Synth Moods: James Montenegro, formerly of Venus and the Traps, goes solo with Dead Talk Back


The pandemic has locked up artists and forced them to rethink things. For James Montenegro, his thinking has led him to create music with a new perspective – completely on his own… for now.

Dead Talk Back, a solo project from Montenegro, released an eponymous debut album on August 3. Bandcamp’s biography describes the songs as “synth-based mood music“, but those moods extend from half-world disco. on “Motavia”, to the dark last transmission from a spaceship on “Somnambulism”.

“The project itself is more or less an outlet for me to get my music out,” Montenegro said in a recent phone interview. “I had come to a point where I was collaborating with certain artists. Collaborations come and go, and everything is fine, but I wanted to do something that I knew was strictly my musical baby. No matter which co-workers show up, everything will be fine, but in the end, it’s something that belongs to me.

“The album itself came from a lot of what I was feeling, as I’m sure a lot of people were feeling too, towards the end of 2020. The world has been an interesting place for a year and a half with the pandemic. , all kinds of political upheaval and a lot of social changes in the quoted cultural war that we seem to be engaged in here in the western world. There are also a few personal things, and I was like, “What better way to put it all? what do I know best? Music! ‘”

Venus and the Traps, the former group from Montenegro, has been selected by Independent readers as the best local band in the Best of Coachella Valley 2016-2017 poll. Since focusing on a solo venture, Montenegro has faced its fair share of challenges.

“I would say the main struggle would be confidence: I had to have total confidence in myself,” Montenegro said. “I had ideas and I couldn’t pass them on to someone else and bounce them back with their ideas, criticisms or edits. I had to be like, ‘This is the sound that I make, and I just have to believe that this is the sound that I want, and that it is good enough to be played in the world.’ “

Montenegro explained how Dead Talk Back marks a change in his sound.

“When I was in Venus and the Traps, I started playing with Edgar Hernandez, who was in The Kathys, and they had a darker sound, or at least a sound that had a little more sadness and its hue. , “Montenegro said.” When I started hanging out with Edgar, we noticed that we had a lot of bands that we liked in common, like Siouxsie and the Banshees, or The Cure or Bauhaus, and they’re a a little darker, a little more bizarre than what We were playing. We started playing with what would become this three year obsession that I started to have with creating something that would be more gothic and dark music. It’s something I’ve been thinking about and dreaming about for a while.

“I usually do something that’s more psychedelic, something others would probably call indie rock or alternative rock. I’m not really sure what the catch-all objective definition of these terms is, but I know people call it for anything other than classic rock, blues-focused.

James Montenegro.

Montenegro recently debuted with Dead Talk Back in a live setting at the Bart Lounge in Cathedral City.

“I have to say the crowd seemed quite receptive,” Montenegro said. “I think people will accept any change in music and even accept really dark and moody music as long as you let them trust you, because they are in the passenger seat, as an audience, and they have to trust you. their driver. If you can tell them you’re taking them from point A to point B and they’re not going to witness something so bizarre and alien that will put them off, they’ll accept it. It was actually pretty cool and it’s just nice to play live in general.

“It’s always a hard sell when you’re doing something eclectic that people can’t really identify. Some people will pick their favorite moment from the set and then walk away. If you’re doing something that’s an established genre, like goth music, dark wave, or post-punk, you have a very specific audience for that. In a way, I’m lucky enough to rub shoulders with music right now that already has a clear audience, but at the same time, it also creates an expectation. When you go on stage, you think to yourself, “This must be a good show, because how many times have they seen this kind of act? I definitely put in a few months of preparation and I think it paid off.

While the show was a success, there is still room for improvement, and that involves getting more people into Dead Talk Back, Montenegro said.

“I have to set up a live that works, because most of my live was based on backing tracks for the rhythm,” Montenegro said. “I was fortunate enough to work with Alec Corral, who provided a lot of the guitar work and a lot of effects, but I knew I needed a live bass player and maybe even some a live drummer or at least a drum machine programmer. just to give it that good live feeling, because you can tell the difference between a show that’s all back and a show where there’s the possibility that ‘there is a certain deviation from what is already established in the song. What I’m doing right now is trying to put together a live band that can fully imagine what I want and that has the place for these musical departures within the limits of a setlist.

Montenegro said people should expect the unexpected when it comes to Dead Talk Back.

“I’m working on another set of music, and it’s definitely going to be a bit more on the electronic side,” Montenegro said. “I’m a huge fan of electronic music and ambient music, and this project is where I really want to explore all of the different musical genres and styles of music that I love, and see what I can do with them. Even though I have this darkwave album that I just released, and it’s probably going to flavor people’s image of me for a while, it probably won’t be the only genre I’ll stick with for a while. time. . I recorded this in the spring. I’ve just spent the last few months mastering and grooming it, so I’m sort of, for lack of a better term, above it, in terms of gender traps. I’m already moving into something a little more rhythm-oriented, a little more dance-oriented, so it’s something that’s going to evolve.

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