Javi Fermín: “Culture is a lifeline, let’s not penalize what saves us”

«For me it is very important to pamper the image, the sound, the production, the texts, the delivery … that everything is polished»

To capture the liveliness of his band, Javi Fermín has published Jewels stolen live, an album that collects the concerts he gave last year in streaming. A walk through his own songs and those of others in which he toasts on Radio Futura, Secretos or Tequila. Arancha Moreno talks to him.

Photos courtesy of JAVI FERMÍN.

This fall saw the light Jewels stolen live, the live reflection of some concerts that Javi fermin performed with his band last 2020. Some live recorded in the middle of the pandemic, to verify how the songs of Stolen jewelry on stage, and how the band sounded at that precise moment. Of those concerts, broadcast in streaming and followed all over the world, from Venezuela to France via Portugal, Bulgaria, Germany or China, a live was released in which the musician from San Sebastian pays tribute to some of his favorite songs, from bands such as Radio Futura, Tequila or Los Ronaldos, and the joins his own repertoire. A tribute, a live album and a game, without forgetting that music, in addition to all that, has healing powers.

How did this album come out live?
Was not planned. I am quite a planner, but this is due to something that nobody planned, a pandemic, so logically it was not in my plans. Jewels stolen live It came about because we did concerts when they couldn’t be done. We made them in streaming from the Elkar studios in Donosti and everything was recorded. Three sessions were held on different days in August 2020. With the rawness and imperfection of the live show, when I listened to them months later, I saw that they had a lot of strength, which reflected very well what the band is. We did a selection of takes from the three sessions, and after a little adjustment, we edited it. It’s a true reflection of what we did, and a true reflection of a time when you couldn’t play live.

You started 2020 with a tour that was interrupted by the pandemic weeks before your performance in Madrid. You barely gave two or three concerts before the lockdown, so you didn’t have much time to shoot it live. And it reflects, as you say, a time when we could only peek into the world digitally.
Yes. There is a freshness of what is freshly made, with little opportunity to work on it more, because there was no possibility of getting together physically for a very long time. There was no more than a month of pre-trial for that. On the other hand, there was a very personal reflection: I saw, during the confinement, that some artists, usually not very deep, would get in front of the camera to sing, and it gave me the feeling that it was not the way to offer the music. Music is something that must be valued, it must be given value, offering people careful proposals. Putting yourself in front of a camera and broadcasting on Instagram was not the formula, but we had to play. Given our friendship with the Elkar studios, we saw how to put together a worthy production that was not nonsense and I think we were right. I think that other types of formats would have been a mistake, they would have devalued the proposal. For me it is very important to pamper the image, the sound, the production, the texts, the delivery … that everything is polished.

Because stripping a proposal to the limit can devalue the product, right?
I think so, and we are working with sensitive material, a material that is already badly damaged. It seems that music and art have become a second-rate commodity that should be free, and I strongly disagree. It is not a second-rate good, it is a very basic good that must be cared for and offered in the best possible way.

The pandemic has taken a physical toll, but also a mental one. Art has been revealed more than ever as an emotional lifeline. Is that how you have also conceived these concerts?
Is that. Apart from giving continuity to the project by giving it value, I also wanted to rebel against the “criminalization” that culture experiences, as if it were almost where the virus was invented. Culture is a lifeline, as you have said. Let’s not penalize what saves us. We need these types of proposals more than ever, we need to promote them and not criminalize them. This album is a way to put that on the table. In the concerts there was a plea in that sense. Culture has a rebellious work, too. Entertainment comes first, but the message is a support that must be taken advantage of.

Is it very cold playing without an audience, or when you saw the camera with the red light on, did you perceive the warmth of the people on the other side?
It doesn’t show while you play, it shows when you stop. It gets very cold when you get to the end and there is no applause. In the end there is a part of vanity in what we do, why not. There is a part of wanting to tell, but a part of wanting to receive as well. In that sense it was very cold, but when a door closes a window opens, and when looking at the audience data you realize that you would never have been able to reach certain places in any other way. You feel like you are communicating with the musicians, but the audience is missing.

