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Before becoming one of our favorite local acts with her project Violenta Josefina — showing up repeatedly on our playlists and becoming a gateway for newbies to the local scene — Valeria Hernández was a member of Skin. An alternative rock band with a defiant sound and a sharp ear for melodies, Skin honed their craft over the course of a decade in their native Venezuela, gaining a following and releasing one album (2010’s Rojo).
This all took place in the curious time between the fall of the traditional record-label structure and the advent of social media and digital distribution platforms. It was also before Valeria moved to Buenos Aires and embarked on a new sonic journey in a new scene. Of course, now that live music has been put on indefinite hold, there isn’t much of a “scene” anymore — we’re all loosely tethered together as part of one enormous musical ecosystem, hosted in the “Cloud,” accessible to all. It’s also how a website that started as a chronicle of the Buenos Aires cultural scene finds itself writing about a band from Venezuela. It all bleeds together in the end.
Curiously, before Skin recorded Rojo, they had already gone through the process of writing and recording a whole other album. In 2005, after winning a Battle of the Bands tournament, the members who comprised the Skin lineup at the time — Valeria as well as drummer Luis Uzcátegui, guitarist Valentina Contreras, and guitarist/vocalist Vanessa Pereira — recorded a self-titled debut known as “el disco negro” — “the black album.” After deals to release it through a major record label fell through, the band went through some personnel changes and moved further and further away from that sound, and eventually the album was shelved altogether. This is how the first Skin album turned out to be their second, while the first was never actually released.
Fifteen years later, the four musicians who recorded that lost album found themselves scattered over three different countries and reconnecting over the web. They made the decision to finally release the album. And it’s very fortunate that they did, because it’s truly a joy — loud and fast, heavy but very melodic, dripping with attitude; featuring some rhythmically tricky moments and some startlingly aggressive ones. It sounds surprisingly vital, and it boggles the mind that it went unreleased for 15 years.
I interviewed them about the album’s protracted history, and their process of reconnection.
Who was the first person to say “we have to release this lost album”?
Valeria: I think the last time I saw Luis was in 2013. By that point I had already made the decision to end Skin and move forward with my new project. Before that, the last time we saw each other was 2006 or 2007. We had already recorded the album, but it hadn’t been released, and we just never did it. And we come to 2020, 15 years after recording this album, Luis wrote to me on Instagram a few days after my birthday and we started talking. We started to reconnect, listening to those songs, looking at each other’s photos, Luis had a lot of audiovisual material – we were exchanging pictures and files back and forth, sharing, remembering those beautiful moments we spent together. And suddenly he had the idea: hey, that record is great, why don’t we release it? Let’s take advantage of the fact that we are now able to release it online without depending on someone else, simply uploading our music and sharing it with the world. And 2020 was definitely the time to do that.
Luis: Valeria and the girls from Skin have always been present in my life. I think about them almost every day, and about the band as well. It is something that is part of our lives and our memories. I contacted her through social media and we started talking. Inevitably, we talked about the band, and as Val says, we were sharing material… photos, demos, final mastering, everything. I discovered that I had songs that she did not have in her possession and had not heard since we recorded them 15 years ago. And that’s where the amazement began, years without listening to this music, and the idea of releasing it came naturally. We should release this record, we must make this record known to the world, because it’s terrific, modesty aside. The future is now. We must give this gift to humanity as a cure for this year, as a relief and as a balm, release Skin (“the black album”) so that it finally reaches the ears of the people.
I am very fascinated by this notion of revisiting a work of art you made so long ago. How does it feel to you to listen to it after all these years?
Valentina: It’s like a time machine. The first time I listened to it again I was like wow, there it is, being 20 years old again, feeling all those emotions that we were feeling at that moment when we were recording it. The effort, the memories, it all came rushing back, and it has been a super exciting experience. I treasure those memories. It was a very beautiful time.
