Artist Q&As: Trans-Pecos Fest 2023

Legendary indie rock outfit Spoon is Saturday night’s headliner. Photo by Olivia Wolf.

MARFA — On Saturday night, headliner Spoon will cap off a weekend of performances at this year’s Trans-Pecos Festival. Frontman Britt Daniel and drummer Jim Eno got their start in Austin almost 30 years ago — and the rest is history. Together, they’ve put out 10 critically-acclaimed alt-rock albums and continue to sell out shows around the world. 

As a band with Austin roots, Marfa has been a dream tour stop for years. “We’ve been trying to play the Trans-Pecos Festival for a long time,” Eno said. 

In preparation for the big weekend, Eno called The Big Bend Sentinel from Rhode Island to talk drums, production and keeping the magic alive — musically speaking. 

Were you a drummer as a kid, or was that something you came into as an adult? 

I remember playing drums when I was really young — I had a pair of sticks and I used to listen to the radio with headphones on and beat on this couch we had in the living room. I would always ask for a drum set, and my parents would never give me one. Instead my dad just took upholstery because he would have to reupholster that couch every once in a while. 

In college I bought my first drum set, and I started technically playing when I was, like, 20. I met [Spoon guitarist and lyricist] Britt Daniels when I moved to Texas for my first job out of college — so I would say 22 or 23. 

When you’re young and trying to be an artist — it feels like everyone’s always saying, ‘Oh you’ll never make it, you’ll never make money.’

It was a little different for me because I graduated from NC State with an electrical engineering degree, so I had a really good job out of school. I would work during the day and just have a blast playing drums after — so I never thought that I’d be able to make a living doing drums and recording and production. I was just like, ‘This is amazing.’ And then when I finally could make it work as a career, it was even even more crazy. 

You run a studio and record other artists — was it sort of an easy transition from your interest in drumming and collaborating with other musicians to becoming interested in production?

I didn’t really want to quit my day job to just be a drummer in a band. I felt like when Britt was writing, I wasn’t really doing anything. And I fell in love with being in the studio from the early days of recording, like [early Spoon albums] Telephono and Soft Effects EP and A Series of Sneaks. So I just ended up thinking, ‘Man, maybe I could do this.’ I just really like the idea of being creative, too, with bands outside of Spoon. 

We have a lot of musicians in our community — do you have any advice for folks who love playing music and maybe want to make a little bit of money doing it? 

Production-wise, early on, I pretty much didn’t turn anything down. I would work with anyone I could. There’s a lot of crossover, like you get to experiment with a lot of different genres. 

From a live band standpoint, when you’re a young band you’ll want to play a lot to try to start building a fan base — but then there’s also a time when you can be playing too much, where people won’t go to see you because you play so much. You have to sort of recognize when that point is and maybe then start cutting back. 

I also feel like a lot of press and publications are based on recorded music. So, you know, recording — always writing and recording. That’s a big priority too.

What does it feel like to be in the same band for 30 years — how does that work? Is there any secret to keeping the creativity alive?

I’m lucky enough to work with one of the most talented songwriters and singers around. And it’s still fun. I feel like you know, we do things where we challenge ourselves every record, we try not to repeat ourselves. So yeah — we’ll keep doing it, I guess.

Also on Saturday, Camilo Lara of the Mexican Institute of Sound will round out a star-studded day at Trans-Pecos. Despite the name, the Mexican Institute of Sound has nothing to do with higher education — unless that higher education includes finding a groove on the dance floor. 

For over two decades, Lara has mixed and mashed Mexican music across generations with beats from around the world. He’s produced music for artists across the spectrum — from the Los Angeles Azules to Norah Jones — and has had tunes appear in numerous movies and ad campaigns. (He even had a cameo in Pixar’s Coco.) 

Ahead of Saturday’s set, Lara sat down with The Big Bend Sentinel to discuss his music, inspirations and hopes for the weekend. 

