We had the pleasure of interviewing Boss Hog’s Cristina Martinez to get the scoop on the band’s new album. Brood X is an excellent recording that recalls the group’s familiar sound but also shows them branching out into new territories. During our phone call, we asked Cristina about the writing process and the band’s future plans, as well as politics, the inspiration found in New York City, and the art of doing things unconventionally.
Congratulations on the new album. I’ve listened to it a bunch of times and I really like it. Are you happy with how it turned out?
Martinez: Yeah, I’m mostly happy. It’s just…we just sort of finished it and sent it off not so long ago. So, it takes me a good year before I have a little bit of distance to sort of enjoy it. In the beginning it’s a little like “I wish I would’ve changed that,” or “I could’ve done this better.” You see all the flaws that are still very glaring to me. I need a little bit of distance before I can appreciate it. For the most part, of course. I’m happy. I think the songs are great. The nitpicking is just about production value stuff. I try to be aware enough to know that those things that bug me about it most people don’t know.
I read in a recent interview you did that you started writing the album when Mickey Finn (keyboards) joined the band and also that you never write alone, you’re always writing with someone. So, I was curious if you could describe the writing process for us.
Martinez: Boss Hog always writes the same way. Which is to say we’re a very collaborative band. We go into our rehearsal space and we just play music. And it’s really very…whatever happens that day, we might record little snippets of songs or someone will play a riff or something and someone else picks up on it and sort of gets charged by it some way and wants to play along…and lots of things die. You play a riff and no one picks up on it and you go on to the next one. So, we really just sort of play in a very loose, improvised manner. And the things that resonate with other people, they’ll pick up on and start to play with it. And if we’re all playing it for long enough and we all think it’s great, then we record it. So, at the end of a rehearsal we’ll have maybe 10 beginnings to songs, like riffs. They’re really very basic, just like one riff. Usually it’s not more than that, usually it’s just the one hook or something.
And then the next rehearsal we’ll listen to those and try to build from there. Very often, the next rehearsal you’re not feeling it anymore so you don’t play it or it doesn’t make it past that initial stage. But, it really comes from all of us playing together and what sparks interest in the band. I start singing something to it and it makes sense, then that’s kind of the defining thing that we go back and try to structure up from there. It’s kind of a long process, but it’s also a fun process because we’re not taking things so seriously. So, a lot of free and loose things happen with no consequences. So, we do that endlessly and we do it quite well. I joke around about having like 200 hours of songs or maybe 200 songs and that’s probably pretty close to true. Because, we have the beginnings of…or a lot of great things that never really grow into full-fledged songs that we could go back and try to do again. We’re really prolific when it comes to writing that initial piece and from there it gets whittled down into something that we develop more. Usually, somebody says “I wrote this riff” and brings it in, but still we begin with that piece. That person will play the riff and everyone else plays their part. So, everyone is writing their own part and it’s a collaborative effort.”
That was the impression I got from past interviews. And that interests me greatly because it seems that nowadays, if you have an established band…a band that has been around for awhile…members live in different cities or states and they just email stuff to each other. I’m not saying that’s not effective or creative, but I do see that it’s not the same as a group of musicians in the same room together working on something.
Martinez: No, absolutely it’s not. Just the same way that a live performance in front of an audience is a completely different beast, just the energy you get from other people and the excitement in that moment is not the same as on a cassette tape. So, for us…I don’t know…people make music in different ways and they’re all right. But, for me part of being in a band, one of the parts I love about it, one of my favorite things is kind of a group experience. It’s like your friends, your posse. We’re all very good friends and I think that comes through. We enjoy each others company, we enjoy playing with each other and our rehearsals are half talking and half playing. I think that joy comes through in the music.
Overall I thought the album sounded pretty tight and focused. Do you think that was a result of being able to take your time as you were writing and recording or was that something you wanted to do at the outset.
Martinez: It’s funny, because I feel like this one was made a little differently than most of our records because we usually play stuff out before we record it. Because we haven’t been so active as a live band, this one was not played out before it was recorded. We just got to the point where we had all these great songs and said, “Let’s record them.” So, we scheduled some studio time and we went in there with stuff that was not totally tight. So, it’s funny you should say that.
