Q&A with New Mexico band, 53 Across - balance of fiery blues and ice cold rock all cloaked in the aura of the desert

"I can’t imagine a society without music. Through music you can create emotion, tell a story and even communicate with another person who does not speak you own language. Through our music I want to take the listener on an enjoyable journey. If we can’t do that we have failed."

53 Across: New Mexico High Desert Blues

High Desert Blues. The cold night air, the blistering noonday sun; opposites that compliment each other and combine to create balance. That's what 53 Across brings to the table with their new 6th album The Bag (2022), a balance of fiery blues and ice cold rock all cloaked in the aura of the New Mexico high desert. Weaving new threads into the traditional blues-rock power trio narrative, their sound is immediately recognizable yet somehow weirdly different. From a dusty roadhouse to a smoke-filled inner city barroom, The Bag's six songs paint tall, often true, tales of love gone wrong, regret and more. Eduardo Barraza, Darrell Hall and Garrett Hobson all shapeshift as multi-instrumetnalists, lyricists and singers; you never know what the band or The Bag will yield next. "There will be unexpected results when you put three guys together who were born in the same year but never met each other until they were in their 50s," the band members note.

(Photo: 53 Across are Eduardo Barraza, Darrell Hall & Garrett Hobson)

"Our influences are so similar, but our individuality is completely unique. We have done some really cool albums and projects prior to The Bag, but this particular group of songs is where it all really crystallized. The luck of having the right combination of songs and special studio musicians that sprinkled fairy dust on the background vocals and production input made the experience other worldly. The excitement of walking into the studio with nothing but a hook line and leaving with a record is like winning the lottery without buying a ticket." After almost 10 years together, and now five albums in, 53 Across has forged a template for a series of releases. "The Bag is the starting point. It's the foudation of what we like to call High Desert Blues. Once we started writing these songs everything just grew organically. We've got at least three more Bags to go and a lot more songs to fill them."

Interview by Michael Limnios

How has the Blues n' Rock Counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Eduardo: I was born and raised in West Texas in a conservative Hispanic family. I’m grounded in what I learned from my parents. Respect for people, depend on yourself, and respect the land that provided a living for our family. That being said, I was not influenced much by the “Counterculture”. What I was influenced by was music. Tejano, Rock, Blues, R&B anything that came through the airways to the isolation of West Texas where your nearest neighbor might be three miles away.

Darrell: The blues are just stories about life and when I hear songs from people around the world It brings them closer as I see we all have the same obstacles to climb the same feelings to experience and the same problems to overcome.

Garrett: I have seen many changes over the years, mainly the acceptance of different instruments and cross genre feels. The lines between genres are not so bold. Experimentation seems a little more welcomed. So much so that it makes it difficult to categorize one’s music. I dread the questions about what our genre is.

What is the story behind band's name: 53 Across? Where does band's creative drive come from?

Eduardo: You have three guys sitting in a studio throwing out names and nothing sticks. Then you try using you names or initials and then ego gets in the way. Who’s name or initials will be first? Let’s use our birth years to determine the order. What year were you born? 1953. And you? 1953. Hmmm. And the last person also says, 1953. That made the band’s name easy: 53 Across. As for the creativity drive, I think that people are born with certain abilities. Darrell, Garrett and I have the gift of creating music. While Darrell and Garrett began playing musical instruments at a young age, I did not. But I always had music playing in my head. I could hear the melodies. I would create and arrange songs in my head and then the lyrics starting coming. It was not until I met Darrell and Garrett that I was able to take the music and lyrics and express it through them.

What characterizes band's music philosophy? How do you describe band's sound and songbook? What's the balance in music between technique and soul?

Darrell: 53 Across is a big pot with over a combined 200 years of music that influenced us. We were all born in the same year, but we all have been exposed to different styles of music over our lives, so it’s a combination of what we have heard, what we have lived, and what our aspirations are. You can teach technique you can't teach soul that is transferring what you feel to your instrument, which sometimes does not required a lot of technique. Some of the best blues songs are only one chord but they have soul.

Garrett: High Desert Blues. A Balance between New Mexico regional culture and our 70’s rock and blues roots. I would say that the balance between technique and soul varies from artist to artist and even song to song. Most of the time, I would find myself leaning more to the soul side of the question. Too much technique gives me a headache.