Vanessa: When I listen to the songs and I hear those voices I go wow, it’s really been so long. They are songs that have been played since the band’s earliest days, and it is so fun to listen to them — especially the voices. When you listen to (Skin’s 2010 album) Rojo, you clearly hear the difference in Valeria’s voice. Also like we evolved in how heavy we played in that era. But I also feel that this album has been healing. Because releasing that album was meant to be part of the band’s process and we didn’t get to do it. And that was very sad, because it stayed in time and we didn’t have the initiative or the drive to say “let’s put this out”. But it’s great knowing that people can now listen to it, that brings me a lot of joy. It felt like closure, the ending of that cycle in that part of the band’s history. Because all bands have their history, but for us that part was never formalized. It is very nice to recognize the effort that we all made and the people who helped us so much.
Valeria: When I listen to this album now, I feel like I understand that 20-year-old Valeria, who lived all these experiences with her best friends since the band started. Skin has given me the power to connect with wonderful people. It is an entity, and that album is like the adolescence of that entity. Sometimes we have disagreements with our adolescent selves, or there is a disconnection with one of those other selves — to me, that happened with this version of Valeria. And listening to it now is like sitting down with her and working things out. It’s like when you get up from a bad dream that leaves you with a weird feeling for the rest of the day… I think this was it for me, for Skin. I love that we’ve been able to release it. It’s completely different from Rojo, but they are part of the same entity. One can’t exist without the other, even if the other came out later. Something similar happened to me with (solo project) Violenta Josefina, with El Ejército del Aire. When it came time to write these new songs, I was trying to get away from what I had done with Skin. Looking at it from this album, from this other vision, from this position, I think it was precisely because I hadn’t closed out that cycle, or fully shown what Skin was.
Luis: I would listen to that album from time to time. This year I played it, and I thought “this is great, what a good album.” And I found myself thinking “what drum fill is that? Oh, I used to play like that! ” There are songs where I would put contribute with a guitar riff and now I think “how did I come up with that super catchy guitar riff?” It’s an album that’s very ahead of its time, for me it sounds like an album from 2020. The girls sound great. Valeria’s bass interacting with Vanessa and Valentina’s guitars at full volume. And I was never very subtle my drumming, always playing the hardest I could play. And that sound that we achieved live, I love that it was also captured on the album in the best way. And the result was an album that was well ahead of its time. People say that it doesn’t sound like a Venezuelan band, because normally the productions in Venezuela didn’t have that hard-edged sound.
For such a young rock band, the album has a surprising sophistication in terms of structure, compositions, and playing. I am interested to know a little about the dynamics of the group when composing.
Luis: There were songs that were already written from before, but there was also a pre-production process where we entered the studio, we exchanged ideas, Valeria always in charge of the vocals and lyrics. We wrote the music together, and Vanessa and Valeria contributed on the vocals. We all collaborated here and there with the lyrics, too.
On some of your YouTube videos, I see comments that express sentiments like “they are very good… for girls.” Is that attitude something that you encountered a lot in those days?
Luis: In 2020 things are a bit more liberal, but in those days being a girl and playing rock was not easy. It was very difficult. Valeria, Valentina and Vanessa certainly suffered somewhat as women who play rock. People looked at them like “are you going to get on that stage and play that?” You could see the shock with the first chord, people were astonished. Total paralysis, amazement. They didn’t expect that sound.
Valeria: I think that Skin’s strength is born from that feeling of being underestimated by that male Venezuelan audience, who would look at us and go “what? You?” And it was like “OK, sorry, we’re going to have to melt your face off, honey”
Vanessa: We had a lot of those experiences as young women. There was always an expectation of “wow, how are these girls going to sound? What are they going to do? We’ll see”. That feeling the whole time we played was a lot of pressure. All eyes were on you, on how you were going to play the guitar, if you were going to play the riff well, if you were going to drop your instrument…
Valentina: It was like being under surveillance.
Vanessa: And the boys would come over to tell you how you should play your riff, or what you should change. To me, it created some apprehension to go on stage. When we started, there were no other girl bands. Not in shows, events, festivals or competitions.
Valentina: I believe that there has always been a difference between the role that women are allowed play, in terms of their profession, compared to men. It is fully known that there is a wage gap, men have higher salaries even if they work in the same company… there is always a marked difference there, and music is no exception. Of course, it’s now 15 years later, and things have changed somewhat, but at that moment it felt like people were watching just to see you fail. Let’s see if you know how to play, let’s see if you’re not just miming… they didn’t believe it. One felt at that time a little powerless because one said “I have the same ability as any man to play any instrument.” But at that time there were no other girl bands, so all eyes were on us, and it was a lot of pressure. I think that things are a little more relaxed today. But at the time, there was a lot of pressure and discrimination.