We structured stuff in the studio when we were recording. Because I had improvised the lyrics all along, up until that point, there were some skeletal ideas but they weren’t fully fleshed out. So, I had to go back and sort of retro-fit the lyrics to the structure that was decided upon in the studio. It seems to have worked to our advantage in this case because they do sound very, I think, very structured or whatever. But, I think that’s all studio magic, really. We can fix mistakes in the studio. Maybe we sort of cleaned it up more than we ordinarily would because they were so loose walking into it. But, I don’t know. I think part of our charm is that we’re not such a precision based band.
I see where you’re coming from, but when I listen to the album there’s really a lot of great arrangements and instrumentation. Like, my favorite track on the album – and I hope you take this as a compliment – is “Ground Control.” And I’m saying the first 20 seconds of that song, the intro, sounds like Stereolab.
Martinez: Oh, cool. Yeah, I love that song too. That song to me is so phenomenal and for me it was like, I felt like it was a super late-70’s protest song. But, it also evocative of TV cop shows. It seems like such a cool groovy cop show, but it was really political. So, that’s why we tried to gear the lyrics toward that. I don’t know. That’s one of my favorites as well. We just did a video for that this past weekend, so it’s been going through my head and I’ve been singing it over and over again. We did a nice video out in Coney Island and hopefully that will see the light of day soon. I think you’ll enjoy it if you like the song.
I think it was in the press release I got, you mentioned that lyrically the topics or themes were about personal struggle, but then after the recent US elections the songs kind of took on a new meaning. I was curious, is that anything that affects the live performance of these songs.
Martinez: Well, yes…in that when you’re telling the stories there has to be a motivation for me. As the storyteller in the band who’s out there singing this to you and selling you the story…to have that motivation behind it is totally different than have it be personal. It affects the way you sing it, it affects the way you move, it affects your communication to the audience. So, absolutely there will be a vast difference than if I were talking about something more vague and indescribable than a very specific thing. It gives you all the more energy and all the more purpose and power behind the story. So, I lucked out on this one. I’m really serious about this administration and I feel personally hurt that he won. I don’t even want to say his name.
I understand. I feel the same way.
Martinez: Well, you’re in a place (Texas) where you can make a difference. For us in New York it’s a drag because we’re preaching to the converted. In Texas, I feel like that’s a place where a lot of people voted for Trump. I wish I was there and I wish I could go out and play more in places that I could, not that people who come to our shows would be Trump supporters. I think it would be nice to educate people a little bit about what’s going on. I think they’re getting a pretty good education now as our government unravels in front of us and we’re watching it on a daily basis. The damage he’s doing to our future, not just economically, but most importantly to our earth and to our humanity. So, I feel that he’s really tearing that apart and I hope people are taking notice and realizing that they do need to take this guy seriously. I think a lot of people were like, “Oh no, you don’t take him literally, he’s going to be great, he’s a great deal maker.” and it’s such a sham and I’m so angry about it. So, yeah definitely having that anger is making a big difference at shows.
Although the majority of the shows we’ve played so far have been in Europe and people are dealing with a lot of nationalism there too and I think it still translates well there. There’s lot of elections coming up, the Netherlands just had one and Germany and France are about to have theirs and people were really into it. We’re all in the same boat of fear and nationalism. So, it’s a global message at this point.
Be it Pussy Galore or Boss Hog or even the Blues Explosion, I’ve always – and I don’t think I’m the only one – but, I’ve always identified Boss Hog as very much a New York City band. Obviously the city has changed immensely since the last Boss Hog album and presumably you’ve also changed as a person, too.
Martinez: I hope (laughs). We can only hope.
Do you still find inspiration in the city?
