Boston via Puerto Rico Duo Mellodrone Mixes Pop with the Avant-Garde on Café Fluxus
by Owen Murray
Mellodrone is all about balance. Ian Vidal and Laura Calderon have an array of influences from avant-garde musicians from the Puerto Rican fluxus movement, to IDM, to 60s French Ye-Ye Pop. On their debut album Cafe Fluxus, the duo's goal was to find a middle ground between conventional pop and the avant-garde music.
Ian and Laura both grew up in Puerto Rico and connected when they found out they would both be going to college in Boston. They each have vastly different musical backgrounds—Ian is the “Cafe” while Laura is the classically trained “Fluxus”—but they use this to their advantage to create one a unique and eclectic sonic collage. I talked to them about the process of writing their first album and what they learned from the experience.
Where does the name Cafe Fluxus come from?
Ian: It has to do with the general idea behind the album which is mixing the experimental avant-garde with pop and the accessibility of pop music. You have “cafe” which is the height of commodity and “fluxus” which is the height of experimental.
Laura: There’s an avante-garde movement—a fluxus movement—that started in the 60s and it was a lot of artists who were doing audio-visual experiments and it was super theatrical.
Ian: Yoko Ono was part of that.
Laura: Yoko Ono, all these different artists. There was a group in Puerto Rico, there’s an old archive of a bunch of fluxus artists from back in the day, just a bunch of super cool composers.
What are some of your favorite artists from the fluxus movement?
Laura: I like Puerto Rican composers like Francis Schwartz, William Ortiz those are the Puerto Rican ones. There’s also some avante-garde composers that I really like, like Luciano Berio. He’s an Italian composer and some other ones. That’s kind of how the band started to. We wanted to make pop music but we also wanted to make experimental pop music and I have a background in classical music and avant-garde classical music and it was kind of like finding the intersection between those things.
How did you go about blending those two?
Ian: It usually depends on the song but say for example one song I might just do a riff on the song or the keyboards and then we’ll get together and we’ll write a top melody. And then once we get the song written we’ll do a back and forth on how to make it strange and weird.
So you sort of start with a pop song and go from there?
Ian: Exactly, but there is one song on the record that was the complete opposite. [Laura] had an idea for a song and basically just outlined it for me. She gave me the idea and I sort of had to execute it in whatever way. Also, there are songs that Laura wrote that we put together so it really depends. But yeah, usually you start with something and then hopefully you end up with something different through experimentation with what you have.
Aside from the fluxus artists, what are some other influences that you guys have?
Ian: I think we’re both really big fans of Broadcast. They’re a really wonderful band. They do electronic psych-pop but it really depends on the album.
Laura: We take a lot of inspiration from IDM like Aphex Twin, Boards of Canada. The whole point was to blend a lot of different things. It was our first record together so we kind of wanted to find a sound and come together. We have all these influences and we wanted to marry them somehow.
Ian: There’s a lot of IDM from the 90s and I think we were also listening to a lot of French Ye-Ye which is this style of 60s pop basically. It’s usually sung by…
Laura: It’s a song by young French women. I studied French for a long time and I love the language and I try to sing in French a lot because I think I sing really well in French. So I was kind of listening to these women sing, and some of them were songwriters too…. It’s kind of like a collage.
Especially for your first album, it sounds really good. What did you do during the recording process, how did that happen?
Laura: It was crazy
Ian: We basically recorded the entire record in different places, in dorm rooms, in bedrooms, we did one track in a living room. So it was just wherever we could find space to do it. And it really depended. One of the drum tracks on “La Chanteuse” we did because this band from Chicago was staying at our apartment and they left a drum kit for a day and they also left a spare microphone. I had my actual cassette machine so I was like “holy shit we have a full drum kit, let’s record it!” So I just set up my single microphone with their other microphone and we recorded that drum track in the hour before they came back to take the drum kit. So it was really circumstantial.
Laura: But thankfully, Ian has recorded things before. I’m kind of the newbie when it comes to recording and producing so thankfully his knowledge sort of carried us through the kind of limited situation we’re in. Cause I don’t think you’ve ever recorded an album in dorm rooms and stuff, you’ve always been able to do it in your house where you’ve had your own setup.
Ian: It was very guerilla.
Do you think you guys would ever try to go into a studio or do you think you could just do without it?
Laura: We’ve thought about it!
Ian: There’s a studio back home that we have a really good relationship with called Casa Fantasmes, their head engineer is a really good friend of mine and I’ve recorded other stuff over there. But for this particular project, because we’re here and there are few people that I trust to sort of get what we’re about so at least while we’re mainly living here and working here I think we’ll try to keep it homey also, I think it’s a lot more fun.
Laura: You learn doing it yourself.
Do you ever plan on performing these songs?
Ian: When we started we didn’t have any pretenses about playing it live because we’re just two people.
Laura: And now we want to play live and we were kind of talking about the fact that maybe for the next one we’ll think about playing it live beforehand.
Ian: Yeah, but over the past month we started thinking about how we would present this in the live setting. Bands like the German Krautrock band Neu!, Suicide, and Silver Apples...
Laura: They’re all two people so we’re trying to see how we can do it ourselves because we do want to play live. We want to try it back home in Puerto Rico.
Ian: Exactly, then we could bring it over. There definitely is a need to play these songs live.
Do you think you will keep making music together?
Ian: We’ve already written like seven songs for the next one. Not sure how many of those will end up on the final record but we’re always working, or at least we try to always be working. But I think right now the focus is on setting up the live show, deciding on which songs we are going to play and which song we can’t play.
Laura: We might do some from the record and some that aren’t and some that are new. We’re trying to see the best plan of action. It’s hard when there are two people and it’s electronic. We want the show to be good and not just a backing track and play something on the laptop and whatever. So we’re seeing how we can actually play and give a good show.
Going forward, what kind of things did you learn from this album that you want to do with your new music?
Ian: I think definitely spending more time on songwriting. Like I said, this album was very guerilla which means everything was happening back to back. We’d get a chord progression and even if the whole song wasn’t done, we’d start recording and producing it and we were sure it would be done by the time production was done so a lot of the time songwriting was happening at the same time as production.
Laura: Everything was kind of impromptu and happening all at once. I think there’s more pre-planning for the next one. We want to write a bunch of songs we truly want to do and then move in a more orderly fashion.