"New Mexico has a very diverse music scene, a lot of different influences from Latin to Country, Blues and Rock and everything in between we go green chili in everything including our music, Spicy Blues." (Photo: New Mexico-based blues-rock band 53 Across are Eduardo Barraza, Darrell Hall & Garrett Hobson)

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

Eduardo: We are a studio band. We tried playing gigs and found that hauling around heavy equipment, setting it up, adjusting the sound system, then taking everything down was more than what 65-year-old guys wanted to do. Also, after playing a three-hour gig and having to split $125 dollars made it easy to decide to be a studio band. In the studio we are the masters of our own domain.

Darrell: I really enjoy the creative process; with us it starts with a riff or partial lyrics and then we all stir it up throw it in the oven and out comes dinner.

Garrett: We are primarily a studio band. I think when Darrell called me one day and said “Hurry up and fire up the studio, I just wrote a song and I gotta record it before I forget it!” That pretty much sums us up. We record and mix/master all of our own stuff, but occasionally we are asked to perform for clients. That is always a special treat. Recording our stuff is high on the list, but bringing in guest talent for particular songs is really fun. We have musicians all around that contribute to our sound and having them perform in the right spot is a hoot. With the Internet, we can contribute from anywhere.

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

Eduardo: In the 60’s 70’s and into the first part of the 80’s you could hear the first 5 seconds of a song and know who was playing it just by the instrumentation or the singers voice. I can’t do that now - everyone sounds the same. The recording companies now get a hit and then they try to get all of the artists to sound the same. I would like to see the industry put the music first. As we all know, it’s all about the music.

Darrell: I miss the individuality, music today seems too packaged, all the singers sound the same all the guitars sound the same where you used to have to come up with a different sound, everybody now tries to sound like the last big hit. The good thing is because of Technology there are a lot more creative people putting out music, the trouble is getting anyone to listen when you had to buy your music at a store with the internet and streaming you are just hearing those that can afford the PR exposer the most.

Garrett: I really miss how raw some of the recordings were in the 50’s through the 70’s. You could hear mistakes and patchiness here and there and it just made it human. I think that musicians have made great leaps in adjusting to the technological advances of music production. As always, when new technologies appear they get way overused. Musicians and producers have begun to embrace the technologies as tools a little more than toys. I seeing a trend, at least in some genres, away from tech and back to performance. That is encouraging, at least in the short term.

What would you say characterizes New Mexico blues rock scene in comparison to other local US scenes and circuits?

Eduardo: Every region in the country can develop its own sound, but here in New Mexico It’s the isolation, the ruggedness of the land and its people. The mixture of many different cultures are blended into one.

Darrell: New Mexico has a very diverse music scene, a lot of different influences from Latin to Country, Blues and Rock and everything in between we go green chili in everything including our music, Spicy Blues.

Garrett: I think all blues rock regions have their own unique flavor. New Mexico’s Native American and Hispanic cultures definitely contribute to this scene. Another factor is the rich and colorful Western History of the region. Many of our songs are directly related to factual history of Billy The Kid, Geronimo, and local Battles of the 1800’s.

"High Desert Blues. A Balance between New Mexico regional culture and our 70’s rock and blues roots. I would say that the balance between technique and soul varies from artist to artist and even song to song. Most of the time, I would find myself leaning more to the soul side of the question. Too much technique gives me a headache." (Photo: 53 Across, a balance of fiery blues and ice cold rock)

What is the impact of music on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want the music to affect people?

Eduardo: I can’t imagine a society without music. Through music you can create emotion, tell a story and even communicate with another person who does not speak you own language. Through our music I want to take the listener on an enjoyable journey. If we can’t do that we have failed.

Darrell: I would like to think our music can let people escape all their stresses for a short while and let them know they are not alone that many people have the same feelings, music enriches our lives and we all need to escape once in a while.

Garrett: I just want people to be entertained. If our music can get someone’s mind off of their troubles for a few minutes, mission accomplished. If someone catches a deeper meaning, they might know more about the song than I do.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

Eduardo: First and foremost, I have learned that I can share my love of music. Through music I can express to others my personal world, my emotions and the feelings so that the listener can see my true self.

Darrell: I have learned that there is a song in everything we do. Life is a song, and we should sing it out loud 53 Across music is a celebration of life and I can't wait to hear the next chapter.

Garrett: Never give up. Stop doubting. Learn More. Practice. Enjoy whatever you are working on. If you don’t enjoy it, it probably sucks. Dry spells will come, but they will go. After a dry spell, I usually do my best work. Patience.

53 Across - Home

(Photo: 53 Across are Eduardo Barraza, Darrell Hall & Garrett Hobson)

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