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Caballero Reynaldo: The ultimate interview

This is an English translation of an interview that was originally written and published in Spanish. No need to say that any possible mistakes are all mine…

I have known Luis Gonzalez (aka Caballero Reynaldo) for many, many years, despite the fact that we have only met once, and I have been playing with the idea of interviewing him for quite a while now. The interview finally took place over several weeks of emails. I am also proud to be a friend of some of the people mentioned in the article. I have tried, however, to make the questions that could be of interest to the general public. I hope you enjoy it!

This coming August you will be performing at the Zappanale Festival. Do you see it as a natural step in your career, beginning in your first solo record?

From a point of view it seems to be that way, but only as the head of the label that releases the Unmatched series. If someone had told me a year and a half ago that all this would be happening to me I’d thought he was mad. First at all because I had no intention to return to stage that easily, but thanks to the record that I made 2 years ago with country versions of that Zappa guy (The Grand Kazoo – Unmatched X) many things have happened very quickly. Not only I have played again live in many different places (Paris, Lisbon, Laredo, Barcelona, now Germany) but also, and most importantly, I have met wonderful people that have helped me with my project without really wondering why: Marieta Tamarit (Serpentina), Roman García (Los Marañones), Santi Serrano (Nèstor Mir, Emma Get Wild), Vasco Trilla (Filthy Habits Ensemble), Manoel Macìa (Guitar Craft, Galadriel) and oZcar McCuenca (an arranger that has worked with lots of different artists, from Baron Rojo to El Gran Wyoming). A dream come true.

But despite your obvious passion for everything Zappa, his influence is hard to find in your compositions…

There is a very simple reason for that: I lack the necessary skills to do it, but I think that overall I am deeply influenced by him. I share his attitude of not having any presets ideas regarding genres and styles. I just use all that I can honestly play. In due course I may be able to reach more intricate music. I would love to do it but it’s not something that I dream about. Some of the musicians that I work with can do it and maybe in the future I will take my career into more complex compositions, but right now I don’t feel confident enough to undertake that task. However, Frank Zappa’s complex music is not always the most important aspect of his work. As far as the rest is concerned I consider myself to be deeply influenced by him.

These compositions are precisely the ones that you decided to ignore (or simplify) in The Grand Kazoo record. Using country music it’s an obvious internal joke but, do you consider this to be an acceptable way of taking Zappa music to a wider audience? What do you think of the never ending debate regarding the respect to the original in cover versions?

My reasons to release the record have nothing to do with the general public. In fact I have never taken this into consideration at all. My purpose is to make music that I am happy with. Then if someone else happens to share this feeling is a plus, but that’s it. What I mean is that simplifying Zappa music and adding a country-pop feeling has nothing to do with commercial success or with making it easier to digest. It is true that I use it in order to gain some attention, but the idea of doing it doesn’t come from there. It comes from the notion of doing what I know that I can do and how I like doing things. The respect for an artist is something relative. I respect Zappa in the same way that I don’t respect him, and I think that’s the best way to be a Zappa fan. I admire his global work and I feel very influenced by his constant humour, sarcasm and irony, and I think that the way that I cover his songs is very Zappa-like.

Let’s start with your beginnings. You were born at Cuenca but you moved to Valencia when you were very young.

Well, I live in Utiel since I was one month old, but I kept going to Cuenca very often and there there was a much richer cultural life there than in my own town. When I arrived in Valencia at the age of 18 I ended up in a high school next to the later known rehearsal studios of Campanar, where you could find all sort of people that would later be part of Seguridad Social, La Resistencia, Interterror, Kaka For You, that was the core of the Valencia punk-rock scene of the 80s. In fact I would not have minded ending up with the funk-pop groups because Valencia became a city where we all knew each other, from the punks to the softer bands, and by that time I already had no preferences and I didn’t care playing with one or the other. The important thing was playing with someone of the city, and my heavy-prog roots allowed me to play anything without any fears.

And eventually you play with “Amor Sucio” in the Triquinoise label. Do you consider it the beginning of your professional career? I mean, when does music become your main or only activity?

