The New Jersey screamo group Massa Nera have crafted an album that sounds built to last with their new release Derramar | Querer | Borrar, available now via the band and Zegema Beach Records.
Below, check out an interview with the band about the new album! First, here is a review:
The strained heaves that define much of the music on the track “Adrift,” which sounds reflective of desperate longing, could be imagined in very literal terms, suggesting the kind of physical labor someone in a less appreciated job regularly undertakes… and undertakes… and undertakes. (The band explore related themes in the lyrics.) Here and across the record, the music sounds like it captures not just pure chaos, but moments when you’re furiously digging into the rhetorical cliff’s edge, bloodying your fingers and trying to evade falling into oblivion, whatever that means to you.
The music is explosive and constantly pushing at the listener but captures a moment that sounds like just before the cloud of chaos takes hold. Massa Nera don’t sound like they’re necessarily celebrating the unrest or stuck in being stuck. It’s not about that — although it is catchy! When the energy gets going, like on “Wanting (Ghosts Haunting Ghosts),” some of which sounds like black metal to me, the music is alluring — and searing.
The perspective in these songs suggests walking home from work well after so many others are already inside, desperately trying to stay awake, and plagued not just by concern about what the street ahead might hold but the sense that every step leads only further into stagnation. The 50-minute record, which feels sometimes artfully unsteady, balancing lunges toward security reflected by quieter moments with surges of fury, suggests a state in which it’s remarkable how every little thing can take on such existential significance, as though it confirms you’re ostensibly doomed. The blasts of music Massa Nera present here chart a fight against that dread.
It’s straightforward, at least in terms of music that could be lumped into categories like screamo (or the term I prefer because it’s funny, skramz) and post-hardcore — and it’s richly passionate. The band also seem to grasp the kind of internal unrest that can make attempted steps out of the sand turn into smacking face-first into the ground. Sometimes, their proclamations of personal and collective triumph sound like they could be heard as also meant to convince themselves, which is obviously a relatable part of this kind of emotional trek. There’s no relentlessly forward hero’s arc.
But the point is that it’s here: angry, urgent, and sure of itself as much as circumstances allow, like a slamming guitar turned into a protest flag. Sometimes, the fury of protest can be very personal, including against the cop voice — in whatever sense you want to take that — inside. We’re not how they define us.
Massa Nera includes Aeryn Jade Santillan on bass, Allen Núñez and Christopher Rodriguez on guitar, and Mark Boulanger on drums. All four contribute vocals — and to the interview below, in which they discuss fighting the dehumanizing drudgery of labor, how what was lost in the past can inform our perspective on the present and future, and more.
Featured image (the cover art) by Myles Karr, Fulgencio P. Bermejo III, Christopher Rodriguez, and Mark Boulanger
Find Massa Nera on Bandcamp, where multiple versions of the album on physical media including vinyl are available, at this link.
Listen below! The band’s full, extensive Q&A follows.
Interview with Massa Nera
What Weighed — or Didn’t Weigh — on Songwriting
Was keeping things instrumentally intense an important consideration for Massa Nera when putting together Derramar | Querer | Borrar? Broadly, that fiery punk and hardcore energy certainly sounds like something y’all are inclined towards.
Mark: Thanks for having us! I don’t think we ever discussed or actively considered the importance of keeping things instrumentally intense per se. A lot of the intensity is a byproduct of how we respond to both the music and each other.
One thing we do discuss (and obsess over) is movement. It’s important that our songs evolve constantly, even if that evolution is subtle. We stress the details when it comes to dynamics and flow. I think that sense of movement goes a long way towards keeping the songs energetic.
Relatedly, did you work on telling the emotional story through the instrumentals themselves? Even setting aside the powerful lyrics, it still seems as though the emotions on the record are quite clear.
Mark: I think we did! For me, the music has to be able to stand on its own. This isn’t to say the vocals and lyrics aren’t important. Far from it! But I shudder at the thought of our music being “incomplete” without vocals. The instrumentals alone should be capable of taking someone on a journey. Hopefully, when we add vocals and lyrics to a song, we’re taking a composition that was already complete and transforming it into something else.
