The Code, XIXA's latest ep, is akin to a shaman-led ayahuasca ceremony—through a surreal desert landscape where grinding cumbia rhythms melt like a Willy Wonka chocolate bar into darkwave synth patches propelled by a wicked "Mexican Thin Lizzy" twin lead guitar attack—on a mystic quest to decipher the mysteries of an unwritten language and arrive at deeper understanding.
Over a blunge of Tecate, tequila and coffee—at once intoxicating and sobering much like The Code itself—XOXO met up with Brian Lopez and Gabe Sullivan for a confab.
Ready, steady, go.
Before Chicha Dust, you both were in very different projects. Brian was doing bare-chested rock in Mostly Bears. And Gabe, you were melding Gypsy and Balkan melodies in Taraf de Tucson. How did this project come about?
Gabe Sullivan: The CD compilation.
Brian Lopez: As this thing goes further it's getting harder to trace the origins. But, yeah, it would all go back to The Roots of Chicha Vol. 1 (Barbès Records, 2007). I played a solo gig in Brooklyn. Olivier, the impresario of the label, gave me the record. I burned copies for Gabe and others I thought might be interested. Soon, Gabe and I started playing chicha music as a hobby. After a while we decided to put together a band to avoid getting day jobs. It took us by surprise. It blew up fast and soon surpassed all of our solo projects.
Gabe Sullivan: For me, Taraf was a total experiment. Clearly and intentionally trying to bridge the gap between different music. I think that spirit found its way into XIXA. Only a few years before, I met Brian, Sergio Mendoza and The Jons at Calexico's Flor de Muertos concert. All these new projects started coming from that one night...and led to this path. Bringing musicians together from both sides of the border. It was just the perfect timing.
You guys just got back from SXSW.
Any interesting tales that you would like to tell?
Brian Lopez: Not anything that we'd like to see published in Tucson Weekly.
I see. So, did you play any cool showcases?
Gabe Sullivan: I wouldn't say that we lucked out... Because we've worked really hard to get to where we are now. We landed three really nice showcases: One with Levitation (formerly Austin Psych Fest). And, another Southern California psych-rock showcase, Desert Daze Music Festival. And, we were part of a really cool world music showcase as well. There is definitely some stuff in the works.
Brian Lopez: This year seemed very fruitful. We both have done this five or six times before. So, it's not like this was a shiny new toy for us. This was a pain in the ass.
Gabe Sullivan: ...driving 18 hours.
Brian Lopez: I am really proud of our band. Onstage, total professionals. Then, offstage, well...
The latest release The Code is self-released?
Gabe Sullivan: Yeah, the Dust & Stone name has become like a brand for us.
Is there any other label interest?
Brian Lopez: Glitterhouse Records put it out in Europe. We didn't want to wait for any U.S. label to come through when we could do it just fine ourselves. It's just easier to run it through our own umbrella.
Gabe Sullivan: Yeah, someone is going to have to convince us to not do that. We are very capable. We write and record everything ourselves, we mix it, everything ourselves. We are a very collaborative band. When we show up for a session, typically, we write in the moment, a song per day.
Gabe Sullivan: I think people like Howe Gelb and Calexico played a role in that. We recognize the spirit and how special improvisation and being in that moment truly is.
How is The Code different—aesthetically, sonically, lyrically—from Bloodline, your previous album?
Gabe Sullivan: On the first EP and Bloodline we had entered into this new territory. It was chicha influenced, yet it intertwined with how Brian and I write songs. And, on top of that, now having six people interjecting ideas, on The Code we are definitely finding out who and what we are. And, with these new textural and aesthetic ideas, we are diving into the darker side of the desert; its mystic qualities. Especially working with artist Daniel Martin Diaz, our longtime visual comrade, intertwining all of our personalities, our art, our artistic language. It's the best collaboration that we've done so far.
Brian, would you like to add to that?
Brian Lopez: Yeah, for me, after doing Shift and Shadow and Bloodline we toured for 18 months. Not really understanding our individual roles within the band. We were fumbling around with the presentation and with what our aesthetic was. Afterwards, having some time to sift through the ashes of what we had just done...I think we were much more dialed into a certain sound and our strengths, when recording The Code. And purposefully honing in on a more focused direction moving forward.
So, The Code, being an EP, was a nice way to do that. It's like an appetizer. Because now we are going to have an LP coming out soon, perhaps later this year.