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Tijuana Cartel

Tijuana Cartel_bigWith a new album, 24 Bit Guitar Orchestra, out now,  Tijuana Cartel will be hitting up Mojos on Thursday, September 4, Settlers Bar, Margaret River, on Friday, September 5, Capitol on Saturday, September 6, and the Indi Bar on Sunday, September 7. SHAUN COWE reports.

Wading into the slick, coruscating waters of psychedelic, electronic and world music armed with only their synths, like a trio of sonic Jacques Cousteaus, Tijuana Cartel have made a name for themselves by boldly going where few have gone before.

Now, with their latest album, 24 Bit Guitar Orchestra, and a national tour under way, keyboardist Carey O’Sullivan talks about what’s gone in to make it all possible.

“We went for a slightly different direction with our last album; it was a lot more vocal-centric and we sort of dug in and brought through a lot of the influences we had when we were younger, of punk and rock and psychedelic rock and things like that.

“So for this one we decided to go back to the root of the Tijuana Cartel sound, which is small fat beats and epic world soundscapes and Paulie’s (guitarist, Paul George) special blend of Aussie flamenco shredding.”

The album, which O’Sullivan claims is a return to roots for the band, might alienate some fans of Frequent Flyers Redeemed (2007), because of its focus on instrumentation, but there’s a definite sense that the band isn’t happy to sit on its laurels and constantly seeks to push boundaries.

“We’ve got a lot of influences and sometimes we just want to do everything,” O’Sullivan says. “Paul and I will just write what we feel like writing and then we have to make the decision if it’s too far from what people are used to from the Tijuana Cartel sound – whether we should make a new side project and put it all under that, or whether we should pull it back in line with what people expect from our sound, or whether we could just blow everyone and do something completely different but you risk alienating people then. I think that’s mainly what we’ve done with this album. The original fans of Tijuana are gonna really love it. It’s a bit of a gift.”

The band’s latest single, Still Fighting, features Richard Kaal, who works extensively to record and produce traditional Balinese music from his studio, Musikaal. O’Sullivan says it all came about pretty much by chance.

“We’ve known Richard through a mutual friend for a while and we were in Bali and he invited us up to his mountaintop retreat and started telling us about stuff that he’d done. He was really interested in stuff that we were doing and then he showed us his Gamelan Orchestra which he had set up – and he’d been recording with local Gamelan players – and said we could use it for a studio and record all the instruments and everything. As we were making the song he started singing and we said, ‘hey we should record you, do you want to be on the song as well?’ and it all sort of fell into place.”

O’Sullivan admits that he’s actually just sent off for the first pressing of the band’s album. While talking about it he admits that, despite Tijuana Cartel’s huge, sweeping sound on their albums, the band is primarily focused on live performance.

“The reaction to our live set has always been far greater than we’ve had from our CDs. I mean, we sell some CDs at gigs, people take some home, but it’s never been a huge success, merchandise-wise. It’s also been hard to capture the live thing on CD, so they are a slightly different animal.

“Music being free, it’s sort of taken away a lot of the feelings of owning the music. Like, kids won’t have that anymore, where you save up and buy a CD and you take the CD home and you read the cover and create a real attachment to that, this is my CD and I’m going to play it in my Walkman, or whatever.

“People don’t understand the concept of owning music anymore, they just play it and the only thing that’s gonna make it special – apart from vinyl coming back, which I hear is possible – is gonna be the live show, where you can see it live. That’s where the magic’s gonna be from now on, I think.”