Warning! Before you read this article/interview please consider this... This is being written by a fan of Tantric. If I come across as biased, it’s because I am. I hope you enjoy this...
When I was a young kid, I didn’t have as much of an appreciation for music as I do now. Like most people, I only listened to what I thought was fun. I loved country music more than anything; mainly because that’s what my dad had stored on the computer and I used to mess around on his account a lot. I also listened to pretty much anything my older brother listened to: pop-punk, nu-metal and alt rock. I didn’t begin to develop my own music taste until I was a little bit older. When I hit the age of 12, I discovered what would become my all time favourite band; Tantric, an alternative southern rock band from the good ol’ US of A. They completely fitted into what I had been listening to for so long. They were a rock band, but had a country edge to them which made them all the more appealing.
To me, this was my first ever dose of fandom. I joined fan forums/communities, and pestered my parents to buy their music for me. It spoke to me in some of the best ways imaginable. In addition, one of their songs, Chasing After, was on the video game ‘Smackdown vs Raw’. Being a lover of pro-wrestling, this was just one more reason for me to like them. As I grew older, their music matured with me and I grew an affinity with their songs. They were always well-structured, the riffs were great and the melodies always got stuck in my head. Tantric’s music grew up with me and no matter how I was feeling, I was always grounded by their songs and that has always meant a lot to me.
It’s because of Tantric that I started to gain a wider appreciation of music. Starting with alt rock and post-grunge, then later that developed into a love of music in general. The Blackout may be responsible for my love of live music and gigs. However, Tantric is the reason I’m a fan of music as a concept at all. For the longest time, I’ve wanted to get the word out about Tantric in the UK and now I can.
Throughout the history of this band there has been only one consistent name, that is Hugo Ferreira. The songwriter behind the sound. Hugo is, pretty much, my favourite songwriter. He encapsulates honesty and emotion and injects it into every tune. Songs like Breakdown, Chasing After, Down And Out and many more. I’ve always wanted to know more about Tantric and the songs, and with nearly two decades of insight I’m sure Hugo would have a lot to say. If there was one man I ever hoped to talk to it would have been this one. Well, I got to talk to him on the phone. This is our conversation.
Mick: So just for the benefit of our UK readers, could you tell us a little bit about Tantric and what the band is all about, and how it all started?
Hugo: Tantric is a band that started in 1999. Basically, it was me and a few other musicians (Todd Whitener, Jesse Vest and Matt Taul), who were in a previous band called Days of the New. Since then, I have been writing Tantric’s music through the different incarnations. In essence it’s a vessel that carries music. I’m currently working on the eighth record now and we’ve been around for 16 years. I’m just a guy that loves music and loves to play it and that’s really as simple as I can put it.
Mick: So, where did the name Tantric originate from?
Hugo: Honestly, the original band name when we first started was actually Carbon for Keeps, but we never like that name and when we got signed by Maverick Records we wanted to change the name. We had the record finished and it was almost mixed before we came up with a name that we really liked. There was a girl that worked at the studio who was really into meditation and she brought up the subject of tantric energy. I just found that cool and interesting, it was also catchy. I’ve never felt that the name makes the band, it’s the band that makes the name. I mean your band could be called anything, it’s the music that defines you. Anyway, once the girl suggested the name, I did some checking and I found the history of the name really cool. Ultimately it was kinda what we were going for, the name just fit the vibe of the band.
Mick: I mean I’ve always find dirty websites when I try to search the name without the word “band” after it [both laugh]. However, something I’ve wanted to know is, what attracts you to writing music and how do you write songs?
Hugo: It’s weird, I find everybody has a different process that they go through and mine is almost autobiographical. In lieu of having a therapist or a diary, I will just write my songs. So lyrically it’s very important to me. It really is a purge of those thoughts that I have into music Yet, as far as the music aspect is concerned, it’s a matter of inspiration and that will come at the weirdest times. I have a studio in my house, so I could be just mopping the floor and a riff will come into my head, be it a guitar or piano riff, and I’ll just pick it up and I’ll screw around with it a little bit. Once I feel like I have a loop of it, I’ll record that loop and just let it go. Then I’ll put the first melody that comes out of me on top of that. After that’s done, I’ll try to integrate what the lyrics should be, in to that riff. That will usually be decided by the vibe of the riff.
Once I’ve started this I won’t stop until it’s finished, most times I’ll start a song at 7pm and you won’t see my for 36 hours. I’ll get so obsessive about wanting to finish it. I’ll just go and I’ll record it and I’ll tweak it until it’s done. After that, I’ll just stand back and I won’t listen to it for a few days. I’ll just do what I normally do, I’ll take care of my day-to-day business and I’ll come back and test it in my own head. If two days later I can remember how the riff and chorus goes, I’ll know that it’s impactful enough. That’s a good song. Sometimes I’ll go down there and think “god, this song is horrible”. However every now and then you’ll just get something that you just know feels right.
Your songs are like your kids, they all develop a little differently, but you love them all because they’re something that you created. Honestly, I just write for myself. The fact that I make money from it is just a bonus, so I’d be doing this regardless.
Mick: That was amazing insight. When it comes to songwriting, can it be difficult when making new songs not to tread the same water as the past?