The internet describes you as “part of a growing Mexican electronica movement.” What does the word “electronica” mean to you? 

Probably when they started calling me that, the world was less united —  the internet was not as important as it is now. I have always done Mexican music with whatever I had on hand: samplers, synths or real instruments. 

My center — what I love — is my community, so most of what I have done has to do with Mexican roots. 

I’ve done electronica, punk, garage, hip hop, cumbia. All sorts of rhythms marinated with the sound of my community. Of course, it sounds more appealing to be “global,” or part of something bigger. In my case it is not. But I always [appreciate] the effort to include me. 

You’re based in CDMX –– where have you toured outside of Mexico? Have you noticed anything surprising about how folks from other countries relate to electronic music?

Yes. I have toured in every continent except Antarctica. Music is a unifier. No matter if people are Nordic or Masai, we all share the rhythm. Music is democracy; music is an equalizer. So I enjoy seeing how, at the end, we are all united by the same sparkle. 

Ojinaga, about an hour south of Marfa, is a major hub for regional music –– are there any Norteño artists that you admire or incorporate into your work? 

All my family is from Chihuahua. When my mom was a child, they always said to her: “If you don’t behave, we will send you to Marfa to live.” There was nothing in Marfa in the fifties when she was growing up. She still makes fun of me that I try to go to Marfa once a year and love it so much. 

I grew up listening to all the music from the north of the country: Sierreño music, Eulalio “El Piporro” Gonzalez, Lalo Guerrero. The Bajo Sexto [a twelve-string guitar used in conjunto music] is something that I’ve heard since I was a baby. Probably that is why I love it so much. 

What kind of vibe are you hoping to bring to the dancefloor for the last day of the Trans-Pecos festival?

It’s going to be wild. I like people jumping, sweating, and — most specially — not knowing what genre they are listening to. 

Houston-based band The Suffers will perform their unique blend of “Gulf Coast soul” music at the festival this Thursday evening. Photo courtesy of Agave Bloom Photography.

A Q&A with Kam Franklin of The Suffers 

Big Bend Sentinel: Will this be your first time playing at Trans-Pecos? 

Kam Franklin: No, we played the festival, I want to say right before COVID, but I don’t think we’ve been back since.

BBS: Are you excited to be back in Marfa soon?

KF: Marfa is amazing. We have some friends on the lineup, which is always great. We’re just honestly really happy to just be back doing the festival thing. 

BBS: For those who aren’t familiar with your music, how would you describe your sound? How would you describe the set people are going to see?

KF: Our music, we’ve pretty much given it a label of Gulf Coast soul. That is basically a representation of Houston and all the sound and culture that has influenced us growing up there and within the gulf. You’re going to hear everything from traditional jazz and gospel to cumbia, reggae, and everything in between. [We’ve] become something in between roots and funk and soul, and I’m just really grateful that we continue to evolve as a group.

BBS: How did the band originally get together? 

KF: We started in 2011, and the band was started by Patrick Kelly and Adam Castaneda who are our former bass and keyboard players. The whole vision was for a bunch of players they knew that had history within the city of Houston — not only playing in bands but playing around the city and different festivals with different projects — to make a supergroup. It was supposed to be a side project, but the side project ended up becoming the main project when everything was said and done.

BBS: Y’all are doing a short fall tour then taking some time off to work on your new album, right? What will that process look like? Are there any specific ideas you plan to explore?

KF: This album, we have opted to go back to recording as much of it as we can ourselves like we did with our first release. We’ve been doing this –– next year will be 13 years. In terms of like, time off, there’s not really time off when you’re an independent band like us. Time off is just time off from the road. 

If we were on a label or something we’d probably have [actual time off], but because we’ve been independent as a band this entire time, it’s been more so a focus on how to do it better, how to do it smarter, how to not repeat the mistakes of our previous releases and just come at it stronger. In terms of our plan, we’re just going to focus on making the best music that we possibly can and going from there.

