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an interview with Irene Tremblay by Greg Weeks / pictures
Irene Tremblay lives a double life. She's Spanish born, but one half of the blood that courses through her veins is patently American. She's a student, and a woman who feels the pull of the straight and narrow, yet her best efforts at normality are continually overridden by her demanding muse. Songwriting is something, unlike happiness, that she can't seem to avoid. Like America, music is in her blood, pulling her into her own psychology, channelling her everyday experiences into bittersweet sonorities, and eliciting from her a fluid accuracy on guitar that should be much admired by contemporaries, male and female alike. On stage, depending on Irene's mood, one may witness her creative side overcome her median state of shy, self-effacement, and force her figure to contort and slacken as if privy to some undocumented spiritual transference, or opulent state. This is the power that song holds over Irene, and the reason why her voice (yeah, that charged, gritty, yet impossibly serene voice) will likely never cease its communication with her heart.¡Hola!
Buenas noches.So, nice weather in Spain these days? I'm having a clear-blue, warm Spring day here in New York.
Yeah, the weather's good. Do you guys have air conditioning in American universities? I just spent hours in a funky lecture hall.Uh, the rich kids might, but lowly state university-spawned students like myself would mostly sweat it out. How are your studies going, by the way? Think you'll pass everything this spring?
I doubt I'll pass anything... erm. I'm going to try. But I need a miracle.Uh oh! Better hit those books! So, you were out West, here in the States, first visiting your grandparents, then as part of The Sunshine Plague Traveling Review. How is it that a Spanish girl has grandparents in the US?
My mother's from California. She came to Spain as a high-school student on a summer program and she met my dad. So after college she came back and they got married.You're not a spy, are you?
Oh, yes, and that...Speaking of secret operations, how come you, being a diabetic, snuck Skittles in the backseat the whole time we were driving down the coast for the Plague Tour?
Self-destructive impulses. I'm working on that these days.Yeah, I was like, 'Hey, Irene's having a beer! Hey, Irene's eating candy again! Hey, Irene like, missed another meal again' [all bad things for a Diabetic]. I was a bit worried, but didn't take it too seriously because you were so mellow about it.
Yeah, I keep promising myself 'Tomorrow... tomorrow.' And, surprise, surprise I gained a lot of weight! I'm trying to get back to something regular and healthy.So, were you anxious about meeting and having to be cooped up in a car with eight musicians you'd never met before?
Totally. But I had a good feeling about it all. It was funny how so many of us had stuff to 'get away from'. I was more anxious about getting the hell out of Spain for a while.Yeah? You mentioned that the politics of the local music scene there are a bit dicey. Was that part of your need to escape?
Well, there was loads of personal stuff, too. But yeah, it's such a small scene, it definitely got to me. But I guess that kind of claustrophobia can happen in the States too, right?Man, this country is gigantic, but every town has its own isolated music underground, subdivided into various factions that seem to care very little about the bigger picture. Did America seem like a place you'd like to live? Are you psyched to get back here and play again?
Yes, but I'm not too sure if my reasons are the right ones.How do you mean?
Well, I'd like to live in the States. But I've never lived there for more than a couple of weeks (except when I was very little). And I'm not sure if I want to go because I want to be there, or because I'm obsessed with novelty and change.Ah yes, that's what plagues me every time I venture over to Europe. I can't seem to imagine not living there, especially given the treatment that musicians get, but it all seems a bit outlandish to me when I sit down and actually think about it. How could I not live in the States? It's what I am, what I know. It's a tough dilemma.
They treat foreign (esp. American) musicians really well, but with local artists it's a whole other story. But you see, there is a part of me that is American. A part of me that is a foreigner in the country where I was born and raised.Of course, you being so American in a lot of ways (I can't imagine a more American thing than to want to go to Denny's, ferchrissakes), it might be an easy transition for you. The US is the 'melting pot' after all. It's built on foreigners, and continues to be so, much to the chagrin of its native born.