The “disco negro” has 10 tracks, but actually 11 songs, since there is a bonus song at the end of the last track. This song, “Nauseas”, has a markedly different sound from the rest of the album. Was it part of the same session? Or did you record it separately?
Luis: It’s from the same sessions. I was listening to the song recently and flashed back to when we mixed it. I was sitting with the engineer and suddenly my Nine Inch Nails and Trent Reznor fandom came on full strength, and I said “distortion, add more distortion to the voice, turn up the ambient microphones around the drums so it sounds more airy, add more distortion, more saturation ”. We were playing with it. And it resulted in that last bit of madness to close out the album. “Nauseas” was often the last song on the setlist, and when the audience really let loose in a massive mosh pit. It was like a punk show. Total cathartic release.
It’s one of my favorite songs on the album. Actually, my favorite is “Autopista”. Can you each tell me what your favorite songs on the album are?
Valeria: For me it’s “Nauseas”, which is one of the band’s first songs. And it was composed with Adriana Bello, who was a guitarist and a founding member of Skin. It is one of my favorites too. “Autopista” was also one of the songs we wrote for the album. It has like that mixture of softness and sweetness with that power in the chorus. But I think I would also add “Volar”, which is also a very old song from that first iteration of Skin. “Presencia” also. The lyrics were written for my mother. It talks about absence, about closing your eyes and seeing if you can really elevate yourself from this plane of existence.
Valentina: One of my favorites is “Me Quiero Ir”, and the other is “Presencia”. I think those are my two biggest favorites on the album. I like “Me Quiero Ir” because it reminds me a lot of that whole process of composition, arranging, pre-production… I remember the moment when that song was born and I identify with it in different aspects of my personal life. And I think it’s a great song. “Presencia” is also an incredible song, the energy it transmits is amazing.
Vanessa: My favorite song is “Nauseas”. It’s so simple, but it really showed how heavy Skin could be. The strength that Skin had on our live shows, for some reason I just love listening to it. I also like “Autopista” because it combines both things: the strength of the band and the soft, gentle, feminine, subtle part.
Luis: “Nauseas” is my favorite. It’s a really fun song to play. Second comes “Presencia,” you just can’t fail with that riff. And I love the fact that Valeria wrote that to her mother, it’s most beautiful thing in the entire universe. And then “Ella”, where you can really see how the band works together musically. Even in the lyrics, because it started from Valeria’s fear of spiders, so I showed up with my Lord of the Rings fandom, saying “look, in Lord of the Rings there is a spider called Ella, let’s name it that… “
Tell me about the process of recording the album.
Valeria: This album for me had a very long production process. We had weeks, months of pre-production. Then we went to work with the producer, David Pérez, who is a very demanding man. Very disciplined.
Luis: Sort of like a judge on American Idol.
Vanessa: He’s Simon! (Laughs)
Valentina: He’s just like him.
Valeria: I am very picky when recording the vocals, I am very careful in terms of tuning, harmonies … and after every take I’d leave the booth quite happy, thinking “that was the take, brother”. And David would send me right back. And they were such small details. It was a long but very rewarding process.
Luis: The way we recorded the album was recorded very old school. No pitch correction. Every scream, every melody, every line is real and repeated as many times as necessary. Old school, no cheating.
Vanessa; We even had vocal lessons. David Pérez was in all the rehearsals, he’d make us do exercises with our hands in the same positions going up and down, working on the technical side of it. He was watching with a magnifying glass. “Again, again, again.”
Obviously the current global context complicates things, but are there any plans for a live show with this Skin lineup, even if it’s just virtual?
Valeria: It was always an idea. Before we said “we have to release this album,” we were saying “we have to play this album.” There was always the thought that it would be incredible to get together and do as a tour, play Caracas, Buenos Aires, California. The beauty and the power of this album, it would be incredible to play the whole thing live. Maybe we could each record something, mix it, and release it as a “live” video. I don’t know. I’m thinking of getting on a plane, picking up each one of them, going to a country that’s central to all of us and just playing a show there. (Laughs)
Luis: Something’s going to happen. It’s coming.