Martinez: Oh, absolutely. I mean, you know, I’m disappointed in the city very often. But, once I’m out there and walking around there’s not one day that goes by that I don’t walk down the street and see one crazy thing happen or overhear some conversation. It’s such a vibrant, crazy town. There’s so many people from all over the world here. A lot of times it’s annoying. A lot of times it’s like “How many Spanish tourists do I have to run into” and I’m Spanish, so I can say that. And I work in the World Trade Center, I used to work in Times Square, so I’m like always right in the thick of tourist hell. And that’s kind of annoying because you’re trying to walk down the street and somebody will stop right in front of you, looking up, and you run right into them. So, on a bad day I will be annoyed by that, but also its just so nice to see that many people interacting and weaving through each other like ants. It’s just the craziest place. I just feel….we’re trying to move out of the city, we’ve lived here 30 years and I don’t feel like we’ll ever be able to really move away because every time we try to go look at some property somewhere and I come back to the city, I love it and miss it so much. It’s so nuts here. I would like a garden and house more than anything. But, it scares me the thought of moving out. I just think, like “What if the boiler breaks?” (Laughs). I live in a building now where I just call the super. It has it’s pro’s and con’s, but I’m still delighted…almost on a daily basis…by some interaction by some loony tune person who’s doing something completely wrong or wacky and then the human response to it…people either laughing or fighting back. It’s constant entertainment. It’s dinner theater at its best. It’s pretty entertaining to live here and it’s nice because I do feel like there’s so much going on. I’m never for minute going bored. I wish I had more time to go see all the exhibits that there are or all the music that there is to listen to, there’s always a plethora of things to do. Even if half the time I’m sitting in front of a fire watching shitty TV. I have a choice! That’s the most important thing…options! (Laughs)
Check out the video for the song “Shh Shh Shh”
Based on how this album has been released, going back to the EP last year, then your first single, and even the album artwork, I get the impression that you guys really enjoy doing things unconventionally.
Martinez: (Laughs) I don’t think there unconventional. We just do things that we think look good or feel good or right, and we have our own reasons. We’re not run by a label or a manager, so yeah, we definitely don’t do things the way you’re supposed to generally. We do things that work out for us. We’re not a typical band, it’s not like we’re a bunch of 20 year old’s who are all starting out to do things and make a lot of money and do nothing else. We all have lives. Boss Hog has the advantage of working at it’s own pace and doing things when they felt right and meaningful to us. Like, we are putting out something we are proud of and overseeing everyone of those details.
The reasons we put out the EP before hand was because we wanted to do a West Coast tour and thought we shouldn’t really be going to the West Coast and playing shows for everyone without something to promote, without some new music to play. We had already done that. We had played a bunch of shows from 2008 to 2010 that we had no new material for. So, we got away with that once, but you don’t just want to go out and just play…We didn’t want to be a band with no new music and go out and play shows. Although we knew we had the record coming down the line. We did want to give everyone a taste of what it was that was coming down the line, but we just weren’t ready with the record yet. It was a little bit because of that. We didn’t have a full album to put out yet. So we put out these snippets and a couple real songs and a bunch of stuff we did in the studio that sounded cool. Because, as I was mentioning earlier we were very prolific and we wrote a bunch of stuff in the studio and we took those little pieces and made songs out of them and put something together as sort of a teaser-trailer for what was coming.
Well to be more specific about being unconventional…first of all, and I don’t mean this combative, I just want to understand better…the cover art kind of bugs me because “Brood X” is in the large font and “Boss Hog” is in microscopic font.
Martinez: (Laughs) Oh my god, I should forward this phone call to Jon because it bugged him too.
I just think the kids are going to be in a record store and think there’s a band called “Brood X”.
Martinez: (Laughs) Oh, the kids will figure it out. You have to dig a little deeper. The kids have it too easy. I think that…to be really super honest about this, I’ve always hated the name Boss Hog. And that’s not a new thing, I’ve said that plenty through the course of our band. Which is that we came up with the name on the fly because we had a show and not a band name.
