Q&A with Mexican band of Bourbon Blues Ensemble - combination of passion, fun, tension, and madness

"Definitely, in the end blues is a kind of folk music. Blues has always been related to a political, social and economic context. So is Mexican traditional or folk music, like “corridos”."

Bourbon Blues Ensemble: Hecho en México

Bourbon Blues Ensemble is a blues band from Leon, Mexico. The ensemble started in 2014 when singer/songwriter Lanch. Invites to guitarist Fernz and bassist Alessandro Bergamo to record a song with bluesy feeling. As soon as they finished the 1st song they realized that “the time was just right to create blues sounds.” The band was soon joined by pianist Jonathan Stephens, who spiced up the mix with his powerful and classic style playing, they started to try new instruments like cigar box guitar and harmonica, to simplify the composition the drums are programmed. Soon after finishing their first song which became "When" the Bourbouns began writing and recording their debut album. “Vol. 1” is the conclusion of a journey that started a year ago. As unexpected as the members of the Ensemble, Lanch a guitar virtuoso who craves on fast soloing, now guitar and lead singer. Fernz, a renowned guitarist of famous death metal bands. Alessandro, former band mate of Fernz in a Heavy Metal band in the bass guitar.

They soon where joined by Jhona Stephens a classic piano player and a true blues man. They became the Bourbon Blues Ensemble. Vol. 1 is a mix of formidable friends and amazing musicians, with a wide range of music background, from Metal to Classic, but with a common passion. The blues. Vol. 1 is what you get of that mix. A combination of passion, fun, friendship, tension, madness, spiced up with some cigar box, harmonicas and banjos. You get the blues. The sound of the ensemble is inspired by blues musicians since Robert Johnson, Buddy Guy, BB King, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton to John Mayer. The band are: Lanch (vocals, guitar, banjo, drums programming); Alessandro Bergamo (bass, backing vocals); Fernz (guitar, banjo, cigarbox, backing vocals) and Jonathan Stephens (piano, keyboards & harmonica).

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the blues and what does the blues mean to you?

Lanch: I learned that music, not always has to be planified and that difficulty don’t guarantee that a song will be good or bad. The blues is mainly the idea of someone that other musicians make it sound greater than he thought. The blues for me, is pentatonics with some cromatisms, slow beats, soul voice, and a lot of solos with vintage last century instruments.

Alessandro: For me the Blues is a journey, when I’m writing blues or playing blues I get in touch with my feelings in a way no other music can. It’s the kind of music that lets you explore your deeper feelings and share them in a beautiful way, and to realize that other people out there feel as I do and share that experience throughout music is very stimulating. The fact that other people can enjoy the music we do is very appealing as an artist but also challenging. The blues is a genuine and honest mean to express myself.

Fernz: Playing, listening and feeling the blues becomes an extension of my soul. When I get involved with blues music my being feels complete.

Jonathan: I have learned from the blues my positive attitude in life, because I think that blues speaks mainly about sad tales that musicians have lived and learned about it, letting them enjoy the moment in what we live. In addition, the blues means for me a kind of life where we have the opportunity to tell our lives and enjoy the music.

How do you describe Bourbon Blues Ensemble sound and songbook and what characterize band’s philosophy? What is the story behind the band’s name?

Lanch: For me BBE is not a pure form of blues, it has a lot of influences of different genres. We have a mix between country, soul, jazz, hard rock, progressive and pop. We are more like a business company of music. First to all, we have to be writers and performers that gives us different styles in the same band. Each member of the band have different missions depending on his skills. Fernz moves our material around the world, and works in the image, Alessandro works in the technical part of the recording, videos and social media, Jonas sells a lot of CDs hahahah, and I work in collaboration with Alessandro in the recording and mixing process.

Professionalism, composing freedom, beer, be out of stress, and a good friendship are the words that define us.

Fernz: We chose the word Bourbon ‘cause we like it so much and also it reminded us the prohibition era which was one of the best moments in blues music, then we just added the word blues so people can identify us as blues musicians.

What were the reasons that a Mexican musician start the Blues researches and experiments?

Lanch: I used to play progressive rock and I wanted to make a record with a lot of music styles between jazz and neoclassical metal. One song in particular had a pop soul bluesy feeling, so I called Fernz  ”el wero” a friend of my childhood to play in it because I consider that he has a direct connection between his heart and his fingers. The day of the recording session suddenly Aleps appears with a bass hehehe, and then the magic was there, the chemistry between musicians was excellent, the song “When” was born and the BBE too. Then I called Jonas, he is a natural lover of the blues and we mixed our influences.

Alessandro: I guess it has to do with the influence of US music in Mexico. I started to listen to rock and heavy metal music when I was young and started playing music under that style for quite some years. As I learned more about music and the musicians I loved I realized most of the music I enjoyed came from blues background. So in my exploration of blues music I realized the power and meaning this music can carry. In the end I just ended where the music I loved in my youth started. Back to the roots.

