It's never too late to go back to school
Raul in River of Snakes. Uncredited Facebook photo.
“I talk to a lot of people and musicians in rock’n’roll and they have a real resistance to it. ‘Why do you want to do that?’” laughs Raul Sanchez.
The object of Sanchez’s peers’ derision is his recently awakened interest and understanding in music theory – at first glance, anathema to the three-chord rock’n’roll style he’s explored and exploited as guitarist in Magic Dirt, Midnight Woolf and River of Snakes.
“Learning music theory blew my mind. I’ve known major and minor chords, but I’ve never really knew how they came from, how they worked, how they interacted, functional harmony, things like that. I just wondered ‘How the hell did we get by all those years writing songs without knowing this shit!’ You just grab that and that and say ‘Yeah, that sounds good’.”
Sanchez’s interest in music theory lies at the crossroads between his sideline activity scoring soundtracks, and his new (double) album of instrumental music, “Clotho//Lachesis”.
“I’ve always loved film and I’ve always wanted to do music for films,” Sanchez says. “Before Magic Dirt had that long hiatus, I had started recording some music thinking of soundtracks.” A friend of Sanchez’s offered to release Sanchez’s new compositions as ‘Masks’ on his Wild Animals label. Then in short order Sanchez was leant a piano, then a keyboard by Melbourne singer-songwriter Laura Imbruglia and a new musical door was opened.
“I started messing around on keyboard more, and that led me into studying music theory, which I did on my own, reading heaps of books and stuff over the last five years,” Sanchez says. “Then I got asked to do the music for a film called ‘Fags in the Fast Lane in the Fast Lane’, a hilarious fagsploitation/adventure/trash thing. It was great, great to do, heaps of fun.”
Guitar is “fantastic for playing and its sonic capabilities, but for music theory it’s just hell,” Sanchez says. “Understanding music theory just facilitates and means that you can muck around with stuff on a broader, bigger level,” Sanchez says. “I started playing drums as well, and keys, just to get a grasp on rhythm and how to count things. If you’re a guitarist, a guitar is the most awful instrument for music theory. It’s just terrible, because it’s all about shapes whereas with piano has all the keys in a row and you can see the relationships – guitar has repeated notes on the fret board.”
By 2018 Sanchez had worked up enough new instrumental material for an album – more than an album, in fact. The original concept was a triple album, notionally inspired by the three fates of destiny described in the Greek myth of Morai: Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos.
“Dan wanted to do it on vinyl and then we worked out that a triple album was way too expensive, so Dan said ‘Can you make it a double?’,” Sanchez says “That’s why it’s Clotho//Lachesis, not Atropos – she’s coming later, she’s the one that cuts the chord!”
But while the title of the tracks suggests a logical narrative progression, Sanchez says “Clotho//Lachesis” was conceived organically.
“The way the record about came about was … I had these films to do, and you do research, you experiment to see what will work, just to learn how to use things on the computer, for example. It’s mainly guitar on the record, but I used a lot of sampled instruments as well. So just through learning I would compose stuff and I ended up with all this music that I’d done over the past four or five years. Once the music was together, it’s funny how our minds want to create a narrative. So the titles were like the first things that came to mind when I heard the piece. But I did want it to have a kind of coherence, the three stages or facets of life.”
“Clotho/Lachesis” represents the intersection of Sanchez’s musical education and his love of soundtracks. “Because it’s music that was written for films, it doesn’t demand your attention. It’s kind of just there, and if you’re paying attention to it, then great, and if you’re not then you can just get on with your thing. Without sounding too dismissive, it’s just background music!,” Sanchez laughs.
“The tricky thing about film music is that it’s serving a purpose, but it’s not the purpose. That’s what I like about it, in a way. Whereas with rock’n’roll, it is the thing that you’re doing. You’re there to listen to it, to actively engage whereas film music has a secondary role. It is odd that now you can buy music of film music and listen to it for its own sake, which I think is cool, but if you think about it, a lot of overtures in opera, they were written for the same thing, for the stage, but now we listen to them for their own sake, or ballets, stuff like that.”
Sanchez has been reluctant to perform “Clotho/Lachesis” live for logistical reasons – either he has to compile a suitable cast of supporting musicians (“I’m not really a dictator, so it’s hard for me to tell people what to do,” he laughs) or program a set of looped samples over which he can play guitar.
“We launched the album recently at (Melbourne venue) Long Play, and that went really well because got to play with a film in the background, which had nothing to do with the film, but your mind likes to create an association, so it was cool,” Sanchez says. “I think that’s what’s ultimately interesting about music, it’s there and it transforms itself and it transforms the situation. It’s really interesting. I think that’s why it’s used in ceremonies, because it creates a mood but it creates a mood according to what’s already there. Like a wedding march is a wedding march, but every wedding is different.”
Sanchez hasn’t left his rock’n’roll roots behind by any stretch of the imagination. There’s a new River of Snakes album due out next year, Magic Dirt are promoting the first ever vinyl release of the band’s debut EP “Life Was Better". Midnight Woolf have just recorded a new album and Sanchez is working with his brother (and Midnight Woolf band mate) Luis on an exotica-cum-garage soundtrack for a new Cartoon Network series, "Monster Beach"..
“I will always love to play rock’n’roll,” Sanchez says. “But as I’ve got older but I’ve found myself playing more mellow music, and music that has a different mood, so this project has helped me to take care of that side of things.”
Raul Sanchez plays music from "Clotho//Lachesis" on Saturday 14 December at Zo Damage Gallery at the Queen Victoria Market (solo – afternoon show, 2pm), Sunday 15 December at Sooki Lounge in Belgrave (w/ The Frees and Bonnie Mercer) and Tuesday 17 December at The Old Bar (w/ The Frees and Bonnie Mercer). ‘Clotho/Lachesis’ is out now through Wild Animal Records.