Walter Salas-Humara - The man behind the Silos turns on his Radar gun
Walter Salas-Humara's new release, RADAR, is not a drastic departure from his previous records, but it does bring some new elements into the fold. There's a quirkiness in the first three-quarters of the disc that lends itself well to the songs. The last part of RADAR sounds related to much of his older work. Enough with the analyzing, though; it's a good record that deserves to be heard and should please the fans of old. Salas-Humara's musical background seemed much like a lot of 30-odd-years-old musicans' background. He grew up digging '70s hard-rock and then got nailed by the punk explosion. He seems a little frustrated by being lumped in with the folkier crowd, given that his first loves were bands such as the Velvet Underground and the Allman Brothers. Ultimately, he writes and records whatever he feels like and whatever moves him. ND: So Walter, after being on the East Coast for so long, did the move to Los Angeles affect your sound? WSH: Well of course every place you move to makes things different. One thing it did was I had a lot more free time because when I came out here, I didn't really know anybody. It also forced me to go on the road more. ND: One thing I noticed was that your writing seemed to shift gears away from the domestic subjects. Is that something you noticed yourself? WSH: Definitely. I think I got away from that leaving the East Coast. Coming out here was a totally different ballgame. I kind of started all over again. At the same time, it was when we got dropped by RCA too. ND: I think you sort of hit a universal chord in people with the domestic subjects of those records. WSH: I used to always get girls coming up to me saying, "Oh God .... your wife is so lucky." (laughing) I was like "Ahhhhh .... get me outta here .... quick!" ND: You just seemed so sensitive.... WSH: Meanwhile, the live show -- Mary (Rowell, longtime Silos violinist) wasn't really playing live, with me and Bob and these huge fuckin' guitar amps. We'd always play CBGBs with these 4x12 cabinets turned to 8. ND: What are the differences between a Silos record and a Walter Salas-Humara solo record? WSH: Well, the first Silos record is really a solo record. It's just that my name was so weird that I came up with the Silos name. That record really came out before there was even a band. Then the band came together; the band being Mary, Bob, myself, and a revolving rhythm section. Then we made the Cuba record. ND: Did you have a feeling about how great the songs were going to be for that record? WSH: (laughing) No, not at all. I thought "Oh man, what have I done; it's so commercial. This is going to ruin my whole cool reputation." ND: Do you still think that record is commercial sounding? WSH: Oh, of course not -- not now. But I was such an art guy. ND: You're probably sick of hearing this about that album, because you still make great records, but when Cuba came out, it totally thew me for a loop. I think it was probably the time period also. You were probably 25 or 23 and more impressionable. Do you find it frustrating that people keep going back to Cuba as your landmark record? WSH: Well, do you think Lou Reed is frustrated because people like the third Velvet Underground album? ND: I think he might be. WSH: I wouldn't be; it's a great album. I mean, how many masterpieces can one artist have -- even if you do a lot of great records and maybe the one considered a masterpiece is only marginally better than the other ones. ND: Was the major-label thing a bad experience after doing it yourself for so long? WSH: In a way it was like we were never a major-label artist. Like even when we were on RCA, they never treated us like, "Hey these guys are the next big thing." It was never anything like that for us. The guy who was running RCA at the time told us he loved the band and that Cuba was one of his favorite records. So, it was like, "Here's this huge pile of money; do whatever you want." (laughing) ND: So you turned a Florida theater into a recording studio. WSH: Yeah; isn't that great? ND: When the president of RCA was let go, did they just turn loose most of his projects? WSH: RCA is owned by a German conglomerate, and they basically were looking at the bottom line. They hadn't made any money in, like, five years or so. So they just said, "Times up .... next." ND: That's too bad, because it's a really good record and I think had it come out now, it would have an easier time selling. WSH: They really didn't have such a hard time selling it. The record was doing pretty good. The company totally stopped. They fired the top guy and everything ceased. ND: Do you think they had a clue as to how to market your music? WSH: Once everything changed, no. Once everything changed, they didn't even know who we were. If they wouldn't have fired [Bob] Buziak [the man who signed the Silos to RCA], that would have been the most happenin' label. Bob was a very smart guy. ND: The RCA record is the last one you did with Bob Rupe. Anything you'd like to say about that? WSH: Bob is a real talented guy. ND: Just time to move on? WSH: Yeah, time to move on, and we weren't even living in the same town anymore. ND: So the Silos are a steady group of people or just a revolving cast? WSH: Pretty much a revolving group of people. ND: You also formed the Vulgar Boatmen early in your career.... WSH: At that time it was just me and the only other original member who is still in the band, Carey Crane. It was us, a saxophone and a rhythm section. It was very different then -- sort of post-punk, kind of like somewhere between Pere Ubu and the Bush Tetras. (laughing) More of a party or frat version of the Bush Tetras. ND: And how about the Setters project? WSH: That's kind of a crazy story. Michael Hall wanted to play this Berlin music festival and as kind of a selling point, he told them off the top of his head that he had this band and that Walter Salas-Humara was in it and so was Alejandro Escovedo. When they asked him the name, he just came up with the Setters. So they said "cool" and booked him on. He called me up and I said, "Yeah, sure." I'd hardly met Al; we literally just met at JFK in New York when we flew to Berlin. We really lucked out; we got this loft above these musicians and we rehearsed with their gear and borrowed it for the gig at this jazz club. It was really fun. Then this guy who owned a record store over there came up to us and said, "Hey, I really like you guys, I'd like to make a record with you." So we're figuring, "Right, who is this guy?", but he came up with the money. We didn't really write any songs for the record, so we just used songs we had. Then the guy sat on the record for a long time. We recorded it in March of '92. He kept saying he was gonna put it out, but he never did. In the meantime, I recorded another Silos record with some of those songs. Then, of course, the Setters record comes out at the same time as the Silos record. (laughing) I thought, "This is a bummer," but what can you do about it? ND: Will there be another Setters record? WSH: I'm always up for it, but only if we had enough time to really rehearse and really do it. ND: What music are you into these days? WSH: I like the Pram record. They're sort of like Stereolab. I'm into Pavement; they're probably my favorite band. ND: That's funny you brought that up, because in "Evangeline" from your new record, it sounds like you're saying Pavement in the chorus. WSH: Yeah, I saw them at Lollopalooza and they were great. Sonic Youth were great too; I like their new stuff.