Saturday, March 4, 8 p.m., Lulu’s, 107 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, Tickets: $18, all-ages, lulusdownstairs.com
Silos frontman Walter Salas-Humara isn’t calling his group’s current cross-country jaunt a reunion tour, although it does contain elements of that.
For one thing, the shows feature track-by-track live renditions of Cuba, the 1987 sophomore album that led to the post-punk, pre-Americana group being named Best New Artist in a Rolling Stone magazine critics poll.
For another, the setlist will include a generous sampling of the band’s career favorites, ranging from last year’s “Colorado River” single (which Salas-Humara wrote about his whitewater-rafting expeditions) to the obligatory — and self-explanatory — “Let’s Take Some Drugs and Drive Around.”
A Cuban-American singer-songwriter whose family fled Havana when Castro came to power, Salas-Humara grew up in a Spanish-speaking household across the Florida Straits in Fort Lauderdale. After attending the University of Florida in Gainesville, he made the move to New York City, where a burgeoning underground music scene was experimenting with hip-hop, no wave, dance music, and what would eventually come to be known as indie-rock.
It was there that he put together the first incarnation of The Silos, who went on to sign a deal with RCA, perform on The David Letterman Show, and appear regularly on year-end critics’ lists.
In the decades since, The Silos have released well over a dozen albums, while undergoing countless lineup changes, with Salas-Humara being the one constant. Last year saw the release of a new studio album Family on the artist’s own Sonic Pyramid label, as well as a 35th anniversary edition of Cuba, complete with gatefold sleeve and bonus live disc.
Along the way, the musician has also continued to make a name for himself as a visual artist, with works that range from Pop Art canine caricatures to abstract expressionist paintings inspired by his art-school heroes Ellsworth Kelly and Jasper Johns.
Salas-Humara recently spoke with us from New York City — where he was finishing up paintings for a trio of gallery shows — about eccentric guitarists, Colorado connections, and The Silos’ enduring musical legacy.
“I thought, ‘Wow, this is great. This is gonna go on forever.’”
Sixty35: When Television frontman Tom Verlaine passed away earlier this month, you posted on Facebook about how, as a guitarist, he’d personified a New York style in which he would play all the “sideways notes” with total confidence. What did you mean by that?
Walter Salas-Humara: It basically means that you don’t play the scales in the normal way. You know, like when you’re going down the scale and you’re supposed to hit the minor third, but you purposely play the major third. And the guitarists who’d do that — you know, like [Television co-founder] Richard Lloyd or Marc Ribot or Robert Quine — none of them played in styles you’d find in music theory manuals. If they were recording a solo part, you’d tell them, “This song is in D,” and they’d just go “I don’t care about that.”
Coming out of the mid-’80s experimental music scene that was centered on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, did you feel like you were part of that?
Well, we were part of the scene, but we were like the “normal” band. I mean, Richard Lloyd did play on Silos records, but there were a lot of noise bands like Cop Shoot Cop, The Honeymoon Killers, Live Skull and Sonic Youth. Whereas we were more like organic guitar-rock.
Did you expect it to catch on?
No, I really hadn’t. I sent the first record out to media outlets and the next thing I knew, we were Pop Album of the Week in The New York Times. It was insane. The NME and all these different fanzines wrote about it, like everybody wrote about it. We even got an A-minus from Robert Christgau in The Village Voice.
So after that, I recruited some folks to start playing shows, and then a band sort of coalesced out of that. We made the second record, and then the third, which was a major label album. I thought, “Wow, this is great. This is gonna go on forever.” And then we got dropped from the major label. Not only did the band fall apart, but management, legal, agent, everything — all of it went away. So then I was back to square one again.
At which point, you’d moved to L.A.
Yeah, and then I started a whole ’nother thing out there. We made a couple more albums and we were mainly playing Europe, because the popularity in the States kind of just went away.
But The Silos continued.
Yeah, The Silos thing keeps going on. I call it the Silos family now, because there’s so many different people that have been involved in it all around the world. So there’s like this body of songs that are performed by these 50 people, and I’m the one that travels around. Me and maybe one other person — from New York or Chicago or someplace else — going to Seattle or Texas or Europe or wherever. But these are all musicians that I’ve worked with over and over and over, and they’re all on the albums.
Even the first Silos album — which was basically seven years’ worth of four-track tapes that I started making when I was 17 back in Florida — that was made with something like 20 different people. But I called it The Silos because I wanted it to seem like a band, which I thought was cooler. I also thought my last name was gonna be too confusing for people, so I wanted something that was kind of like it, but had only two syllables.
Given where our paper is based, I would be remiss not to ask about your Colorado connections. You’ve always played a lot here, and then there’s the “Colorado River” single. You also went to school here for a while, right?
Yeah, I spent my senior year of high school in Colorado. I’ve also recorded with Marc Benning, the guy who books Lulu’s, at his studio up in the mountains. But the song isn’t about Colorado, it’s about rafting down the Colorado River, specifically the part that runs through the Grand Canyon, which is a life-changer. It’s a 16-day journey and there are 100 rapids along the way, and some of them are massively big, like as big as they’re gonna be anywhere. It’s pretty intense and, you know, really fun.
How many shows a year are you averaging these days, either with The Silos or on your own?
Oh, these days probably about 75 or 80, I would say.
So you like being on the road.
Uh, I like performing. That’s how I would answer that question. I mean, we used to do 150 shows a year, we used to play every place we could. Now I play in places where I know people that are old friends, and scenes that I enjoy, and places where, you know, people actually are interested in what I’m doing. I’m not trying to conquer the world anymore.