By Angharad May
On the 22nd February, the Catalan band, Oques Grasses came all the way from Barcelona during their international tour to showcase their latest album, Fans del sol, in Chapter Arts Centre here in Cardiff. It was the perfect location for a band who knew how to connect with the Welsh public. As students of Catalan, my friend Dani and I, along with our Catalan tutor, Ares, had the great fortune of being able to interview two of the band members, Josep Montero (singer) and Miquel Biarnés (trombonist), followed by an evening of feel-good, buoyant Catalan music.
Ares was kind enough to arrange and transcribe the interview, which I will attempt to translate for you all to enjoy!
Oques Grasses, the title of your new album is, Fans del sol (Fans of the sun). Wales is a country renowned for its miserable, rainy weather. How do you find it here, in this environment of little sun?
J.M.: The truth is that the times we have been here, we have been lucky to find some sun and so we like it! We have not fully experienced the real climate here. It seems that we came with our new album, not only did we bring our music, but we also brought the sun!
What connects you to Cardiff?
J.M.: I went out with a girl who had family in Cardiff, which is how I met Fèlix who happens to manage some of the events organised at Chapter. This is our second time here in Cardiff, firstly because we like it here and also because we feel that we have an interesting connection with the people here.
You mentioned that you have a good connection with the public here. How are you received by the Welsh public?
M.B.: When we play abroad, we often find people who are open and eager to discover different music. This is what happens here in Wales and we like that a lot.
J.M.: People may not understand what you say, but they don’t really care about that because they connect with the music and the emotion.
As students of Catalan, the name of your group, Oques Grasses, caught our attention, and we wanted to know where it came from. Can you tell us a bit about the story behind it?
J.M.: When I was an electrician, I used to work with a man who always called me Josep Montero de les Oques Grasses, because he had a schoolfriend with this name. When I did my first concert with the drums and the guitar, I was told that I needed an ‘artistic’ name, so I decided to go by ‘Josep Montero de les Oques Grasses’. When we formed the current band, we decided to just use the short part of the name, ‘Oques Grasses’ and that’s how it came about!
Could you also tell us a little about the history of the band; how and where did your music adventure begin?
J.M.: For me, it started with playing the guitar at bars. I had already met Guillem Realp, (the current bass guitarist) several times before we formed Oques Grasses. He used to play the guitar back then, and we both said that we needed to find someone who played the bass guitar. After that, we met again, and that’s when he told me that he already knew how to play the bass guitar, then gradually, the rest of the band members joined us. They were all studying music. We organised our first rehearsal and, after that, we started doing performances until we had enough money to record a CD. The adventure we are now living, started once we had recorded that CD.
Back to the title of your new album; what does it mean and what does the sun represent to you?
J.M.: It is as simple or as profound as you want it to be. On the one hand, we are fans of the sun because we live on Earth and without sun there would be no life. On the other hand, there is also a somewhat more metaphorical meaning, that is, although you may experience bad weather in your life, if you hold on to the hope that of good days, then you can live better. It may snow or rain, but keep the sun in your mind because, although it is not always visible, it makes us lead our lives more positively.
How would you define this album? How would you compare this album to your others?
M.B.: The production of this album was bigger and includes an electronic part. We spent more hours recording and so throughout the whole process, the songs evolved and took the form that we really wanted. In addition, since we had a long break, we found that we were able to do more and are proud of the final result.
Which groups do you take references from when it comes to composing your own songs?
J.M.: To be honest, this year, I have only listened to our own music, to improve it etc. On Spotify, I have a list of about four or five hundred songs which are all by different bands! I don’t have a specific point of reference because I like so many groups of different styles, and the rest of the band are the same. This is reflected in our songs. It is difficult to define our style of music, we cannot be benchmarked as one single style. We simply make songs.
M.B.: Yes, that’s true. For example, I really like rock and roll, whereas our pianist and wind instrumentalists have explored jazz. Oques Grasses is neither rock and roll, nor clearly jazz, however, we each contribute our own tastes, our personal sparks which can be detected in our songs.
We noticed that you collaborated with the band ZOO in your latest album. Do you have a relationship with any other bands in the Catalan music scene? Can you recommend to us, as learners of Catalan, any other groups to continue discovering the language?
J.M.: We have a really good relationship with many Catalan bands, such as Manel, Amics de les Arts, Zoo, Lildami etc. We really like the ZOO’s lyrics as well as Lildami’s shameless and sassy lyrics. If we had to recommend groups in terms of lyrics, I would say that we all like La Troba Kung-Fú, ZOO and Adrià Puntí.
As we said, listening to songs is a great way to learn Catalan. Do you know of anyone who has learnt Catalan through your songs?
J.M.: Yes, we really do! From the comments on YouTube videos, we know that people who speak Spanish are learning Catalan thanks to listening to our music. They ask us for the lyrics so that they can follow the songs, in fact, when we uploaded our latest album to YouTube, we included the lyrics and their translation in response to people’s requests. So now they can understand what we are expressing in our own language.
What does it mean then, for you to sing in Catalan?
M.B.: It’s a way of spreading our way of speaking around the world. Above all, we sing in Catalan because it is the language in which we think and feel and so it is the easiest way to capture what we mean. We have tried to write lyrics in Spanish and English, and we found that we had to add two more steps to the process compared to when we write in Catalan. We had to think deeply about what we meant, translate it, make it rhythmical etc. We write our lyrics in Catalan because that is how we feel we have to do it.
To finish, what perception would you like to leave with the Welsh public about Oques Grasses?
We would like you to connect with the music that we have prepared, enjoy it and have a good time! If we achieve this, we will be very happy, as we always are when we play here in Wales!