A couple years ago MTV announced it was going to give more exposure to the electronica scene. In step, the major labels acted accordingly; suddenly the pop music landscape was awash with artists like the Chemical Brothers, the bitch-smackin’ Prodigy and a whole vat of guys named DJ Somethingoranother. While the initial impact was not nearly what had been anticipated — like the music industry has ever been able to predict such a trend — the residual effects have been profound. Not only is there now a whole army of DJ Somethingoranothers, but Madonna’s into it, Madison Avenue’s into it, the pierced-nippled kids are into it.
And the Silos are into it.
Yeah, you heard me right. The Silos. Which means Silos leader Walter Salas-Humara is one dope dude. So dope that he just recently hunkered down in New York City working on a groove-thick project to be called Cooler. So dope that Cooler is an album Salas-Humara describes with terms like “experimental,” “techno,” “house,” “Nine Inch Nails-y” and “a whacked out Booker T. or something.” “Hopefully,” says Salas-Humara, “they’ll play it in clubs. The [songs] are all like eight minutes long.”
At this moment in our conversation, Salas-Humara is reminded that the interview currently taking place is for No Depression magazine, the Alternative Country (whatever that is) Bimonthly. “Oh that’s right, we’re doing this for No Depression,” he chuckles. “Shit, they’re already gonna be turning the page.”
But don’t turn the page just yet, and don’t panic, diehard Silos fans. Cooler is an offshoot from Heater, the Silos’ new album on Checkered Past Records. Cooler features songs from Heater remixed at the mercy of Salas-Humara pals Kevin Salem, Rick Butler, Ryan Hedgecock (of Parlor James) and Chris Maxwell (of Skeleton Key). But Heater is really what we’re here to talk about.
The album features Salas-Humara, who essentially is the Silos, along with “partner in crime” Gary Sunshine and several supporting characters, including Dave McNair, Chuck Prophet and Mary Rowell. It’s warm and fuzzy, replete with Salas-Humara’s scraggly vocals and homespun lyrics. It’s got choruses and verses, distorted guitar passages and acoustic strums, boy-girl harmonies and at least one certifiably Silo-esque violin overture. Of course, it also has drum loops, samples and more grooves than every other Silos album combined. It’s disjointed, slightly unnatural, occasionally weird and not unlike what you might hear on modern-rock radio.
“I listen to Fiona Apple or Alanis Morissette,” says Salas-Humara, basking in the San Fernando Valley sun in the backyard of a friend’s house, his dark, shoulder-length hair occasionally obscuring his gaunt, lined face. “The tracks on those records are as cool as shit. Whether you like those records or not, the tracks are unreal. And they’re a combination of real instruments and technology. The same thing with the Smashing Pumpkins record. I think the people that get into that kind of stuff are the same people that would listen to Hank Williams or something. I think there’s more likely to be those people around now. I think everybody’s ears are used to loops and weird sounds and white noise.”
Are you still with us, fair reader? You should be, because Heater just may be the best album the Silos have done since the near-perfect Cuba in 1987, and the most adventurous since the band’s 1985 debut, About Her Steps.
The Silos began when Floridian Salas-Humara, late of the Vulgar Boatman, hooked up in New York City in the mid-’80s with fellow Floridian Bob Rupe, late of the Bobs. About Her Steps, recorded on four-track mostly by Salas-Humara, was a magical little eight-song effort that captured a time and space like no other record before it. Country rock and the Velvet Underground, said the critics, descriptions that have followed Salas-Humara ever since.
Essentially a self-release (on Salas-Humara’s own Record Collect imprint), it’s a wonder any journalists actually heard the thing. “When we sent our record to The New York Times, I didn’t even know who [NYT music critic] Jon Pareles was,” he says. “I didn’t even write a name on the thing. I just put ‘NEW YORK TIMES’ and put it in the mail. And it was reviewed in the paper the next week.”
The full-length Cuba topped About Her Steps in terms of sheer grace and viscera. The most masterful moment from the core trio of Salas-Humara, lead guitarist Rupe and Mary Rowell — she being responsible for the violin atmospheres — Cuba is not only the Silos’ definitive recording, but one that stands out amid a period of extraordinary creativity among American underground rock bands at the time such as R.E.M., the Replacements and Hüsker Dü. “Tennessee Fire” was awesome garage-rock sprawl, “Mary’s Getting Married” pure bliss, and “Margaret” a disarming look at the day-to-day meaning of love.
And to think that Salas-Humara had reservations. “When we were making that record, I thought we were going far too commercial, that we were just really blowing our whole scene,” he says. “I thought everybody was gonna think it was a big sellout or something.”