[ there's no place like home ]
by Craig Young

Manta Ray are one of those rare finds. A band that greedily takes in their influences -- they've been compared to everyone from Sonic Youth to CAN to Trans Am to Slint -- and in return presents one that is completely their own; a sound that is cinematic in its ambient approach, punk in its ethos, and rock in the way it's assuredly presented. Hailing from Spain and consisting of José Luis Garcia, Frank Rudow, Nacho Álvarez, and Xabel Vegas, Manta Ray's first release was 1994's Escuezme! In 1998 they sequestered themselves for five months to compose a performance called Score to be played at the International Film Festival in Gijón, Spain, that following year. 2003 finds Manta Ray releasing their first album State-side, Estratexa, on Portland's FILMguerrero. In-between their have been five other proper Manta Releases, and as many parallel collaborations and projects.

Estratexa provided me with an opportunity to speak with member Frank Rudow about the band's history, songwriting, and future hopes of touring the States. On top of taking an international call over static-ridden phone lines, Rudow was also kind enough to suffer the language barrier between us -- translating from English to Spanish, and then back to English again. There are few bands that get me excited any more. One of those rare few, Manta Ray is the band you've always longed to hear.

[ frank rudow, xabel vegas, jose luis garcía, nacho álvarez ]

Estratexa was the first album of Manta Ray's I've heard and it's an amazing piece of work. I'm curious as to when you started playing with Manta Ray, and what you were doing before your involvement with the band.

Frank Rudow: Thank you a lot, I'm glad that you liked the record. Estratexa is the fourth long player -- the fourth album that we've made. The band has existed for about ten years now; from about '92 or '93. [Estratexa] is the end of the process of the past ten years. All of our previous stuff has led up to this work.

I hear a lot of influences on the album, and it's interesting to listen to how the tones and textures shift and interplay with each other. When you go into write a song or record an album, what are your influences? What directs the band's songwriting?

Frank: We try to be our own influences, as the result of being musicians who have played together a long time. Before, on the first few records, you could hear more of a pure influence from other music and musicians besides ourselves, but on Estratexa it's like our previous work has influenced what we do now.

Some of the songs on the album are sung in English, some are instrumentals, and some are recorded in Spanish. How do you approach how a song will take? How do you decide if its going to be sung in your native language, or in English, or without vocals completely?

Frank: We're not typical songwriters where we write lyrics and push music behind it. Manta Ray is the opposite. We play really open minded without thinking about lyrics and what should sound behind them, and so the lyrics come into the song after. They're not so important to us.

There are only four songs on the record with lyrics, and there are six instrumental songs -- two in English and two in Spanish. So it's like... only, um... to show the way of... um... I don't know how to say it. It's quite complicated to do interviews in English much less sing in it.

[Both laugh]

I completely understand!

Frank: So the lyrics are not so important for us. The voice is like another instrument for the music.

It's used more to convey texture and feeling rather than to tell a specific verbal story.

Frank: Yeah. It gives a little sense to a song.

You have a song on Estratexa called "Rosa Parks" which, interestingly enough, is an instrumental (although there are some words in the album's liner notes meant to accompany the track). Obviously, you're familiar with her story, but being from a time and place so far removed from that bus ride in Montgomery, Alabama, back in 1955, how did Rosa Parks' story inspire you to record a song about her?

Frank: It's an instrumental song and only the title gives a sense to [her story]. It's so each listener who hears it can think of their own history to give the song.

Yeah, "Rosa Parks." We're so very far away from where it happened, and we've never been to the United States. But the song is meant as a tribute; a tribute to people fighting against oppression. In Spain, we're close to Africa, and each day thousands of people try to come over, and many die trying. "Rosa Parks" -- her person and character -- are quite important still, even though it happened 50 years ago.

It's interesting that it's an instrumental. Because, like you said, everyone who listens to it writes their own lyrics to go with the story. And along those lines, Manta Ray's music is very cinematic in how it builds atmosphere and dynamics, but leaves the dialogue to the listener. So I guess I shouldn't have been surprised when I looked back through your discography to find that in 1998 Manta Ray composed and performed a piece (that would later be released as an album and a video) at 1999's International Film Festival in Gijón, Spain, called Score as a "cinematic tribute."

[ estratexa ]
[ give a listen! ] "Take a Look" MP3

Frank: Have you listened to the record?

No, unfortunately it's not available over her.

Frank: That's a pity!

But it's on my Christmas wish list!

Frank: Score happened here in our hometown of Gijón, where they have this really nice independent film festival. They called us and asked if we'd like to do a special concert for that year's festival, and we spent four or five months rehearsing for this one show. The record came out two years after because we recorded the show, but only in two tracks, so it sounded pretty bad.

We'll have to send you a video tape of the show.

Yes, please! I had read about the video and it made me wonder how well either it or the record could capture something you labored so long on that was meant to be experienced in person.

Frank: It was really low budget, and the guys who made the video -- friends of ours -- were too stoned to do a good job. [Laughs] The video is great... it's nice to watch it and remember that moment playing in such a great theater with 1,400 people in it. It was a really special moment, so I'm really grateful that a recording exists.

Is composing and performing a concert like Score something you'd like to do again?

Frank: It was too much work. We played with something like 15 musicians -- four violins, a cellist, a piano player. There were so many people on stage and it was so complicated that we tried after that concert to book a tour of Spanish film festivals, but it was too expensive and too complicated to get the back line. So it only happened that one time.

But still, the cinematic approach and the soundtrack music, it's really important to us. We listen to this kind of music a lot.

When Manta Ray play shows, is it just the four of you or are there others who join you onstage?

Frank: It's just the four of us.

[ score ]

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