The training that accompanies you are Dani Venegas, guitar and voice; Antxón Sarasua, piano and voice; Olana Liss, voice and percussion; Pako Díaz, drums; Pirate, saxophones; and Jon Viejo, trumpet. With you there are seven of you on stage. Is it the usual training that you usually take live?
Yes, it is the same as always. This is the best accompanied solo project in the world. Although it bears the name of a person, it is a band, everything is worked from that perspective: we work the songs together and make them sound like a band, that’s why the line-up is fixed.

It amazes me that there are only two winds, because it seems like four or five!
It’s true. It has to do with production, but also because they blow you shit. It’s a soul band concept, they have a lot of strength. The metals mark a lot the aesthetics of my music, it is what places us in the soul, swing space.

Was there an intention to sound different live to how the album sounds?
Yes, for me that was very important. It was important to me that the personality of the band be seen live. The records work a lot, but the live show is what best reflects who I am, what I offer. That is the natural habitat.

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“It seems that music and art have become a second-rate good that should be free, and I totally disagree”

As a performer, do you need the song to talk about you or just for it to come to you for some reason, even if you don’t feel identified in the story?
The criterion is that I want to say that, not because of the story itself, but because of the illusion of singing lyrics that I would have liked to write. I wish I had come up with a verse from “One tenth of a second”, or a figure like “I’m on fire and I feel cold”, or something as characteristic as “what does a girl like you do in a place like this”. It is having the illusion that those verses are mine for the duration of the song. I appropriate them.

In this case you do versions of Burning, Radio Futura, Alarma !!!, Secretos, Tequila and Ronaldos. They are all bands from a contemporary era. Tequila is a little earlier, at the end of the seventies, when Radio Futura was born, and the rest emerged especially the following decade. The selection places you in a very specific musical scene, are they songs that you associate with an important stage in your life?
Yes. It is the crucial moment in which you decide that it has trapped you and is not going to let you go. My first concert, when I was very young, was by Los Ronaldos. And the first record that I bought with my money was Stick out your tongue. It was the concert that led me to buy that LP, with the effort that it involved for a child then. That time, and those songs, converge in the same space of time, in a preadolescence in which music trapped me forever.

I think this album is full of transgender and trans-song gems, in the sense that they change style, they don’t stay in the original, and in several of them there are nods to other songs. For example, in “Escuela de calor
”, From Radio Futura, you wink at Chalk heart”.
[Risas] Yes, and there is also a nod to “thriller”. Transcanción, how wonderful. Yes, it is a way of trying to collect, in those winks, what he has done to me as a musician. There are the Beatles, Michael Jackson, the Quincy Jones production style … the style of “What a Girl Like You Does” is Otis Redding. It is to leave a manifesto of what he has done to me as a musician. Nice that you catch it, and that it serves as a catalyst to start a conversation.

This album is a tribute to the songs, but also a diversion. It shows that you are having a good time, that you are playing with the songs and taking them to another place for pure enjoyment.
Exactly. It is an absolute fun. It’s like when you meet a friend after a long time, it gives you a lot of joy. And playing to quote the Beatles, the classic soul style, using other people’s verses… It’s playing, and when you play people join your game. They are like little surprise boxes that are inside the show, play with the public.

Not all are stolen jewels, there are two pieces of their own: “I am an old
and “I was born again”. If you don’t pay attention, it seems like yet another game, another version that fits in with the rest of the repertoire, but no: they are songs by Javi Fermín.
Yes. I am essentially an author, and I have to continue claiming my own catalog. These songs coexist with the versions because they integrate very well stylistically, and because they play the same game as the project. I become a song detective dedicated to recovering lost music, and in my songs I recover styles a little lost in time. That is why they integrate well.

Here there is no recordings no later recordings. Everything is absolutely live.
They say that the wrinkle is beautiful, a sign of what has been lived, that is why it is worth it that what is happening is published as it is, without subsequent additions. Neither lifting nor botox.
Absolutely. There was no point in putting so much makeup on him. Music must be allowed to breathe, as it is. If there is a small imperfection, a pulsation that is not exact or a less clean exercise, it is left, because it is the moment and the breath of the music at that moment.

What projects do you have on the horizon?
I would like to start a new stage in 2022, closing the cycle of Stolen jewelry but without nailing the box, because I am sure that they will continue in the repertoire for life. I’d like to start recording in April 2022 and release an LP of new songs by the end of next year. I have very clear how it is going to be titled: Song detective.

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Javi Fermín: “Culture is a lifeline, let’s not penalize what saves us”