Fernz: When I was 11 years old I started playing guitar because I wanted to play like BB King and Eric Clapton. And I had always wanted to do a blues project.

Jonathan: I think today that every musician have the opportunity to make experiments with different kinds of music, we have lot of ways to discover new music and develop our preferences. I started my blues researches and experiments because it’s one of my favorite genres of music.

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

Lanch: This is the first project where I sing. I was mainly a studio recording musician but  in 2011, I played the guitar with Gnosys in the album “Parallel Universe”(that album won the best progressive metal album of the year), we did a big full presentation in a theater playing to special guests that included classical symphonic instruments, chorus, singers and more. I think that was my most important live presentation.

Alessandro: We love playing pranks on each other, I recall one, Lach and myself were recording the vocals I think it was for Oh Baby! Fernz and Jhona were not in the studio that day, so we finished recording the vocals and had plenty of time to fool around. We started adding some weird lyrics and ended up with a rap version of the song, we recorded it, and I’m afraid to say it but it sounded very good. We added backing vocals, effects, everything, a very well produced rap song. We presented that version to the band, and you should have seen their faces. At first they were enraged, you know, “what the hell is that?” “This was not the idea! It’s not even blues, it’s rap!”  And we came with some convincing arguments “Music industry is changing, we need to evolve” We were so persuasive  that at one point Fernz accepted the version and even made some comments on how to improve it. We had a great time at the studio.

Fernz: I am proud to say that we have a very funny and prankster relationship. Anytime we are together we are fooling around and trying to have a nice time. I remember a prank we did to Jonathan Stephens; we actually did a fake facebook profile of a girl that Jonathan likes and we made him believe that she was in love with Alessandro. The most interesting part was that he said:  it’s ok, you can be with her if you like, no problem for me.

Jonathan: For sure, there are a lot of good memories that I could share. One of them was the night that I became a bourbon blues member and I met the entire band. At the moment I was so nervous because Lanch told me that he had a band that wanted to hear me and knew I played blues. This was a dream that I was waiting for since I started playing piano.  When they asked me if I could share some music ideas, I started playing some tunes and all of the sudden all the guys joined me in my improvisation, performing what is today the “Preface Bourbon”. In that instant I knew that a new moment in my life had begun.

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

Lanch: For me the music has no age. If it’s good, it’s good, if it’s bad, it’s bad, it doesn’t depends in the genre or the year it was released. I hope that we can enjoy ourselves and our music always like we do now.

Alessandro: I would say probably the sound, there’s a kind of “magic” in that old sound. The way they used to record bands in the old days was basically that they were recorded “live” so you get that room atmosphere in the recording. Of course the equipment they used to record is something engineers are still trying to reproduce nowadays in digital recording. I feel unease with digital recording and distribution, of course nowadays it’s cheaper and easier for musicians to release their music, but there’s so much junk out there because someone has a computer and recorded something. It saturates the market. In the end you still need a lot of production, good recording and mixing, great art and a lot of effort, I fear of musicians and bands that think that because they can record something at home they are going to make it.

Fernz: I miss the improvisation part on the recordings. Nowadays all the musicians I know and listen to don’t improvise, they think the music. They record it and then, if there’s an error, they delete it and record it again until sounds perfect. For me this is some kind of plastic/synthetic music and I don’t like it. When we record solos and even when I record a song that I wrote I improvise at the moment. If I want to add another part I just add it. I have to say it’s not easy for the rest of the members of the band, but this way I think you create organic music.

Jonathan: I miss from the music of past the use of natural sounds, where all the music was played with instruments. In this days techno music and digital sounds makes the music less real and I’m afraid that in the future people won’t enjoy music without digital sounds.

Make an account of the case of the blues in Mexico. Which is the most interesting period in local blues scene?

Lanch: Mexico has not an important blues scene.

Alessandro: I would say this is the most exciting period of blues music in Mexico. Back in the day most of the bands copied American music and they just changed the lyrics to Spanish and for a time that was a big hit, but no one dared to write or compose original music. It all sounded the same, just change some lyrics and that’s it. That became the “rock en español” or rock in Spanish genre. Today we have an album with original music, sung in English, which for me it’s the blues language, and it sounds like nothing ever done in Mexico.

Fernz: There’s no local blues scene where we live ‘cause there are no blues bands, so I think we are one of the first blues bands of our town since a long time. At least I don’t know them.

Jonathan: I think that the most interesting period in the local blues scene was the 1990´s, when in small towns around the country blues festivals started. I feel like the genre just had two decades alive and it was growing up positively.

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues from United States and UK to Mexico?

Lanch: We are connected to blues and country because USA is next to us, the bluegrass and some of the folk Mexican music have a lot of similarities, because both styles are in the border line. Blues is one of the most influential styles of  music of the last and this century, all the international music that we hear today has his fundaments in classical music, jazz, soul, country and blues.

