A funny thing has happened since I reviewed Splitting Sky, the first full-length from Washington D.C. outfit Borracho. I haven’t listened to the record in a couple weeks — right up until I put it on just now to write this — and yet as recently as this morning before my daily caffeine load up, I had the chorus of “Grab the Reins” stuck in my head. Of all the debuts I’ve heard and reviewed this year, Borracho‘s may have left the strongest and most lasting impression.
For that alone, it’s worth featuring the band, but after I got to see them in-person opening for Truckfighters in Manhattan, I felt like I understood even better what it was about the songs that had stayed with me to such an extent. By combining Clutch-style riffy groove with just a touch of dirt-rock grit and burl into solid rhythms and topping it with truly killer lead work from guitarist Steve Fisher, Borracho have crafted a sound that’s like a nod to rock heads, as though, while they’re standing in front of you playing, they’re going, “Check out this shit I came up with. It rules.”
More than anything else, what Splitting Sky sounds like is the first statement from a band looking to leave a lasting mark on the scene. The reception has been huge, and aside from wanting to get the band’s take on that, I thought it would be interesting to find out their take on where they fit in the long-running D.C. legacy of heavy/doom rockers, and a bit more info on their basic bio and how they came together from the now-defunct units Assrockers and Adam West. Drummer Mario Trubiano was kind enough to field the interview on behalf of the band as a whole.
Borracho is Trubiano, Fisher, bassist Tim Martin and guitarist/vocalist Noah. Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions, and expect much more on these guys in the future.
We were all buds who played music together for years in Assrockers and Adam West. In 2007, Adam West did not go to Europe to tour for the first time since 2000, and Assrockers’ activity level was pretty low while we were looking for a new bass player. I kicked the idea to Steve and Noah about doing something with me on drums, Steve on guitar, and Noah singing, since the three of us have all been big fans of stoner rock for a long time. They both liked it in theory but we didn’t get right on it. As soon as Tim heard about it he wanted in, and he was in.
We had the Assrockers rehearsal space available, so one night we finally got together, Steve came in with his gear and the rest of us took up one of the others’ rigs. I think Noah had two or three songs he’d been working on, and Steve had a LOT of riffs, parts, and sections, and we just jammed that night. There was undeniable chemistry, but it was pretty rough.
In 2008, we got together regularly, and even cut a two-take, live-in-studio version of our song “Rectify” that we arranged to have on a split 7” with Adam West to be available for what was to be the farewell Adam West tour in Europe. But that year was pretty focused on the new Adam West record ESP and that tour. Assrockers was still writing, playing a few shows, and rehearsing, with Bruce Falkinburg on bass.
By 2009, with Adam West fully retired, Borracho began to hit a stride. We had a lot of songs ready to record, had played some cool shows with our buds from Ol’ Scratch, Cortez, and Sun Gods in Exile, but we weren’t playing out too much. We began tracking what we thought was going to be our debut in a fly-by-night studio in an old vacant mansion in Arlington, Virginia. We actually moved into the mansion for rehearsal during the same time. It was a super cool spot, but the outcome of the sessions wasn’t up to snuff for a bunch of reasons, and it actually was never finished at all. Some progress on the recordings continued into 2010, but we were all pretty disappointed with what we got and ultimate shelved it. We ended up with some reasonable demos of “Concentric Circles” and “Never Get it Right.”
During this period I started realizing I was becoming more of a drummer than a guitarist, which was a pretty startling revelation. Bruce left Assrockers, and the band moved to a space that we didn’t ever fully get comfortable in, and really just stopped playing with any endgame. 2010 was notable for Borracho only for launching our website, and getting together with more old friends we had shared the stage with before in our other bands. We loved bringing The Brought Low to D.C., Scott [Fuse] from Cortez came down here with his other band Black Thai, and we met and played with the guys in El Grande, who have become our local brothers in rock.
2. Tell me how Borracho’s sound developed to the point of Splitting Sky. The album has been so well received, and Borracho’s style seems to have a pretty diverse range of influence. What inspires a song like “Concentric Circles” as opposed to “Grab the Reins?”
Most of what ended up becoming Splitting Sky was material we all collaborated on. Our writing process became pretty fluid – usually starting with a riff and a jam. Steve is a riff-aholic!! I’d say the earlier days when we were all getting more comfortable with our instruments, we were more structured. We’ve built a much more collaborative process in the last year or so, and our newer material came together pretty quickly just from jams during rehearsals. Splitting Sky has a mix of tunes – from those that were brought in by Steve or Noah and some that we really wrote all together. I think that really is the reason why you can hear some of the difference in influences.
We actually have a bunch of great songs that didn’t make it onto the record, more because they didn’t mesh with other songs the way the eight tracks from Splitting Sky just work together. We actually have quite a bit of faster material – tunes that didn’t make the record, but that don’t lack in quality, just space/time. We’re hoping to put these tunes to good use soon!
