Photo: Mirari Echávarri

Interview: Melenas

The female psych-pop quartet hailing from Pamplona, Spain, just put out their second album Dias Raros. It’s a record that was created with grit, determination and collective spirit that harbours dreams of freedom, careless fun and blissful idleness – and it will take you there with them. Melenas tell us how.

Dias Raros indeed. The title of Spanish four-piece Melenas’ second album translates to “strange days”, which is a phrase we’ve heard countless times from innumerable places over the recent months. The songs on the album revolve around solitude, insecurity, desire, boredom – and plenty of dreaming.

This is not an album about being in quarantine, though. It’s almost the opposite, as Melenas are a band of four hard-working young women holding down day jobs while following their passion of playing music in their spare time. Singer and guitarist Oihana is a graphic designer; drummer Laura is a curator at a museum of modern art; keyboardist María is studying for a masters in dramatic arts; and bassist Leire creates furniture and lamps in her own studio.

“I’m so busy!” they all chant and laugh in unison after this roll call. Clearly it’s a refrain they’ve each been repeating a lot in recent years, to the point where it’s become a running joke – of which they have many, it seems, during our laughter-filled conversation.

Hence Dias Raros: “strange days” for Melenas are the ones where they actually have some free time to lie around, carefree, doing nothing. It’s something so rare that they also have a song on the album called “Ciencia Ficción” (“Science Fiction”), which isn’t about aliens or time travel, but is about “a free day when we could watch films, we could rescue the books or comics we had left, and we could just lie on the bed and do nothing,” according to Oihana. “A science fiction situation.”

Music is their main outlet though, and is how they found each other. Melenas live in Pamplona, a relatively small city near the French border that, to outsiders, might not seem like the obvious place for a music scene that would spawn a psych-pop band like this one. But, it just so happens that Pamplona is strategically placed so that many bands touring Europe might stop there on their way to Madrid or other major cities. Many passing-through bands play at El Nébula, the city’s intimate DIY venue where the four women go to be inspired and let their hair down (“melenas” means “long hair” or “manes”, after all). It’s also where they found each other.

“Pamplona is a small city, you can walk and find any place in 10 minutes. Suddenly we could go there to experience the music we like,” Oihana says. “If you love music and you love going to shows, suddenly you have your very own place next to your house – it’s paradise.”

“I think the four of us were very musical people, and we loved a lot of different styles, and that’s why we connected so much at Nébula,” Laura adds. “We went there and it was like an explosion.”

Melenas have also used Nébula as a source for networking with bands who come through. They’re good friends with the owner, Pedro, and often they will all go together with whichever band is in town and show them the best bars – a favour that is then returned when Melenas are on the road. “This happened with Holy Wave, from Austin,” Oihana recalls. “They become friends of ours, and we went to SXSW and stayed at their house. It really makes connections. It’s very cool.”

If you’re thinking that Melenas’ story sounds more like that of a pre-internet band of the 80s underground, then get this – they were noticed by renowned Chicago label Trouble in Mind thanks to their extensive touring in support of their 2017 self-titled debut. The label got in touch out of the blue and, after hearing some recordings, signed the band for the release of this album. Dias Raros is Melenas’ first release outside Spain, and it’s the first Spanish-language album to come out on Trouble in Mind.

It’s an amazing turn of events, richly deserved for their commitment and hard work (not to mention the quality of their music), but the band still can’t believe their luck. “Nowadays when receive emails from them we think ‘how is this happening?’,” Oihana jokes. “We’re receiving emails from Trouble In Mind and it’s natural. How did this happen!?”

The opportunity to have their music released in more territories has not made them consider writing in English, though. They remain proudly Spanish-speaking throughout Dias Raros. “The way you express and you feel is in your own language,” Laura says. “And I think Spanish is a good language to express in rock and roll and pop music.” This is backed up by Oihana, who says: “It feels more genuine. When you listen to Turkish music or music in French, it has something that makes it different, and that is cool.”

“I don’t think it’s necessary to sing in English to get to the people,” Leire adds. “Sometimes you don’t need to know lyrics because you feel it.”

This is something that’s certainly true on Dias Raros. Whereas they recorded their debut Melenas after just a few months of being a band, they could bring the experience of playing hundreds of shows to the recording of their second album. The live sound is immediately apparent on Dias Raros, as “Primer Tiempo” grabs your attention with the classic-sounding synths, driving psych-kraut style and flutteringly catchy melodies. Throughout Dias Raros they interweave these simple elements into a easy-but-captivating listen; one that can equally inspire feelings of passion or of complete disassociation from life.

It’s a duality that the band embodies, working hard on their day jobs and music, but snatching opportunities to escape wherever possible – often in daydreams or, if they can, excursions to the beach. These are the kinds of tales that fill up Dias Raros, and even though it’s not necessary to understand the words to feel the magnetism of Melenas’ music, it is something that they take care with. The four of them work in a very collaborative manner on the lyrics, all contributing to and shaping the tales.

“It’s a crazy situation,” Oihana admits when I ask how that could possibly work. “We meet for pizza or sushi and then start saying ideas that sometimes goes crazy,” Leire explains. It sounds more like a party than a band meeting, especially given how talkative and hilarious the four of them are together. “I think we are better doing stupid lyrics,” Oihana comments. “We should have another Melenas B version with stupid lyrics,” Laura adds. “Basically, our talent is wasted.”

Melenas do take the opportunities to show off their humorous side in their videos, particularly the excellent sitcom-spoofing clip for “3 Segundos”. Against a green screen, they don many different outfits, headgear and props, and act as though they’re in the opening credits of classic TV shows, touching on everything from Family Matters to Battlestar Galactica. “We’re not very good actors,” Leire laughs – but their commitment to the roles is undeniable. As much fun as it is to watch, it was, unsurprisingly, “a lot of work,” crammed into one day. Never anything less than positive, Laura says it was also “a lot of ideas and a lot of sense of humour.” Unsurprisingly, when they saw the finished version of the “3 Segundos” video they were in hysterics.

In fact, the only place where Melenas’ talent is being wasted is during this current quarantine, where they can’t get out and play their new songs to new audiences. “The whole idea of working on an album is that it makes a lot of sense when you release it, but also when you go out and play it in front of people,” Laura believes. “It’s like feedback, it’s like energy. This energy is what gives you…” – “The power to keep going,” Oihana jumps in. “Because it is a lot of work, and then that work is coming back to you as energy and fun when playing.”

“We miss playing together a lot. Because we talk every day by Skype or whatever, but we really want to play and to be together and party!” Laura exclaims.

Clearly, for the hard-working, fun-loving, musically-minded Melenas, the quarantine has been a rough change of pace. But, when it’s lifted, they’ll explode into that freedom, take their music around the world, meeting people and feeling complete. That’s when their Dias Raros will truly begin.

Melenas’ new album Dias Raros is out now on Trouble in Mind. Read our review.

Follow Melenas on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Bandcamp.