Hugo: I actually find it difficult to not go too crazy because I really don’t have a bias. I am a rock musician but I don’t have a partiality as to what I write. I’ll write stuff that has nothing to do with rock. I’ll make big band music or stuff that’s country oriented. I just don’t have a bias to anything. I definitely try not to regurgitate the same stuff that I’ve done before. I don’t try to make another “Breakdown” but with different lyrics. I don’t go into the studio with the preconception that “I’ve got to write a hit” you know? Well, because that never works. Usually, the songs that have been the most successful for us, they have just been another song that I wrote. How they develop into hits, that is still a mystery to me, how some make it and some don’t. There’s some songs I’ve written that I’ve felt to be the best stuff I’ve ever written. However, once the label takes it over and releases it, and especially in the climate of music that we’re in right now. I feel they just get overlooked. Though I do find that the diehard Tantric fans are right there with us. No matter what I do they’re just super supportive and God bless them all. They really take the time to listen, and I feel they have grown with me. So, I always know that no matter what I release I know there’s a group of people that will always support the work. At the end of the day, all I can do is be sincere, in whatever I do and hope for the best.
Mick: Well I certainly know that. I’ve been listening to Tantric since I was 12 and I’ve grown and matured with this music. As a fan personally, I’ve always appreciated the honesty in the music.
Hugo: I think that’s definitely the thing. I hear a lot of people, like yourself, who say things like “I’ve been listening to you since high school”. It’s in that moment I check myself, because I just think “wow, I’ve really been doing this for two decades”. I feel that the music just becomes a backdrop to their own life. It’s like their own personal soundtrack because as they grow up, I’m growing up and basically they’re relating and evolving with me. So there is a cool aspect of that. It’s always really refreshing and rewarding that there’s a whole new generation of people, in their teens or early 20’s that are just now getting into it. You know? They might have the record that came out now but not realise that we’ve had six records before that and they’re starting here and going backwards. To me, that’s wonderful, at the end of the day anything that helps me go on and continue to do this for a living and not have to do a 9-5. If I had to do that, I think that I would probably blow my head off. To be honest I’ve never really had a job like that, unless you count school or college but that was it. I’ve always been a musician and nothing else.
Mick: Being that you’re the only original member left of the band, what’s it like bringing new blood in and having them learn those older songs and then going on to write stuff with them?
Hugo: It’s honestly not a problem at all. I mean, the only incarnation of Tantric that this was a band was the first. Then, when that band dissipated, I took over the helm and I knew I had to look at it differently. This isn’t necessarily a “band” as such. It’s me writing and composing music and the finding talented musicians to fill the spot and perform it with me. I find that getting great players isn’t hard. There are so many incredible players out there and I’m sure there are load in the UK as well. You know, down the street from your house there’s probably this monster guitarist or drummer that just needs a shot. At the end of the day, I find people to get on this boat and it’s called Tantric and I’m steering, and they do their thing, then they step out. To be honest, that’s fine with me. I don’t even stress about it anymore because I’ve been through it so many times and I’m sure it will always be that way. It’s morphed into this. That’s why I always compare it to a vessel that just carries this sound rather than four guys who drink beer on a Friday and jam out, you know, it’s not like that at all. It’s more like one guy, who’s in the basement with crazy hair, writing music like some sort of mad scientist and going from there.
Mick: You say you’re making the new record now and there are two new songs on Reverbnation. Are these new songs for the album or something else?
Hugo: When I put songs like that up on a website like Reverbnation, I don’t really have a goal for them. I just put them up there. They may or may not be Tantric songs but they’re songs that I like and that I wanted to share. Most times I’ll forget that I’ve put them on there so there’s no strategy to it. It’s just that I’ve created something that I think is cool and they’re in their most primitive stages, they’re litterally the roughest demos ever. I just feel that they’re very human and not everything has to be super-heavy. It doesn’t have to be rock n roll, music is just music. There’s different sides to me, to this band and to the music and I like to share it with people. It’s not like I’m screwing myself, because nobody buys records anymore anyway. Putting songs like that up there is my way of saying “this is what I’m doing and I hope you like it”
Mick: What was it like to take the reins and produce the recent Tantric albums. Since every album had a producer, then you produced 37 Channels and Blue Room Archives.
Hugo: It was good, it wasn’t even intentional at first. I have no problems producing music or my own records. The only thing that is difficult when producing your own stuff is, you’ll know every little imperfection and everything the others may or may not notice. You can also be over analytical, it’s hard to balance what you have to tweak out and what is just the raw song. So, it’s good to have a separate producer when making your own record because they’ll know how to reel you in, often you will over think your own songs. Yet, I’ve produced many other bands but I’m not attached to their music in the way that I’m attached to my own. So, I can do it for others but not necessarily for myself. I did enjoy doing it, it’s just the most challenging part you where to draw the line for yourself and how you’re judging yourself. At the end of the day, what I can say is that whatever is there is 100% of me and my heart and it’s comes from a sincere place.
Mick: So, I’ll just end on this. What is the hardest thing, professionally, that you have had to overcome and how did you overcome it?
Hugo: I think the hardest thing to overcome and still is the hardest thing is finding the courage to go on. Sometimes you can feel like you just want to throw in the towel because you’ve been at this so long and you really don’t see how relevant you are. This isn’t an easy life to have, it’s not as glamorous as people say and to me it’s finding it within me to continue and go through the same cycle and process over and over. Many times it can fall on deaf ears and that metaphor can apply to many different things. I think that somehow and someway I always do find a place from where to do it. When it comes down to it, if you take everything away, what you’re left with is what I am and what I am is a person who is in a basement. Before all of this I was just a person in a basement and I was doing what I’m still doing today. For no other reason than the love of music. It really is a big part of who I am and without music I would be half of the person that I am.
Words & Interview: Mick Birchall Photo: Tiffany Melson, Silver Moon Photography - www.SilverMoonPhotographybyTiffany.com