Well, before Amor Sucio I played with “Mar Otra Vez”, who had a record deal with no other than the Dro label, which I knew because they set up in Utiel. That’s funny. I went to the city to become famous and finally I had to return home to make my first record. I had never seen it from that point of view! How funny!. And yes, we can say that Amor Sucio was the first project which I was part of from the start and that manages to release some records and to perform in a semi-professional way. While I was with them I decided to become a partner of the company that had published our first record in order to guarantee that there would be a second one. A very obvious example of my great entrepreneur vision, hahaha. In that moment music became my one and only activity, yes.

Your third and last album with Amor Sucio was released in 1992 and a year later you create Hall of Fame Records. Were you that tired of looking for someone to publish your records or you just wanted to face a new challenge?

Actually I started with HoF in order not to need anyone else to publish my work, not because I was tired but because I was too lazy to look for someone. But I hated this world. Silly me, I thought that from then on I would depend on nobody. It was a mistake because one way or the other you always depend on someone else, but up to a certain point I have managed to do it my own way, with my timetables, calendars and my budgets. Basically a tailor-made job that allows me to live comfortably although without saving too much, living by the day. It’s a price to pay, but eventually it is worth the trouble.

I can understand how comfortable you must feel when you produce your own records, but what about the other bands that you have also produced?

But it was never planned like that. The label released its first record with Malcolm Scarpa because I was involved in the project. I released Sr. Mostaza’s first record because Luis Prado played the drums with me. Manoel Macia has worked regularly in my own projects for four years now and well, a label that only publishes the records of one artist and his mates has a very dark future, so I ended up releasing the works of Pando, Crosstown Traffic, etc, eventually conforming an attractive and consistent whole. Of course they all are geniuses to me and their works are milestones in the HoF path, but what I mean is that I have no need to publish them. They just crossed my way and HoF has grown with them. It is not however my dream to produce and release the work of others.

When, how and why was Caballero Reynaldo born?

rp_a3142370589_10.jpgAfter three years on the road with Malcolm Scarpa I decided that it was about time to appear more often in the photos and I began working with the “Clásico con Twist” record (1995). I took the name from the last job I had, at a photocopy paper company called, precisely, “Caballero Reynaldo”. It was only my boss and I. He had been a merchant marine for 13 years and used to tell me fascinating stories, a charming and romantic guy. I couldn’t believe that such a…err… standard company had such an artistic and evocative name. Years later when I was looking for an alias I walked by pure chance next to the place where the company had been based and I said Eureka, I got it!

And then your first Unmatched arrives. Did you ever think that it would be the first of a long series. I may be wrong but it must be an unique case in Spain and probably worldwide.

No, I was only thinking of releasing one volume. But then I started receiving covers from all around the place. The success of the first volume never went beyond covering costs and a name abroad that opened a few doors especially within the Zappa fan community (which at the time, before internet, was very scattered), but I never let these opportunities pass by and here I am!

Of all your records I have always particularly enjoyed Studio 54 (2002) but it is “La  Vuelta al Mundo en 80 Kms” (Around the World in 80 Kms, 2004), your most personal and unique release. What’s the story behind them?

It is a very special record. With Studio 54 and its gigs I realized that Caballero Reynaldo was playing differently depending on who was in my band, and I felt the urge of doing something on my own, without any help from outside and on top of that something almost impossible to perform live. Some people obviously assisted in the making of the album but not musically. They did in the movie and in the graphical work, but everything that you can hear was recorded by me without loops nor samplers nor anything like that, everything was played note by note by me only. It’s odd that my most beloved record is the only one not released by my own label. I think it is a great album.

I totally agree but still, correct me if I am wrong, your main source of income is your web and the word of mouth. ¿Do you think that the record distribution business is currently dead or it just smells funny?

I have no idea. I guess that the internet and the new technological advances are making possible that many formats and new ways of making money coexist. I don’t really give it too much thought, but the constant manipulation of the final customer is always there. The reissue of vinyls is a good example of this.

But those advances have made a deep impact in the way that music is created and shared. Not only in the way that you can compose, edit and record in your living room, but also in the way that you can make the final product available worldwide…

It is true, but I think that everything remains basically the same. If your budget is not large enough to invest in a product, no matter how good it is, everything gets really complicated. All those stories about a band uploading a song to MySpace and getting famous overnight is bullshit. Without a big amount of money to make publicity, bribe the media and be everywhere there is no chance to sell that key component of the music industry.

You normally keep the same team of players and collaborators over several albums, but they remain Caballero Reynaldo records. Do you fell more comfortable without an official band behind you, as part of it, or you’re too old for that?

