On Scattered Storms, the EP from his project Good Bison, Pablo Alvarez twists his varied influences into a catchy and welcoming sound. At times, the vocal delivery reflects his earlier hip hop-oriented work, but there are also strains of surf rock, punk-pop, and indie rock in the songs. Writing lyrics had been Alvarez’s gateway into music, and they remain the driving force behind his work with Good Bison. Collaborators Mauri Viladegutt and Slightly Stoopid producer George Spits helped flesh out the material without losing its DIY edge.
Based in LA, Alvarez emigrated with his mother from Bogota, Colombia as a child, settling in Miami. In 2017, Alvarez broke the ‘Longest Consecutive Rap’ record in the Guinness Book of World Records (freestyling for 26 hours straight in a live broadcast; he held the record until 2020).
In a phone interview, Alvarez discussed his career and the making of Scattered Storms.
Do you consider Good Bison to be a solo project?
Pablo Alvarez: It’s definitely a collaborative effort. I work with different musicians at different points. So I’m definitely, I would say, the main creative force behind the project. On this project, I wrote all the music with Mauri Viladegutt, who I’ve been working with for over 10 years now, and George Spits, who’s a Miami musician who has produced and engineered for a lot of big artists. So it’s definitely a collaborative effort, but I’m the main driving force.
Could you talk a bit about your musical background?
Pablo Alvarez: Definitely. I would say that the way I got into music was 100% writing. I’ve been writing as long as I can remember, ever since I was a little kid. I would love writing stories and poems, actually, not so much writing lyrics, but writing in general has always been my strong suit. I got into music by writing lyrics. Growing up, I was really big into hip hop and punk rock. Lyrics were always the focal point that attracted me to music. In fact, I would say that growing up, I didn’t really care too much about the beats or the instruments or anything like that. I was all about the lyrics and if the lyrics connected with me. So when I got into writing lyrics, I was a teenager. I recorded my first song when I was 17, and I kind of just fell in love from there and escalated really quickly.
It wasn’t until I was in my first band in Miami around the time I was 19 that I really started to develop more of a love for instruments and for the music that goes into a song. Now I play a little bit of guitar. I play a little bit of piano. I’m still mostly a lyricist, but particularly on this EP, I wrote the guitar for two of the songs. So that was something that I’d never done before. And I’ve always been so focused on conveying my feelings or emotions using my words, that it was a really nice change of pace to be able to transmit some of that using just the music and feeling like the music was representing what I was feeling inside as well. And I would say a big turning point for me honestly was in the last few years I got obsessed with “Pet Sounds. “
I had always heard that “Pet Sounds” was this incredible album and one of the best albums of all time. Growing up, I liked the Beach Boys, but I always associated them more with like “Fun, Fun, Fun” and “Barbara Ann” and those kinds of songs. So I was like, okay, so what’s all the hype around “Pet Sounds”? And I put it on one day, I was riding my bike and I was listening to it on my headphones and immediately I was just blown away by this album, and not just the lyrics in it, which the lyrics actually did connect with me a lot, but also the musicality of it. And from that point on, I became obsessed with Brian Wilson. I dove into the “Smile” sessions and the “Smile” album and even some of those follow-up records to “Pet Sounds. “
And that was a huge, huge turning point for me, where I started listening to music in a new way, I feel. I was always a huge fan of the Beatles, but I went back and re-explored all the Beatles discography. I was like listening more so than just the vocals, which were always what attracted me to music. And so, yeah, growing up, I would pretty much only listen to hip hop and punk rock. But then in the past few years, I got obsessed with The Cure and David Bowie, and it just really changed my perspective of what I wanted my music to be.
Did that give you a strong sense as to what you wanted to accomplish with Good Bison?
Pablo Alvarez: I would say that this was the first project that I didn’t have a clear vision of what I wanted it to be. In the past with writing lyrics and primarily rapping, I was always very centered on hip hop. I thought that I had to exist within the hip hop lane and yes, in Miami, when I was in a band, that kind of changed a little bit. But then when I moved to LA, it got refocused on hip hop, and I felt like that was the direction that I needed to go in. But with this project, I stopped thinking so much about where the music would fit in. I was just trying to get out whatever was inside. So when I was writing the lyrics, the melodies and the guitar parts, it wasn’t so much that I was thinking … I wasn’t even focusing on what was influencing it or what I was trying to make it sound like. It was more just a blend of all the stuff that I had done up until now, which was more rocky stuff, more like hip hop stuff and a lot of acoustic stuff. I originally envisioned this project with an acoustic project, and it evolved from there.
Was Scattered Storms conceived as an EP from the start?
Pablo Alvarez: I did intend for it to be an EP, but 2 of the songs I wrote over the past couple of years, and I had just been sitting on them, and I had a few other songs that I had written. I started thinking about how I wanted to put them into a project. It was definitely conceived as an EP, but I wasn’t sure what songs would be on there. So then we wrote a few new songs, and the four that ended up making it onto the project were just the ones that I felt were really representative of what I wanted to convey. I felt like they fit well with each other and kind of told an overarching story.
What impact did your collaborators have on how the songs evolved into what we hear on the final release?