At the time it seemed like a funny idea and not thinking at all that this was going to stay for the rest of my life, we decided on that band name. But, if you think about it there’s not anyone who wants to walk around with a tshirt that says “Boss Hog.” It seems not nice (Laughs). So, I always try to downplay the name. And I’ve wanted to change it many times, and believe me that’s something that’s coming down the pike because I’m really just tired of that name and I would not…if it were up to me it would be the first thing that we did. But, that’s a super unconventional thing to do that. So, I’m trying to at least keep Boss Hog small. Brood X is such a cooler thing to have on a tshirt (Laughs). But, it’s funny you say that cause really we have…Jon is really much more aware of or respectful of band norms. He would agree with you 100%. I, on the other hand, don’t give a shit about that.
Well, I respect that and I’m also a little excited that I have something in common with Jon Spencer. (Laughs)
So, unconventional part two: The first single (“17”), which I think is a rad song…it’s a waltz, I guess.
Martinez: It is a waltz. Yeah.
If I listened to the album, that wouldn’t jump out at me as first single material.
Martinez: That’s always a problem for me, because we’re so not a singles band. I think we do make a great effort to put together a whole album of songs that make sense together, but when you ask me to pick one to put out as a single, I can never ever do that. I feel so strongly about them all in different ways, and there’s never one to me that I can presume would make everyone happy. I’m always baffled by that kind of mentality, “Well, what’s the single?” I have no idea. I sort of leave it up to you know, whoever…the record label, in conversations with them, we don’t leave it entirely up to them, but we’re like, “What do you think?” And this one was weird. Different territories thought different things and no one is saying anything that’s making any sense. So, why don’t we just lead with my current favorite, which happened to be “17.” (Laughs) So, that’s what we went with. It was a personal choice, because at the moment I was really digging that song and it sounded really great to me. And it still does, but it’s often that it is really what just feels good that day. It will always change. I might say “Ground Control” this week because we just made a video and I’ve been singing it over and over in my head. It’s really strong, it feels really good. So, that’s how the decision is made. Which, I guess is unconventional, but I don’t know. I really couldn’t tell you, I often defer to Jon because he’s done this so much more…and more recently. And I will seek his advice on these things because it doesn’t seem like it’s that important of a decision to me. And I think they’re all great. And admittedly, I don’t keep up with how the music industry works anymore.
It has changed a lot. And it’s even hard to tell what an actual “single” is these days. Because now things are streaming and by the time the album comes out there’s like 4 songs that have been streamed…but I guess they’re not really singles? It’s weird.
Martinez: Yeah, exactly. And like I said, I don’t get it entirely. So, I’m just like “Okay whatever, I like “17” let’s put it out.”
What are the plans for this year in terms of touring?
Martinez: Right now we have weekends through June doing the northeast. And we want to cover all the states, we’ve already done the West Coast, so I don’t think we’ll be going back anytime soon. I hope that we do the South and probably not until…not during the summer when it’s crazy hot, but at the end of the summer when it cools down. We still have a lot of Europe to cover and we still have Australia and Japan. I would like to do them all and it’s just proving to be a little be difficult because we all have busy lives. But, we’re going to make it work, because that’s the whole reason we put out the record. Our commitment is to at least play everywhere once. So, we’re just trying to make that work out. And I would love to go through the South and work our way to Texas and through the Midwest. Right now, the furthest we have out is Chicago. We have yet to book the southern tour. It’s hard to book tours in the US right now, people aren’t as…I don’t know if the shows that we’ve done on the West Coast were any indication or not, but a couple of the shows were huge and some of the shows in the smaller cities were not. So, I’m worried about like, you know, it takes so long to drive from one city to another. Filling in the spots in between is proving to be trickier than we would like. But, we are committed to playing everywhere because that’s why we did this.
Boss Hog fans had to wait 17 years for this album, and maybe this a better question to ask at the end of your touring cycle, but do you think it’s going to be another 17 years for the next one, or will it be sooner than that?
Martinez: No, I think it will be sooner. Seventeen years…we’re not that young anymore (Laughs). So, 17 years would makes us really old (Laughs). I fully anticipate that…like I said, once Mickey (Finn) became a full member of the band we really started to step up our game and I think we’re really enjoying the momentum and we’ll make good use of that.