Name: Mariuca García-Lomas & Ignacio Simón (Northwest)
Current Release: Tempel Artes, self-released
Recommendation: Stalker (1979) by Tarkovsky/ Status Asleep by Sternpost
Website/Contact: Visit Northwest online at their website thisisnorthwest.com
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What is it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
We both started making music little by little and learned everything by ourselves in the beginning. Ignacio used to play guitar and started experimenting with production and composition when he was around 19 years old. I started writing lyrics very young, when I was 6 years old, but I didn’t learn how to translate that into actual sound until I was around 22. I would say I started properly producing when I was almost 25. We started Northwest around 2015 when we moved from Spain to the UK.
Our early influences were The Beatles, Radiohead, Jeff Buckley and I was also listening to a lot of Aphex Twin and Grimes when I started producing.
I think I’ve been in love with music since I can remember. On one hand, listening to music was and still is a way for me to feel less alone in the world, to feel connected and also to just feel; music makes me feel so many deep things, it’s kind of a primitive universal language beyond words. On the other hand, creating music is therapeutic for me, it’s like something I need, especially when I’m sad or very happy, I need to get that emotion out and transform it into something I can understand. And when I was younger, it was also a way to procrastinate and not do my homework.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
That’s a very good question. I think for me it’s an ongoing process. Firstly, we just started making music without any pretentions; just making what we wanted to make the best way we could. Slowly, you start learning, seeing patterns, getting better and others start to see it too and now we look back and can see the progress and understand that we were unconsciously defining our own “voice” (whatever that means). But it’s a never-ending process and that’s the fun part of all of this. You never stop learning.
Being myself comes hand-in-hand with loving yourself, which used to be very hard for me but I’m getting better at it with time. Being yourself is about bravery. I’m experimenting with giving myself permission to be bad. I now make conscious decisions to be brave and take risks when I’m recording. I don’t want to make something that has already been made, paraphrasing St Vincent “I don’t want to be a cheerleader no more”. It’s true that nothing is 100% original, everything has a background behind that you cannot remove, but the kind of people we admire, the people we hope to become one day, have something in common and I think that thing is: they were able to change art / music history by not being afraid to fail. We, humans, have an incredible mental power and we shouldn’t be afraid to unleash that and see where it takes us.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
In the very beginning, my biggest challenge was understanding the basics of music theory and how to control the software. I had ideas in my mind but it was really difficult to realise them. Ignacio’s biggest challenges were the lack of self-confidence when it came to mixing and mastering and also the lack of stimulating people around him with whom he could create with and learn from.
Coming together to create Northwest was one of the best things we’ve done for ourselves because we have found in each other and what we were looking for.
What was your first studio like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
Mariuca: My first studio was my room in my parent’s house in Madrid. It was very basic: a Casio Casiotone 405 that belonged to my father, my phone, a voice recorder and my Macbook Pro with Garage band, I didn’t even have a sound interface. The reason my set-up has evolved is my desire to get better at what I love (composition and production) and learn new skills. The most important piece of gear at the moment is my computer for sure. That’s the pivotal part of the equation for me.
Ignacio: My first studio was in my parent’s basement. I recorded my first EP with just a pc, a pc microphone, an electric guitar and Kool Edit. As technology has evolved over the years, I’ve been able to get better at my production skills. What a computer is able to do in 2019 for an affordable price, it was impossible in 2003 when I began producing, so that’s a really important development that has really helped me. Nonetheless, my most important gear is still the guitar for me.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
Machines are made by humans so, really, humans are the only ones excelling at whatever we’re excelling at. When a human competes with a machine, what he’s really doing is competing with another human, a team of humans or himself or maybe even all of them at the same time.
Machines can of course excel, but because there’s a human behind it either making the machine, programming it, feeding information to the machine or using a machine made by another human in an excellent way.
I try to use technology in my favour, but it’s not always easy. In fact, it’s becoming harder to individually fight against them taking your time, attention and mental health away from you as some tech companies - especially some social media platforms - are accumulating more and more power. It’s me as an individual versus a huge corporation, huge companies, teams of psychologists and experts whose whole business is based on stealing my time and attention and changing my behaviour. So, it’s hard and I struggle a lot, but I have my tricks like not having internet or a phone in my studio or using social media like a ninja: just log in, do that thing you want to do and log out. Don’t look at the shiny things, you know... haha. Just focus and get out. But it’s a daily struggle and I’m hopeful they’ll change their business model in the future, so we can enjoy the positives without the negatives.
I use technology a lot. I use a computer, lots of software (for music, writing, editing photos, editing video, coding websites…), sound interface, midi controllers, headphones, studio monitors, microphones, my phone and some apps, search engines, social media platforms, music distribution sites...
Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process. How does this manifest itself in your work? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
What is a tool? The voice, the human body, is a tool, isn’t it? So really there’s no music without tools. What I’ve been learning lately regarding this question is that I seem to be able to focus more and be more effective by limiting the number of tools I use. As the saying goes: less is more.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
Northwest is a magical collaboration for me. We’ve been able to create something that we cannot replicate by ourselves and that is magic for me; when two minds are able to add and not subtract and create a thing that stands for itself. I always look for that when I collaborate with other artists, not only with musicians but filmmakers, dancers, photographers. I always ask myself how can I give the best of me and he/she/they can give their best and mix that in a way we can create something better or different than what we do by ourselves. What’s the point of collaborating if you’re going to do the same thing you can do by yourself?
That being said, the specific technical ways of collaborating depend on the kind of collaboration. If it’s music, I usually collaborate through file sharing (emails, dropbox, etc) because I like to create in solitude. I can get weird and free when nobody is looking. But in film, it’s almost impossible to collaborate without being in the same room, so it’s usually a face to face collaboration and a lot of skype calls and things like that.
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
It depends if we’re in England house-sitting or touring.
When we’re touring, it’s very hectic. We wake up, drive for 5-6 hours, get to a venue, meet the people there, do the sound check and all the technical things, then have dinner, then we play for an hour or more, then we meet and hang out with the people that have come to see us. We have to clear all the stage and take all of our instruments and gear to the car and go back to the hotel and you do more or less the same for a month. It doesn’t sound very romantic like that but it’s actually super fun to tour and meet amazing people and cry with strangers and live all sorts of adventures. What I have described is a template of a normal touring day but it’s never “normal”, sometimes you end up sleeping at 6am at a squat house and other times you sleep in the best hotel in town and other times you get lost in the mountains between Montenegro and Bosnia in the middle of winter at -12 degrees.
When we’re housesitting in England, we normally wake up and have breakfast, then start working on whatever needs to be done that day which right now is: sending a lot of emails because we’re promoting our single Pyramid, recording some vocals for our next album, mixing, mastering, working in our solo projects (both Ignacio and I have solo projects), preparing and sending CDs, working on the soundtracks we’re currently doing, working on our next music video or video-art piece…
There’s a lot of work when you’re your own label, PR, manager, producer, mixer, designer, music video director… It’s a lot, but it’s worth every second. We’d rather be doing this than having a “normal” job, and if this is what it takes, we’ll happily do it. We stop to have a quick lunch, then we keep working till late evening. I normally do some exercise (I’m trying to learn how to dance properly so I’m doing a lot of ballet tutorials on YouTube) and we make dinner, watch The Simpsons or a movie and then keep working. We work a lot and we don’t take many days off. But I think we’re getting better at finding a balance between work and rest and health. I personally need to sleep, eat and rest a little bit in order to create something worthwhile, if I’m not getting enough of the three I get depressed. Everything influences our music, you cannot separate the artist from the art.