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May 1st, 2013 MATTHEW SINGER | Music Stories
 

Family Function

Meet the Salas-Humaras.

music_salas-humaras_3926AIR-GUITAR LESSONS: Charlie Salas-Humara (left) with his uncle Walter, circa 1991. - Image Courtesy of Charlie Salas-Humara
Walter Salas-Humara and Charlie Salas-Humara have nothing in common. 

Well, except for the last name, of course. And Charlie’s dad, who happens to be Walter’s brother. In musical terms, though, they don’t seem to exist on the same planet, let alone within the same family. Charlie is a hyperprolific Portland sound scientist, making his name in the mid-aughts with electro-pop favorites Panther and currently warping minds with noise collagists Regular Music, psych-punk globetrotters (and Best New Band finalists) Sun Angle, and his solo synth project, Grapefruit. 


Walter, meanwhile, is the lead singer and songwriter of alt-country pioneers the Silos


Other than achieving cult status within their respective universes, the only thing these musicians appear to share is DNA.

For one night this week, however, they’ll share a stage as well. It’s hard to imagine what they’d have to talk about backstage, so we decided to find out, by having Charlie ask his uncle a few questions about his songwriting, his influence on the Americana scene and, naturally, his dog art.


Charlie Salas-Humara: What were the first shows you saw? How did it affect you and did it steer you toward your sound?

Walter Salas-Humara: The first show I saw as a kid was the Allman Brothers in 1970 after they released their Idlewild South album. They combined so many exciting elements: great blues singing, amazing guitar interplay, cool songs and jazzy drumming. They had short and to-the-point songs like “Midnight Rider,” and when they wanted to extend, like in “Memory of Elizabeth Reed,” they did so with well-thought-out melodic sections. They were jams for sure, but they always had a composed harmonic buildup. I still think these guys were, and perhaps still are, the best example of a combination of the great American music styles: blues, rock and jazz. They definitely set a bar that is worth striving for.


How has your sound changed from when you started the Silos in 1985? How would you describe it now?

Initially, my music was just what I could come up with on guitar given my limited ability and what I was able to learn as I plodded along. In the next phase, I became interested in storytelling and the literal meaning of the words, and working with traditional melodic structures. During this time I focused on natural instruments and organic sounds. Then, in a third stage, I was writing a lot of background music for films, and those albums reflect the new technology and a more open approach to both music, melody and lyrics. In phase four, I worked in a stripped-down guitar, bass and drums trio format. Then I began writing in collaboration with many other writers and that opened me up to a lot of styles and strategies. Now, I work in all these areas pretty fluidly. The most recent Silos album, Florizona, is certainly the most confident.


The Silos album Cuba arguably seems to be your classic record. Why do you think that particular record had an impact on people?

That album was probably the best example of a sound that was emerging at the time, what is now known as the alt-country or Americana genre. It was stridently natural and organic in a radio world that was focused on artifice and pomp, so it really stuck out. It has a sound that is free and effortless, though in reality we worked our asses off to get there.


When did WaltersDogs start? 

I started painting early, studied art in college and moved to New York to pursue an art career. Back then I made large, abstract color fields—very mid-20th century, in the minimal and abstract styles of the late ’50s, ’60s and early ’70s. When I returned to painting about 10 years ago, I still wanted to make modern paintings. In other words, I wanted them to be two-dimensional, rather than creating illusionistic space. I chose dogs as a subject because the paintings would primarily be given as gifts, and I wanted a subject that everyone could relate to. Yes, there will be a lot of art at the merch table.


SEE IT: Walter Salas-Humara and Grapefruit play Mississippi Studios, 3939 N Mississippi Ave., with Jerry Joseph and the Jackmormons, on Wednesday, May 1. 9 pm. $12. 21+.

 
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