Josele Santiago: “Rock & roll is the complete opposite of what Vox or the PP can preach”

With the precision of a punctilious lyricist, Josele Santiago (Madrid, 56 years old) uses a strenuous economy of language, between reflective silences or pauses in search of the exact word, while answering ICON on the phone. There is no rush, as demonstrated by a calm artistic trajectory and, perhaps for that reason, without missteps. In 2002, after almost twenty years of career, the singer and guitarist from The enemies he detached himself from the group and the whole maelstrom that surrounded him to send them “very far”, as he declared in Olé papa, the cut with which he opened his first solo album.

However, at the beginning of the last decade, what was to be a one-off meeting ended up fostering an unexpected and fruitful new stage of activity for the band, which has already resulted, so far, in two new studio albums. The last of them, Beast, was released on March 6, 2020, just a week before the establishment of the home confinement by pandemic and, consequently, without the possibility of presenting it live through the required tour.

After some concerts with restrictions in various festivals, Los Enemigos plan to perform their new songs on November 26 in the city where they were born, Madrid, in the La Riviera room and with no capacity limitation. In the remainder of the year, the band has another two concerts scheduled: one in Santiago de Compostela (December 18, Capitol room) and another in Barcelona (December 30, Apolo room). Happy ending, except for new unforeseen events, of the umpteenth challenge for an artist used to waiting and taking things patiently.

Recently told EL PAÍS that he suffered from tinnitus. Also a few years ago he had to undergo surgery for a polyp on the vocal cords. Is that of musician a profession of martyrs? No man no. Of the polyp quite a long time ago, it was in 2014, if I remember correctly. Without a doubt, I had forced my voice a lot, but more than anything in the rehearsal room, because we had the [amplificadores] Marshall to all hell and, on the other hand, the voice teams were very scarce. You get used to yelling more in those conditions. I would recommend getting decent vocal rigs over a monster amp, which is not so necessary. What you need is to listen to yourself well so as not to hurt yourself. Besides, he had never been to a singing academy or anything like it. They are many years bellowing without any technique. Luckily, between the operating room and a proper vocal reeducation in a speech therapist, it was fixed and now I can afford to give 5,000 boluses in a row. What happens is that with the pandemic there are none, damn it! [Ríe]. And tinnitus has more people who are not dedicated to this, they are mild side effects and have a solution. So nothing is martyrs, we live like a whore.

Josele Santiago will return to the great Madrid stages with his performance in La Riviera with his group Los enemies.Vicens Giménez (© Vicens Gimenez)

Economically, has it been very difficult to stop the pandemic? Yes, the people of the music and entertainment industry in general have suffered the pandemic economically more than anyone. The hospitality industry has also fared very badly, I think. And surely another person from any other guild reads this and thinks that she does too, because the truth is that they have screwed us all alive. Most of us who are dedicated to music are not millionaires nor do we have much room to move our waists, so two years without income is a very bad thing. In my case, as I have the acoustic format, I have been able to go around to defend myself, and I also have two repertoires, that of Los Enemigos and mine. With mine we have gone David [Krahe, músico habitual de Santiago en solitario y también, desde 2019, guitarrista de Los Enemigos] and I to play with reduced capacity, masks and seated people, which has not been so traumatic, and we have had some work to keep going. But I know really dramatic cases.

In the song A proper uncle, from Los Enemigos, summarized the youth of man as drinking wine at lunchtime and looking for a woman at night, compared to adulthood, in which a woman is sought at lunchtime and wine is drunk at night. At 56 years old, do you still see it that way? Nor did he pretend to be a chair. There are many people for whom life has been that, but, come on, my idea was to criticize him. It is a feminist song, in a way. I really don’t know very well what my intention was when I wrote it, because it is a song from 1988 and what I say is something I think about now. What the lyrics say could be the vision and speech of an elderly lady who has been married for a long time.

When The Enemies Reunited in 2011Did they see it as something specific or did they expect to move on, as they have ended up doing? We got together without having any plans. We were just going to do a gig for which they paid us very well, but we didn’t know what was going to happen next. The most certain thing was that nothing happened, but, I don’t know, we started to like it and we have come this far. We are comfortable, we work comfortably together, we are comfortable in the van, we continue composing, we feel good … So we see no reason to leave it. If we are comfortable, things work, we offer good shows and record good records, damn it, we keep going! It is not forced, imposed, nor does it cost us any work. It comes out naturally. What we do see from a different perspective now are the ten years that we have spent without working together, which have been like a long break.

Beast It is the first album they have recorded in 30 years without guitarist Manolo Benítez, whom he has replaced David Krahe. Was it a difficult breakup? These things are never easy. But hey, Manolo is with Porretas, David is with Los Enemigos and that’s what matters. It matters that David is with The Enemies, I mean! May Manolo be with Porretas, well …

Were you surprised that he preferred to be with Stoners? No the truth is no. It seemed like a totally natural movement and with a lot of sense. I think it’s very good there. With Fino [Oyonarte, bajista] and with Chema [’Animal’ Pérez, batería] I think he had a good relationship, but with me, of course, never. There was no more to see us on stage, each one went to his own ball.

