pretty intensively for two years and that was probably the most intense ego-crushing/soul-expanding study experience I've ever had.  I'm so grateful for it and my ability has grown so much because of it, but I think I'm still suffering from PTSD.  They're pretty hardcore over there.

When did you decide to go solo?  And when did you start writing your own songs?

Going solo just sort of happened.  I was a late bloomer.  I didn't decide to actively pursue performing until I was already in my early 30's.  I had only been in one band, a folk band, because I wanted to sing in Spanish, but it was a disaster and I ended up singing music I really didn't like.  Then I played with another friend but when that fell apart I finally decided to learn how to play guitar so I could accompany myself.  I built up a repertoire and started playing Latin American music around town just to make money.  Then I decided to see if I could write a song, something I had never considered before, then I wrote a few more, all terrible... After I moved to Venezuela in 2005 is when I think I started to find some kind of voice of my own and the songs started to get a little better.  That's when it occurred to me that maybe I should really pay attention to this and give it more energy... that maybe it was something I really could do.

Which of your songs do you like most (or, if you prefer, do you hate least)?

Usually the song I like the most is whatever is newest because I'm not sick of it yet.  From the last album, the song I like best is "Chickadee."  I've listened to it many, many times but I still think it's a good song.  There are several songs on the album that I'm not crazy about.  Many of them are old and don't really represent who I am anymore, but I decided to leave them as a record of who I was.  I feel like I'm just now really getting the hang of songwriting.  The process is becoming much more fluid and I'm really happy with what I've written over the last year or so.  Of the songs I haven't recorded yet, I think my favorite is "Baruch in the Northern Lights."  I based it on two characters from His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman.

Is there anything that you're working on right now?

I'm working on all kinds of things right now that probably wouldn't interest you.  :)  But I assume you mean musically... I have started recording the new album, but I'm not very far into it yet.  I have a new song I'm working on, so of course since it's new, I'm excited about it.  But the really exciting thing is that I'm working on it with my band!  I have two new members, Julianna Thomas and Derren Crosby.

Is there anything you'd like to say to the people out there?

Well, I feel kind of presumptuous saying things to people who haven't asked me anything, so maybe I'll make a request instead... Please make an effort to get out and see things.  Make an effort to pay for things.  A friend of mine made a good observation not too long ago.  He said people complain about a $10 door cover to see a band or some other kind of performance, but they'll drop 40 bucks for booze without even thinking.  There are people out there busting their ass to enrich our lives and make this town a more interesting place.  Please think about that, and consider what life would be like without these people.  Where you choose to place your support and money has a direct effect on the quality of life of everyone in this town.

You can find info on Palankeen/Mostecelo on Facebook and elsewhere online (search under Mostecelo for now).  You can listen to and purchase The Last Possible Tense here.  All photo used with the kind permission of Rebeca Suarez.

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