Chilean '60s LosVidriosQuebrados

from left to right
Héctor Sepúlveda, Cristián Larraín, Juan Mateo O'Brien and Juan Enrique Garcés.

Interview to Juan Mateo O'Brien, guitarist and vocalist of Los Vidrios Quebrados by Gonzalo Planet.

In a list of the pioneers in the Chilean rock music, it is impossible to omit the name of Los Vidrios Quebrados (The Broken Glasses). They are probably the most important band in in this musical style that entered to Latin America during  the early 60s.

Their members, Juan Mateo O'Brien (voice and guitar), Héctor Sepúlveda (guitar and voice), Cristián Larraín (bass guitar) and Juan Enrique Garcés (drums) gave the history of the Chilean rock just one single, Friend/She'll Never Know I'm Blue (1966), and the album Fictions (1967). In spite of its short life, the group is still remembered in Chile by young bands like Los Santos Dumont, and also internationally, thanks to the pirate reissues of its only LP.

Their love of The Beatles, The Kinks, Yardbirds and The Byrds joined three of its members,  who studied Law at the Catholic University. In the Brazil District they met the fourth member.  The first formation was  named Los Cuervos (The Crows), that quickly changed to Los Vidrios Quebrados who were already  in rehearsal in a room on Cienfuegos Street, in the center of  Santiago de Chile.

Juan Mateo O'Brien, today a sociologist married to the photographer Helen Hughes, smiles when remembering those days. In his record collection there are references to the 60s in Bob Dylan and John Lennon Cds, among other masters, in addition to recordings of classic music and jazz. And while he revives the past, Eugenio Garcés, brother of Juan Enrique, the drummer accompanies him. Juan Enrique  now suffers from a serious case of Alzheimer disease.

-Why the name of Los Vidrios Quebrados?

"Because it was a rupture, it was a different name. Oddly we sang in English and had a name in Spanish, whereas the other groups were named in English and sang in Spanish. Everything was the other way around, of which happened in the Chilean musical atmosphere. It was a nice invention, a happy invention".

-How was the attitude of the group inside a musical context dominated by La Nueva Ola? (translated as New Wave, it was a musical movement inspired in twist and slow rock ballads, very popular in Latin America)

"I was influenced with that music, with La Nueva Ola, Elvis Presley and all the international rock. But there are songs of La Nueva Ola that I still sing".

-So there wasn't a great distance.

"No, but that is my thought. For example, there are other members of Los Vidrios Quebrados that hated the Nueva ola. But I think that there is enough pride and that it's not so bad, because there were good things that still they remain".

-How the band obtain a recording contract?

"It was at our first public appearance as Los Vidrios Quebrados, in a festival of the Catholic University, in 1965. We played two original songs: “Friend” and “She'll Never Know I'm Blue” , and a song from The Beatles, I don't remember which one. When we finished our performance, Emilio Rojas approached  us. He was a manager of the Odeon label, he wanted to record with us. At our first concert, we played three songs and we had a record contract!".

After “Friend” and “She'll Never Know I'm Blue”  single,  in 1966, they recorded “Fictions” in 1967, their only LP, on RCA Victor label, and Ues Productions. Without falling in a mere copy of their influences. The songs of the record display smooth and fine instrumental arrangements by Héctor Sepúlveda, who also was credited as musical director of the album. This was definately, a ray of hope for the poor Chilean musical environment of those days, with a few exceptions.

-Was there much difference between the sound of the LP, in relation to the live performances?

"Héctor maintains that we were much more rocking than it sounds on the album. And the music of “Fictions” was even more sophisticated than what was usual at that time. There was a enough advanced musicality even compaired to foreign music. If you listen to the harmonies of “Introduction to Life...”, or this song, a kind of Gregorian, “Concert in the A Minor”, there are complex harmonies, it was not a thing you could hear anywhere else. We were very original".

-For that reason the songs of Los Vidrios Quebrados was also played on classic music radio.

"Exactly, like in the Radio Andrés Bello. We had a certain intellectual mood, something of a certain intellectual arrogance. We would point to Oscar Wilde and other intellectuals in the lyrics of the songs, for example".

-Where did the band played live?

"We played on the radio, in the Theater Marconi where it went to us very well, the Theater of Los Sagrados Corazones. In San Ignacio School, in an empty swimming pool was the stage and people danced inside. We played everywhere that someone asked us".

-But it was truth that the band rejected the invitation to play in the Festival of Viña del Mar?

"Yes, it was truth. We had recorded with RCA Victor and they invited us to represent them in the Festival of Viña del Mar. But in that time we thought only leaving Chile and we already  gone away to Europe. We were not excited with the idea to go to Viña del Mar. We also rejected one in the Caupolicán Theater".

-Why?

"By arrogance".

The arrogance and irony of  the groups live concerts were transferred to the screen, when they appeared in TV programs like Juani en Sociedad on Channel 13.

"For example, on the television they performed in lip-synch. And to make fun that TV effect, the drummer played with flowers, or they sang phrases that were not on the audio take. That was part of that arrogance", remembers Eugenio.

"That time we painted our faces half black and half white. Something like Kiss", says Juan Mateo. "Also the lyrics were very important, and in the television programs, while we sang, they subtitled them. The effect of our lyrics was interesting, in spite of to have been in English. What was remarkable was that. I wanted to sing in Spanish but the rest didn't want to. Héctor, won that argument. He was the owner of the band leader".

While  recording  “Fictions” , Los Vidrios Quebrados had a very short time which  was common in those days. In addition to the technical limitations of the recording studios, the group made great part of its instruments. The Garcés brothers worked on it,  listening the Lp, the result is surprising.

