- by Rob Taylor Release Date: Label:
Two weeks ago, XIXA earned a gold medallion from Soundblab for their piece of desert rock fusion inspired by the tradition of Peruvian Cumbia. Bloodline distinguishes itself because the heart of it is organic; it's contains a narrative about the band, its members, and all their shared cultural and musical influences living in a border town. That border town, Tucson Arizona, which sits 40 miles from the Mexican border, has produced some remarkable musicians over the years.
Besides Brian Lopez and Gabriel Sullivan on vocals and guitars, XIXA consists of Jason Urman on keyboard, Geoffrey Hidalgo on bass, Efren Cruz Chavez on timbales and percussion, and Winston Watson on drums.
Soundblab is grateful that XIXA's Gabriel Sullivan took the time to share a few things about the band and their music.
SB: What struck me about Bloodline was the wonderful synthesis of both native and musical cultures inside the music. Does the soul of XIXA's music derive from Tucson's successful integration of these cultures?
Gabriel: XIXA has become a sort of platform where the different musical influences of all 6 members can find a home. We all come from very different sonic backgrounds and I think that is very apparent in the music. Tucson certainly has a special blend of cultures and that seeps into everyone in one way or another.
SB: I saw Calexico live the other evening, and was taken by the passion and simpatico of the musicians, and how they conveyed the music, it's heritage, and its lyrical message. There was also an exuberance brought by the latin influences which had people dancing and grinning with the musicians. What is the average gig like in Tucson, Arizona, and how does it vary when you go on the road ?
Gabriel: Ahhh Calexico… our good friend Sergio plays the keys for them…. Tucson has shows just like anywhere. Sure there’s a lot more latin based bands playing here because of our strong Mexican culture, but there’s just as many, if not more punk and metal bands who do very well. I remember one night last year seeing Salvador Duran (incredible Mexican singer who sings quite often with Calexico) and just an hour later seeing SUNN O)) across the street… As far as XIXA goes, we certainly have a lot of fun playing in Tucson. The city has known us since our days as Chicha Dust so we always sneak a couple chicha covers in for good measure. It’s always a long concert and a wild dance party…. I have a feeling that just might happen on the road as well.
SB: How did the various musical influences of the band play out in your first rehearsals ? Did Chicha Dust disband, or morph into XIXA following a change in musical direction?
Gabriel: We started Chicha Dust with the intention of playing all cumbia, specifically chicha. Once in a while we’d write an original song during downtime and those are the songs that became XIXA. It was an extremely organic mutation that was very rooted and natural.
SB: How did you connect with Tinariwen’s Sadam Iyad Imarhan ? Was it a chance meeting or a spark of musical genius that brought you together ?
Gabriel: Yet another connection that we owe to the one ‘n only Howe Gelb. During some Giant Sand tours last year we played a handful of festivals with Tinariwen. We would always trade guitars and trade licks with them despite no one being able to understand each other. When Brian and I started talking about the idea of having a more acoustic track on the record we immediately thought to include Tinariwen. Their manager hooked us up with Sadam before their concert in Phoenix where we recorded his vocals and guitar for the song… He currently fronts one of my favorite new bands, Imarhan. They’re definitely gonna make a name for themselves this year.
SB: What path do you see the band taking after Bloodline ? Will there be equal focus on the Chicha tradition, or will the band be changing tack towards the rock market ?
Gabriel: I think there will always be foot in the chicha sound for us. We even bring that influence into our other projects… often unknowingly. I think XIXA is certainly a rock band at heart but I love how easily I can imagine us playing any type of music. It’s an extremely talented group of musicians who can all play a wide array of instruments and musical styles… It will be a hoot seeing where we go next.
SB: Tell us something brief and unusual about each of the band members.
Gabriel: Jason is the only red bearded Jew born and raised in Nogales that I have ever met. Winston can fix absolutely anything. Efren exclusively watches Frasier while on tour and follows it by speaking in something that resembles a British/Australian/who knows what kind of accent. Brian can almost slam dunk a basketball. And if you ever need a jar of the finest raw honey, you just gotta call our bass guru Geoff.
SB: My knowledge of your regional style of music doesn’t extend beyond Calexico, Giant Sand and Friends of Dean Martinez, so I would be fascinated to know of other bands in the demographic area of Tucson, Arizona deserving coverage ? Even over the border ? Can you give me some
Gabriel: Well that guy Sergio Mendoza that I mentioned earlier… the Calexico keyboardist… he’s got a great band called Orkesta Mendoza. Big, powerful indie-mambo music. My favorite cumbia band comes from Tucson. They’re called Vox Urbana. Then you got some serious rock n roll bands like Katterwaul, Golden Boots, The Night Collectors… Songwriters? yeah we got em… Billy Sedlmayr, Carlos Arzate, Andrew Collberg, June West. Heavy bands?! Oh hell yeah…. You got NORTH, GateCreeper, Sex Prisoner. Oh and you can’t forget the most original country music in the southwest, Jameson Clay Koweek & The Electrified Donkey Band…. That should gotcha started ;)
XIXA tour Europe in April, May and June. Details can be found here: