Following their first live performance with a full line-up since 2003, the Argentine trio of Alan Courtis, Rob Conlazo and Miguel Tomasín tell Hernan Muleiro about their six CD box set, how they met Pauline Oliveros, and what they want for Christmas
South American underground legends Reynols returned to the stage for two baffling nights at the Malba Museum in Buenos Aires on 3 and 5 June. On the first night they performed an a cappella participatory piece called “Reynols Plays The Audience”, and their second was with their full original line-up. They had not performed as such since 2003 – percussionist and front man Miguel Tomasín has Down's Syndrome and does not travel without his mother – and audience expectations were high. After all, Reynols had more than 25 years’ experience making music with meteors, graves, chickens and maggots, among many other things.
Alan Courtis and Rob Conlazo played guitars, with Conlazo's brother Pacu and Miguel Tomasín on percussion – the latter’s rendition of “Bésame Mucho” captured the original romantic spirit of the bolero – before a sellout audience made up of a strange mix of record collectors, aristocrats, art students and original fans who fell in love with the band that showed them a musical route outside the established norm.
These performances coincided with the release of Reynols’ six CD and DVD box set Minecxio Emancipations on Lasse Marhaug’s Pica disk label. The group also plan to release new works with Acid Mothers Temple, and Courtis has written a foreword to the first Spanish edition of Pauline Oliveros´s book Deep Listening.
The interview mainly took place in a library bar and at the apartment that Tomasín shares with his mother near the geographical centre of Buenos Aires.
What do you remember of Reynols first encounter with Pauline Oliveros?
Alan Courtis: We were between 20–25 years old. I am still amazed that Pauline, coming from an academic world, adopted us and we were from a totally different place. To have a full understanding of the book you have to understand the new age concept in the context of the ‘hamburger country’.
Rob Conlazo: To me she was unstoppable, like a cosmic tornado. She told us she was our Astral Grandmother. We ended up doing a workshop where Pauline invited her mum and we made the audience listen to the sound of the blender in the bar. One of the strangest experiences with Reynols was singing in a house where the reverberance lasted for days and days.
You’ve always shown an affinity between Reynols and certain experimentation in early Argentinian rock.
Courtis: Well, the Argentinian rock [scene] wasn’t too fond of creative artists, maybe they valued them later but not at the moment. Like the record Tontos (Operita) by Billy Bond y La Pesada, it wasn’t properly valued at the time. There were always vested interest in the middle, and the important works were not going for that road. Another example is the local rock pioneer Pajarito Zaguri (Los Beatniks, Piel de Pueblo, etc.) with whom we played. He had a special touch when he played electric guitar.
Conlazo: He was a true rock ’n’ roll pioneer, we used to hand him this messed up Fender, with a Roland Jazz Chorus 120 and a distortion pedal, and he got some amazing sounds out of it. He was very underestimated as a guitar player.
When you started with Reynols which bands were best known locally?
Courtis: I don´t even remember. We really were not interested in what was happening locally and we wanted to try something else. In the box set there is something from that time 1993–1994.
Conlazo: Some regular blues bands. At the time we were an odd act even for outsider festivals. I remember we went to a gig with a trumpet, trombone and flugelhorn, without amplifiers. Five minutes into the show the people were wondering when we start, and 15 minutes later they were whistling at us. It was like free jazz from Kubrick, but free of the free. Now that I think about it, the common denominator is to go to a place to play until we get thrown out, but without it being planned. We started in an era where there were lots of new bands with great press support, and some of them got to be famous.
Courtis: We were never a commercial band.
The box set features the 10,000 chicken symphony, how did that idea came about?
Conlazo: I was dating this woman whose family owned an enormous chicken farm and we decided to record it. 10,000 chickens sounds like a lot here in the city, if they decided to attack the people on the avenue, but on a farm they are not as much.
Courtis: It was two blocks of chickens, the part featured on the box set is the 10,000 Chickens Symphony In C.
What can you tell me about the musical guests featured on the box set?
Courtis: One is Nelson Gastaldi, a very interesting musician. He made symphonies but never worked with an orchestra.
Conlazo: Another one is Jazzy Mel. When we started he was having some pop hits as a rapper, people chanted against him in soccer stadiums, and he was being called Vanilla Ice in a derogatory way. As you can hear on the record, he is an extraordinary synth player.
How is the musical relationship with Tomasín?
Courtis: Miguel powers our creativity. He put us in a no limits place, everything goes through a process of quality control. How would you call it? Rock? Improvisation? Contemporary? I don’t know. In Tomasín’s case there is no way to explain it, rationally, that is. Sometimes Miguel is not even singing in Spanish – he is inventing his own words
How did the local press react to Reynols?
