Borracho Interview with Steve Fisher: Grabbing the Reins and Knowing the Score

Guitarist/vocalist Steve Fisher of Washington, D.C.-based riff rockers Borracho cuts an imposing figure on stage. There are just these moments where he looks like he wants to jump off the stage and punch everyone in the face. It’s intense — especially since Borracho‘s music, thick though it is, is so welcoming in its grooving mentality, based around his riffs and the right-on chemistry shared between him, bassist Tim Martin and drummer Mario Trubiano. It’s not a contradiction, necessarily, or an inconsistency, but as he tilts his head back to sing up into the mic Motörhead-style, he certainly leaves an impression.

Over the last year-plus, Fisher has come to take on the vocalist and lone-guitarist role after the departure of guitarist/vocalist Noah, who fronted the band on their 2011 debut full-length, Splitting Sky (review here). That album, while long, garnered the band a fervent response, which meant that as they transitioned from a four-piece to the trio they are now, there was added pressure on Fisher as he stepped into his new position. Over the course of the back half of 2012, Borracho went from playing almost entirely instrumentally (as they did at SHoD XII), to gradually incorporating more vocals (as they did in Manhattan last October), to Fisher taking fuller responsibility as the band’s singer by Spring 2013 (as seen in Philly).

It’s a narrative that leads to the release of the band’s second album, Oculus (review here), and the delivery of a performance like that at the recent Eye of the Stoned Goat 3 in Brooklyn, which found Fisher in comfortable command of his part as the guitarist and vocalist, and the band functioning seamlessly as a trio, the guitar and bass tones meshing to one massive whole of rich low-end fuzz, the drums behind punctuating and at time propelling the nod of new songs like “Know the Score” and the jam-laden “Stockpile.” You could call it a victory in progress for Borracho — I’ll gladly argue Oculus is one of the year’s best heavy rock records — but it’s been one hard fought for them.

In the interview that follows, Fisher recounts openly and honestly a year of personal upheaval from 2012-2013, including a bout with cancer and a nasty divorce that both fed into and helped inspire his work alongside Martin and Trubiano, and helped him to stay positive through what were and still are no doubt trying times. He also talks about the process of putting Oculus together after Noah left the band and how the decision came about for him to take on singing instead of bringing someone else in. And I’ll say too that as intimidating as he can be on stage, he was as sincere and positive in his answers, stating explicitly that he wasn’t looking for sympathy, but trying to move forward and work through these issues in the best way he knew how:  with music.

Please find the complete Q&A with Fisher and pics from Eye of the Stoned Goat 3 after the jump, and please enjoy:

When did you guys start writing the songs for Oculus?

We started about in May of last year when Noah moved away and we were trying to figure out what to do with ourselves. We were heading off to play a friend’s birthday party and I was like, “Let’s just write an instrumental set.” In one rehearsal we wrote an entire instrumental set and that really became what Oculus is, it kind of evolved over time. We sat down, wrote a few riffs and expanded on them and it became this instrumental set that we started playing, you saw at SHoD last year. It was the beginning of Oculus. I was forced to start writing lyrics. It evolved over time, that’s what we came up with. It really started out with a friend wanting us to play his birthday party and we wanted to continue playing but we weren’t sure what to do without Noah. We just wrote an instrumental set and over time it became Oculus.

Can you talk about that decision? You felt forced to write lyrics?

We had a lot of conversations about, maybe me taking over vocals, adding a second guitarist or getting another vocalist. What it boiled down to, the three of us get along so well and we work together so well that we didn’t want to add another element that took away from what we were doing or change the dynamic. The three of us were looking at each other and I know I can sing and play at the same time and most of the time sing in key. I kind of offered that up, so here we are. It was mainly that we didn’t want to change the dynamics of the band.

The four of us were all really good friends and it came down to the three of us. I’ve been in so many bands and in touring situations where personalities just clash and it’s miserable. We get along so well and work together well, everyone is very laid back. We didn’t want to change that. We wanted it to be more about the chemistry and having fun than. Obviously there were obstacles to overcome, especially for me. It’s been a lot of work but it really made sense to carry on as a three-piece.

It seems like a gradual process. I saw the SHoD set and that was instrumental, then I caught you guys again at some point over the winter. You were doing it a little bit, and a little more at that Philly show. This last time in Brooklyn you’re full-on fronting the band. You sound confident and comfortable doing it.

Thank you. Learning how to play these and sing at the same time, like I said, I’m new to vocals. It’s not something — I’ve done backup vocals but I’m kind of stepping in that role. It took a lot of practice. It was an evolution over time, a little bit here and there but willing to keep playing and not fall off the radar. When we went into the studio it really lit a fire under my ass. I had to do this. I had never written lyrics in my life, or I had tried and always cringed.

I always threw them away. But this time around, I had a lot of help from both Tim and Mario as far as melodies. I was kind of forced to sit down and just start doing it. Playing music is very important to me, so I really didn’t want to not do it. It’s been very gratifying, getting to this point. I feel like I still have a lot of work to do. I’m getting there, little by little.

You would hope you feel that way, that the process can be ongoing and you can keep growing your approach.

The whole thing with this band is, it has been a process. When we all started this band, we all switched instruments. I’m finally becoming comfortable playing guitar. Mario has gotten really good at drums. It’s been a learning process. And, the vocals ,it’s just another dimension. Another way to grow. There’s been a lot of fun. Working on vocals last night for some new stuff. It has been a lot of fun, it’s challenging.

I saw on Facebook that you were going back in to do vocals. What for? 

For some singles. There are two songs we recorded with Oculus. One was a cover, a Scorpions cover we were asked to do for a tribute. One was an original, which we didn’t think it really fit with the flow of the album so we left it off. At that point, we hadn’t written any lyrics for it. So, going to finish those two and there’s a song from the original sessions, same sessions that “Mob Gathering” and I can’t remember the title now. “Short Ride,” yeah. Same sessions that came from. There’s one song that never had vocals recorded, so we decided to pull that out and finish it up. As an exercise but also to have something in the bag for single opportunities. We’re just finishing up those few songs. I think I have some guitar tracks to record as well, some solos. Mainly going in and doing vocals for the new songs.

When you were putting Oculus together, growing it off those original jams, were you conscious of any change in the process with Noah not being there? Did his absence have any effect?

Musically, not really. The way we write is, someone will come up with a riff and we’ll just jam. Just enjoy playing. Then it’s really an evolution. It starts as a simple riff and then other parts are added. It’s a very enjoyable process but the only thing that really changed was writing the vocals. The lyrics and the melodies. That’s the only thing that really changed. But musically, the same kind of evolution we’ve always had. Someone goes into a riff and jam it. Then have a few beers, smoke something and let it evolve. That’s the way we work, just go into rehearsal and jam something until it evolves.

How was it for you, after coming into this role over the course of however many months, to go into the studio to record vocal parts?

I was terrified. I think I had done lead vocals on one song in my life and that was when I was 17. I hope that recording never resurfaces. I’m not real comfortable with my voice. But, I tried singing a few different ways. But yeah, I was terrified doing the vocals. Especially in a band that has a change in a singer, we’re really under a microscope. At one point I was just like, “This is what we have to do to keep on going.” I put everything out of my mind and went in. Frank, whom we recorded with, is such a good guy. He made it very comfortable for me. We got down to business and knocked it out.

I’ve never been comfortable with my voice. I always try singing a few different ways and see what sounds best to me, or what I’m most comfortable with. It really helped having Frank, just recording with him. The guy is a genius. He’s such a good guy and was able to make me feel very comfortable and not self-conscious. I’m still self-conscious about the vocals. Even last night recording with just Tim and Mario, I was very self-conscious. Getting there.

How do you feel about the results on the album?

I’m very proud of the album. We all are. Once I got past the listening-to-the-vocals part, at some point I had to listen to it and not think about it as me singing and think about it as a whole package. I was very happy with the results. Listening back there’s always things you want to change, but for where we are, and what we’ve been through for the past year and a half since Noah left, I’m very proud of the way Oculus has turned out. I think Mario and Tim are proud of it too. At the same time, as soon as we’re done recording I’m ready to start working on the next album.

The thing is, considering all you guys have been through with losing Noah and coming into this vocalist role. It hasn’t been that long since the first record. It was 2011, two years. You’ve had singles, and other vinyl stuff out the whole time. It’s almost like you didn’t miss a beat.

We try to stay on top of things. Try and keep putting stuff out so people don’t forget about us. Americans especially have very short memories. I’ve been through a lot of personal stuff in the past year as well. The music side has kept me going. It’s been… As far as getting the releases done and all the shows, that’s all on Mario and Tim. They take care of that. We try and keep busy and try to not fade away. This band is very important to me, and Mario and Tim as well. We just want to keep it going. Keep things positive and keep on a roll.

It seems like the first record got such a tremendous response and the band had some pretty good momentum. I guess the work that you guys have done to keep that going is evident. You can tell that you’re trying to do as much as you can.

It’s a labor of love. All of us love playing music and it’s a huge part of my life.  For me personally over the past year it’s been an extremely important thing in my life. I’ve been through the worst year of my life and music has, just being able to stay busy playing music. We’re constantly writing music, but being able to record, do shows, have a good time, hang out with other bands and meet new people has been so important in my life lately. It’s hard to explain. It’s just very important for us to be out there, doing shows and making friends with bands and fans. It’s really — being out there and meeting people has helped keep us going.

I don’t want to press, but you said it was the worst year of your life. Do you want to talk about it?

