Rock without an expiry date

By Guitars Exchange

Última Experiencia; lead singer and guitarist Miguel Ángel Ariza, bassman José Alberto Solís, and drummer Carlos Lahoz: have stayed away from the scourge of fashions and trends, managing to mold a solid career out of it with a fervent belief in something that is almost a religion to them: rock. And from the moment they decided to call themselves Última Experiencia (The Last Experience), and establish as a ‘power trio’, with a wink and a nod to a certain left-handed guitarist, it was clear that their thing  was to follow classic rock roots, with an eye on the golden years of the genre, the 60s, and 70s, with clear references to Hendrix himself, Cream, and Rory Gallagher. Indeed, singing in Spanish with their own material, with some songs that are still the pillars on which the band is held.  

Now they’re releasing their 3rd record, Cultura Caduca, an old fashioned album,  one you could listen from start to finish, and expresses the rejection of this culture of instant success as the measure of everything, and quantity over quality. Nine songs that will be debuted on a tour that will take them to various venues in Spain, like Valencia, Murcia and Madrid, next April 13 at Sala Siroco.

We’re chatting with Miguel Ángel Ariza, who is not just a remarkable musician, but who also had a degree in journalism, and is a collaborator with us at Guitars Exchange, where he advises us on how to sound like the great guitarists in his section In The Style Of...

GE: Listening to your lyrics, one would get the idea that you’re none too happy with the state of affairs we live in, seeing that the title of the record Culture Expired makes clear that you’re quite pissed off or, as you say in ‘Revolution’, that  you don’t feel a part of this digital age...

MA: More than not pleased with the times we live in, we don’t feel at ease with the time people dedicate to culture in these times. We all share in the digital age and all the facilities and tools that come with it, but totally against how we generally use these tools. What could be a perfect world wherein artists and the public foster a community and a much more direct connection between them ends up becoming a marketing contest about who gets the most attention and in that contest the great loser is finally the work of art itself which has become less important to reach the public. It’s very sad to see this day after day in social networks...

GE: That same disconnect from real time can be seen in your music, it seems clear that you don’t feel very connected to your time, was any past time better?

MA: When it comes to the artist and the value afforded the artist and the work, we are undoubtedly living the worst of times since this became a great money-making business. However, I don’t think the same regarding the talent out there. There still is a lot and very good, the problem is that it takes a lot to find it... every band fights for themselves and the big business that was there before, which brought you all the new must-haves, has mostly disappeared, and now it’s more by word of mouth than anything else. But as I said , there is talent out there and maybe now the technical and instrumental level has never been better... in a few years this is going to become very palpable, the youngsters play much better than before.

GE: Given that all your main influences recorded their best work before 1975, do you agree with Homer Simpson when he says, ‘Everyone knows rock attained perfection in 1974. It’s a scientific fact!’?.

MA: Perhaps Última Experiencia music goes back to the 70s more than what I really intended, but I’ve never forgotten that my influences have always been from all styles and eras. While it is true that my big heroes are mostly from the 60s and 70s, I can assure you that in the later decades, groups like Oasis, U2 and the Raconteurs are real headlights on my road.

GE: Rock has taken second spot when it comes to popularity and sales, despite the festivals having as headliners groups and artists still betting on guitars on the ticket, but it’s been years and there’s no wake-up call, Do you agree with Jack White that it’s about to make a come-back with a new wave of groups and bands bringing back the excitement that this music has always thrived on?

MA: As I told you before I’m not nostalgic for the past, but rather believe that a band will appear that flips us all out and blazes a new trail, as did Nirvana and Radiohead. Jack White himself with the Raconteurs has shown that classic rock can sound modern, and his album Consoler of the Lonely, is among the best in rock history in my view.  

GE: You can tell the veteran touch on the record which makes you sound very good, but the songs are still there. What do you most value in a band or an artist you like, the sound? the songs? the attitude?

MA: The songs, and in 2nd place the songs, and 3rd the songs...all the rest is pure literature. A while ago I read an interview with Quincy Jones where he says that there isn’t an artist big enough who can turn a bad song into a good one. It’s cool to hear this coming from a man who has worked profoundly with people like Sinatra, Stevie Wonder, and Michael Jackson. I’m nobody but this is very clear in my mind. The song is everything and everything else must mold around what the song needs. Many of the songs on this album, for example, don't have a guitar solo, although many people say that that is the band’s strength. So if a song doesn’t need a solo don’t put one in because it’ll just fuck it up.   

