Stones turned over
Las Pesadillas aren’t afraid to explore the dark, creepy, nightmarish underside of rock
Violins are scary, often heard in horror-film soundtracks and in songs about devils and souls. The violin is therefore well suited to the still-untitled song being rehearsed by Las Pesadillas, a song about setting a sleeping man on fire, taking care to make it look like a case of falling asleep with a lit cigarette. Equally suited to the sonic spookiness being created in an Orangevale tract home is the twangy acoustic guitar, the loose-stringed, dark sound of a hollow bodied bass, and the tense, apprehensive drumming. Perhaps creepiest of all is the raspy, Southern-tinged voice of the narrator as he delights in the horrific tale.
Damian Mack-Husted, who’s been playing the violin since he was 3 years old, Noah Nelson on guitar and lead vocal, and Jason Cox on drums, played together previously in Old Man Homo, a band they describe as “generic punk, but pretty innovative for what it was.” Now joined by Jon Mack on bass, previously with the Delectable Whipple Trees, they make up Las Pesadillas, which translates into English as “the Nightmares.”
Nelson sits, smiling. He’s reserved and pleasant. “I like to talk a lot about scary stuff,” he says. Pressed for details on how his band’s identity has become one that serial killer trading card collectors might respond to, he explains, still smiling, “I like to write about bones breaking and teeth falling out.” Then he adds, “Most of our tunes are in a minor key. That’s the creepy key.”
So how did these nice enough fellas end up making such dark music? Nelson doesn’t seem too perplexed. “We’re all tortured somehow or another,” he says, and yes, he’s still smiling. When not playing, they seem to feel no need to act intense or menacing. They’re just four nice guys who’ve found a way to have fun with their demons.
Like many musicians, Las Pesadillas are not sure how to classify their music, though they can name influences: the Pixies, Tom Waits, the Dead Milkmen, Mr. Bungle, Charlie Hunter, Eastern European gypsy music. Mack-Husted learned to play violin on Italian gypsy music, this influence being readily apparent. No country or bluegrass artists are named, though a Southern influence probably wormed its way in through band members’ devotion to the Grateful Dead.
Las Pesadillas’ sound betrays careful, thoughtful craftsmanship. Though they describe their songwriting process as quick and easy, the moods they create and the pictures they paint so vividly are obviously the product of seasoned and studied musicians, their passion coming through in their attention to detail rather than in the boiling-over rage so prevalent in contemporary rock.
An equal amount of care has gone into the production of their two CDs. For their first, Dear Customer, they hired Oz Fritz, who had recorded two of their heroes, Primus and Tom Waits. The album has a schizophrenic quality reminiscent of Mr. Bungle or John Zorn. It’s raucous and rocking at times, and at others jittery and tense. It’s never soothing—not for an instant.
Their new CD House of a Thousand Grassfires is all acoustic. Taken individually the tracks are less jumpy, but from song to song a wide stretch is covered. The best example of this is in the leap from the hypnotic and sweetly haunting melody of the bluegrass song “Riverboat” to their delightfully true rendition of “Overworld Theme,” from Nintendo video game classic Super Mario Brothers.
The new CD is the first release from Anadyne Music, a new label started by local club booker Charles Twilling. Las Pesadillas are already preparing material for their third disc, which Anadyne will also release, with Fritz again behind the board. The members of Las Pesadillas are keen on the future—they talk about touring Italy, they would love to do soundtrack music for films, but they’re happy to let someone else work out the details, finagle the labels and kiss the babies. Las Pesadillas would prefer to continue spending their time making the music.