"We created the bass guitar, guitars, and amplifiers with furniture and loudspeakers. We did everything, from the neck, to putting the strings, along with the electric connections. Our model was watching photos and on a newspaper we draw the forms. On one guitar I replaced a pick-up with a record player needle. As it read vibrations I put  in the bridge, and tightened it with two screws and I connected it. It gave an extraordinary sound. The needle read the vibrations of the bridge. The vibrations were shorter, but the sound was extremely  acute", indicates Eugene.

"To make the neck of the bass guitar we made a geometric calculation with a ruler". The only external element to the creation of one of the guitars was a Gretsch pick-up, whereas the tambourine was given sound with bottle caps. For the song “As Jesus Wore His Own”, they played with a comb surrounded in cellophane paper, and as O'Brien’s voice was flat, he decided to narrate the lyrics instead of singing.

-The recording techniques were very basic in 1967.

"I don't know if it corresponded  to the technology of the time, or if the label gave us a poor recording. Two tracks, the vocals on one side and all the instruments on the other, and three days for an album, and unusual hours to record. I do not know how is now but fundamentally it was at night".

"I remember that the bass guitar was run directly to the desk",  assures Garcés.

-In spite of the technical problems and the success of La Nueva Ola, the reception of “Fictions” was good.

"The world was ready for change and the music of the Beatles was well-known in Chile, as well as the Rolling Stones. We were in a land already paid. Our originality is rather in having made a quite special and different musical proposal that was very remarkable. Thanks to the musicality of Héctor and Cristián, and thanks to my lyrics. And the constant support of the Garcés family whom always tolerated to us to come and go from his house by hours very unconventional".

The trust in the project was essential for the musical success of the group, even in its short duration. "We believed deeply that what we did was the best thing in Rock and Roll. But we didn't think we were  super stars because we weren't. It  was to know and to think that what you are doing is the plus and novel".

-How was the relation with the other groups? There was contact with Los Mac's, for example.

"I knew Los Mac's and I have great esteem and admiration for them. Also I met, but on other sides, Los Jaivas, but we were not close. Another group was The Apparitions,  Eduardo Gatti played in that band. Later I met Los Blops (also with Gatti), but we were not close".

-You also collaborated with Los Mac's in the Kaleidoscope Men Lp.

"Yes. Fundamentally I made a lyric, a choir and I think that also I participated in singing. I think. I saw my name in an album of theirs".

-The song was called “Dear Friend Bob”.

"Dear Friend Bob. Look! I would like to listen to it. Mac Iver, O'Brien and Morales?"

 -Yes!

"The song was done but they were sounding (boring) like a chior. I did a lyric for them in the studio, and I adapted it. It’s very nice, I'm very proud of it".

After the “Fictions”  recording, Los Vidrios Quebrados went to Europe, but it was a confused situation. Their members dispersed, O'Brien studied sociology in France, in La Sorbonne, and also he went to Mexico and the US.

-Did you went to Europe thinking about the continuity of the band?

"It was an ambiguous situation. Like all the processes of separation, it's always difficult to realize".

-The time that you were in France and the United States, did you continued playing music rock music?

"Well, my wife and I played music in the street and the subway stations (busking), and we were living and eating on that by a quite long time. We sang “La Bamba” or “Mr. Tambourine Man”, in 1968 or 69. Do you remember, Helen? She showed the hat. Thanks to God that we made those things. It is necessary to take advantage of the moment".

-When did you returned to Chile?

"I returned to Chile to participate in the construction of the socialism and the victory of the popular government, in 1971. Later the military coup d'etat led me to teaching in the University and I was imprisoned in the Chile and National Stadiums. I have an interesting life as you can see. And there I was exiled with Emiliana, my new born daughter, to Sweden. A year later we went to the US and there's  already another story".
Juan Mateo was teaching in the University the day of the military coup of 1973. The militars entered to the classroom and imprisioned him.

-When returning to Chile after exile, did you see the members of the group again?

"We have always maintained traditions to see each other. Like old loves. With Héctor we still dreamed about making something new". Juan Mateo does not discard the possibility of play with his old companions of band, but without falling in the repetition. "I think that it is nice to remember the past, but I would interest to make new projects".

By this time (1999) there is a possibility of a reissue of “Fictions”  for the first time in Chile on a remastered Cd,  although already it exists from long time ago in the international collectors markets.

-Do you agree with the international reissues of Los Vidrios Quebrados, although they are pirates?

"Yes. It maintains us alive to see on the Internet someone who sells a LP of Los Vidrios Quebrados by $150 dollars, or when you appear in the play lists of the Radio of the University of New York". O'Brien is not involved in the reissue of their only album. "That is a work for other people, because if the record is sufficiently good, it is going to maintain itself over the years. And I can't be doing propaganda to my songs because it gives me shame. I have other things to do. But I feel very flattered with the recognition".

by Gonzalo Planet

FICTIONS
Have you tried to cross a rainbow when the rain
fills the shunshine with a certain dismay pain?

Did you ever tie the clouds or tried to read
letters without order but with mean?

Have you ever seen a child trying to play
not with foys but wind and rain that make the weather an a stormy day?

Fictions,I wanna make fictions
Fictions,I wanna make fictions

Have you ever cried a little on a street
when a flower kills a poet with it's teeths?

Did you brother ever tell you with his hands
he had made alone a building out of sand?

Have you ever played the piano when the night
looses all the stars she always has when sun anymore shines above?

Fictions, I wanna make fictions
Fictions ,I wanna make fictions
 

Interview with another Chilean band Los Macs

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