Original photo by: Janna Bissett
One perfect album on Le Grand Magistery and one perfect single on Sunday Records was what Shoestrings left behind. Mario and Rose have been very quiet since the late nineties but they promise to return this year with their new project “Invisible Twin” (check it out! it’s great!). But before going onto the future we decided to do a small interview and review the past: Shoestrings!
++ Hi Mario! Thanks so much, I’m really thrilled. How are things in Michigan? How has 2010 been so far for you?
Hi Roque. So far, not bad. Hopefully there will be some good concerts and more recording for us.
++ Let’s talk music now, on your small bio on Last.fm it says you are a multi-instrumentalist… so, what instruments do you play? And how did you learn to play all of them?! Does your life revolve around music?
Mario: Multi-instrumentalist is a very generous term for me. I am ok on a few instruments, but I don’t consider myself excellent on any of them. I guess the main instruments that I’m ok with would be guitar, bass, drums and computer/sequencer/drum programming. I’m self-taught on everything. I know just enough to get by and make the sounds I want. I learned drums as a kid when I had a toy drum set and I would play along with 80s MTV videos. I learned guitar by getting chord diagrams for Depeche Mode’s “Violator” album in the early 90s. After that I got a couple more books with chord diagrams. I can’t really do solos unless I get lucky. Once I knew what the notes were on a guitar, I just kinda figured out bass guitar. I’ve always had a love of computers and math so sequencing/drum programming, etc. came pretty naturally.
++ Was Shoestrings your first band? How did you and Rose decide to start this project?
Mario: Shoestrings was not the first band. I don’t recall the name of the first band, but it was something shoegazery/depressing sounding like Drown, Down or Dive or something. It was just me and my friend, Mario. It was a little strange having 2 Marios in the same band, but that was the situation. He was the singer/bass player and I was the guitarist, but neither of us could really play our instruments. It was just a mess of guitar effects set to a drum machine with Mario’s vocals. We didn’t even know how to tune our guitars!
I was friends with Rose and we knew she played piano/keyboards so we asked if she wanted to join us. Then our friend, Brian, got a drum set and became our drummer and we had a full band. We changed our name to Clerestory Window and then later to the Hazle Room. After a while we figured out how to play our instruments a little and we weren’t all that bad. We even added a violin player at one point. We evolved into more of a Red House Painters vs shoegaze vs Bark Psychosis vs Blueboy sound? I think we even sent a demo tape to Sarah records and 4ad thinking we were actually going to be signed! It’s funny thinking about it now, but we were young (18-20 years old) and naive.
Mario was always the band leader during these projects. He had good ideas for the most part, but since I was really getting into Sarah, Factory and indiepop at the time I wanted to try to make different music that wasn’t really right for the Hazle Room. That’s when I started Shoestrings as a side project. I had Rose help me with vocals and some extra keyboards on a couple songs and we worked pretty well together.
++ Was Shoestrings always a duo? Why did you prefer it that way instead of having a full band? How did you both meet by the way?
Mario: Shoestrings started as a duo, but we expanded to a 4 piece for some of our live performances. We were even a 5 piece for 1 show. The reason why it stayed a 2 duo most of the time was that we wanted to keep it as friends playing music together. We were limited on the number of friends who had mutual musical interests and could play instruments. Our friend Brian played drums on 2 songs for our album and played live with us a few times. He got too busy with other things to stay on though. Our other friend, John, who played piano on “Oceans in the Seashells” played bass with us live a few times. Then we met Scott Bridges and he was a music fanatic. It also turned out that he was a really good drummer. Scott joined us as an official 3rd member and we worked with him towards the end of Shoestrings. We only ended up recording a couple songs with him: “Theme from ‘Kiss Me Goodnight’” and “Forever”.
Rose: Mario and I met and became friends in high school. He was a whole grade above me and I always felt like a kid sister back then. We lost touch for a few years but ended up going to the same University, so we happened to run into each other. We restarted our friendship and had a lot of shared interests, one being music. So I think it was just natural for us to start a band.
++ How did you come up with the name Shoestrings for the band?
Mario: I was just brainstorming band names with a friend at a data entry job that I had at the time and I think she suggested Shoestrings at some point. I liked the sound of it for some reason. Not much of a story there. Sorry.
++ I don’t know if it’s too much or too little to say, but among the great releases Le Grand Magistery released, yours is by far my favourite! But your first release was a 7″ on Sunday Records where the brilliant “Some Things Never Change” was included!! Care to tell me a bit about this single? about each song?
Mario: Thank you Roque! These 2 songs were included on the 5 song tape we had sent to Sunday and a bunch of other labels. They were the 2 songs that Albert from Sunday Records liked the most.
“Some Things Never Change” was heavily influenced by an acoustic Everything But The Girl show that Rose and I went to. It was one of my first shots at songwriting/singing and at the time I only knew to write about things happening in my life. It’s pretty much about the tumultuous beginning of the romantic relationship between Rose and I.
