Los Encantados

When James Armstrong was writing songs for a now ex-girlfriend he never imagined they’d end up for public consumption, and appreciated by so many, but that’s the story behind Los Encantados’ EP trilogy Same Damned Soul. The relationship with the girl didn’t last, but the music has created something much bigger.

Los Encantados hail from the Brooklyn indie rock scene, and consist of Armstrong, David Kinniburgh, Ben Mattison, Evan Mitchell, Kevin Rochford, and Jerome Umanos, all of whom have played in different projects in the past. When Substream Music Press caught up with Armstrong he revealed how his private songs became public, and his feelings on his private life no longer being private. Armstrong also discussed Los Encantados’ ability to help their fans hook up, and what the band has in common with mythical creatures from the Amazon.

Substream Music Press: Your band name is Los Encantandos. Did I pronounce that correctly?

James Armstrong: Yes.

SMP: Good, because I haven’t taken Spanish in a while.

James: That’s OK, I’m pretty terrible at it, as well.

SMP: If you’re terrible at Spanish why’d you pick a Spanish name?

James: Basically, because our first album was kind of a musical Valentine to this girl and she was Hispanic. She was trying to teach me a little bit of Spanish, and it was a pet name between us. It became the band (name) long after that was done.

SMP: Have you come up with other meanings for it since then, like something’s enchanted about you, your music, or your journey so far?

James: Yeah, there are actually these mythical creatures from the Amazon, they live in the rivers and they’ll come up and interact with the natives, and when they come up to land they’ll play their music when the natives are having parties and make it a fun, mystical, secretive vibe. It fits our band really well. Also, in Mexico it’s what they call playing tag, so it kind of signifies the playfulness of our music.

SMP: You just formed as a band a little over a year ago. How have you managed to put things together so quickly?

James: I don’t know, we just never really stop writing, and working, and playing. I don’t really do anything else. The other guys are also in other projects and playing all the time, constantly recording. The hunger for it, that’s why I think it went so quickly.

SMP: Indie rock and Brooklyn have almost become synonyms. How are you avoiding falling into the trap of being just another indie rock band from Brooklyn?

James: There are so many people and so many artists in the New York area that there are bounds to be tons of bands and tons of projects going on. I think it’s just a construct of the environment that we’re in that there are so many bands in this area. I think it pushes you a little it to hone your craft a little bit better, or perform better, write better songs, stick out a little bit more.

SMP: I know one way you’ve decided to stick out is by releasing a trilogy of EPs titled Same Damned Soul, and now you’re working on a full length release. Why did you decide to release an EP trilogy first, as your introduction to people?

James: The record follows the arc of a relationship. It goes from light to dark to light again, which mirrored the seasons really well. When we were tracking it out it made sense in the way that the song order came about to release it in little spurts. The first three (songs) are super playful, really upbeat, all major chords, so it made sense to go with spring. The second one, the songs were a little bit more about summer, so we put it out in summer. The last, for fall/winter, were a little bit darker, a little more emotionally dense. It matched up well. Also, it’s a little bit easier for listeners to consume in small doses as opposed to popping out an album right off the bat.

SMP: Did you see the amount of downloads, and talk, increase with each release?

James: Yeah, since our inception we’ve grown as time has gone on. It’s been good. I think it’s worked well with people getting into the band.

SMP: The title, Same Damned Soul, what’s the meaning behind that, because I know you’re not defining yourselves as the same damned soul.

James: It’s just a phrase to describe a star crossed relationship.

SMP: It seems like it was a pretty intense relationship.

James: Yeah, it was.

SMP: Does she even know this is about her?

James: {laughs} Yeah, she does. As it began I was just giving them to her and it just evolved off of that. I wanted to play in a band again, we started playing these songs and people liked them. We played a show, it was going to be a one time show, and we got booked straight off of that show, so it rolled really naturally and organically from there.

SMP: How do you feel about something that’s so personal and so close to you, that was originally intended to be heard by only one person, becoming so public?

James: Initially I though it was going to be really weird, but it’s part of me, so I don’t really mind it.

SMP: Do you know how the ex feels about having essentially your love letters to her being heard by the public?

