Alex Cuervo is best known as the frontman and guitarist for Austin’s fine purveyors of garage rock ‘n’ roll, the Hex Dispensers. However, his new project might throw you for a loop. Espectrostatic‘s self-titled LP, out today through Trouble in Mind, is 13 tracks of Carpenter-inspired electronic creepiness. I enjoyed the preview on Bloody Disgusting so much that I bought all three of Trouble in Mind’s newest releases to get the limited color version of Cuervo’s album.
Cuervo (legal name: Alex Sargent) spoke with us via e-mail about the difference between Espectrostatic and the Hex Dispensers, and why it’s not as much of a change as you might think.
Even in the Hex Dispensers, your work is tinged with horror — the witch stirring the pot on the cover of the “Lose My Cool” single, the lyrics and artwork of Winchester Mystery House — so Espectrostatic ought not come as a thematic surprise to your fans. However, the music itself is a pretty drastic departure. What was the impetus?
My day job is writing music for advertising, online promos, and music libraries. Nothing incredibly sexy — I mean it’s fun work, but it’s still work, you know? My real ambition however is to score feature films for a living, specifically unconventional indie horror and science fiction movies. TV and video games too of course — I’m crazy about all that stuff. Espectrostatic was initially just a way for me to practice using the tools of media music trade (sample libraries, synthesizers, etc.) in a fun, exploratory way. Eventually it kind of grew to live in the space between the Hex Dispensers and the underscore/functional music I’ve been working on.
It says in your bio you only learned to play the piano a couple of years back. How have you come so far in such a short time?
Well, I play every day. I’m still not a very good pianist, but I’m agile enough to work out melodic and harmonic ideas on the keyboard and then edit them on the computer. I took piano lessons from a good friend for about a year while I was devouring composition and music theory. It was all kind of a crash course, but I’ve dumped an insane amount of time into it.
Horror movie soundtracks are only just now starting to get reconsidered as legitimate music.
Yeah, it’s really taken off lately hasn’t it? I guess it’s gonna be like surf rock was in the ’90s (but that’s seeing a revival now too … funny how that all works).
What’s been your perception of the work of John Carpenter and your other influences over the years — how did you come to this music, specifically?
Well, I’m 42, so a lot of it was attached to the films I was obsessed with when I was a kid. John Carpenter and Alan Howarth’s stuff is way up on top of the pile for me personally. I love Frizzi, Goblin, Tangerine Dream — all that stuff, but Carpenter is just the sweet spot for me. I would be lying if I didn’t admit that Umberto really rekindled my love for this kind of music. I’m a huge fan of his stuff.
Your influences are one thing, but what do you watch regularly — for instance, what movie do you throw on and just let run in the background when push comes to shove?
It varies, but I do this a lot. Sometimes I’ll fire up a movie with the sound off when I’m writing just to soak up it’s vibes, pace and colors. I did this a lot when working on this LP. I also keep a tumblr of images that feed into the range of aesthetics I’m trying to touch on. I usually have that open on a second monitor while I’m working. I’ll just scroll through all the images when I’m listening to playback of a musical idea and sometimes a weird pseudo-narrative materializes and I build off of that.
Is it strictly films, or are there other things from which you take inspiration? I know you’re a pretty big gamer.
Yeah, I love video games. I’m drawn to all kinds of visual stuff. Books, comics, TV shows — I’m constantly devouring visual stimulation. My wife and I collect toys, oddball antiques and art; our home is a fun, cozy little fort of spookiness.
Well, more than wanting to do the usual “soundtrack for a movie that doesn’t exist” kind of thing that’s cohesive and self-referential (the way an actual film score would be), I wanted to touch on and explore a variety of things that interest me. The guiding principle was to make an “occult science fiction” sort of thing, but it kind of ricocheted all over the place stylistically and I just went with that.
Is this strictly a studio project, or do you have plans to take it out at some point?
Initially it was just going to be a studio thing, but Alyse (my wife, who plays drums in the Hex Dispensers) and I are plotting ways we could pull it off live so that it’s not just another dude sitting at a laptop kind of affair. Plans are in motion — but it remains to be seen if we can pull it off or not.
I know you’ve released quite a bit of material through Trouble in Mind, both Hex Dispensers and solo work, but this is such a step away from anything the label’s done that it came as quite a surprise. How did Espectrostatic end up on this label best known for garage and power pop?
They’ve really been exploring a lot of avenues lately. That Verma LP is unlike anything they’d done before and it’s just killer. I love that album. Montibus Communitas too. They’re really stretching the boundaries of what their label is and I think it’s awesome. Bill and Lisa are just ravenous music nerds. They freak out about such a diverse range of styles. Lisa is a krautrock maniac and Bill is secretly goth. I agree that this Espectrostatic album is a little bit of a stretch, but when you consider the droney/atmospheric/psychedelic components of it, I guess it sort of makes sense. I’m just thrilled they wanted to release it because I think it’s such a great label.