If there was ever a city full of musicians whose musical endeavors were constantly in flux purely for the sake of creation and artistic development, Portland would be that city. One could call Tiburones an embodiment of just that, another project among household talent in our fair city, but there’s more to it. Most notably because Luz Elena Mendoza of Y La Bamba and Nick Delffs of Death Songs and The Shaky Hands are involved. Not to mention Chris Funk, of Decemberists and Black Prairie, is releasing the project’s debut album on his new record label Pink Smoke.
Tiburones originated as a collaborative experiment between Luz and Nick while touring with Horsefeathers, and has now evolved into a full-fledged six-piece band. Their debut album, Eva, is a blend of lively indie folk and stirring vocals with subtle, yet fitting, Latin undertones. Their ability to incorporate soft vocal harmonies into a whirlwind of thumping bass lines and bursting congas on a track like “No More Thinking Out Loud” is impressive. Even more so in contrast to the intimate tune “Learning to Fade,” with smooth, humming vocals backed by minimal instrumentals.
Title track “Eva” stands out as a spotlight with the vocals of Luz, Ali, and the rest of the Maria Maria Choir, who exude bursting waves of harmonies among soft, intermittent breaks. The layers of vocals, hand claps, conga beats and wind instruments result in a rich vibration of female talent that isn’t often seen in the indie folk scene. “No More Thinking Out Loud,” the first single shared from the album, stands on its own as an earnest, brimming ballad. The low, constant pulse of guitar strums offers an animated introduction to the track, while the combined vocals of Nick and Luz steer the song into an unapologetic fervor.
We had the chance to talk with Luz about the band’s creative process, the difficulties of balancing multiple projects, and the story behind the name Eva.
Noise & Color: I know you met Nick Delffs on tour with Horsefeathers, how did the other people get involved in Tiburones?
Luz: I feel like it’s a family project. Ali and I have lived together for 6 years, and she and I have created our home to be a very lively, open, creative space where we could just play music all the time. At the time I was going on tour a lot with Y La Bamba, and it was nice to come back and have shows there. It’s just inevitable how it happened you know, we just know each other very well and we definitely have each others’ backs. When Nick came into our lives we immediately shared this energy with one another, and created beautiful music, it’s just cathartic for us. Nick and I started writing songs heavily, and I introduced him to Ali.
Jake is a friend of mine from Ashland who’s a vibraphone player. We had all lived in Ashland and played music back then, like 10 years ago. And i always wanted to play with a vibraphone player… so he’s from an old musical past.
I met Lauren through mutual friends in Horsefeathers, and we synchronized our sounds together. We definitely played our shows with full intention and a genuine camaraderie. We haven’t been playing at all just because things happen, and people are in different places, trying to hustle doing other things. It is what it is, and that’s how we came together. Nick and i started writing a lot of songs and bringing in the people closest to us.
N&C: It seems like Portland is so small, it kind of has that hometown feel like Ashland, which is comforting.
Luz: It’s awesome, we’re all like brothers and sisters.
N&C: I read that you worked with Chris Funk perviously with Y La Bamba. Was he your first choice for the Tiburones album?
Luz: Well Chris Funk, he’s my homie. He’s always been someone close to me, and he’s always supported me from day fucking one. He’s like kindred family. He opened up a studio and offered for us to record, and then of course people get busy, and the band fluxed with how often we were playing. The album was recorded there, I was recording Y La Bamba there too. He’s just been rad, and we wanted to stay with our homie. His verbal and creative support and encouragement have helped me develop my artistry as a person. You know, he’s someone who enables it. He’s like my godfather.
N&C: So was he just giving you a space to record or did he help at all with production?
Luz: He made it available and the whole plan was to release it under Pink Smoke. Graeme Gibson, who was in Fruit Bats [currently playing with Houndstooth], was a big part of the album as well. He’s an amazing engineer and mixer, so we were stoked to have him mix the record. There were a lot of songs where he helped produce with Nick.
N&C: As far as the songwriting process goes, was it mostly you and Nick writing?
Luz: It was mostly Nick and I.
N&C: Is that different from Y La Bamba at all?
Luz: I usually write on my own lyrics, but the difference with Y La Bamba is that Edward wrote a few songs on the guitar, so he’d write guitar melodies and I’d write my own vocals and lyrics. There’d be songs that I would write that I didn’t feel like playing live, and I would just teach them to him and we’d just play for fun. But now, Tiburones has me playing the guitar, so i’m getting back into playing the fucking guitar (laughs).
N&C: Do you enjoy it?
Luz: Yeah, it’s a beautiful thing.
N&C: Do you and Nick ever disagree in the writing process?
Luz: It’s honestly a very spiritual process. You can’t just sit down and write with someone, you know. It’s a very … i feel like it was like this sanctuary where we gave our offering. And also it’s this sense of kindredship where we felt each other’s’ stories so strong, that you don’t think about if you’re writing or not. You’re just in the experience and letting things flow. There were so many songs that we’ve written that we’ve never recorded. And Tiburones became Nick fucking rocking hard on drums, and me playing on guitar, and it was like a duo, we just couldn’t stop. Everything else was a contribution to that.
N&C: I really like the title track “Eva,” especially with so many female voices in harmony. Is there a story in particular behind the name?
Luz: “Eva” was recorded with 12 girls. It’s the Maria Maria Choir that I formed a year ago. It’s just a group of my friends who are also amazing singer-songwriters around town. That song I wrote for my niece. She’s my older brother Rolando’s only child. She’s someone, that, in my life and in my family, has been such a strong message and a very powerful thing. Just the fact that she exists, and that she’s on this planet… it’s hard to explain. She was born without a heartbeat, so she’s very slow with movement, but super intelligent inside. She’s probably 5 years old. It’s just a very powerful thing, and that song’s for her, so she can feel strong as she gets older and develops – it’s like a prayer for her.
N&C: Are there any artists right now that you’re psyched about?
Luz: Cate Le Bon – she’s an artist from Britain, South Wales I think. I’ve been digging her stuff. And I’ve been listening to a lot of Violeta Parra. She’s Chilean I believe. She’s kinda old school. I’ve been listening to a lot of Afro Cuban, I like a lot of tropical music. But right now I’ve been wrapping up this record, so I’ve mostly been listening to Cate Lebon these days.
Catch Tiburones this Wednesday night (11/11) at Mississippi Studios for the release of their debut album Eva, along with Death Songs and Clarke and the Himselfs.