Josele Santiago, from The Enemies, poses for ICON in Barcelona.
Josele Santiago, from The Enemies, poses for ICON in Barcelona.Vicens Giménez (© Vicens Gimenez)

His lyrics have acquired a more poetic character over the years. On Beast, for example, attract attention Sidereal Sacrilege O Fisher king. Are you afraid of demanding a lot from the listener or do you defend that the songs have open meanings? Not that it is a hieroglyph. What I try, above all, is that the lyrics make sense to me. I assume that if they have it for me, they will have it for a few more, although that does not mean they have only one meaning. They may have many or just indefinitely touch the chord. The way I see it, they don’t have to go from one thing to another. The lyricists that I like tend to be very unspecific, with some exceptions such as Ray Davies, who is a more traditional uncle, or Randy Newman. With Lou Reed O Neil YoungMany times you don’t really know what they’re talking about, but it doesn’t matter, because it reaches you. With Frank Zappa, which is another artist that I love, the same thing happens, or with Jimi Hendrix. More than knowing what they are about, I like that the songs put my imagination to work.

He has, in fact, a songwriting class scheduled this year at the School of Writers. Is there any key advice you plan to give your students? I don’t really know what I’m going to do. I guess I’ll take five songs that I like and analyze them. But if there is one thing that is clear to me, it is that there is not really a key. The only important thing to know is that the songs are always much closer than where one goes to look for them. That is the only guideline and the only pattern that I recognize in everything I have done. I don’t feel very authorized to talk about this either, really.

Why don’t you feel empowered? Because I am very chaotic. I am very safe in my chaos, it is not an insecurity, quite the opposite. But of course, go show chaos to anyone! There is no method, there is nothing. Disorder and chaos are my natural environment, where I move. I’ve been there my whole life and, at this point, I’m not going out. I have no plans, no schedules, no expectations, it works like that.

In the days leading up to last May’s elections in Madrid, they called on their followers on social media to “stop fascism” and vote. Were you surprised to see a historical Spanish rock figure like Sherpa, former singer of Red Baron, supporting Vox? The Sherpa thing is a bit crazy. Each one is very master of what they think, of course, but I think rock & roll is the complete opposite of what Vox or the PP can preach. And it is not that it has to be left-wing or it has to be anything but, for me, rock does mean an absence of orthodoxy. It is worth saying “freedom”, after the groping they have left the poor thing! It seems that freedom now is being able to have a beer or put yourself at someone’s door to scream. In my opinion, freedom has more to do with respecting the other. And the truth is that the PSOE to the right does not respect shit.

How would you see yourself growing up in today’s Madrid? Surely I would have gone to the country and became a pastor. I was about to do it in its day, so imagine now. I keep going a lot to my neighborhood [Puerta del Ángel], because my mother still lives there and I am going to visit her, but it is quite surprising, because it was a working-class neighborhood. And, well, it still is, as you move away from Paseo de Extremadura. Now that area is called Brooklyn and all! It’s tremendous, but what are we going to do? The center of Madrid currently looks the same as the center of Barcelona, ​​Paris or Berlin. A fucking airport, that’s what it looks like.

We spoke at the beginning of occupational diseases. You have said on several occasions that you suffered from addiction to alcohol and heroin. Do you think there is a social or cultural pressure in the world of music when it comes to using drugs? No, I don’t think addictions, at least in my case, come from there. This way of life may have fed them, but they were there from before. I fought with these addictions before the first album, from a very young age. But if I had gotten to work in an office it might have been worse, I would not have endured it well and I would have gone to a town shitting the first week. It is true that it is a world where there is a lot of alcohol and a lot of drugs, which lends itself to the party and that some of us endure worse than others, but I was already coming curradete from the neighborhood. The other day, talking to Javier Andreu, from Border, who has had a case similar to mine, we come to the conclusion that the music has been good for us. He has not sent us to any well, but has pulled us out. Right now, if we have a season with work, we are aware that we cannot afford according to what tributes, so we lead a very healthy life. I found Javier Andreu in a tracksuit because he came from running and I was doing push-ups, he gave us a ciborium laugh attack when we met! All those bowling at the end require both a physical and an intellectual demand, they can be very exhausting if you are not in shape. That has saved us, I think. We would not be so great with this many years that we have.

In your discography the theme of the dark double is very recurrent, which appears in songs like By the shadow, Real O Smart life. Does that interest in the subject come from your experience of those years? The theme of the double, in general, is very recurrent in literature. I do not know if my interest can come from there, but I have more than talked about drugs and more than trite. I don’t give a damn about them, I don’t consume and I don’t waste time thinking about them. They have nothing to do with the lyrics that I do now.

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Josele Santiago: “Rock & roll is the complete opposite of what Vox or the PP can preach”