‘Maximalist indigenous rock’

Unmasking the feel-good jams of Máscaras

Mascaras (from left): Theo Craig, Papi Fibres and Carlos Segovia.

Mascaras (from left): Theo Craig, Papi Fibres and Carlos Segovia.

Photo by todd walberg

Máscaras performs Tuesday, Jan. 31, 8 p.m., at 1078 Gallery. Dirty Spells and XDS open.
Cost: $7
1078 Gallery820 Broadway St.

The members of Máscaras could just as easily not be sitting across a table from me talking about their band at a cavernous bar in north Portland. For one, the city is at the tail end of a snowstorm that has all but shut everything down. Then there’s the fact that the initial idea for the instrumental three-piece was to simply jam in a practice space and smoke a lot of marijuana.

So what changed?

“It sounded good!” yelled drummer Papi Fimbres, the group’s outspoken spiritual leader.

He’s not just blowing smoke. Máscaras bashes out squirrelly, psychedelic instrumental surf rock, which occasionally builds into righteous burning riffs. It proved wise for the trio—which includes guitarist Carlos Segovia and bassist Theo Craig—to venture out in front of audiences. The response to Máscaras’ first show back in August 2013 was immediate, and they released their debut Máscara vs. Máscara in 2015.

It’s appropriate that we’re in a Portland dive that transports us to a time before the city began bulldozing classic joints in favor of upscale apartments and overpriced ice cream shops. Fimbres and Segovia, both originally from Los Angeles, have lived in Portland since the 1990s, and have played big roles in the music scene, even as venues continue to get squeezed out. In fact, Máscaras has kept the longstanding tradition of basement shows a thing in Portland, even as rising rents hinder the scene.

They also carry on the tradition of New Bloods, Magic Johnson and Purple Rhinestone Eagle—former Portland bands made up of people of color in a city that’s 95 percent white.

“We try and keep it real,” said Segovia, pointing out that, while musically Máscaras pulls from many influences, their ethnicities are important to the identity of the band (Segovia is El Savadorian, Craig is Native American and Fimbres is Mexican). They’ve even dubbed their music “maximalist indigenous rock.”

There is a looseness to Máscaras, both musically and in the way they interact with one another. Add a couple of palomas, and it’s nothing but laughs and hugs. Fimbres is the gregarious leader, his drumming at times the lead instrument. Segovia is measured and thoughtful, while Craig is sweet and self-effacing. And if you listen to their individual parts separately you’d almost think they were playing different songs. It’s pretty stunning.

The trio went into Máscaras with zero preconceived ideas of what the music would sound like. Some songs, including the scorching Dick Dale nod “Burgers & Balrog,” date back to the band’s earliest jam sessions. It’s been somewhat of a learning curve for both Segovia and Craig, the latter of whom had taken a three-year break from playing.

“Papi taught me to be a better bass player,” said Craig. “I’m constantly counting.”

That’s not a joke—keeping up with the spazzy, jazz-and-Cumbia-influenced Fimbres is no easy feat. Craig can sometimes be seen tapping his foot during shows as his legs move along to his walking bass lines. Segovia’s been playing multiple instruments for most his life, and even he admits that Máscaras has pushed his guitar playing.

“I have to adapt,” said Segovia, turning to his drummer. “You’re like a roller coaster, and I have to hold on.”

Fimbres pounces on it with a big laugh. “And it’s one hell of a ride!”