I’ll talk to you about it but I really don’t want to come across as looking for any kind of sympathy or that I’m complaining about life. I’m sure you noticed I now I have no hair. One review you did after I shaved my beard off, you mentioned that you hadn’t recognized me. I had cancer. I got a free haircut with the surgery. Having to deal with that, I’m going through a pretty bad divorce. A lot of really bad things, my mother almost died a few times. She was in the hospital for weeks. All this stuff was going on while we were recording Oculus.

Just a lot of stuff in my life. Being in the thick of it it was just a really hard time in my life. Recording Oculus really helped me keep focused on what’s important in life and helped me focus on the positive things in life. You have to live your life for what’s important. The band is really — Tim and Mario helped me through all this stuff. They’ve been there 100 percent. Just the whole process of recording and writing, also doing the shows, being on the road has helped me emotionally. It’s really kept me focused on why we live life.

I’ve been through a lot in the past year. I won’t even get into my divorce. I could write a daytime soap opera based on my life and it’s just so unbelievable the shit I’ve been through. I look back; I’m in a much better place now. I look back, yeah, okay, life goes on. The band is doing great, I have good friends and a good family and a beautiful daughter. That’s what matters in life. Focus on the positive stuff. The band has really been a huge part of getting me through the times I’ve been through.

The music is obviously something I hold near and dear but also the friendship with Tim and Mario has been incredible. I can’t stress enough how close we are as a band. And the fact that we still get along on the road is great.

Long hours in the van can be rough on people.

It’s funny. On a lot of these long drives they really get on my case about writing lyrics. Get your little book out. So a lot of lyrics were written sitting in the back of the van, going to a show somewhere. Those guys keep me focused.

How is your health now? 

It looks like everything is good. I have a follow up on Tuesday, right before I go into the studio. It’s looking like I will live a little while longer.

Glad to hear it.

I’m certainly glad to hear it.

Given all of that, was there something about how all of this going on — was there anything in the lyrics that helped you deal with that? Did you touch on any of that?

Yeah, there’s a lot in the lyrics that have been about my life in the past year. Some of it is getting frustration out, trying to get the anger out towards certain people. The lyrics are full of personal experiences. There are some very angry lyrics in this stuff. It’s more of me having to get this stuff out of me. I don’t want to be an angry person but I had to express myself to help move along with where I was. So, yeah. The lyrics are full of what my life has been through in the past year.

Was there something about the title Oculus that played into those ideas?

That was Mario that came up with that. It just made a lot of sense to me. I have an obsession with eyes. Being the window to the soul and all of that. Mario suggested that and it just made sense to me. We were trying to figure out a title to the album and nothing was sticking, nothing that we really liked. Then Mario threw that out. Wow, I thought it was perfect.

You mentioned that as soon as you were done recording you wanted to start writing the next one. Have you?

Yeah, we’ve been pretty busy. Every time we rehearse. We always start with throwing out a riff and jamming on it for a half hour. Then we get down to business with rehearsing the songs and trying to be tight. I’m always writing. I can’t help myself. People sit down and practice scales on guitar. I have to sit down and practicing writing music. The last band I was in I wrote all the music. I actually was kind of — I had a role in the band where I had to sit down and write an album every year. The situation we’re in now is a lot more relaxed. I don’t actually sit down to write, I just come up with riffs and start playing them in practice and we start jamming on them.

We let everything evolve. It’s really a group effort, coming up with these songs. I have ideas for the next album. The kind of direction I’m going in is probably going to be… Well, I’m kind of hoping we’ll be able to do a double-album. Just because there’s a lot of ideas going around. A lot of different feelings I want to express through music. I have an idea for the next album that I want to do. We just have to work it out. I’m always writing. I’ll sit down and write an album in a weekend. Not necessarily for Borracho, but I’ll write music. We have a lot of solid ideas for the next album. We just have to pick through all the jams we have and figure out what we want to work on.

In the meantime, do you have any other plans? More touring? I know you’re coming to New York.

Yeah, that’s the set in stone. We’re playing somewhere in Maryland. We’re playing D.C., then somewhere in Maryland then doing the New York show. After that, we have an opportunity to go out to Ohio. We’re trying to work out the logistics with that, with the bands we want to play with. It keeps changing; everyone’s schedules keep changing. At the end of October/November, Tim goes away for a while. So we’ll take a short break. We’re actually trying to figure out where we want to go in early October to play. Thinking of heading south. We are planning on some weekenders; just don’t know where yet beyond the show in New York and the D.C. and Maryland show. Also I’m really the wrong guy to ask about shows. They tell me as they’re coming up and I say okay. I’m self-employed so I make my own schedule. But I can’t think too far into the future.

On that note, what about the vinyl release for Oculus?

Last I heard it should be released in October and we’re discussing last night, it looks like it’s being released in Japan, US and Europe on vinyl. I’m on a mission to get us released in South America and Australia now.

I guess that would be the territory left to cover.

Slow world domination is the goal.

Borracho, Oculus (2013)

Borracho on Thee Facebooks

Borracho on Bandcamp

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply