Hecuba are Jon Beasley and Isabelle Albuquerque and they will be releasing their debut Sir EP later this month. They speak now from their little apartment before heading to the desert to perform at the Manimal Festival.
What are the most evolutionarily desirable traits of animal and man?
Isabelle Albuquerque (singing/writing): I like these questions! What are the most desirable cat traits? Instinct, can go down a nine-story drop no problem… Mice can hide anywhere. They have a really good sense of smell.
Jon Beasley (producer/electronics/etc.): They’re good scavengers. They don’t have to think too hard.
What has Hecuba scavenged lately?
I: Funny you ask—I love to scavenge. There’s kind of a new rule—when we lived in New York, Jon set down the rule: no more trash in the house! I’m so hungry for things on the street, but I’ve been pretty good. Mostly rocks and twigs and pods lately.
Are you nesting?
I: We live near Echo Park lake. We make maracas out of pods—they make good shakers.
Why is Isabelle the mouse and Jon the cat?
I: In the EP we were exploring these ideas of power a little bit. The big guy and the little guy were coming out a lot—man-woman and all that stuff. And the mouse always wins—the mouse is a little smarter.
J: The first song for the record was ‘Sir,’ and there’s a line in the song—‘like a cat and mouse, you’re looking after me.’ There was something interesting in that idea of what ‘looking after me’ could be. Maybe cat and mouse were friends even though they’re biological enemies.
Like in the Warner cartoons when the sheepdog and the wolf clock out and say goodbye?
I: Exactly. And we have to tell you a story you won’t believe. I want you to believe it—it’s true.
J: I was picking Isabelle up from her sister’s house and I saw the back of a strange dog go by and then the back of a cat go by, and there was something weird about it. And then they came by again to the front of the hill where I could see—the first one was a coyote, and the second was a tabby cat!
I: He was chasing the coyote! A house cat! If we had had a videocam, we’d be millionaires!
What is the Sir concept? Some of it seems like it’s from Orwell—some of the lines about language and authority.
J: One big thing indirectly—a book that’s one of my favorites. Heart of a Dog by Bulgakov—a Russian writer. Basically the fable of a dog on the streets who’s taken in and ends up becoming human, but he still holds on to the dogness. It’s a real conflict, and in the end he goes back to being a dog and he’s much happier. It’s a really intense satirical book—written in 1925. It didn’t come out right away—I’m no expert, but I think it was censored. But it’s amazing. And also the sense of the fable—that really old way of putting characters into animals to make these metaphors. And the other huge influence on us musically and on this record is Peter And The Wolf. Especially for the record—really trying to make the music illustrative. Like ‘Tom And Jerry’—we’re trying to be really literal with turning sounds into images. Like ’3-D.’ ‘Wooooosh!’ And I’ve always been super into the idea that each animal has a voice that’s an instrument. I really like to try to tell stories. The music is just not background for the words. It illustrates the ideas. We come at it from—without a better way to say it—a cinematic frame of mind. We want it like a film—it tells a story.
The record has kind of a funny sense of nostalgia.
I: It’s almost like looking back from the future. That’s so prevalent in L.A.—even that Hollywood idea is really old, but you still feel it. We got inspired by Walt Disney. We were thinking of him as one of the greatest artists of the 20th century. And he’s so close to us—at Forest Lawn! We just feel him!
J: We’re really affected by place in another way. Like the songs that we’ve made since that EP that we’re working on for the new record—that we play live—are much more deeply involved in the west.
I: The dreamers.
Of the golden dream?
I: That’s exactly it. The whole idea of all these people coming here. And we’re dreamers.
J: Same as the gold rush. I think there is something about what starts a place that stays there. The spirit of California, and it’s still that way. It creeped in.
I: I did a series of posters for a show—the headshots. I found a beautiful headshot that started it, but I had to find others, so we went to Hollywood Boulevard and dug through photos of forgotten people. So much longing—so deep. You’re like—‘Oh…’
J: It’s sad and beautiful—but not sad at the same time.
Do you find funny things strike you as sad more often than sad things strike you as funny?
J: I’m not sure. I think sometimes our songs begin sadder than they end up, you know? We want it to have both sides. ‘Tom And Jerry’ is about scary things in a way, but it’s buried in there. The cartoon sounds and all that stuff gives your more dimensions.
I: Things that we’re all afraid of or that make us all totally sad—it’s a way to talk about them in an abstract way. It’s abstract if you can laugh. Josephine Baker made sex funny in the ‘20s.
J: Even Disney.
I: Bambi! Shit, you wanna die after that!
J: The beauty is so almost like candy but so sad that it’s amazing, too. Both extremes exist at once, but it’s super not real. It’s more real because it’s not real.
I: Ecstatic reality.
That’s a huge California tradition.
I: Absolutely, and we’re embracing it. Even more than embracing—we don’t do it as much anymore, but we used to write songs in character a lot. Even coming from like kind of gross places—becoming the gross one instead of just talking about it. That’s very Los Angeles.