The fact of [America] being a melting pot defines Americans for me in a lot of ways. My generation of Spaniards isn't really used to that sort of variety. When I got back from the tour I realised there was a part of me that didn't exist in Spain. I can't really say what it is exactly. I guess I'm doomed to always feel homesick and out of it in a way... But reacting to Denny's was the Spaniard in me wanting to do something touristy. Diego, of Migala, loved Denny's!Gah! Denny's is now a tourist attraction!? Dear Lord, strike us all down where we stand, the world has taken its final worst turn! Seriously, though, I understand perfectly what you mean. Being a child of two cultures, you find it impossible to reconcile yourself with any one culture entirely. Luckily for you, globalisation is making us all feel that way! You're just in on the ground floor! I think most Americans are far removed from the melting pot. So much so that, when it encroaches on them, they react hysterically.
Well, I guess that's true also. I remember trying to get these girls from Houston to eat shellfish... the looks on their faces when the waiters brought the stuff in!Texas, now there's a state filled with air-conditioned classrooms. So, how's it coming with the new record? You played a ton of incredibly beautiful new songs on the tour, and last you told, you were getting ready to hit the studio to record them.
I recorded stuff before the tour. I rushed it a bit because I was dying to record the songs. I didn't want them to feel old when I recorded them. And now I have half a record.I thought you said those were only demos?
Well, they're basic tracks to do things with. Also, there's more to it than you heard. More songs, more tracks, mixing in progress...I was a bit worried that they might end up sounding a tad sterilised due to the digital recording process mostly used there in Spain. If Happiness Avoids Me doesn't come out sounding gigantic and warm, I'll just die. It's such a staggering piece of raw emotion in song form. What do you think about analogue vs. digital?
I've never done analogue. But I can see why people prefer it.Are there any options for you to record onto tape in Spain?
Nope. Man! Ok, so tell me a bit about the motives behind your most recent material. What are these songs about?
Uh, oh. The question.You like to write about boys, don't you? Boys who have been bad to you.
I knew that was going to come up... Well, no. Actually, I write about how bad I've been to boys. My first title for this record was going to be 'We Can't Be Friends.'So, what are you saying, that you enjoy the game of seduction, then, once you've had your fun you get bored and feel the need to move on?
No. I never get bored with anyone, I just find something new.But isn't that the same thing?
No. It doesn't feel like the same thing. The only thing I get bored with is with being alone. It's not even about seduction. It's more about intimacy. I like knowing people really well.If you are satisfied with a person, why move on?
I'd like to know that too.If you like the intimacy, you're sabotaging yourself by drifting from one guy to the next, right?
I think that these past months I just met a lot of interesting people...and the way we connected...well, that made it complicated to be in a relationship.Fair enough. Life has many worthwhile distraction on offer, but a whole lotta songs on your first few records were written before then, but the same attitude exists on them.
You're going to get me to say that it's easier to write about relationships than about other subjects. But I haven't said it yet!I think it may very well be true, just because our lives are jam packed with romantic and interpersonal relationships. But still, there's other stuff out there to write about, and you're a smart gal, so there must be an issue that you're especially in need of working through when it comes to love and its relations.
An issue? I was just thinking about how there are so many issues ... It's hard with the old songs. With the new songs it's pretty clear. Each one has a specific feeling, it's about something in particular. Happiness Avoids Me is about loneliness.Are you often very lonely?
Yes, I am. Do you suppose that your dissatisfaction with love relationships is in some part related to the fact that their being in your life gives no cure to the loneliness you experience day to day?
I'm quite conscious about being alone. I've had that argument before with people, the one about how no matter how close you are to someone there's always a part of you that you can't share.Sure, but have you made peace with that fact?
Uhm. Maybe you're right. Boys are just an excuse for everything else. But it's not just loneliness. There's nostalgia there too. I'm thinking about a couple of songs on the new record: Flavour of the Month is just sort of evocative, and Tell Noah About the Rain is like that too.I'm not suggesting boys are an excuse, but that you are unsatisfied with what may be a fundamental truth of existence: that the people you love will never be able to fulfil you the way that you hope they'll be able to.
I guess - oh, I'm getting too profound - what really gets to me is how happiness is so brief. You have like two happy seconds and the rest feels pretty mediocre.I guess it's about your outlook. If you can take joy from the simple things in life, then happiness comes in greater abundance.
I do get pleasure from simple things in life, I just haven't gotten around to writing about it yet.
CWAS #11 - Autumn 2002