Hailing from Spain comes the one-man-studio-project, North of South, composed of musician Chechu Nos. His debut effort, New Latitudes, is an eccentric work of progressive music that defies classification. Collecting themes and techniques from metal, rock, pop, jazz, flamenco, and Spanish-style guitar to name a slight few, Nos has orchestrated a beautiful introduction for himself into the progressive-metal world with one of the best releases so far for 2018. As such, I felt the need to reach out to North of South for a brief interview so that I and those with their ears close to the ground in the metal scene could gain more insight into the sweeping presentation that is New Latitudes. I encourage any prog-enthusiast to dive in and enjoy the following conversation I was lucky enough to have with Chechu Nos and to check out New Latitudes in its entirety later this month on September 28th, 2018.
How did North of South come to be?
I’ve always been a very dedicated music fan, so it’s been a natural evolution—from listening to music to playing guitar, from playing guitar to composing my own music (and also playing other instruments), and from composing my own music to sharing it with an audience.
What was your first instrument? Did you receive a traditional education with music, or were you self-taught?
I began to play guitar not very early. I was 17 when I got my first guitar (now I’m 39). I consider myself as a self-taught musician, though I have taken some lessons in a local public music school for the last 7–8 years to expand my knowledge and go further than playing Metal guitar. So, I have had some contact with jazz guitar and studio recording techniques. I’ve been also studying drums for the last three years. Finally, I’m not a very skilled keyboard player, but I love to use it for composing and giving “the final magic touch” to my tunes (haha).
What ultimately influenced you to write New Latitudes?
The desire of experimenting and mixing Metal with other music genres with which I have grown, the kind of music that I listened to at my parent’s house when I was a child, and the type of rhythms and Latin sensibility that also surround me as the Spanish guy I am.
By the end, which song from New Latitudes was the most fun to write/record?
Every New Latitudes song has an interesting story behind it. I think “The Human Equation” is a kind of summary of how North of South’s music is—very heavy guitar riffs, acoustic guitars, Flamenco influences, prog keyboards, complex drumming, a bit of growling, but mainly clean voice, some almost-poppish passages, piano, etc.
But I have special feelings for every tune. “There’s No Glamour in Death” has a very energetic, motivational, and good-mood vibe. I really enjoy it.
Both instrumental tunes, “Crystal Waters” and “Montreux,” represent my fascination for Melodic Jazz.
“Before We Die” and “Balanced Paradox” were the last songs to be finished, almost entering the studio, because they didn’t have vocal lines until the last moment. There are a lot of anecdotes.
Who are some artists you have drawn inspiration and influence from in your own creative works?
Especially those daring creators who don’t fear to experiment, to evolve, and to search their own music language. I really like bands like Katatonia, Opeth, Amorphis, In Flames, Moonspell, Anathema, Dan Swano’s projects. I also listened to a lot of Melodeath bands (Soilwork, Dark Tranquillity, etc), but also enjoy the old school stuff, like Entombed or Dismember.
About new bands, I have to mention people like Periphery or Bring Me The Horizon. And I love Iron Maiden!!!
Apart from Metal, I have drawn from some respectable Pop bands—The Police, The Cure.
I also find some inspiration in that substrate of Latin melodies and Flamenco rhythms that is in my Spanish blood.
And finally, I cannot forget some brilliant composers like Michael Nyman, Mike Oldfield, Yann Tiersen, etc.
Are there other modern Spanish artists you think the world should be aware of, musical or otherwise?
For sure!!! Strictly speaking about Metal, at the moment, arguably the most well-known international Spanish bands are Angelus Apatrida and Lords of Black.
But we also have other incredible ones—Sôber (great innovators for Spanish Metal in the 90’s), Dry River (old Dream Theater tribute band, now doing their own Prog Rock music), Avulsed and Haemorrhage (two Spanish Extreme Metal legends), Saurom (Folk Metal), Against The Waves (Metalcore), Unreal Overflows (Technical Death Metal) and many more.
Anyway, Spanish Metal is much unknown abroad. I think this fact has two main causes. In first place, we have a strong language (Spanish), so English was not very used until a few decades ago. Singing in Spanish provides you a big audience in Spain but doesn’t make it easy to succeed abroad. And, in parallel, we haven’t any big metal labels with international presence. Fortunately, things are beginning to change, and more and more Spanish bands look abroad with ambition.