Manoel, oZcar, Román, Marieta, Santi, Manu Pahinui, Luis Prado, Pando, Nick Markham, Teddy Baxter, just how many different artists must collaborate in order not be repetitive? Many of them work in many records. And why not if they all are fantastic? Depending on their schedules they all keep working with me, and I hope they keep doing so forever. Not having a stable band has pros and cons. I do not depend on anyone and I depend on all of them at the same time, a paradox that I am getting used to slowly…

Up to not too long ago it seemed that you had completely forgotten to perform live. Bands such Steely Dan or 10cc (and the Beatles) decided to concentrate on their studio work, but now some people say that the money is in the live concerts. What is your position on this?

My position has always been based more on personal circumstances than anything else, but it is true that I got a bit fed up of being on the road in the 1998-2002 period, and I stopped playing live on purpose, but the return was due more to personal reasons than a carefully planned decision. My wife died two years ago, and the next year I was offered to open for the Filthy Habits Ensemble at a Zappa show in Barcelona. I thought that a change in that direction could be a good thing and I focused on it.

You lost your wife but you have your son. Aren’t you concerned that he may want to follow your steps?

Not at all, but I insist on educating him to become a plumber or something like that and forget about this rubbish… Seriously, he loves music and has an amazing bunch of musical influences: Jonas Brothers, Sparks, Green Day, XTC, Hoobastank, Dead Can Dance, Renato Carosone, Mediaeval Baebes, Of Montreal… as if it was normal! The point is that nothing is too exotic for him. For him recording and releasing a record is as normal as a piece of bread for the son of a baker.

About three years ago, in one of those coincidences that you seem so used to, Tomás Bases used “Last Night I Fell For Jennie“, composed by Malcolm Scarpa, a song from your “Hispano-Olivetti”record (2007) to make a video clip that won several prizes at different festivals. Did you ever collaborate together?

Umm, things were like this… Tomás sent me an animated film about fifteen years ago based on a Malcolm Scarpa song called “Magaria”. They were his first steps in animation. I was most grateful and I kept his details, and when eleven years later I made Hispano-Olivetti I sent it to him because I knew how much he loved Scarpa’s music. He thanked me and showed me how much he had learnt over these years. Very typical of me, I told him “well you could try to do something with one of them!”. I could not imagine that three months later he would send me the final video. I was amazed with what he had achieved!!

a0849892856_10.jpgFinally, we have reached the Kazoos. Tell me a bit about how you found them.

I had been working online with Manoel Macia since 2006 in what would eventually become the Tic Tac Toe album (2007) and we both knew it was the beginning of a long relationship. During 2007 I recorded, just for fun, about 10 Zappa tracks in country style with a very vague idea of using some of them in a future Unmatched volume. I gave up the project because my wife got very ill with cancer. In fact I devoted my time completely to her. One day I received an email from oZcar McCuenca, a new member of the liZta (the Spanish Zappa fan community) offering himself to help with anything so I sent him the 10 tracks in case he wanted to do something with them. I remember that two days before my wife passed away I received “Love of my Life”, with those magnificent trombones, and I cried like a fool when I listened to it. I then knew that that record would sooner or later become real. When she died I realized that I had to work on something or I would loose my mind, and preparing The Grand Kazoo was a perfect therapy. Manoel played in some tracks, Marieta sang several of them, but it was oZcar and his weekly trombones what became the guide and the heart of the project. Four or five months later I released the record (He appears on the cover) and it had a wonderful response, eventually leading to the Barcelona concert. I have known Román for ages, and although we had never worked together until then he offered to play the bass guitar. And so on until today…

And with The Grand Kazoo you are back on the road, and after Barcelona you are asked to participate at other venues in Spain, Portugal and France, and now Germany. Sounds amazing for a country & western album!

I know! The truth is that I wanted to deal with Zappa’s more frivolous music for some time, most of all because I cannot technically play the complex one, I wish I could, but being able to do it and with this country taste (which is the most anti-zappa way) I think it is the most Zappa-esque way to deal with his work. It is truly great, and being able to assemble the Kazoos from all corners of Spain is the top of the cake. I hope it lasts and if not we’ll think of something else…. Who knows… maybe King Crimson bossa-nova style?

Caballero Reynaldo & the Kazoos will be performing at the Zappanale Festival on 14-15 August 2010.

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