Is the physical intensity of the songs or, more specifically, how well they would go over in a live setting, something you consider?
Mark: Personally, I never think about how people might respond to a song. We’re extremely selfish writers. Well, maybe my bandmates aren’t, but I am! Obviously, I hope people respond to our work, and I want our music to go over well in concert! But ultimately, when we write, I’m looking for us to do two things. One, satisfy our own creative impulses as musicians and “artists,” with the aim of continually pushing ourselves and our art in new directions, and two, honor the needs of the music itself, rather than impose some sort of external expectation or requirement on it. To think of anything else while writing would be dishonest, at least to me.
Allen: I don’t exactly think about it when I first start writing a song, but something I think about is how well we can replicate our songs live compared to recordings. We occasionally add extra instruments or other layers of sound, since those are great ways to enhance a song. If these extra sounds become important parts, I think it would be a disservice to the song if we couldn’t do that live too. So whenever we add them, we try to do it as a support to what we’re actually playing.
Chris: During the writing process of the record, there were moments where I would think about how these songs would play out live for sure! Almost like thinking about where and what the hook of a song would be. I would consider that whenever I was thinking of the arrangement and composition! With all that being said, that only took up like 20 percent of my writing/thought process.
Aeryn: I don’t really think too hard about how these tracks will play out live as far as crowd response is concerned. I mean, I do hope these tracks resonate with people and that they can express that however they see fit, whether it’s moshing, dancing, or singing along. There is a bit of thought that goes into listener expectations and trying to sort of keep people guessing where a song is going, but I think that comes kinda naturally because we are also trying to keep things interesting for ourselves.
Finding Healing in the Album — and Music in General
The lyrics seem to circulate around, among other topics, a struggle with — and this is obviously kind of oversimplifying it — getting stuck, whether that’s in the dehumanizing slog of lower-income employment or something purely internal, not that the two are entirely separable. Do you think making music and your involvement in music have proven a critical way for you guys to at least temporarily get out of that? I can, of course, imagine your answer to this, but do you feel a lot of freedom when it comes to these things?
Mark: Music has definitely proven to be an amazing outlet for exploring and ultimately working through those feelings, absolutely! With Massa Nera, especially, I feel a great deal of freedom to explore almost any idea (musical or lyrical), which makes this project a pretty amazing reprieve from the drudgery of work.
I’m happy you mentioned the idea of being “stuck.” Early in the writing process, when we only had a few songs written and were just starting to work on lyrics, we noticed that all of us were touching upon this idea of being trapped in a cycle. Until that moment, we weren’t thinking about the album in terms of themes or broader ideas. Once we realized we were all on the same page, we were able to continue working on the record with a much greater degree of intentionality.
Aeryn: For me, making music is definitely a way to sort of come to terms with whatever I’m dealing with in my personal life, or thinking about issues in our world in broader terms. Having primarily worked in the music industry for the last seven years, it is hard to separate “music for fun” versus “music for work” for me. Just because you have a “cool” record label job or admin job doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its own struggles with shit pay, poor treatment, and various other socio-political issues. I wrote a lot of my lyrics during a point in my life where I thought I finally “made it” — I scored a full-time music job with benefits and the 401K and good pay, but it came with an abusive boss, long hours, and enough drinking/retail therapy to sink me into years of debt. I quit after a year there because I became trapped in that cycle of misery, drinking, and debt.
Broadly, how prominent do you think involvement in music is within your personal healing journeys, whatever forms those may take? Is it big for you? Derramar | Querer | Borrar certainly sounds very personal and expressive.
Mark: It’s extremely prominent! As a listener, for sure, but especially as a musician. Our music allows me to take complicated, sometimes painful subject matter and turn it into something that hopefully provides catharsis, while also facilitating a deeper understanding of those subjects. Ideally, with deeper understanding comes positive growth and action. I absolutely believe this record was a catalyst for that. As previously stated, Derramar | Querer | Borrar was in the works for a long time, long enough for the four of us to experience a great deal of turmoil and stress. All of those experiences went into the album, which (hopefully) helped us process them in a healthy manner. I really don’t know what I would have done without this album, or without this band in general. I’d definitely be in a much worse position mentally.