“Afterthought” was heavily influenced by the song “Understand” by Brian aka Ken Sweeney. It’s kinda funny because our friend Kat was in contact with Ken in the mid-late 90s and she had sent him our music because she thought he’d like it. Afterwards, Ken wrote to us and we exchanged some really nice emails.
++ How did you end up on Sunday Records? Did you send a demo or something? Why did you decide to move to Le Grand Magistery after?
Mario: We sent demos to a lot of labels including Sarah, Sunday, Elefant, WAAAAAAH!, maybe Slumberland? Richard from WAAAAAAH! sent a nice letter back written in crayon, but I don’t think he was all that interested. Sunday responded and Albert really wanted to work with us. Elefant wanted to release something, but they got to us too late and we already had stuff going on with Sunday.
We finished the album and Sunday was going to release it. The main condition we had was that we wanted to be able to do the artwork for the cd. Our friend, Keith D’Arcy had suggested a friend named Matt Jacobson who was a graphic designer and lived in Michigan. We met with Matt and saw some of his work. We were extremely impressed and we wanted to see what kind of artwork he could come up with for our album. We gave him a tape of the album so he could get a feel for what we sounded like and come up with an appropriate concept. He ended up listening to the album and really liking it. At the same time, he was starting up a record label and offered to release our record. We were torn at first because we had already agreed with Albert to have Sunday release it, but in the end, I think we ended up making the right decision by choosing to go with Le Grand Magistery.
++ “Wishing on Planes” is such an evocative name for an album. And then it’s a beautiful name. But I’m wondering why you name it like that? Are you afraid of planes perhaps?
Rose: Thanks, Roque. That is really kind of you to say! I can’t really recall the true back-story of how we arrived at that name, and I don’t want to romanticize it too much. The actual line comes from the song “Naked”. I think the idea was that this person in the song was so unhappy about not having her feelings reciprocated, that she just wanted to escape any way she could. Preferably by plane since that’s the fastest. Generally, I’m not afraid of planes but turbulence is another thing all together.
++ This record is so beautiful, all of the songs are lush! But I do want your opinion, your biased opinion. What do you think of it? It’s been 10 years now, how do you think it has aged? What are your favourite songs from it?
Mario: I’m still proud of about 1/2 of the album. Some of the songs sound really dated to me, especially the drum machine we used. The songs that I still like are: “Timeline”, “Whipped”, “Smiles & Light”, “Understand Me”, “Yesterday’s Advice”, “Naked”, “1st Grade Love Affair” and “Walking Away” from the Japanese version.
Rose: By nature, I’m my harshest critic, and I tend to cringe whenever I hear my own singing from years back. That being said, and considering what stage of our lives we were at during that time, I am proud the positive responses we received. I felt like our message got to just the right people. Our fans tended to be the kindest, gentlest, most sensitive kids ever. I’m so grateful that the album brought us to Japan where we got to meet a lot of them in person. It was the best time!
++ Are there any more unreleased recordings by Shoestrings? I found some “unreleased” tracks once: “Untitled Demo”, “Song Six”, “The First One” and “Nothing”… can’t remember where I got them from!
Mario: I think I know what song “Untitled demo” is and I thought we released that for a cassette-only release that Cowly Owl in France released. I didn’t even know we recorded “The First One”?!? Is this a live recording or something?
There was a song called “March of ‘79″ that was for another cassette release called McBain. Not sure if you have this.
As far as unreleased songs go, there are 3 songs from our original 5 song demo that were never relased: a demo of “Timeline”, “Nothing” (which you mentioned) and an instrumental called “Skyway Church Road”. There are a couple songs we did for the Le Grand Magistery El Records tribute about 12 years ago that may see the light of day this year. One of them is a cover of Marden Hill’s “Oh Constance”. There are a lot of bits of songs and really rough acoustic demos and stuff, but I don’t think we would ever release those.
++ How about gigs? Did you gig much? Any anecdotes to share?
Mario: We did not play too many gigs. In fact, I could probably name each and every one of them if I wanted to. I estimate we played maybe 20 gigs total.
The most memorable was playing at On Air Nest in Tokyo. The Japanese fans were so wonderful and actually made us feel like real pop stars for a couple days.
We had a few nerve-wracking gigs in New York at Fez including one where the capo fell off of my guitar right in the middle of an acoustic song and I had to start over. Very embarrassing!
++ You were an active supporter of the indiepop scene, I think I’ve even seen photos of you both at the NYC Popfest of 97. How cool is that! I plan going again to NYC Popfest this year, and of course I’m excited, it’s always great there. How do you remember those days? how was that Popfest in 1997?
Mario: You’re lucky to go to the Popfest this year. It should be fun. I think we played at the one in 1997. We also went to the one in 1995. I think it was the first one that was set up by the indiepop list. We met a lot of wonderful people and kept lasting relationships with many of them. I think the 1997 one was where Holiday played their last gig? That was a great night and they put on a remarkable performance.