Conlazo: Some had more enthusiasm, some had more…
Conlazo: And some outright hated us. We were at the (music exchange fair) Parque Rivadavia, we came in with tapes and were like pre-YouTubers. For example I have sold [Einstürzende] Neubauten tapes to this dude that worked in construction. He came in later, thanked me and said, ‘It’s a pleasure to work with this music.’ In the park some member of the press told us, ‘Why don’t you send Sonic Youth your tapes?’ And we told them: ‘Sonic youth is gonna come here to look for the tapes.’ And then Thurston Moore was there searching for them a year and a half later. It caused some resentment in the music press.
What is the biggest misunderstanding about Reynols?
Conlazo: The biggest misunderstanding is that people say we included Tomasín, but in fact they are forgetting he is the one including us.
Courtis: Our sound is not like anything else. There are no copies. When we started, we made our first record in our first rehearsal without knowing it.
Conlazo: For the Malba show we didn’t know if Tomasín was going to play. Because he has different priorities: if he wants a strawberry Frapuccino and there’s no way to get it, maybe he won’t go onstage. It is crazy, I really do not know any band that works like we do. There is something else unique. Tomasín hasn’t gone to any of the shows that we played with Courtis in other countries, but the phenomenon happens anyway. It’s like a lightning strike, we can´t control it.
In the DVD there is a clip where I see you guys performing in plaza Francia, Buenos Aires. What was the reaction?
Conlazo: Well there were diverse reactions: some people liked it, some people hated it and a Police officer stopped one of the performances, threatening to take us to jail for ‘giving a terrible image of Argentina to the world”. This can be heard on the fourth track of CD1 of the box set.
Courtis: Dogs barked at us while we played through portable Marshall amps. Another time we made music with vegetables.
Alan [Courtis], you have toured USA recently, what music did you listen on tour?
Courtis: Travelling with Bardo Pond’s drummer I listened to Chubby Checker´s Chequered. I could not believe when I first heard it that he had made a psychedelic record in 1971.
Conlazo: He became famous for the limbo rock. I remember watching TV when we started the band, Chubby was promoting this frisbee that you put on the floor and it moves, so you can learn to dance the twist or the limbo rock while doing physical exercise. He sold millions of those. I also love him because he is in german at the start of The Residents’ The Third Reich Rock ’N’ Roll.
Miguel [Tomasín], you lived in England in the late 1970s, what do you remember from that time?
Miguel Tomasín: I went to a school there, we used to call the bus driver ‘big burger’. The punks were on it with the rage, they were bold with a streak of hair. I liked the way they looked and dressed
How did you find the Malba show?
Tomasín: Fine, great, I have a good time with them. I have been playing with the band since I was ten.
Conlazo: Miguel played in his first show with Reynols with the drum sticks he made by ripping the bars of his cradle.
Miguel, do you want to keep playing?
Tomasín: Yes, I am playing now.
Conlazo: Do you want to play live?
Tomasín: I did go to the last two shows. The museum lady was really good to me. She told me like six words: ‘Do you like to play music?’ Playing with these two is great, there are lots of fans, I sign autographs everywhere, in the taxi, in the market.
Courtis: How many records do Reynols have?
Tomasín: [he exaggerates] 640,000 records; they all got sold. We asked ourselves, ‘what shall we do? 100 CD units or 100 units of nothing?’ So we set up a place to sell CDs with 100% discount.
Miguel, what is your favourite music?
Tomasín: Ah, yes, it was in 1962 [editor’s note: two years before he was born]. I like Glenn Miller, Super Abba, Electric Light Orchestra, Marco Antonio Solís, Louis Armstrong. We have to put them all on Facebook.
How do you see Reynols in 20 years?
Tomasín: I imagine more in terms of 2020, Christmas/New Year. All Reynols want is presents. I would like percussion, the timbales, acoustics and a xylophone. From Alan I will ask for an inflatable puppet and for Rob a clown costume.
Miguel, sometime ago you wanted to change the name of the band to The Beatles?
Tomasín: Yeah, to me they are the best. Ringo has played since I was born. I would like to put together a band like that. Are you on? I am going to have two musicians in one room and one musician alone in another. I'll play the drums. Also I want Raphael to play. I have a message for Ringo: I want him in my band. Do you know how to sing like The Beatles?
Courtis: Miguel, how would you describe the music you play?
Tomasín: I play my music; nothing more. Alan also plays very good mambo and jazz, and everything.
Did you like recording with Acid Mothers Temple?
Tomasín: Yes, why wouldn't I? I have the CDs of what we did; the mixes. My mum loves them. She is happy.
Conlazo: The music sounded like a jet engine. I imagined there was a jet engine and Miguel was throwing records at it like Frisbees – all kinds of records, from Bo Diddley to Stockhausen.
Courtis: We’re now mixing that recording and mastering for vinyl.
Conlazo: Yes, it will be Acid Mothers Reynols Vol 1 and also there’s a film coming out, Live And Beyond, that documents the meeting.
Do you know that in Japan, like in other countries, they would love to see you play live?
Tomasín: Nope buddy, I don’t ever want to go. My mum doesn’t like me going and I don’t go anywhere without my mum. I will live here forever in the present. I don’t like the future let’s not talk about this. In the future Rob [Conlazo] will be travelling alone.