Pablo Alvarez: I would say they had a big impact. Initially, I started working on it by myself, and then I brought Mauri in. Mauri’s a much better guitar player than I am, so he was able to take the songs that I had written on guitar and kind of give them a little bit more life. And then he wrote some guitar riffs that then I worked with. So I think he added a lot of musicality to it in general. He also played the bass on the tracks, and together we added some acoustic percussion. We were literally working with this band in a box kit that they sell for little kids that has tambourines and little shakers. It was literally little kids toys, and I had this Colombian rain disk hanging on my wall, and I’ve always wanted to use, so we were recording some stuff with that.
I think it really took shape when I sent it over to George. Originally, I was just sending it to George for mixing. He’s a great mix engineer. He was going to mix the tracks, but as he was listening to them, he felt like they would benefit from additional production. While we were talking, I told him that I was open to it. The reason that it sounded the way it did was because I literally used what I had available to me: an acoustic guitar, a bass, and these toys I told you about. I told them it was really important to me to maintain that organic feel. I didn’t want to overproduce them or make them too modern or anything like that.
I wanted them to really maintain that homemade feel. So he ended up playing the drums on them, and he sat with them for a few weeks and was trying a bunch of different drum beats. He has a drum kit, so he was playing the drums, which was really important to me. I didn’t want to use programed drums or anything like that. Not that I dislike them, but it was the direction that I had in mind for this project. George then played drums on all the tracks, and he mixed and mastered them. I think he was a huge part of bringing the sound to life, and so was Mauri. That’s kind of how it came together.
You moved from Miami to LA – was that specifically to pursue music?
Pablo Alvarez: I did, yes. So, in Miami, we were a much bigger band. We were a five-piece, at some points six-piece, band. We had a drummer, two guitars, bass, a viola player, and over time, members kind of came and went. And while we were working on our second EP, we were planning a tour, and the band kind of fell apart at that point. So it was me and two other members; Mauri was one of them, and Sebastian Delgado was the other member. We were like, well, then let’s get out of Miami and go try to continue this somewhere else. So the three of us moved to Los Angeles, and originally we were envisioning continuing that band from Miami. But after arriving here and just kind of settling, we realized that that’s not really who we were anymore.
I envisioned this new project, which is Good Bison, and they kind of started it with me. Originally, it was a little bit more production-based. Our first EP was a mix of indie pop, electronic pop, and hip hop. And then after that, I started working with JHawk, Jeremy Hawkins, who is this incredible hip-hop producer. He was a huge part of the jerkin’ movement here in Los Angeles. That’s why the next project was even more hip-hop focused. That was also around the time when I started viewing Good Bison as less of a band. And again, it’s not a solo effort because it will always be collaborative. And I love working with other musicians, but I opened myself up to multiple other musicians.
Like I said, I was working with JHawk. I was working with producers I know from Miami and producers from Los Angeles. It just kind of took it in a really different direction. After that, Sebastian moved back to Miami,. Mauri had some other priorities that came up, and I started really trying to figure out what I wanted to do with Good Bison. Around that time was when I was writing songs on guitar and just trying to develop as a musician and not so much relying only on my rapping background, which has always been a bit of a safety net for me. Because in a lot of ways, I didn’t think I could make the sound that we were doing in Miami when we were a five-piece band because I don’t play drums. I don’t play bass, and I was just learning to play guitar. That’s kind of how we got to the current state, where I wanted to make this project. I was really trying to be as self-reliant as possible, which is why originally I was envisioning it as an acoustic project that was like, well, if it’s just me, I can record the guitars at my house. I can record the vocals and then I could send it off for mixing. But it just kinda snowballed from there and became bigger, and now it’s what you’ve heard, which is more of a full band sound. But again, I was really trying to move away from that produced and more hip hop sound because I realized that’s not really representative of me, and it’s not the space that I want to fit into.
If not for the pandemic, would you be performing this material live?
Pablo Alvarez: This project was actually born within the pandemic. Because in 2019, I was organizing monthly shows at different locations around Los Angeles. I would line up up-and-coming musicians who were either local LA or touring musicians, and I would always have one featured act. Before the featured act, Good Bison would do a set. And sometimes that was just me. Sometimes it was Mauri and me, sometimes there was other musicians who would play with us. But I definitely envision this, even though this project was born within the pandemic and there isn’t the possibility of playing live. I definitely envision the music as something that is meant to be performed live, ideally with a full band. But it’s also, since these songs were born just on guitar, they are also things that I could play myself and perform more intimately.
Is there anything that you would like to add?
In the past, I’ve always spent a lot of time, energy, creativity, money, whatever it is on the creation of the music, but I have this habit of then putting out the music, and then that’s it. I shut off somewhat. And for this project, for the first time, I have really put as much emphasis on the presentation and the visual side as I did into the creation of the music. I’m working with a visual director, Krölhaus, and I feel as represented by the visuals as I do by the music, and that’s something really important to me. Especially in today’s world where everything is so visual focused and everybody’s taking in images nonstop, I think it’s really important that I’ve been able to not just express myself creatively through the music, but also through the visuals.