By: Roxanne Zech
The perfect song for your morning commute. A track that flawlessly matches your running tempo. An anthem for Friday beers at 5pm. Audio therapy for the drive home from a weekend at your parents. We’re all in search of music libraries that function as soundtracks to our daily lives. Carlos Ramirez, who goes by the moniker Tocaio (formerly known as T.a.p.e.s) on stage, is filling the void with soundscapes ideal for driving, dancing, and de-stressing. Tocaio is that bath you really needed. After a little over a year on the local radar, Tocaio is undergoing some major transformations as Ramirez makes the leap from college graduate to full time musician.
“This “real world” isn’t a real world at all. You just finish one thing and you do another thing. The term real world just comes with a lot baggage,” Ramirez says. “This is totally the time where we should be taking risks because what’s the worst thing that’s going to happen?”
I sat down with him over a couple o’ iced coffees to discuss hangovers, Austin music, Pink Floyd, and Tocaio’s upcoming album release.
SMEAR: How did T.a.p.e.s start?
Carlos Ramirez: School was stressful and that was my thing to offset the stress – just making chill electronic music. It was just kind of for me. But there was a Local Live show on February 22 on my birthday that I was supposed to play with another group. That group wasn’t doing anything anymore so I was like ‘oh my god, I can’t fail Local Live.’ This was a big deal, it’s kind of like a coming of age type thing. Every band plays Local Live. So I was like ‘oh, crap, I need to do something.’ I showed this collection of songs, I think it was 6 or 7 songs to my friend Serg and I was like ‘hey, do you want to play guitar on this? Just like improv?’ The night before, I got super drunk, it was my 21 birthday. Puked all night. Woke up. Went to Local Live and we did the first T.a.p.e.s show ever on TV which is really random.
S: Woke up? Local Live is at 10 o’clock at night…
CR: Yeah. I woke up at like 6. We took all the gear and went to Hole in the Wall to drink a beer. I’m not sure who saw that live show but Serg and I thought it would be a good idea to start playing shows around town again, no pressure. For the first time we were making music where we were having fun. I think that was the key to where we are now. It’s kind of just maintained that original concept of pure collaboration. We started playing these shows and people started gravitating toward the music a lot. We were like ‘okay, I guess we’ve got to make a record because people seem to like it.’
S: I’ve heard recently from some local bands that Austin’s music scene is totally unlike any other but there’s also this pressure that comes with the saturation of bands here. I’ve heard everything from “it’s a lot harder because there’s so many other local bands” to “we draw a good crowd and now have to be careful about how many shows we play to prevent show fatigue” because then people are like “oh I can see them anytime.”
CR: Yeah and then you don’t have a crowd at all.
S: Have you experienced any of that?
CR: The Austin music scene is really unique in the sense that you have a lot of bands that are willing play shows together. It’s kind of weird being in an electronic/band fusion because we don’t really play music like a lot of artists here and I think that kind of helps us out. We play shows with all these bands and we’re good friends with them but we’re not trying to cross like the same path as them. You can just start seeing bands kind of move up and everybody’s kind of moving up at a similar pace and I think it’s really cool because I’ve never lived in a city where bands come together in this way.
S: Okay. Let’s talk about the name change.
CR: So it goes back to the whole ‘T.a.p.e.s was never supposed to be like a real thing.’ When we were making this band we were like ‘alright, fuck it, we’re gonna call it Tapes.’ It just had a really cool ring to it. We’ve always pushed all of our music and distributed it on cassette tapes and we record it on reel to reel tape and I’ve just always been around tapes for some reason. But the more we started doing this the more our paths would cross with other bands named Tapes already.
We put our music on Spotify and we got merged with some dubstep artist named Tapes so we were like ‘we need to put dots in the middle of [the letters].’ And then we played a SXSW show and SXSW contacted us and was like, ‘hey you’re not supposed to be playing unofficial shows.’ And we were like no dude, we’re a small local band. Apparently there’s another guy who flew into play the real festival whose name was Tapes and I think that’s when it kind of hit full circle. Like oh, dude this is hitting too close to home now. We’ve got to change the name just so people can find us easier.
But the name Tocaio is a Mexican word for –there’s no English word for this, which is really cool, but it’s when someone has the same name as someone else and that’s kind of like exactly what happened to us.