Rose: That was a great time! It really felt like something special was happening. We were wide-eyed kids back then and there was no shame in liking things that were twee or cute. We’re still in touch with many of the Popfest pioneers and it’s really fascinating to see how everyone has grown into adulthood.
++ So how did you end up doing and liking pop music?
Mario: I grew up on 80s new wave stuff: Flock of Seagulls, Tears For Fears, Thompson Twins, etc. That’s what was on MTV back then when MTV actually showed music videos and I was in love with it. By the time I was 15, I started getting into some industrial/dance music like Front 242, Skinny Puppy, Frontline Assembly, Severed Heads, etc. Then I discovered some of the 4AD bands like Clan of Xymox, Dead Can Dance, and Cocteau Twins. I was also listening to some Factory records stuff. The record that changed everything for me was The Wake’s “Here Comes Everybody” LP. That became my favorite record and at 1 point while record shopping, I saw a 7 inch by The Wake and it was “Crush The Flowers”. The guy at the record store assured me it was the same band that was on Factory and so that was my first Sarah records release. At another record store, one of the guys that worked there was playing Shadow Factory. I bought that and my appreciation for Sarah records exploded from there. Then I just started finding all of these 7 inch only labels through the various mailorders that were around at the time: Parasol when Brian Kirk worked there, then Mousetrap Mailorder, Mind the Gap in Germany, etc.
++ This one is for Mario… what was Zapato? Do you speak Spanish like me by any chance?
Mario: Yes I do speak Spanish. I was born in Michigan, but my parents came from Cuba in 1972. I recorded 1 song by myself for a compilation cd made by indiepop list members. The double cd was called The Family Twee. The song was called “Take me with you to Japan”. I needed a name for the band quick, and I didn’t want to use Shoestrings because I recorded it without Rose so I thought “I’m 1/2 of Shoestrings.” I ended up using the Spanish translation of shoe: Zapato.
++ Why did you call it a day as Shoestrings?
Mario: I don’t think it was really a conscious decision. Unfortunately, life just got in the way. Rose and I got married and moved into an apartment. We unpacked our recording equipment after about a year and recorded a song or 2, but then we bought a house and moved again so the same thing happened again. Before we knew it, 3-4 years had passed. We both had started our regular working careers during this time too. Once we finally got to work on music on a regular basis, so much time had passed. The way we write and record the songs has changed drastically and I think the style has changed. We felt we needed a fresh start.
++ You now have a new band called Invisible Twin. Care to tell me a bit more about it? When will there be a new release by you?
Mario: Originally, I was going to have my own project with Rose’s help and then Rose would have hers with my help. It might seem strange, but we had different ideas of what kind of sounds we wanted to explore. So far we’ve only worked on Rose’s project, Invisible Twin. She’s writing the songs and I act more as a producer/session musician.
I don’t know why, but I’ve had writer’s block for quite some time. I guess I haven’t really tried to sit down and write a song in a while. As a result, I may not do my project anymore. I’m pretty happy with what we’re doing now as Invisible Twin.
Rose: I always wanted to do my own music based on what I’m inherently drawn to as a listener. I’ve always loved smart, dance-y, electronic music. That’s the goal. So we’ve been sloooooooooooowwwly working on songs over the past couple of years. I wanted the songs to have a darker, driving feel with really strange/quirky stories about really unusual people, or just people that are in these really compromising situations. For example, one of our more recent songs called “the Art of Forgetting” is about two people who go around stealing from Trust Fund babies (BTW, Mario and I don’t know anyone like this in real life!). I’m the kind of person that doesn’t write draft papers. If it doesn’t feel right from the beginning I abandon it. I guess it’s kind of my downfall, but I have this notion that things just need to naturally come together on their own. Hopefully we’ll get to share Invisible Twin with others soon. Everyone cross their fingers!
++ What do Mario and Rose do when they are not making music
Mario: Nothing too exciting. I work as a software developer. When I’m not working, I listen to music, play Xbox 360, watch tv, etc. Also, Rose and I love to go out and eat at our favorite Indian and Ethiopian restaurants.
Rose: Yes, I’ve turned Mario into a little bit of a Foodie. We love travelling! I wish we could do that for a living. It’s funny because whenever we reminisce about going somewhere, we always have a predominant food memory attached to it. We loved Italy (particularly Rome) for just this reason. I like making funny cards and lists of things that I still want to do in life.
++ Thanks again so much for this interview, anything else you’d like to add?
Mario: Thank you for asking to do the interview. It made us think about some wonderful memories. Also, be on the lookout for new music by Invisible Twin in 2010.
Rose: Thanks, Roque for being so patient waiting for our responses. Hope everyone is as patient waiting for the Invisible Twin album!
Shoestrings – Timeline