Which song is about the geodesic dome home?
I: That’s one of our oldest songs, and we haven’t been doing it live and we never put it out. But Jon makes art for record covers—
The dome in flames.
I: He built that from scratch—a four-foot dome. The whole utopian idea. And he took it to the next level by burning it down.
J: It’s the same thing as the look in the eyes of actors—totally a dream. More beautiful than what really happened.
What happened to your opera about Brian Aldiss?
J: It’s how we started making music together. A sci-fi opera. We just finished writing material for the next record and the project we started today was doing the actual sci-fi opera.
I: Before when we approached it, we did it as songs—almost like writing a record. But now we wanna have a very strong narrative. We’re writing the story. But we keep writing Solaris again and again—we need to think of something completely original!
J: Yeah, that’s not something hard at all—coming up with a new sci-fi idea! We were reading his stuff a lot—and Bradbury. And also AI the film.
I: Which everyone hates but Jon, and after years of brainwashing I kind of like it.
J: I read it more as parable of Spielberg’s own career and artistic life—it was definitely an influential thing, you know? But for me, there’s two things of sci-fi—the Kubrick side and the Spielberg side. It’s definitely not the cold versus the emotional because I think Kubrick is so intensely emotional it’s hard to deal with. And it’s not control because they both got complete control. It’s not simply dark and light—there’s a philosophical difference. Kubrick just has a darker way of seeing the end of the question. Spielberg I feel is much more… not alone. He’s looking for the family and Kubrick is by himself. Don’t print any of this! I don’t want this to be my treatise—then I’ll get punched in the face!
How does Hecuba resolve the question?
I: I don’t think it does resolve.
J: Even just personally in my life—I think one thing that’s interesting about trying to make a narrative is not looking for the end. Deep down at the very bottom of the essence of things, there is no real thing saying ‘this is the end.’ It’s more about opening different ways of looking at things.
I: And it all comes into music—like Close Encounters where they try and communicate! When I do a performance—it looks so retarded but my hands are reaching out to try and touch people! It’s unconscious—in photos, I’m like, ‘What an idiot! Oh my God!’ But what really attracts me to sci-fi is to try and touch people—to reach out. Making music is such direct communication. It blows my mind every day! It’s a language that’s easier to speak with. More people can speak it—hopefully! Hopefully they’re teaching music in school.
What did you learn about music in school?
I: Jon’s family was part of a church that was very musical.
J: I played the bells and my dad was the organist and both my parents were on the church choir. I think I took piano lessons and hated it when I was a little kid.
I: Recently we went to Tennessee where Jon’s family lives and saw Jon’s dad’s old records.
J: Switched-On Bach, Peter and the Wolf—lots of weird stuff but the ones that jumped out were those. And Fiddler On The Roof. And Alvin and the Chipmunks! But I don’t think that had much impact.
I kind of think it did.
J: Oh my God, it did! It’s on ‘Tom And Jerry.’
I: My mom was actually a visual artist—but we went to a Laurie Anderson concert and I realized that since I was little, I always had like Steve Reich and Laurie Anderson infliuences. Now I start to see that in what I’m doing—you don’t think about it until you look back.
Didn’t your mother put out records in Tunisia?
I: My great-grandma in Tunisia—she was a singer and a whole orchestra. She was quite well known. She was pretty ahead of her time. She’d travel with her band and they’d go everywhere. That had a huge influence on me. I went to Tunisia a few times as a kid and that type of music has different types of rhythms. In Tunisia, a lot of times the women are separated—I learned this from a documentary, not from my family—and in the women’s part, every woman has their own beat. So they have like tea parties and everyone has a drum and everyone dances to their own beat! I got my own, too, and it’s very odd!
KXLU AND L.A. RECORD PRESENT HECUBA WITH ARIEL PINK, GANGI, RAINBOW ARABIA, THE CHAPIN SISTERS, THE WINTER FLOWERS AND MANY MORE AT THE MANIMAL FESTIVAL ON SAT., JUNE 7, AT PAPPY AND HARRIET’S, 53688 PIONEERTOWN RD., PIONEERTOWN. 3 PM / $20 / ALL AGES. MANIMALVINYL.COM. AND WITH DAVID SCOTT STONE, VOICE ON TAPE AND FANTASTIC MAGIC ON THUR., JUNE 12, AT ECHO CURIO, 1519 SUNSET BLVD., ECHO PARK. 9 PM / CONTACT FOR COVER / ALL AGES. ECHOCURIO.COM. AND WITH BARR AND LACO$TE FOR THE SIR EP RELEASE PARTY ON TUE., JUNE 24, AT THE ECHO, 1822 SUNSET BLVD., ECHO PARK. 8:30 PM / FREE / 21+. SIR RELEASES TUE., JUNE 24, ON MANIMAL VINYL. VISIT HECUBA AT HECUBAHECUBA.COM OR MYSPACE.COM/HECUBAHECUBA.