S: So how does Tocaio and the works of T.a.p.e.s previously relate to your other creative projects that you’re doing?
CR: Well I think the whole reason T.a.p.e.s kind of started and the reason for the genre being instrumental was that I’m a filmmaker. I think seeing things in a visual manner taught me to listen for sound like a soundscape experience. When I make music I want people to close their eyes and see themselves in a specific space. It’s going to be different for everyone but I also think that’s really beautiful and unique. It’s like their own experience that they’re having with this music. So that’s how it kind of ties into my other creative outlets and projects. I’m always around cameras, I’m always taking pictures and the music is very reflective of that.
S: I’ve never heard an artist describe their work like a soundscape in the way that you just did in the sense that it’s an experience. I think that so many times that’s kind of lost.
CR: Yeah I think that it’s not necessarily a rebellion or backlash, but just kind of my own commentary on society and what popular music is doing right now. You really strip down the music to bare bones and it’s not about the music necessarily anymore. This is no lyrics. You just have to focus your attention on what the music is doing internally and music doesn’t force you to think that way anymore. I try to make the songs kind of breathe and flow from track to track so you have to listen to it as an entire thing. That’s something that’s lost with our generation with Spotify and Soundcloud. You can pick any song and it’s very fast. Things are so much faster now. One of the goals of this project is just to force people to tune in and just listen.
S: So let’s talk about the new album. Something’s coming out July 4th?
CR: We’re going to try to put out a single July 4th which actually now is going to be a little bit extended. That single’s called “Bonfire”. But we’re putting that out and then we want to do one or two more singles. We want the record to come out sometime in September or October, hopefully. We’re really excited because this guy Chris Koltay, he’s an engineer based out of Detroit, Michigan. He’s going to mix and master the whole album and he’s mixed and mastered records for Atlas Sound, Shigeto, Kurt Vile, stuff like that. So we’re really excited he’s going to be touching our stuff. That’s why it’s kind of taking a little longer than expected. We want to make sure everything is perfect before we send it to him.
S: Who are some artists that influence you? It doesn’t have to be music – it can be whatever medium you want.
CR: Right now I’m listening a lot to Shigeto and Evenings. They’re fundamentally electronic artists and they’ve been influencing me a lot the past year. But one artist that’s been super constant since I was 6 or 7 is Pink Floyd, and specifically “Dark Side of the Moon,” as cliche as that is. People say that’s one of the most famous records of all time, but that record has inspired me to do a lot of things electronically, and just album-wise making songs bleed into each other. “Dark Side of the Moon” [has] a lot of commentary on the social aspects of life aside from just the music.
They talk about things that people go through on a day-to-day basis and it’s just awesome. It’s such a hard hitting record. I’ve had so many first experiences with that record specifically. You can have an art form but it’s not necessarily just about the music. You can question things and push boundaries within music and you can use music as a medium to channel other energies. I think that’s really important.
S: It makes me think because you said you made your album as a very purposeful package in the sense that you should listen to it all the way through. That used to be part of it – when artists made albums there was a reason they put songs in that order. Most of the time it’ll tell a story or there’s a lot of purpose to it. Do you think that in the world of shuffle and Spotify and instant songs do you think artists still do that as much?
CR: I think there’s still a lot of bands that still do that but they cater to the people who are listening to vinyl. It’s being lost more and more and it’s harder to find, but there are still bands that are doing that. I think bands like that are influenced by the past and it’s cool. Bands like that put their stuff on vinyl, they put their stuff on cassette tape with that intention in mind like ‘hey, you need to sit down and listen to this and have an experience.’ I hope it doesn’t ever go away because it’s such a different way to listen to music.
S: So do you have any SMEAR Exclusive material for us?
CR: Yeah! This record is called “Pointillism” and during the process of this record a lot of different things happened to me that kind of shifted my perception in a different way. The reason for the name is because pointillism is a style of art where you use dots and I think life events happen in that same way. An event is self enclosing, and when you’re going through an event it’s hard to see why that’s happening. But through what’s happened in the last year, I have this belief that things don’t necessarily happen for a reason but you can put a reason on why things are happening. You can only see that reason when you’re looking back on things so it’s kind of like you’re zooming out and seeing the picture as a whole. It was a very cool coming to light that I had during the making of this album.
~Catch Tocaio this Friday July 1st at Spiderhouse Ballroom~