Allen: Music has truly been the main thing that has helped me heal through a lot of my pains. It’s helped me see what I went through from an outside perspective and allowed me to process many things. Looking back at the songs, I can see my growth as a person. It reminds me how far I’ve come.
Aeryn: Music has always been part of healing in my life. I found solace in it early on during my parents’ bad divorce, loads of mental health issues in high school/college, and various other struggles. Performing music about those struggles is very cathartic and has helped me move forward and hopefully process things in a healthy way. Therapy also rules too.
Chris: This release has done a great deal of healing for me. Throughout the entire recording process, I had thoughts about how amazing it was going to be to have this record out. Not so much because people would finally be able to listen to it, but mainly because I thought of this record as a send-off to these intense feelings that I believed would plague me forever. I also feel grateful that I’ll be able to look back at these songs years from now and say that I’ve come a long way. When I think about other people’s experiences, I hope that maybe they can feel the same way after some time. I can cry right now just thinking about it (lol).
Connecting with the Community
I noticed the list of bands you guys are thanking at the end of the album booklet. How would you describe the importance of plugging into and cultivating that sense of community for you guys as a band?
Mark: I think it’s very important for us to be connected to the broader screamo/punk/etc. community. That’s what punk is all about, you know? There’s nothing more life-affirming than forming connections with people who’ve gone through similar experiences, or enjoy the same weird things, or have like-minded ideas about various sociopolitical issues, especially when you then have the opportunity to build a community and create memories together.
This scene is the product of tons of people working in tandem in a variety of roles, many of whom we can thankfully call our friends! I can’t begin to articulate how incredible it is to know so many passionate, kind, talented individuals. Without all these people, we wouldn’t have made it out of our practice space. Hell, we wouldn’t even have a practice space! Our lives would be much lonelier, that’s for certain. So it just made sense to acknowledge that in the booklet.
Scene-wise, how do you feel about the availability of opportunities for folks who don’t fit the “straight white male” mold? Do you think there’s been a lot of progress towards making things more accessible and open?
Mark: I can’t speak about other scenes, and obviously my perspective is limited to my own experiences, but I feel like the screamo scene is pretty open. I think that’s due to how radical most bands tend to be, if not lyrically than at least through their online presence. It feels like the people in this community are engaged in an ongoing dialogue about systems of oppression, the ways in which those systems are consciously and unconsciously reinforced, and the steps we can take to combat them. Again, my point of view is limited, but of the screamo bands we’ve played with, I can only think of a handful whose members were entirely straight white men.
There’s definitely a lot of room for improvement. For example, a scene isn’t just its bands. It’s the people running labels, taking photos, and attending shows. And despite coming from one of the most diverse states (New Jersey), the crowds at local shows can be a bit homogeneous. That’s definitely been the case at a lot of the shows we’ve played in other states too. I should also say that I’m a straight white person, so there are probably a lot of examples of exclusivity to which I’m blind. But overall, I feel like our scene is inclusive, open, and steadily improving. My bandmates might have a totally different perspective though!
Allen: I’d say that shows have definitely been becoming more diverse lately, which has been really awesome to see. There’s been more diverse bands starting as well.
Chris: It’s always a heartwarming experience when I see fellow brown people in the scene. Welcoming new perspectives is one of the most important things for a community to thrive, and it’s been nice seeing a bit more of that these days. Like Mark said, there’s still a lot of work to be done. I hope one day it’ll look like the first time I ever played in Los Angeles back in August (maybe my favorite show ever).
The Past and the Present
I see you guys using the term hauntology, and I honestly hadn’t heard it before (although I since looked it up). What does that mean to y’all in the context of the band?
Mark: I’m not an expert on this by any means, so I encourage anyone reading this to send me a message explaining how much I’m getting wrong haha.
