Wellington multi-instrumentalist Nathan Taare reflects on the close encounters behind his solo project’s latest album.
Being caught-up in the shady dealings of a money-laundering ‘pirate’, spending twenty-four hours in a Mexican jail, and being enchanted by the natural attributes of Central America are just some of the experiences Nathan Taare encountered while creating the latest E/N/T mini-album, Central Complex.
Not content with simply travelling through the region as a tourist, Taare decided to record the sounds of his five month journey and create a conceptual piece that is unique and compelling. “All of the tracks are all dictated by the stories I had, and that’s what this mini-album is all about, it’s about documenting my experiences,” he says.
His journey took him from Los Angeles, through Tucson, down through all of Mexico, to Belize, on to Guatemala down to el Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua all by land over a time period of just under five months.
The resulting release is a soundscape that treats the listener to Taare’s trippy reflection of Central America and is an interesting deviation from his previous E/N/T album, the bold, industrial offering Street Dreams.
He had already crafted some of the song structures before departing, but while travelling he recorded various sounds throughout the day using a battery-powered wav recorder and mixed the songs at night on his Mac. “A lot of it was just the atmosphere,” he recalls. “Like I’d just record the streets or the jungle at the time. And I think those are the strongest parts of the tracks because the audio is so visual.”
On return to New Zealand Tarae recorded all of the songs at a storage unit and actually mixed the album in his Toyota Corolla. It was then mastered by Thomas Lambert of Sonorous Circle.
Taare has created a unique work that is in some ways more akin to an art installation than a conventional album (an idea he wants to explore further when he exhibits the album alongside a photo and painting for each song early next year). “I regard it as one piece rather than being split into five tracks. I realised how amazing [the environment] was, visually, photographically, everything I looked at was just wow. Everything I heard was the same, it was amazing.”
While the five songs flow into one another, each has a distinctive personality; Taare displays a talent for crafting compelling pieces from atmospheric sounds. The opening-track ‘Tamales’, for instance, is a haunting synth-laden drone that combines street sounds and chanting with Taare’s perfectly complimentary soundscape.
‘Pash the Snake’ is almost mantra-like in its challenge to explore, “where do you think you’re going?” while the sounds of the jungle create a tranquillity. This reflects Taare’s wonder and amazement at the natural elements of the environment he was experiencing.
It was actually written after Taare had been having dreams about snakes, only to find one had made its way under his pillow while he was sleeping. “It was a brown python that had slithered under there and died. I feel like it was sending me these crazy visions as I slept.”
‘Una Vision De La Selba’ is another song that combines jungle sounds with a peaceful synth atmospheric track; it feels like it transports the listener to a Guatemalan jungle in a surreal way. Elsewhere, ‘El Pirate’, on first listen, is a spooky song that pairs Taare’s distinctive style with an authentic Sea Shanty from a bona-fide Pirate.
When Taare met the swarthy American character—and former pop singer—who happened to be living on a boat, he expressed all of the characteristics of a modern-day pirate.“He called himself a pirate and I didn’t really question that either. Everything he did was really pirate-like, he was really crazy and had pneumonia.”
As it turned out the ‘Pirate’ had a penchant for trying to embroil travellers into money-laundering, which led Taare to escape his accommodation, but while he was there he would sneakily record the sailor as he rambled through tough-luck nautical ditties. “When I was recording he kept singing these awesome pirate songs. It was amazing but also filled with lots of intense coughing.” The result is a track that is not only wonderfully charming, but authentic in such a rare way.
‘Playa Policia’ is a heavy track that evokes most on earlier E/N/T work. The powerful dialogue of what sounds like a political street rally is confrontational and ominous. The vibe of the song and its name also touch on the rife corruption throughout Central America—a theme that Taare wanted to reflect on with this EP.
“Corruption is a big theme for [Central Complex] as there is so much of in Central America,” he explains. “But it’s the way of the streets and it’s how it works. The corruption is almost beautifully dark and heavily contrasted by the amazingness of the landscape.”
Ironically, it was whiff of corruption and dishonesty that probably spared him from a substantial stint in a Mexican prison. He and a fellow traveller found themselves bundled into the back of a Mexican federal police vehicle after being accused of suspicious behaviour at a Mayan heritage site.
But as they drove to court, the top cop struck a deal with the pair. He convinced them that if Taare admitted to starting a fight, the judge may be more lenient on them. The pair were then stripped to their underwear to face the judge, and their possessions were confiscated.
After being berated by the judge they were both sent to jail cells. Taare on his own and his friend with local criminals. “I was in a Mexican prison cell on my own. It was dirty, smelled like piss, and I wondered what the hell was going to happen. No one told us anything.” Despite their fears, the other inmates were accommodating and even provided the pair with food and water, a luxury not afforded by the police. They were released after twenty-four hours, with all of their gear and miraculously all of their money (possibly due the forgetfulness of the police chief).
But their overall experience, with the unknown, the hostility, the prospect being locked up with Mexican crims, and eventually the expression of charity by those very criminals, sums up Taare’s experience of Central America and how he conveys this through Central Complex. “It’s about being liberated of these crazy fears I had and confronting them head-on.”
Elements including the people, the police, the looming American influence, violence, drugs, ancient history, poverty, the natural environment, the food, and the music all combine to make an intense scenario for making music, Taare says. “There were a few terrifying and scary moments on the trip and a lot of dark things happening through the continent.”
These parts of society are reflected in the album so at times the album is intense. But it’s all designed to take you through a series of feelings and then leave you essentially healed. You have been open to it and accept it.”