Alessandro: As I said, Mexico is very influenced by the United States, from fashion to food and of course music. There’s always been a tight relationship between our two countries. Let’s not forget that in the mid 1850’s Mexico signed the Guadalupe treaty, the states of California, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico and Texas, as well as parts of Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas and Oklahoma where part of the Mexican territory,  so you see there’s a lot in common between our two countries. The UK blues basically came to us after it arrived to the US.

Fernz: I think the blues itself connects with everything and everybody. Blues is a global language and that’s why we intend to keep it alive.

Jonathan: I think the music is connected around the world because the nature of the human is to share the knowledge. This is how we have all kind of music that is connected throughout the world, and the blues is one of the most influential styles in all the world.

What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you from the local blues circuits?

Alessandro: I think what has touched me most about the local blues circuits is the lack of support and interest, well at the same time it makes me laugh you know? Here you are, a Greek blues website, reaching out and making us this interview, we’ve been radio aired in Netherlands, the US, France; meanwhile the local blues festivals won’t have us because they want a more international line-up. It made me feel sick at the time, how they favored other bands because of friendship or some other nonsense, now with the support of many people out there I just laugh at them.

Jonathan: It is very funny to hear people that don’t believe that Bourbon Blues is a Mexican Band just because we sing in English, and what touch me emotionally is that there is no local support   from the local circuits.

Are there any similarities between the blues and the genres of local folk music and forms?

Lanch: Like I said, not blues, but bluegrass (a genre that we play too) use the same rhythms and chords of the “Musica Ranchera Mexicana”, only in a different beat.

Alessandro: Definitely, in the end blues is a kind of folk music. Blues has always been related to a political, social and economic context. So is Mexican traditional or folk music, like “corridos”. The corrido is a narrative song, and it is often about oppression, history, social relevant topics and daily life for peasants. So maybe there isn’t a similarity in form but there is one in context. Music is a way for people to express.

Fernz: I guess the lyrics could fit in some national folk Mexican music because there is pain in both.

Jonathan: Yes, it is, I feel like the local folk music works in repetitive structures, where the voices and other instruments gives sense to all the composition,  blues works similar, there is a base that lets all the other arrangements give sense to the composition.

What is the impact of Blues and Rock n’ Roll culture and music to the racial and socio-cultural implications?

Lanch: We Mexicans have a lot of troubles in our country, but racism is not one. In our modern history we never had racism or bullying to homosexuals or things like that. We love people of different cultures and different races, that’s one of the things that we are famous for in the world, our friendship. I can’t talk about that because I really never experienced that part. Some of us suffer racism in other countries like USA but they generally use other folk Mexican to talk about it. In the history of my life I always change the style of music that I listen depending on my musical journey of genres, I only listen music as music, not like social movement or history or things like that. I hear the mix of different sounds and silences and the feelings that they make me feel. Despite that I’m actually a vocalist, I never pay attention to the lyrics.

I usually like to play , to sing, to dance, to compose  or to listen different styles, nowadays I like to dance electro house, I like to sing R&B, I like to play progressive rock blues and jazz and classical, compose soundtrack style of music with orchestra,  and I like to listen baroque classical music.

Alessandro: Throughout history, songs and pieces have been written due events in history that have impacted humanity in some way. If you listen to music from a certain period of time you’ll have a glimpse of what was happening in history around that period. Music has always been used as a voice, a way to reach out others who feels the same as you. The beauty in the blues was that it not only helped to bring about the changes of the civil rights movement, but also that it helped to heal the hostility in the years following.  People who normally would not have had anything in common with each other found a common interest in their love of the blues.

Fernz: I believe that blues and rock n roll are changing and young people really don’t listen to the pure genres anymore, so it’s hard to say the social implications that the genres can do.

Jonathan: All the music have socio-cultural implications, and  the blues and rock n´ roll are well known for representing new ideas and freedom,  that is why  this genres  are in the top preferences of all, humanity has always  been looking for new ideas.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?

Lanch: So if I could travel in time I’d like to meet Mozart, Vivaldi, Paganini or Bach, and nowadays, Steve Vai, Yanny, Howard Shore, because I want to know how geniuses works on music.

Alessandro: I could say I would want to spend a day with the late B.B King and listen to some of his stories but if I could, I would spend a whole day with my mom, who isn’t with us anymore. I’d love to share with her what we’ve accomplished. After all she was and will be my biggest fan and a big supporter of music and art in general.

Fernz: I’d like to go to 1971 and be at the Cook County jail at the BB King concert. I personally don’t like live records but this one is magical.

Jonathan: The day that The Beatles played for first time as a band, when no one knew them, just watch and enjoy their geniuses’ talented work. I think the Beatles were the most representative band who shared new ideas to the world.

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