James: We haven’t really talked about it. She enjoys the album, I know. We’re happy for each other, what’s going on in each other’s lives, even though we’re not as much a part of them anymore.

SMP: Speaking of things you’re no longer a part of, the building that housed the studio you recorded the album in ended up being condemned.

James: That was one of the most ridiculous days. I went into work and I texted Sammy (Gallo), who was producing and recording Same Damned Soul. We were supposed to wrap up vocals and some guitar stuff that night, and I texted him to make sure everything was cool. He was like “yeah, looking forward to it.” An hour later, the girl it was about, we broke up, and then an hour after that Sammy sent me a picture of the condemned notice, and I was like what the fuck is going on? Luckily he sorted out his living situation quickly, and we moved all the equipment over to the Encantado practice space and finished up the tracking in there.

SMP: Did you see any hints, or have any experiences, while recording that told you the place you were in might not be in the best of shape?

James: No. I think the reason they had done it, it was one of those New York warehouse giant loft kind of buildings and a lot of people built inside it. They built rooms, or a studio, and I think the landlord just really wanted everybody out, so he reported the building as not up to code.

SMP: Shifting gears, you and Kevin met while working together at EMI. How do you think your experience with a major label has helped shape the business side of the band?

James: It’s just made us a lot more aware of different opportunities in the marketplace, and also, I think it’s grounded us a little bit better. Working in the industry we see hundreds of projects go through, and some do well and some don’t. Sometimes it takes a lot of time for something to build, for people to really find their niche as an artist, and I think sometimes as an artist, not seeing that can lead to a lot of frustration. I think you’re always a little bit impatient to get your songs out, or your album out, or to get on tour, or to just go and do things, and I think seeing what happens on the business side kind of makes you feel zen about everything sometimes. It keeps you working. It keeps you in a positive mental state a little bit better than if you have no idea what’s going on behind the curtain that is the industry.

SMP: I’ve been interviewing artists for 12 years and this is the first time I’ve heard anyone describe a relationship with the industry as zen.

James: {laughs} You kind of have to know what you’re getting yourself into a little bit. There are tons of good people. Just speaking to artists I know a lot of people have some bad experiences, but you kinda just have to take it on the chin. I think it happens in every industry, no matter what you’re doing. I think artists also have a little bit off kilter temperament, maybe? They’re a little bit sensitive.

SMP: Going from sensitivity to pride, have you had a moment yet that’s made you say “wow, we’re really making it?”

James: More people are coming out to our shows. We’re getting offers to play outside of the city a lot more, and at different festivals. Our EP is doing better. We’ve been getting a lot more press. It all feels good. It feels like we’re on the right path, that at least there’s an audience out there that enjoys what we’re doing. That’s always good to give you some motivation to keep on, and keep doing that.

SMP: If people don’t like what you’re doing it’s tough to be motivated.

James: For sure. I think if you’re an artist these days you have to be your own biggest motivator, but you also have to be a little grounded and say “this clearly isn’t working, maybe I’ll try something else.” You don’t have to tailor what you’re doing, but art’s a weird thing.

SMP: It’s not necessarily tailoring it, it’s saying there’s no audience for this, so let’s see what else I can do that people might enjoy.

James: Especially in our case, where we’re writing pop songs, basically, with guitars. We’re just trying to make pretty pretty songs that are catchy and will make people dance.

SMP: So you’re making the pretty songs, you’re making people dance, with that in mind, what’s been the wildest thing you’ve seen, or experienced, during one of your shows?

James: My favorite moment was when we had a 50s prom at our second EP release show and my girlfriend’s cousin, I saw him dancing in the audience and some random, I think it was a stewardess that he had just met, they were all over each other when we were playing “The Wanderer,” so we crowned them prom king and queen for the night. They got to slow dance to “Earth Angel,” and subsequently went away with each other. It was nice.

SMP: That’s a great moment! When you know, potentially, there could be a mistake baby on the way…

James: It’s making the magic happen.

SMP: Have you heard anything from the stewardess since then?

James: We have not, unfortunately. Maybe she was German. We may have to fly Lufthansa a little bit more.


Los Encantados Interview

By Adam Bernard