By: Camila Álvarez
When I think about Yoán Moreno (drums/synths) and Jordan Chymczuk (guitar), the two musical bosses behind Copán, I think mainly of one word: admiration. Their innate love and care for their craft, their ability to delve into books and their roots to find inspiration to make their music unique and powerful, the way they hold and play their instruments as if they had been an extension of their limbs during their past seven lives, and more importantly, their dedication and resilience—their stubborn conviction of staying true to their taste and vision no matter what, are things that have me convinced that someone somewhere will recognize their talent and help them bloom as they should.
As they will.
Copán started in Miami in August 2011… “That month we had all of our gear in my abuelos’ (grandparent’s) living room. They were in Colombia at the time and I was watching their house––walking distance from my house and Jordan’s. We were actually collaborating on each other’s solo records, but we got into the habit of jamming––improvising.”
Big changes took place in 2013. Jordan and Yoán decided to dedicate their lives wholeheartedly to the group and moved to New York, Yoán broke his hand, and Anthony, the bass player, felt he couldn’t give that next step and left the band…
“We lost two big parts of Copán at once. All of the material we had written became unplayable and we had to start from scratch. I incorporated a keyboard into my drum set and started to play it with my broken hand, running it through different pedals including a looper. This allowed me to stack more than just bass, but synthesizers, pianos, etc. Since then my hand has healed and Jordan and I have evolved as song writers. We’ve spent all the time since we moved to New York working on our new record, The Outskirts.”
The Record is inspired by the depression caused by the grayness and solitude, and the discomfort of living in a huge city indifferent to their struggle.
We chatted with Yoán about Copán’s new record, their life in New York as emerging musicians, his view on the miami music scene, and the influence of literature on their music…
Don’t miss them live on Sunday, October 11th at iii Points!
The Outskirts…what’s up with this new record, tell us a little bit about it…
In a way, The Outskirts is about the adaptations we had to make to survive as a band, and as people, after our second record. Jordan and I came to New York at 21. We came as outsiders with no connections. We didn’t know anyone here and we didn’t have any goals besides playing shows and earning Copán some recognition. But New York is a tough city and it’s a rough living. It’s different in every way from Miami. The way we had come up, having family, friends, driving our gear to shows, being invited to play house parties, knowing other bands. None of that exists here (for us). We don’t get to play our equipment––we play whatever the bar has, and whatever they don’t have we bring, on the train. And it’s not 75 degrees in January, it’s 4. And the trains don’t run regularly. And we can’t rehearse at home, because having a house is impossible. The discomfort of New York, of working two jobs, of months of ice and grayness, of solitude, of the indifference of the people here, is the context of The Outskirts.
The record is our resistance as outsiders, as natives of the outskirts, as Miamians in New York. And the sound reflects all of this: depression, heritage, anger, hope.The Outskirts is the most complete record we’ve ever made.
How is this record different from your 2 previous records, sonically and conceptually?
Our first record, Performance, is a live record. We recorded it live in my abuelos’ living room. Its title and concept originate in that, at that time, Copán was coming to understand itself as an immaterial entity. We’d been playing for a year and a half, but had no record out and so if you wanted to hear us, you had to see us live. Copán had no objects; we only existed for 30 minute sets. And when we finally recorded, we wanted to capture that fire, that time-warping energy. That record is pure force and it takes as much energy to listen to it as to play it live.
Aire was recorded four months after Performance, but is fairly different. By then we had become interested in slowing down, and in stretching all the parts out (almost into air, hence the title). It was basically our version of Drone. We were doing a lot of repetition and, on a subconscious level, it was probably the beginning of our descent into loops. Aire was definitely recorded too soon, and I think you can hear its underdevelopment. But given the circumstances, it had to be that way. It’s a photograph of what we sounded like right before we became a two-piece and left Miami.
The Outskirts is resistance and control. Its sound comes in written waves. Sonically, The Outskirts is a beach-oasis somewhere between the hurricane of Performance and the drought of Aire. And it is much more elaborate, evocative and inviting than either of the previous records. Conceptually, it differs in that since we moved here, we’ve had to continuously fight to keep playing music, and to live, and so we haven’t been as concerned with the theoretical implications of our music, but rather with keeping it alive, keeping it from getting sick. When you listen to The Outskirts and compare it to our previous records, you will hear the care and the time that we put into it, the resistance and control that we exercised over it.