Then the sound is one of the tools that allows the song to be heard best by the listeners’ ear. The sound is the vehicle between the song and the public. Of course it’s important, it certainly is, but always in favour of the song. Besides, I don’t think there is any hit based on the sound, but these days I still listen to pieces from the 40s and 50s in juke joints that get everyone dancing...and they don’t sound too good. Some of them were recorded on just one mic, but it doesn’t matter because they’re strokes of genius.  
And finally attitude is the lie that has been sold us saying that anyone can do this. This doesn’t require attitude, it requires talent... attitude is there or not. I don’t know if the Ramones have attitude but I do know they have great songs, and AC/DC too. The way I see it, Paul Simon doesn’t have to put on make-up, wear platform shoes, or shake his head like there’s no tomorrow. What he needs to do is to continue writing songs the way he does, without attitude.

GE: Let’s go over your new record song by song. Each one has a very different sound, but you manage to give it a personal touch that brings it all together. The opening song, ‘Revolución’, there is some chorus work that is close to power pop or The Who
on Substitute. Which guitar did you use to record it?

MA: For Revolución I used a Gretsch Tennessee Rose. A guitar I had parked in the house for years, but on this album it was almost my main instrument. Ironically, it was my favourite for years when I played in a tribute band of The Who.

GE: When you write a song, do you have in mind which guitar would best suit it, or is it a process in which you will find it? I ask because there are players who are faithful to a model, while others have to look for the best guitar for each song, something like adapting it to the song, or the song adapts to the one’s own sound , what do you think?

MA: Well it can happen in many ways. I’m not a guy who sits down and writes, I don’t pick up the guitar and say, “I’m going to write a song, I just start playing the guitar for pleasure and end up wandering, then the riffs start coming, or melodies, and I keep going. In Revolución's case, I remember I was on a tour in Cádiz and a friend brought to the house the worst acoustic guitar you can imagine, but I picked it up and just like that I wrote practically the whole song. Of course I wasn’t going to record the song with that guitar, and it was much later in the studio with Isaac Rico, our producer, that I decided what sound and which guitar to look for. However, there are times when I’m home with one of my guitars and it almost seems like that guitar whispers the chords to the new song. You couldn’t play it the same on another one. So you know for sure that this is the guitar with which you will record the song.  

GE: ‘Vivan Las Cadenas’  (Long Live The Chains) was the 2nd preview of the record, it’s got a great chorus, built on a great riff, although one of its best moments comes on the instrumental bridge, with a fine solo by you, with a distorted sound that reminds me of Hendrix.  What effects did you use to get that sound?

MA: Well this song could be the beginning of a great friendship between me and Isaac Rico in the studio now that he’s shown that he was totally in sync with what I had in mind. I just wanted something ‘freaky’ and a bit ‘glam’ for it, so after talking to him, we went looking for the perfect tone, but for me it always fell short. So he says to me, “You want something really freaky?” and the next thing I knew he was putting everything through a Leslie speaker from the 60s that really gives it that vibrato vibe on the solo. A medal for the producer. Onstage we try to recreate it with a pedal I’ve been using since our first record, La Casa de la Bruja, (The Witch's House) which sounds similar, a Diamond  Halo Chorus.

GE: ‘El Día Que Me Vaya’ (The day I go) is one of my favourites on the record, a lovely soulful introduction to a chorus sung in falsetto. As in previous songs, such as Lo Sentido, it’s obvious that you feel as passionate about soul as about blues, could you tell us a bit about those influences?

MA: Well, I’m basically a child of blues-rock. My great influences, and the reason I formed a trio back in the day, were people like Jimi Hendrix Experience, Cream and Rory Gallagher, all those bands that mainly drink from the blues. Basically I feel that I have a blues soul, and soul being  a 2.0 version of the blues, to put it one way, in the end becomes my natural habitat because it allows me to be a bluesman but with a more melodic range, it makes it easier for me to put a nice vocal melody, which is the most important thing for me  when it comes to my songs

GE: With ’Lenguas de Fuego’ (Fire Tongues) you go back to hard rock, which you do so well, with a dubbed over voice. It is clear that this seems to have become one of your main strengths onstage. Besides, if your sound had to be described, it could well be through this song, what guitar and amp did you use to record it?

MA: It was clear in my mind that I was going to record with London MJM Fuzz, which has been my go-to pedal to go crazy with for about a decade, but in the studio we realised things worked better with the combination of various pedals, among which a Catalinebread Dirty Little Secret. Another pedal that’s been with me since the first record is a Keeley Time Boost Machine. The guitar I use in on this number is ‘my’ guitar, a Fender Stratocaster from 1969. The amps we use in this record are always these three, mixed in different ways: a Fender Twin Reverb Blackface by Isaac Rico, my Fender Blues Jr (with some slight modifications) and my Fender Deluxe Reverb.

GE: The following song, ‘Todo Es Mentira’ (it’s all a lie), is another strong point in the album, in my opinion, an exciting hard rock ballad where your work on the 6-string is outstanding. I’d like to know if you write your solos yourself first and then later interpret them or they’re completely improvised, or a mix of both.