We definitely all are huge fans of all kinds of music, and the area of overlap in our tastes is pretty much squarely the sound you hear from us. That being said, I wouldn’t expect our next record to sound a lot like this one. We don’t feel any pressure to be limited in our approach, and so far the new material we’re working on has its own vibe and we won’t know what the next song will sound like till we jump into it. I think we all feel fortunate to be able to play music with the same guys for five and 10 years, and be able to sustain the chemistry we all have even after changing instruments. Our sound just comes from clicking as musicians and friends.
3. How did you get hooked up with Frank Marchand, and how was recording with him? Did you do the album all at once? What was the time in the studio like?
Ah, we thank our boys from El Grande, who brought him along to do sound at a couple shows we played with them in D.C. and out in Maryland in their neck of the woods. Amazingly Frank asked us if we wanted to do some recording with him because he really liked our sound. The timing of it was just right. We had wasted a lot of time on our previous recording venture, and really wanted to lock down a time and place to do a proper recording session. We met Frank at the exact right time in December 2010, and immediately made plans to get in the studio in March to cut the record.
Working with Frank at such a nice studio that was literally minutes from all of our houses made for one of the best recording experiences any of us have ever had. Beforehand, we weren’t sure if we had the time to record everything we wanted to record. We talked about doing an EP. In the end we said fuck it – let’s do as much as we can. The energy was right, the sound was amazing, and we were well rehearsed. I cut all the drums in the first weekend and we ended up keeping most of the live guitar and bass tracks. We went in another weekend session to finish up guitar overdubs and track vocals, a day to mix and a day to master, and we were done. It all went extremely smoothly. You don’t want to be in a studio and feel like you’re working. I mean at times it’s laborious, but overall you want to feel like you are creating, you want to be psyched. We felt pretty quickly that we were onto something good, so we were in fantastic spirits. It exceeded our expectations as far as the experience and the outcome go.
This is a fitting, but funny question that could be answered in a bunch of different ways. First off, we’re humble guys. We play music because we love it. It’s a flattering prospect to be considered a part of some pedigree. But it feels different in D.C. than maybe it did in Baltimore and the area of MD most known for the doom scene. The past 10 years in D.C. proper hasn’t been very nice to heavy bands. We’ve felt almost alienated in this town at times. I think there’s something to be said about the bands you’re referring to – Pentagram, Spirit Caravan, Clutch, Sixty Watt Shaman, etc. – actually all being guys from Maryland. Part of that scene was that a lot of kids grew up together, they were mostly all friends. It kind of nurtured itself.
Borracho is a bit different by nature because we’re all from all over the place. It’s interesting that we met here – our only shared experience is here and it’s been that way for years so certainly there is a good amount of Maryland dirt cooked in. But we all take something from our respective scenes in Boston, New York, Colorado, the Midwest, and even London, where Steve spent some formative musical years. We don’t have these influences of what our direct peers, who we grew up with and played in a bunch of other bands with would have.
5. You guys are playing Stoner Hands of Doom XI next month at Krug’s Place in Frederick. How did that come about and is there anyone in particular you’re looking forward to seeing?
We actually talked to Rob and Cheryl back in 2009 about playing, but it didn’t work out. As soon as I heard they were bringing it back this year I dropped a note to them to see if they still had any space. We pretty much picked up one of the last slots. The timing is actually just right. With our album just out we’re hoping that some folks will come with the intention of seeing us, but in the end there’s a huge potential for exposure that a regular show doesn’t get you. We’re looking forward to it. We definitely see a show like this and even the one we just played in New York as amazing opportunities to get in front of more fans of the this kind of music. If we can make some new fans opening up the entire festival Friday evening then we’ll have succeeded. So – if you are coming to SHoD please come early Friday to catch us!
I for one am excited to see Earthride who I haven’t seen in ages, Electric Magma from Canada, and Gates of Slumber who are playing Friday night too! But mostly we’re all stoked to just take in a ton of good tunes, meet and hang with the other bands, and get to be fans for a few days.
6. Any other shows coming up, plans or closing words you want to mention?
We’ve got some shows in the works in September and October, including a CD release show. We’ll be announcing each of them as they are confirmed, but we should have some shows in the D.C./Baltimore area, a trip up to the northeast, and a trip down south. The vinyl release of Splitting Sky is scheduled for early-September on No Balls Records, and we’ll be selling them at shows, on our site, and through No Balls directly. We also have another announcement that we’ll be making soon about another vinyl release. You’ll have to wait for that one.
Lastly, thanks to everyone in the scene for all of the support, and for making this one of the best underground scenes for bands and fans. We look forward to delivering quality music long into the future, meeting a lot of great people – fans and bands – and continuing to nurture this scene with all of you!
Tags: Borracho, No Balls Records, Washington D.C.