*Listen to the full new album here!
You moved from Miami to NY 2 years ago, hoping to find it easier to “make it” as a musician. How has that been going?
We often joke that we didn’t move to New York, but that we’re just on the slowest tour, ever.
Copán has not integrated into the New York scene. Though there are literally thousands of bands here, there is one particular, over-arching taste of Brooklynites: indie. Copán and the indie crowd (here) just don’t mesh well. Our performance has an aggressive quality that comes out of the raw, Miami punk tradition: go faster and harder, hit something, throw yourself into someone––find a way to get outside of yourself. (Watch Bootsie Castillo perform anything.) And we just haven’t found too many people at our NY shows that want to access that trance state, that want to lose track of time. (Or maybe we’re the problem.) Because we go back to play and maintain all of our ties, we still feel like a Miami band. Moreover, we still feel like that savage band on floor. And NY hasn’t let us play on the floor. No time for that, here: get on, get off––next.
On a personal level, though, in New York we’ve changed for the better. Because of our restrictions, we’ve picked up new instruments, and we’ve had more time to develop our personalities, tastes and sound. We’ve also made some allies here: Bodega Dream, Daniel Lopera, Brandon Paul Martínez. (Hilariously, they are all from Miami.)
Though we don’t plan to say, it was worth coming: we were able to make our best record here.
“The betterment of Miami’s scene is ultimately contingent upon its musicians and, fortunately, Miami is organizing itself to produce elements of continuity and consequence: XYZA, III Points, Churchill’s, Bardot, labels like Wynwood Records and No Work Records putting together rosters and making albums. Nunhex just toured in Argentina and Chile, for fuck’s sake! Things are moving. Miami is small––people collaborate––and that is its strength. I just think they (we) need to continue pushing each other’s creative limits, not get comfortable, keep resisting.”
What do you think about the music scene in Miami now that you are seeing it from an outside perspective?
Though it is starting to get over it, Miami has the memorias del subdesarrollo (memories of the underdevelopment) syndrome: a lack of continuity and consequence that breed underdevelopment in its music-life. Every time I go back to Miami, I always want to play at a different spot, but then I find out it doesn’t exist anymore (how many spaces have gone in the last two years?). When Churchill’s was sold everyone freaked out. I think everyone was reacting, on a subconscious level, to the enormous threat of losing the one place that has been continuously experimental in Miami since 1979 (which might as well be from time immemorial since no one remembers it opening). Churchill’s is a dependable outlet; you can perform anything there. If people don’t like it, fuck it, but you can perform it, which is an immense go-ahead on creativity and imagination. Not everyone realizes this, but the people that do, run with it. Look at the International Noise Conference, Rat Bastard and Kenny Millions, people like that. A dose of continuity in the music environment will help develop Miami’s sounds.
On the front of consequence, I think III Points is starting taking care of that by putting people from the city up on stages with relevant, international acts. This forces the local music, already talented, to push itself to match up with the big acts. Beyond that, it makes the artists feel something more may come of their performances. It gives the artists hope of expanding their audience and meeting musicians they admire, gives them a goal to work toward––in a word, consequence. Otherwise, musicians can get discouraged and feel their performances are fulfilling, but ultimately pointless. This in turn affects show attendance, because no one wants to watch an artist play the same set every weekend at a venue that will shut down, anyway. The gravity of III Points, or events like it, is that the artist feels the pressure to work and it demands of them dedication.
The betterment of Miami’s scene is ultimately contingent upon its musicians and, fortunately, Miami is organizing itself to produce elements of continuity and consequence: XYZA, III Points, Churchill’s, Bardot, labels like Wynwood Records and No Work Records putting together rosters and making albums. Nunhex just toured in Argentina and Chile, for fuck’s sake! Things are moving. Miami is small––people collaborate––and that is its strength. I just think they (we) need to continue pushing each other’s creative limits, not get comfortable, keep resisting.
Como decía Lezama Lima: sólo lo difícil es estimulante…
I know you’re into Latin American literature. How does that influence your musical creations? (if it does)
We’re both pretty avid readers. While Jordan is more of a generalist, and dabbles in history as much as literature, I spend almost all of my time reading Latin American fiction.
Literature has a huge influence on our music. But it’s really during the critical process––when we’re discussing why a certain rhythm worked, why a song has a certain name, what color a song is––that we see the links.
