mateo from siesta records
what makes a good label? first and foremost, a coherent musical line, so that you can pick up new releases without having heard them; good taste in artwork is paramount as well. sounds easy enough, right? but even with these simple criteria, there aren’t many good labels in new york. okay, so there are none. meanwhile madrid is big enough for 2 of the best pop labels around these days, elefant and siesta.
you can spot siesta records a mile away, their smooth matte digipacks so cool that you just want to rub them against your cheek, knowing that that simple act will instantly make bad music vanish from your life. specializing in stylish pop, siesta is a breath of fresh air in our stultifying world. the label’s latest releases, la buena vida’s panorama and bossanova 1999 by ramón leal and beatrice binotti, are perfect summer records: light on their feet, elegantly sexy, they’re better than holding an icecube against a damp forehead. mateo siesta was kind enough to answer my questions by email.
chickfactor: let’s get the basic information out of the way. we don’t know much about siesta here in the u.s., so could you tell me how the label got started, who created it, where it’s located, what the first release was, etc.?
mateo: well, believe or not, we are a bit of a mystery even here in spain. I assume that being secretive or reclusive contributes to our mystique and appeal. sometimes we prefer to be out of the public eye but of course we could not refuse to be interviewed by chickfactor. goodness gracious! what a privilege!
• when: june 1992. our first release was a seven inch ep by tramway (bristol, uk) who had released two formidable singles on the label of the lonely hearts (sarah records).
• how: we used our own savings and a great expenditure of imagination and energy.
• who: manuel and me (mateo).
• why: our clear objective was to set up a highly individualistic label with its own soul, specific sound, aesthetics and identity. obviously siesta reflects our tastes and even our individual evolution, it’s undoubtedly a personal essay. with the benefit of hindsight I think that we have created our own little world, a distinctive pop fantasy and a joke on the establishment. we struggle against an imperfect world, don’t we?
• where: madrid. the embryonic days were not so difficult. siesta was born coinciding with the decline of the representative labels from the ’80s like factory, sarah or él, and our evolution was parallel to their apocalypse. that’s the natural progression of things. since the beginning siesta was a trusted label with a logo that guaranteed a type of music so a stable and passionate base of collectors (mainly in spain and japan) got hold of the copies of our initial 600 copies eps. as a consequence we could start putting out full-length records, t-shirts…I must admit that we were quite fortunate, our records got excellent reviews and we could even afford to pay half-page adverts in the spanish musical magazines. that overwhelming clamor makes me think that we were probably touched by god…
cf: you seem to be creating some sublabels (reverie for instance). why not releasing a record like algebra spaghetti directly under siesta?
mateo: mmm…reverie is a label devoted exclusively to music for children or for adults who retain a playful sensibility. it has its own context, rules, artwork…the aim was to create in association with mike alway a thematic label specialized in music for children, a new music genre. of course it could have been released directly under siesta but from the logistical and artistic point of view it was reasonable to start a sublabel. continuities are crucial. before [press time] the second compilation, simultaneous ice-cream, will be released.
cf: who does the artwork? it’s always so beautiful, much better than most american releases. I really like the fact that you put so much effort into these visuals.
mateo: visuals are paramount for us, a strong component of our success is our care for designs. as you say we insist on excellence. unlike the majority of labels we devote high sums of money on the artwork front to have full-colour and stylish jackets. we are not interested in playing the game of fierce competition to have a lower price of the record to the detriment to the quality of the finalised product. yes, we are using platinum talents from all over the world (javier aramburu, spain; magic design, france; paradiso, uk; le grand magistery, the states; pat detective, japan).
cf: your bands and artists are very international. how do you select them? what do you think of the fact that your releases do so well all over the world? are there any countries where they are especially popular? (I would think japan, of course.)
mateo: in the initial stage we had to go through demos. now it is much easier as the bands tend to know our distinctive style and pedigree. besides we are now renowned for our exceptional ear and standards. therefore bands know what we can offer for them. we are very straightforward. bid of the monochrome set/scarlet’s well after so many years in the music scene is very thrilled as we are both diehard fans and keen strategists. we work with great zeal. siesta is not a faceless corporation in pursuit of the mighty dollar. our main goal is to have artistic success rather than simple commercial smashes. nevertheless it is our obligation to run the business efficiently as we are the platform to propel the talent of the bands and it is imperative to reach as many people as possible under certain parameters of integrity and overexposure. in a nutshell we want to maintain the cult status and credit but with increasing sales figures. we do not want the siesta jet to speed too fast but we keep an eye on sales barometers…of course japan is a huge, fascinating market but a loyal fan base is very responsive in spain and the rest of europe as well. there are siesta addicts everywhere, from the philippines to mexico, from hong-kong to greece. to be quite candid with you, america is a priority for us now. the appetite of the public for our records seems insatiable.
cf: how did you hook up with mike alway? were you a fan of él? do you think you share a common vision about what bands and music are about?
mateo: of course I am a tremendous fan of él records. it was keith girdler (blueboy/ arabesque) who introduced me to mike. first our contact was via phone or by letter and later we built a very friendly and terrific relationship that was maximised after a dozen meetings in richmond/london and a visit of mike and gina [harp, mike’s wife] to our place in madrid. mike is one-of-a-kind human being. there is like an emotional glue between siesta and mike. we speak the same language, share similar leanings and passions (football, cinema, literature…). in other aspects we are diametrically different but in the music front we are definitely in the same wavelength. although many of his methods and ideas could be considered not very orthodox for some people I can only say that he is a born genius.
cf: what is your idea of “pop”? what makes good pop?
mateo: regretfully pop music has been relegated to second division. I have immutable convictions on pop. in my opinion the choice of music is like a badge, an article of faith, a declaration of attitude. as far as I am concerned an avalanche of emotions floods my soul when I listen to a good pop song (carpenters, free design, moon river, call me, new order, jobim…). in general a good pop song should be simple, catchy, melodic and with a touch of mystery and naivete. each song is a miniature soundtrack. you should fantasize. well, longevity is also an important factor, songs shall be timeless.
cf: if I came to visit you in madrid, where would you take me?
mateo: of course to good restaurants, cocktail lounges, typical spanish bars, museums (prado, thyssen), fantastic parks, mountain landscapes, toledo, aranjuez, cuenca…
cf: most americans who think about madrid and pop culture think about pedro almodovar movies. but la movida was over ten years ago. what’s going on these days? tell us about the good spanish bands?
mateo: well. I am unaware of the present hip trends. I can speak more about cinema and literature than music. I am quite abhorrent to the people in the music industry, I am very unsympathetic…the indie scene is very tiny, now there is a burst of twee acts here in madrid with a good attitude but with a total lack of class and musicianship. I am afraid I am becoming a purist and perfectionist guy. cf