As I currently understand it, hauntology can broadly be defined as “the examination of lost futures contained within the past.” It was coined by Jacques Derrida as part of his refutation of Francis Fukuyama’s assertion that liberal capitalism represented the “end of history,” though it was eventually adopted by people like Mark Fisher and Simon Reynolds to describe a British strain of off-beat, eerie electronic/ambient music that was emerging in the early-mid aughts (e.g., The Caretaker, The Focus Group, The Advisory Circle).
For me, it’s important to distinguish hauntology from nostalgia, which I feel is pretty simplistic in its reverence for the past. Nostalgic art more-or-less reproduces something that once existed and says, “Remember X? Well, here it is again!” It’s the creative equivalent of reanimating a corpse. The Force Awakens or the new Jurassic Park movies are good examples of what I mean. There isn’t necessarily anything wrong with that sort of art, but I usually don’t find it interesting.
Hauntology is more complex, in that it’s less about reproduction and more about interrogation. You’re interrogating the ghosts of the past and conjuring them in service of art that, ideally, challenges the notion of the past as something that exists “back then.” This sort of art should also get us thinking about the unrealized possibilities of the future and our own ability to shape it.
Obviously, Derramar | Querer | Borrar doesn’t sound anything like The Caretaker or The Focus Group. Rather, we were very interested in applying those ideas to our own musical/artistic palette, especially when it came to the record’s lyrical and visual content (music videos included).
Chris: For me, the hauntological aspects of the record shine through in the areas that go beyond the music, like the design of the album art. The album cover has a set of layers that each (to me) tell a story, yet manage to come together and form one cohesive piece that helps convey the hauntological themes we tried to express. I’m not going to explain each layer, because I’m sure there are people out there that can do a better job of articulating what the cover means to them haha. Besides, I’d like to keep it open to interpretation. To anyone that reads this and ever wants to see us live, come talk to us about it. I’d love to hear what people think!
That being said, one of the artists that helped inspire art direction for the album was Neo Rauch, specifically Schmerz (Pain). That piece really resonates with me. Don’t ask me how because I won’t be able to explain lmao.
And, what have you been listening to lately, of any style, time period, etc.?
Mark: Right now, I’m listening to The Sea and the Bells by Rachel’s. Beyond that, I’ve been jamming the following records:
Audrey – The Fierce and the Longing
Carissa’s Wierd – Ugly But Honest
Secret Stars – Genealogies
Fripp & Eno – Evening Star
Dedekind Cut – Tahoe
Mirrorring – Foreign Body
Wilco – Summerteeth
Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
The Dismemberment Plan – Emergency & I
Harold Budd and Robin Guthrie – After the Night Falls and Before the Day Breaks
Waterfront Dining & 猫 シ Corp. – ...With Love 愛を込めて
Drowningman – Rock and Roll Killing Machine
Refused – The Shape of Punk to Come
Warning – Watching From a Distance
Allen: I’m kinda all over the place with what I’ve been listening to, but these albums have been on repeat lately:
Lingua Ignota – Sinner Get Ready
Novos Baianos – Acabou Chorare
Slayer – Reign In Blood
Camilo Séptimo – Navegantes
Silversun Pickups – Pikul
From Indian Lakes – Absent Sounds
Aeryn: As I’m writing this, I’m listening to the new Blind Girls record. But I’ve been bumping the new Carly Rae Jepsen, Cheats, and Coco & Clair Clair a lot these days.
Chris: Harto Falión – STRAY MUTT, ACADEMY, Im_my_worst_enemy
Bladee – The Fool, 333, Red Light
Dauwd – Theory of Colours
Burial – Untrue
Hawak – nước
Rei Harakami – Lust
Frou Frou – Details
City Of Caterpillar – Mystic Sisters
Skream – Skream!
Instupendo – Love Power A-to-Z
Oli XL – Rogue Intruder, Soul Enhancer
Toe – Our Latest Number
CFCF – Memoryland
Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s – Animal!
Kidcrash – Jokes