Dos Santos discuss the influences behind new album ‘City of Mirrors’
Chicago-based alt-Latinx band Dos Santos released their new album City of Mirrors in October via International Anthem. Led by Alex Chavez, the group explore and mix styles from across the Americas into their own lush, groovy, swirling sound.
“City of Mirrors is an assemblage…glimpses of tradition… reflections on our collective present… luminous echoes between love and solitude, hope and absurdity, euphoria and mourning," says Chavez. "This album grapples with and transgresses these binaries because we have/and continue to cross borders. Yet, for us, the border is no metaphor—too much real staring back at us. We embody the border. We (our families) have crossed it. We (our stories) are coated with its residues. And so… we cross the border of self through our art – out of necessity.” You can stream the album below.
We asked Dos Santos to tell us more about the influences behind City of Mirrors, which include music, books, places, art and more. Alex Chavez and guitarist/vocalist Nathan Karagianis took different approaches with their lists: Nathan approached it via specific songs from the album, while Alex offered a list of five things that influenced the whole album. Check out their lists, complete with commentary, below.
Dos Santos - 10 influences, City of Mirrors
Five from Nathan Karagianis:
This was a composition initially inspired by an arpeggio from a song by the band Broadcast called “Goodbye Girls.” I would sometimes play the arpeggio in sound check on guitar to warm up. While on tour with the band Money Chicha, the drummer John Spiece, heard me warming up with this arpeggio and came out of the dressing room clapping in a meter that was in the huapango rhythm. Thanks John.
"Lejos de Ti"
This guitar part and beat was made after being on a blind date. I thought we seemed to hit it off so well and after parting ways, I was left with a very romantic feeling. Later upon arriving home, I immediately picked up the guitar and those chords just came rolling together very whimsically. I was also listening to Devendra Banhart’s album “Ma,” which is quite a beautiful album.
"Jaguar de Rosas"
This composition was entirely improvised between Alex and me during a session with Elliot Bergman at his studio in Los Angeles. For my part, and also my default mode, is to envision myself as a horn player, i.e. Don Cherry or labelmates Ben Lamar Gay or Jamie Branch. There’s a particular track on Ben’s release that’s a duet with him on cornet and a friend of his on sax titled “Me, Jayve & the Big Bee.”
"Cages and Palaces"
This is the first song I recorded on guitar when I got to Elliot’s studio in Los Angeles. Upon listening to what had been tracked already, to me Jaime’s bass tone struck me because it sounded so incredibly dark. So, I wanted to contrast his bass tone with some bright sounding guitar. Since we made the album on the West Coast—and being inspired by the music of the West Coast from the mid-60’s—I was thinking about the band The Byrds and the 12-string electric guitar played by Roger McGuinn.
The chord changes are an interpretation of the landscape of the road trip between El Paso and Marfa, Texas, while riding in the van on tour. The meandering and lost feeling that I got as the van hurtled through this stretch of road in west Texas coupled with the 360° view of the sky and the mystery of the Milky Way that you can see so clearly at night in Marfa Texas, is all very expansive and wondrous and beautiful.
Five from Alex Chavez
100 Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez
“City of Mirrors” is a love song to Puerto Rico amid the aftershocks of disasters past and present, historical and ongoing. Inspired by Gabriel García Marquez’s 100 Years of Solitude, we imagined Puerto Rico in the image of Macondo—the city of mirrors—a place of beauty and trauma, of struggle and triumph. We feel the Caribbean embodies the extremes of such dichotomies borne of the violent legacies of colonialism, while remaining a cherished place of beauty, refusal, and freedom dreams to remember.
Landscape of the Mexican Huasteca region
At moments, the creative process seemed like a feedback loop—new sounds resonating through our bodies, invoking visual imagery which then folded back in on itself, shaping the sounds we were working with. Several sonics evoked—at least within me—the lush, electric green mountainous landscape of the huasteca region of Mexico, in turn inspiring stories and lyrics along the way….
Flores de colores sueño.
I dream of colorful flowers.
Hojarasca verde veo.
I see green foliage.
Cielo azul, el sol, y viento.
Blue skies, the sun, and wind.
Piel canela y ojos negros.
Cinnamon skin and dark eyes.
* A Shot in the Dark
We recorded City of Mirrors in Los Angeles, California at Elliot Bergman’s studio from December 2019-March 2020. California was a welcomed reprieve from the Chicago winter. No doubt, the sunshine, ocean air, and general pace of things shaped our creative mood, spirit, and attitude as we wrote, experimented, and documented in the studio.
City of Mirrors was produced by Elliot Bergman — a friend and fellow Chicago artist. We knew going into this album that we wanted to work with someone outside of us to push us creatively, and we thought one way to achieve this was to invite a producer to come in and work with us. We approached Elliot because has great sonics, a discerning ear, and is familiar with what we do as a band and the musical threads we pull from and that inspire us. His approach to our creative process was key.
Amara “Rebel Betty” Martín
In the final stages of post-production for the record, we began reflecting on how best to represent it visually — from artwork to videos, etc. Given that the creative process for the album seemed to take on a collage approach, we reached out to our friend and artist Rebel Betty — an AfroIndigenous Puerto Rican multidisciplinary artist, educator, cultural worker, and activist from Chicago—who works extensively with collage. She lent her talents and aesthetic to all aspects of the visuals along with our creative team, which also included Estudio Pneuma from Mexico City (Miguel Jara and Celestial Brizuela) and Director Osvaldo Cuevas.