Sometimes its clear: “Caborca” and “Figura en blanco” are references to Roberto Bolaño’s desert-novel Los detectives salvajes. So was the cover of Aire.
But sometimes its uncanny. I’ll never forget how illuminated we felt when I read José Lezama Lima’s essay “Complejo y complicado” and discussed it with Jordan. In it Lezama talks about two forms of composition, one that is epiphany-based and one that is insinuation-based. The complex writer receives complete images (no las piensa, se le ocurren) (he doesn’t think about them, he just sees them), whereas the complicated writer is subject only to insinuations, little bits of an image that he then struggles to complete. By Lezama’s definition, Copán is complex. When we write new material, we improvise patiently until it happens: the song emerges. We revise, of course, but the essence of the song, the full image of it, its timbre, simply emerges. That day, through literature, we found a way to identify something we’d been doing for a long time.
Every Copán record has a prose counterpart. On Performance, it’s included as a PDF with the digital download. Aire’s story––a loop story of a guy lost in the desert––was never released. I’m currently writing a narrative of The Outskirts.
Tell us a little bit about working with Jordan…what roles does each of you play in the creative process?
Because Jordan and I live together, Copán is ostensibly always at work. We don’t play everyday, but we talk about the material constantly. We practice at a rental space once a week for two hours, where we rehearse the completed material, and improvise or change parts. After practice we continue to think about the music, often triggering sudden ideas and text messages or comments to each other: “what about if we….” Our songs are always up for revision. “Manos Muertas,” off the new record, has been in revision since we recorded our first record (January 2013). At one point, it was 30 minutes long.
Revision and writing, however, are different. We usually write the new material at home, where we’re not paying by the hour. In the beginning, I show jordan a new loop, a couple of drum parts, and basically present him with some sketches that have come to me through solo improvisations. Then Jordan finds a sound, or a set of sounds, and begins writing his parts. Once we catch hold of a basic structure we start improvising together. Anything goes, but we’re very selective as to what makes it into the final song.
Then we continue revising for as long as it takes. At some point, when we feel the song satisfies us, its “done.” But again, everything is up for revision, even after its been recorded. All the material is living.
How was the experience of recording at SpeakerSonic Studios?
SpeakerSonic Studios is located inside what used to be a giant pharmaceutical factory. Some of the building’s spaces have been rented out but most of it is empty and dilapidated. Tucked away in a corner of the second floor, separated from the rest of the tenants by a giant empty dining hall and dark locker room without walls, is SpeakerSonic and its owner/engineer Brian Speaker. It’s a three-room studio in a post-apocalyptic movie––cool as fuck.
Back in March 2014, Brian saw us play and said he’d like to record us and we told him we’d get in touch when we were ready. A year and some change later we booked two days at SpeakerSonic.
The first day was 11 hours. It took around five hours for me to get all the drums recorded and then another two to record all of the synth parts (bass, synth, piano, etc.). Then Jordan systematically recorded all his parts for each song. We nearly finished recording that day. It was exhausting, but hyper-organized.
The second session was 10 hours, a week later. That day Jordan finished his guitar parts, I added percussion, and we improvised some noise together––Brian has an old, rehabilitated tape delay that absolutely made it onto the record. Then we mixed, mastered, conversed and walked out with the record, tired and happy as fuck.
What are you currently listening to? Give us 5 good recommendations…
Separately, Jordan has been listening to Duality by Captain Murphy and I’ve been listening to Kendrick Lamar’s good kid m.A.A.d city. But in the living room we normally have a rotation of Omar Rodríguez-López/Mars Volta records (like Xenophanes and Amputechture, which Jordan was listening to pretty intensely during the recording of The Outskirts) and Latin American records like Balnear by Mitú or Eso que anda by Los Van Van. We recommend any and all of these records to anyone and everyone.
What do you envision for Copán in the next 5 years?
Next year, we’re moving to Los Angeles. We feel that with this record, we’ve grown as much as possible here in New York and that now it’s time to move on to a new city, a new risk. Both Jordan and I are planning to continue enriching and complicating our lives and our music by returning to school and continuing to play to crowds in a brand new unknown. The plan is the same as when we came here: move forward, stay loyal, and resist. Continue to grow as people and as a family.
By 2020, Copán will have toured most of the United States, some parts of Latin America, and released at least one more record, with or without a label’s support.
Once we’ve made that happen, then we can go back home to Miami.