Dirty Tongue is a rock band formed by guitarist Miguel Arroyo and drummer Adolfo Torres during their time attending Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. The band started out as the two experimented with extended, experimental jams before rehearsals with other groups. These jams evolved into riffs and song sections with a hard rock/blues feel, odd time signatures and polyrhythm. Very basic songs emerged from this, songs that would later be re-worked and crafted into more compositional pieces. They were later joined by sound engineer Juan Jaramillo as the third full member of the band.
In September, 2011 the three had to split up as they moved to different cities across the globe for various reasons. Miguel returned to his home in Nagoya, Japan, Adolfo moved to Austin, Texas to play drums for various artists and Juan stayed in Boston to complete his studies at Berklee. The band seemed to be over. However, in October of 2012, frustrated by their creative circumstances, Miguel and Adolfo decided to continue making music together. With Juan's help and a lot of commitment they were able to write and record their self-titled EP, now available for download: http://dirtytongue1.bandcamp.com/.
In this interview with Middle Gray Music Editor Alvaro Morales, drummer Adolfo Torres talks about the unusual format of the group, his experience as a drummer/singer and the process of writing and producing an album with a band that's scattered across the world.
Alvaro Morales: The traditional line-up of a rock band includes at least a guitar player, a bass player and a drummer, often more guitar players, singers and other players. Dirty Tongue is made up of a drummer/singer, a guitar player and a sound engineer. How did you end up with such an unusual format? Was it by design from the start or it just happened that way?
Adolfo Torres: We did try to have additional members. We had a few rehearsals with one of my favorite singers at Berklee, Mike Di Stasi (he's featured in the third track of our EP, Planet With a Ring). I had been in a band with him before, and I thought I was going to start the most killer rock band in Berklee with Miguel and with Mike, who plays bass and is an amazing singer. But it didn't really work. What happened was, Miguel and I were always ready to rehearse. No matter what happened, the two of us were always ready to go. The rest always had work or class or something to do. Only Miguel and I had that level of passion for the group. We did try to go for a more traditional format, but it ended up being just the two of us, trying to compensate as much as possible. And Juan turned out to be the missing member; as a sound engineer he helped us compensate and have a great sound.
AM: The quality of the production on your EP is excellent and you achieve a really big, solid sound. Since there's only two of you, how will you compensate when you perform live? Are you planning on hiring tour musicians, or adding members to the group?
AT: We've thought of all kinds of things to deal with that. For starters, if you take a look at the drum grooves in parts of the songs that have vocals, they're always very simple. The complicated drum parts happen during the bridges, guitar solos, anywhere there's no singing. But it's possible that in some of our upcoming work I'm going to try to sing during sections where I can't sing and play at the same time. So I did propose to Miguel the idea of hiring additional musicians for a tour, but he thinks it should be strictly the two of us, and I think that's what we're going to. So to compensate we'll do this: Miguel will have two amplifiers instead of one, with a ridiculous amount of pedals and effects. He's a fan of a certain type of pedal; he always mentions his octavator and his delay. I'm going to have a normal 5-piece drum-set, but I want to add pedals for vocal effects. The idea is to always have just two people on stage with lots of effects and a gigantic sound.
AM: Drummers who also sing are not very common in rock bands. Have you always been a singer or did it happen just for the group?
AT: When I was a little kid, my older sister used to live in Bogotá (Colombia), and we used to drive there from Cali all the time, about a 10-hour trip back then. My favorite band was Queen, and we used to listen to their Greatest Hits CD on repeat for the entire trip. I always sang the entire thing, and my grandma said: "the kid can sing in tune". I've always sang the songs I like, but I've always been shy about it. The voice is such a personal thing. But when we were starting to rehearse as Dirty Tongue things started getting more compositional, in between the complex riffs we were coming up with we started playing simpler riffs. And seeing that Miguel was doing so much for our sound with his pedals I thought I should do something as well. So we decided to rent a microphone for a rehearsal, just to give it a shot. We tried, and I was shy at first, but Miguel encouraged it and said: "From now on you're gonna sing." And that's when everything changed. At first it can be uncomfortable to hear your own voice. I try to record 3 or 4 voices for each verse, and to put some effects on it. I always ask Juan: "Please mask my voice a little bit, I sound like I'm in the shower."
AM: Your EP is a concept album; the three songs in it tell a story. Can you explain what the story's about and how it came to be?
AT: The 3 songs tell the story of a son of the devil who comes to earth. His father tells him he's going to have a great time, he's going to do whatever he wants, but once he's here he's disappointed in mankind. At the end, he decides man is more rotten than his father and leaves for the "planet with a ring" (which is fictional, not really meant to be a real planet), hence the name of the third track: Planet With A Ring.
When the band first got separated in 2011 I got obsessed with Black Sabbath. I listened to them all day every day. We used to always joke around with "the devil". It's a parody, I think the devil is very funny. So when we decided to make music again I asked them what they thought of the story, and everybody liked it. It was a Skype conversation we had in October 2012 where all those ideas came together. All the riffs and ideas we had been cooking all started taking form.
AM: When you decided to start making music again and record the ideas that were taking shape you were living in different places around the world. You were in Austin, Texas, Miguel was in Japan and Juan was in Boston. It's hard enough to record an album when everybody's in the room. How did you manage to do it while living so far apart?