BBS: You mentioned you have some friends on the lineup. Will you all be sticking around to enjoy the festival? Who are you looking forward to seeing? 

KF: Well, we won’t be sticking around as a participant because we have a show in Houston the next day, but I grew up with Robert Ellis, playing in bands alongside him. As we’ve gotten older, we’ve done a lot more collaborating together and even a little bit of writing so he’s probably like, the closest friend on the lineup. 

The day that we play I believe Neal Francis is there. We did a few dates with Neil last year and he’s amazing. I’m sad I’m missing Saturday. Jim Eno, the drummer for Spoon, is actually my production mentor and good friend, and so I’m sad I won’t get to see him, but overall, I’m excited to come back to the desert and really just excited to perform this new music out there.

Alicia “Leash” Deal will present two workshops on spiritual and hallucinogenic plants at this weekend’s festival. Photo by River Siobhan.

‘Information is not illegal’: Alicia ‘Leash’ Deal to bring psychedelic inspiration to Trans-Pecos

This weekend, Alicia “Leash” Deal of MMello will be hosting a series of workshops with the goal of teaching festival goers about plant magic and medicine. Thursday’s event will delve into the realm of “sacred smoke” with herbal pre-rolls and information about plant-based traditions; Friday’s workshop will discuss strategies and best practices for planning a psychedelic journey. 

Though no intoxicating substances will be served at Leash’s workshops, she’s an outspoken proponent of the legalization of cannabis, psilocybin (“magic mushrooms”) and ketamine. Leash approaches her work through a harm-reduction standpoint — in other words, that those who choose to use drugs should be taught to do so safely. 

This weekend’s events will mark Leash’s first trip to Marfa — and a step forward for the vision she has for MMello, of both advocacy and inspiration.

What were some of your formative experiences with psychedelics? 

When I was 16, I had grown up in a really dogmatic, religious Christian environment. I had already rejected that and was really lost in my teens — I had a lot of suicidal ideation and depression. And I also had a boyfriend that wanted to do all the drugs. 

When I first had mushrooms, I was like, “This is not a drug. This is — this is spiritual. This is an entity.” Since then, I feel like I’ve always been a disciple of the mushroom. 

When I was trying to [advance in my career], though, these fears came back — if people know that I engage with mushrooms, will I be stigmatized as this druggie character, this hippie?

Can you explain the concept of “psychedelic exceptionalism”? 

It’s a language thing — like there’s drugs, and then there’s medicine. It’s like “Well, like we’re good people because we’re doing this for spiritual purposes, but y’all [using drugs] on the street are messed up.” 

I think that’s a really harmful narrative and continues to divide people. I think the goal of working with consciousness-expanding substances — whatever they are — is that we’re coming toward unity. 

Because of the war on drugs there’s so much that needs to be fixed before everyone can have their fun psychedelic journey. Part of my thing is encouraging people to explore your consciousness, expand your mind in the comfort of your own home — but then you remember there’s people who are in prison for f—ing weed.

There’s so much sensationalism around the negative aspects of drug use, because that’s all that people want to hear. That’s what sells. People don’t want to hear about someone who, like, has a psychedelic journey once or twice a month and lives their life and goes to their job and takes care of their kids.

Are there any legal issues you have to navigate while talking about psychedelics in a state like Texas? 

An important part of bringing this information to this part of Texas or anywhere that’s criminalized is the psychedelic tourism part. I’m in a training in Oregon, where it’s [medically accessible]. Some people are going to fly from Texas to have a psychedelic journey, or they’re going to Peru, they’re going to South America, to the Amazon. If people want to have a certain experience, they’re gonna have it. 

Information is not illegal. And I don’t sell any substances — I never have and I never will. What I offer is preparation and integration coaching for the journeys. I want it to be a joyful experience for folks — the whole point of MMello is that it doesn’t have to be scary.

These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.