Mountain Sounds' Tim Hoyt has a bone to pick with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. "As an American citizen, all the immigration laws have done are slow me down personally and try to stop me from doing the thing I wanted to do," he says.
The thing he wanted to do was make music with Franc Castillejos, a Guatemalan native and longtime musical collaborator of Hoyt's who lost his student visa several years ago. Unable to procure re-entry for Castillejos, the pair decided to take their project overseas, and spent three months recording in a makeshift studio in the mountains west of Guatemala City. The result is Mountain Sounds' self-titled debut LP, a collection of stately indie ballads showcasing Castillejos' delicate vocals.
"It definitely wasn't the most convenient way to make a record," Hoyt says, "but now that it's happened, I would definitely do it again."
Castillejos and Hoyt first met in Longwood, Fla., where they played together in a band until Castillejos completed college. He returned to Guatemala, and Hoyt ended up in Portland. Over time, Hoyt felt unfulfilled creatively and reached out to Castillejos. The two started exchanging ideas, swapping demos long-distance and plotting an opportunity to record together. But it quickly became apparent that the United States, with its strict border restrictions, would not be an option.
"You can apply for an artist visa to enter, but you have to be, like, Coldplay," Hoyt says. "So, I decided to quit my job temporarily and go there."
The duo ended up in an abandoned orphanage previously operated by Castillejos' father, high in the Cordillera Alux mountain range. Despite its inconveniences, the rugged setting added an unorthodox spin to Mountain Sounds' debut, and allowed its members to focus entirely on the creative process.
"In Portland, it would have been impossible to remove myself from 'PDX life': the bars, people, other types of music," Hoyt says. "We were so isolated that we were completely free from distractions. I'm certain that contributed to what we ended up with."
Despite the anticipation and urgency underlying the pair's recording time, the tracks on Mountain Sounds are unhurried. Castillejos' Ben Gibbard-esque vocals evoke a nostalgia and reflection that mirrors his experience as an artist with dual homes and identities. Since completion of the record, Castillejos has been able to secure a temporary travel visa to take the album on tour. Mountain Sounds will pack cross-country stops into his 90 allotted days. The group's first show together, however, took place in Guatemala, and more Latin American tour dates are already in the works for 2014.
"We are going to settle with this for the time being, and then work on the artist visa thing," Hoyt says. "But to have Franc here in the States again...I feel like we've really accomplished something. This whole experience has been really liberating in the sense that I've realized that, well, you really can do whatever you want."
SEE IT: Mountain Sounds plays Holocene, 1001 SE Morrison St., with Golden Retriever, Billygoat and Valise, on Thursday, Nov. 21. 8:30 pm. $5 advance, $7 day of show. 21kknd.