What are some current albums, literature, film, art, etc. that North of South has taken notice of? Are there any future releases in 2018 that have the band particularly excited?
I’m always looking for new bands and latest releases. For example, I really enjoyed the last Immortal’s album, Northern Chaos Gods. Great stuff!
Talking about this summer festivals, Helloween reunion at Wacken blew me away. I saw Ghost twice, and that contributed to getting rid of some prejudice towards them.
Some other 2018 releases I like are the new albums of Tribulation—On Thorns I Lay and Fractal Gates.
Regarding reading, at the present moment, I’m ending the Noise Records History, written by David E. Gehlke. Previously, I’d been reading some Julio Verne’s novels. I’m a great sci-fi fan. I am very busy with music, so I don’t have too much time to watch TV or films.
What is your writing process? Do you start with a riff or some lyrics you have been working on? Do you start with a rhythm and jam over it and take your best ideas from it?
Yes, I have some kind of routine for composing. First comes the music, then lyrics and vocal lines. The challenge is to write a song that sounds different from the previous one but following a certain line of coherence.
It all begins with the guitar, looking for three, four, five riffs that help to build and cement the composition. Then come the other instruments (drums, bass, piano, keyboards, etc.) in an overlaying process. The last step is, simultaneously, writing lyrics and creating vocal lines that fit into the music. Writing a song is a very demanding task, so, as far as possible, I’m fully concentrated for some weeks or months in completing a single song. Composing is an exciting but also exhausting process.
What techniques do you use to get over writers’-block and problems within the writing process?
Fortunately, I have not suffered a long block period yet. My main problem is the shortage of time to develop all my music ideas (haha). At the moment, I feel like I have four or five records in my mind waiting to go out and be written and released!!
Anyway, when having a brief creative deadlock, I have a personal tip: I find some help listening to non-Metal music and looking for a nice melody. Then, I begin to twist it, to manipulate it, to give it a new form like molding modelling clay.
At the end, you reach a place that is a lot of kilometers distant from your starting point. The result is something completely different.
Even some of the most successful touring acts in rock and metal today have had problems making ends meet financially. How does North of South handle this? Do members of the band still have day-jobs/careers?
At the moment, North of South is a studio-project, so there are no plans to play live in the near future. Anyway, nothing has to be excluded or discarded.
It only requires getting in touch with the right people at the right moment, people with a similar creative point of view and musical sensibility. Apart from music, I’m a journalist, and I work in an important Spanish news radio station.
Are there plans for a tour for New Latitudes? Is there any new material being worked on, whether for an EP or LP?
No live plans in the short term, but I’m already working on new material. I would like to release an EP in 2019.
Launching North of South as a band and releasing this first album, New Latitudes, is taking me a long time, so it’s been hard to find some quiet moments for composing, but I’m trying and working very hard in the new tunes. They’re sounding fantastic, with every element of North of South’s music being intensified—more heaviness, more melody, more jazzy passages, more Latin rhythms, more Spanish vocals, more acoustic guitars.
Anyway, now it is time to enjoy New Latitudes for introducing into North of South’s universe. It is the first chapter of what I expect to be a long and joyful story.
Are there any specific progressive rock/metal acts that you’d particularly love to collaborate with on tour or on future music?
Yeah!!! For sure!!! And I’ll try some relevant collaboration in the future. Who knows?
Talking and dreaming at the same time, I can tell you that I would love to work with people like Dan Swano, Mikael Akerfeldt (Opeth), Esa Holopainen (Amorphis), Anders Nystrom and Jonas Renkse (Katatonia), Fernando Ribeiro (Moonspell), Carmelo Orlando (Novembre), the Cavanagh Brothers (Anathema), Peter Wichers (ex Soilwork), or Bjorn Gelotte (In Flames), to name only a few.
Is there any message North of South would like to send to its fans or those curious now that you are making your debut?
Absolutely! I invite your readers to pay attention to North of South if they are searching for some different Metal experience, if they feel that they are nonconformist listeners.
I think New Latitudes has enough heaviness to please the most demanding metal listeners, but, at the same time, enough melody and catchiness to attract the attention of other kinds of listeners who appreciate worthy music.
Northern or Southern, dare to explore new musical latitudes with North of South. As the slogan in Metal Utopia says, “Expand your horizons (haha)!!”
Thank you, John. It has been a very nice, deep and non-conventional interview!! Best regards from Spain for all your readers.