AT: Everything stems from the fact that we were rehearsing 6 to 8 hours a day every day when we were together at Berklee. That's where the discipline and the hunger to create music came from, which is what held everything together when we were far away. I was in Texas, playing for other people but unhappy creatively. Miguel was in Nagoya, Japan, working for Toyota, playing and teaching but also unhappy creatively. And Juan was in Boston, still in school and very busy with classes. So in that Skype conversation in 2012 all three of us decided Dirty Tongue was an awesome project and we were going to pursue it. Now I don't know anything about computers, and neither does Miguel, but Juan does (we make fun of him because we say he's a geek). So he told us about this thing called Dropbox, and it turned out to be a good way to share material. We set up a shared folder and I started uploading little videos I took with my laptop playing my guitar in Texas, with ideas I sent to Miguel. We started sending videos back and forth. I sent him the riff for 'Son Of A King' (which was initially much slower than in the final version). I sent another verse, and he said it was cool. Then I sent another idea that wasn't so cool, and he sent back a video that turned into the bridge of the song. And that's how we slowly put the music together by bits and pieces, sending videos and GarageBand files back and forth.
AM: So that's how you wrote the songs, how about recording and mixing?
AT: Most of the recording process happened between Miguel and myself. First we recorded all the drums, then the guitars and basses and finally the vocals. Here's what we did: Miguel has an audio interface on his computer, which means that he can do home recordings of much better quality than I can. So once the songs were composed, he recorded a demo of everything on his computer, and sent me all his tracks. I listened to them every day, every chance I got, until I really memorized them. Then I booked 12 hours of studio time in Austin and did a professional recording of all the drum parts. I took all the drum tracks that came out of that recording, about 17, and sent them to Juan. He mixed everything and turned it into one master drum track for each song, and then sent it to Miguel. Miguel used that track as a base to record all guitar and bass tracks at a professional studio in Japan. He sent all that to me, and I recorded the vocals. Finally we sent it all to Juan and he mixed it. I also should say that Juan also plays guitar on the second track, Stillness. He came up with that idea, and it was very interesting, because Juan is such a normal guy and came up with such a dark, unusual pattern. We thought that it was great. So Juan recorded those guitars, and I sang on top of that.
AM: How do you balance other projects and having to work for money with the time you dedicate to the band?
AT: I already have a plan for that. What I did while I was in Austin is the process I will use from now on: I work for other people and teach for 11 months of the year as long as that last month I can dedicate to the Tongue's next work. As a musician you work a lot, it's true, but you also have a lot of free time. And as a musician you have a lot of ideas to express. It's hard to express oneself melodically on the drums, which is why I took up the guitar. You can create something every day, because you don't work 24 hours a day every day. So that process is ongoing all year long, so that at the end of that year we can produce new work with the band. Now, Miguel is friends with the owners of studio where he lives in Japan, so he can book the studio very affordably. I don't have any friends in the studios where I'll be, but the idea is to record everything as inexpensively and professionally as possible, so we can put more money towards printing and distributing copies. And we have a great engineer who's part of the band and can make it sound really good. The idea is that the production of the music wouldn't cost too much so we can put together a really nice CD with a fold out case - with artwork, lyrics and a poster.
AM: What's your opinion of online distribution and music piracy? How do you intend to handle distribution and sales of your music?
AT: We want to be what's called a cult band. The most successful cult band in the world is Tool. It's a band that my sister or my mother have never heard of, but every fan of every sub-genre of metal knows. Tool started out as a very small band playing riffs in unusual meters and polyrhythms, and that's exactly what we want to do musically. Now, as far as distribution we want it to be human-to-human as much as possible. That means asking people online: "who wants our CD?", filling up my backpack with CDs, giving it to them and asking for a donation. That's our model, we give you our CD, we send it to you and you donate if you want. We're doing this because it's the greatest pleasure in the world to put on some good headphones and to listen to this music, and take pride in how good it sounds and how well written it is. It's the greatest satisfaction.
Regarding piracy, if you like the songs and I can't give you a copy, burn them, copy them, stick them on your iTunes. It doesn't matter, as long as you have the music. In the current model of the music industry the money's not in selling copies but in playing shows. And more than being a band that records we're a band that performs. It sounds very romantic: just take the music, doesn't matter how, as long as you have it. But actually, we're also drawing fans in by giving them a free copy. We've already sent CDs all around the world.
AM: What are the future plans for the band?
AT: To continue recording an EP or an LP every year, putting out music, expanding our catalog. The model we're sort of copying is that of a soccer world cup. It happens every four years, and in between there's soccer happening all year. That's what we want to do: to release music every year so that we can go on tour every 3 or 4 years. We're planning to do a Latin American tour in 2 or 3 years, because that's where we've gotten the best response so far, it's where we've gotten the most requests for copies of the CD. It's about making good music and going on tour, and we hope that we're able to pay for the tour with the donations we get.
We're very determined and motivated with this project. I'm very excited with what we're working on. I sent Miguel a GarageBand file with a drum beat I came up with inspired by this guy called Deantoni Parks, and what's coming up will be absolutely killer. It will have a more contemporary sound but it will still have the power of the riff, we're primarily a band of riffs.
Note: This interview was originally conducted in Spanish in August 2013. Translation by Alvaro Morales.