MA: This is a great question, really.  It’s the one thing I think I’ve varied the most over the years. Before I would never repeat a solo, and when I say never I mean never.  With La Casa de la Bruja I got in the studio with I don’t know how many solos ahead of me, without the faintest idea what I was going to do with them. Juan de Dios Martín pressed record and whatever came out came out. This sounds great here on paper, but in the studio it’s a lot less fun, because when you make 2-minute solos it’s hard to remain fully inspired the whole time. So that evolved with songs like La Oveja Negra (the Black Sheep), a song we’ve opened our show with over the last 2 years, where I open with the same solo as always, like it was part of the melodic part of the song. And on this record, though most of the solos are improvised, since that’s the essence of our music, I must say that songs like Todo Es Mentira or Aquí Me Tienes, which each have two solos, are good examples of both alternatives. In the first solos of each song, I always do more or less the same thing, as if they were the riff whereas in the final solo I forget everything and let my fingers run free. Everyday is a different final solo.

GE: ‘Usar y Tirar’(Use and Dispose of) was the presentation of the album, it has a very 50s sound, it might be because of the Gretsch you are playing, though it still has a very soul feel to it. But I think several guitars were used, (I think I can hear a slide on the bridge), could you tell us which ones?

MA: On this song I use what have been the two main guitars on the record: the Gretsch Tennessee Rose and the ‘69 Stratocaster. The Gretsch for the riff and the Fender for the arpeggio part a là Steve Cropper. We also used an acoustic, a Japanese Takamine EF340 from the 90s, and a Jim Dunlop slide made of tin.

GE: On ‘A Cara O Cruz’ (Head or Tails) you clearly show your admiration for Rory Gallagher, as you had done for other guitarists.  Without having to look too far back, in your previous record there was a lovely tribute to Peter Green. Could you give us a short list of your favourite guitarists or those who inspired you the most?

MA: This is the million dollar question. Rory Gallagher is without a doubt one of the guitarists that has influenced me the most in the way I play, in the way I perform in gigs, the songs, his sound, his tone…. I even copied his sideburns at one time. I like everything about him and yes, this song actually has turned out to be very much his style . You’ve mentioned the guitarist I always say is my favourite, Peter Green, the one we dedicate a song to in our second record, Eléctrica, although it was more along the lines of another great, Ritchie Blackmore. But the ‘Maker’ and the person who changed my life was Hendrix, who, curiously I don’t listen to anymore... I think what I felt was so strong at the time I listened to it that I feel too much respect now.

GE: In ‘2016’ your more melodic side returned, it sounds like another one of my favourite songs in your repertoire, ‘He Muerto Hoy’ (Today I died), and it’s clear how you guys embrace roots rock or ‘americana’ movement, do you give yourself limits when composing or if a song is good enough you go for it? or let me put it another way, do you look for a particular type of song like the Young brothers used to do, if a song didn’t sound like  AC/DC they just ruled it out?

MA: No, unfortunately I don’t censor myself, I have Carlos and Jose who are my most feared examiners. I have always bet on total freedom for the creator. In this song specifically I speak of Prince and Bowie, among others... you know they didn’t have a problem doing blues, funk, pop, heavy, ballads, glam, they tried every style... These two in particular actually created their own style by trying everything. But these are times when labels seem to count more than good songs and Carlos and Jose prefer rock to pop, the more guitar solos, the better. They are my own Young brothers.

GE: The record finishes with ‘Aquí Me Tienes’ (Here I am). It’s another great song on the record, in a way it reminds me of the last Eléctrica song, ‘Mi Guitarra y el Blues’, another sample of those slow blues that has become your household name besides being a piece that seems a lot to you. Are you the type to give much thought to the order of the songs on the record? Are you looking for a particular type of answer in your listeners?

MA: Being the last song on a record nowadays is a bitch because, as we have talk about in Cultura Caduca, people no longer listen to entire records, and that means that the last song on the record will always be the most unlikely to be listened to. But, for example, Mi Guitarra y el Blues managed to survive that position in our last record and I trust that Aquí Me Tienes can also hold the position because I think it’s one of the best songs in the record and possibly one of the best solos I have recorded in the studio, with my 2008 Gibson Les Paul Studio, by the way, which sounds incredible (although the song  and the first two plucking bits were recorded with a Gibson ES-335). But a 7-minute ballad with a final solo and ‘fade out’ is candidate number one to be the last song on the record.

GE: Here in Guitars exchange you are in charge of the section ‘In the style of….’, if you had to do the same with yourself, what guitar and amp would you recommend to get a perfect sound?

MA: A Fender Stratocaster, a Fender Deluxe Reverb, a Tubedreamer by Jam pedals, a delay Boss DD-2 and a London MJM Fuzz. You are set to go!

Thanks so much for everything.