Oso Leone are in no rush. In fact, you sense that the Mallorcan trio has achieved an almost transcendent level of patience. In some respects, that is both their blessing and their curse. To hear Xavier Marin talk about their newest album Gallery Love is to understand that their music is often at the mercy of forces beyond their control, and occasionally, their comprehension. The record is a meditation on the space that created it, a sparse contemplation built with cavernous vocal harmonies, rich Balearic percussion and a sense for the inherent musicality of island life. For those that know, Oso Leone offers real, lasting sanctuary. Ahead of their long-awaited Berlin debut, we caught up with Xavier Marin to find out about the band’s visual and artistic backdrop, the devoted island retreat in which the album was born, and the reality of taking an intimate and visceral album to the stage.
Tell me about the band, what makes Oso Leone?
I guess we started as a kind of folk project, and back then I had been playing in punk and hardcore bands, the sort of thing you do as a teenager, but when I moved to Barcelona to study art it really had an effect of me and I stopped making music. I was still playing a lot of classical guitar and making songs but not really focusing on music, I was focusing on art production and drawing and sculpting, and a lot of it came out of that. In that sense, Oso Leone comes from a very visual background.
How does art inform your music?
In the beginning, I used to separate the disciplines, but when we started composing our second album, Mokragora, it was like speaking two languages, and by mixing them, you start to find different methods for making music. It always comes from a first image; I approach that image, and I try to crystallise it into music.
Is that still the case? Your new album, Gallery Love, feels different to the first two.
It has more personal feelings, I guess. Gallery Love is some kind of labyrinth, and you have to walk through it like a house of mirrors, love appears in some way or another. The title can have different lectures, a physical place or love as an exposed thing, an object in a showcase, something inaccessible. But also the whole process had a certain romance to it. We built a studio in an old house in a village in la Serra de Tramuntana in Mallorca, and we lived there for two years recording the album. It was a massive change in how we were living because we were sharing a space and that experience of life had an enormous impact on the music that we were making. Every little thing we did was inside that album, every ritual of going to take water from a spring on the mountain. It was very real, but dreamy.
You can lose track of your reality like that, and it was hard to understand if we were really on this plane, or existing in-between places. So many lyrics were born out of sleepy situations, and ideas came from a very confused state of mind. It was pretty crazy, but beautiful. We were doing a lot of sessions and just trying to make a collage of our collective feelings.
For such an intense process, it’s remarkable that your music can inhabit such sparse, minimalistic spaces.
It’s like arte povera. We feel connected with folk, and I mean the basic concept of folk, as a conversation with an instrument and very few other elements. We like to have limitations in that sense because we always find the best sound with less, but sometimes it is tough.
You could work on a song for years, and eventually, you understand that it is never going to come out. It is as if the weather decides, and you have to be okay with that. Sometimes I feel that as musicians, we are just tools to express connections to internal concepts and I think you could arrive at that connection in many different ways. It could be music; it could be meditation.
We just try to be open to potential energies, wherever those energies might come from. Honestly, I have no idea how to describe it. It’s very, very magical, and it’s still an enigma, but once we start talking the same language playing together, it’s very peaceful and gratifying.
I feel that, conversely, physical space has a significant impact on your ability to make this placeless, dreamy music.
The studio, for example, was an old cork factory in the beginning, and it belonged to Sam Herman, who was a British painter living in Mallorca. He built a studio for painting there, but when we got to it, the place was kind of ruined. Still, there were a lot of open spaces and a lot of big stone walls. It was very powerful. It was the strangest place that I ever lived, and I think lots of spirits were living there too.
Is there anything on Gallery Love that you feel comes directly from that space?
It gave us a lot of space for contemplation. You could spend hours just being outside, listening to the birds and the small river that was close to the house, it was really pretty idyllic. There are also a lot of field recordings on the album, from the house. At some point, I started to think that the house was just… using us in some way, maybe as a way of expressing itself.
The house was big, but we didn’t have much space for rest, and when we finished working at night we would put the couch on the floor, and we would try to sleep. We couldn’t really rest during the day either and after a while you started to feel that time was passing in a different way there. It was pretty weird. You can hear that in the album I think, it was as if we were on a different plane somehow, I don’t know.
Reverb is a predominant feature in your music. Is that also a reflection on space?
Actually, it is more about nature. We are living on an island, and we are from an island, and the reverb sound is an aquatic thing, it is like the sound in a cave by the sea. It is something that we can experience in our surroundings every day. When I’m there, I’m more connected with nature, and the sounds are really connected with that too. Nature is an inevitable influence for us, and all the music we listen to also has this kind of atmosphere.
A lot of people would consider Oso Leone to be “headphone music”. You produce the kind of atmospheres that you want to immerse yourself in to enter a different headspace. How does that translate itself to a live show?
There are a lot of different ways to listen to music. You can have different experiences when you hear the piece in different situations; maybe you are with people, perhaps you’re alone. You know, if you put our album on a big sound system at a loud level, it is a totally different experience to hearing it on headphones.
With the live show, it’s very different. It’s about dynamics. You can build tension or you can bring down as you need. We have a fairly specific set up that we have created for live shows where we have the control to expand, shorten, or mix the songs. It’s kind of like a big mixtape that we can manipulate in a very plastic way.
Does playing live change your relationship with your music?
It’s a new feeling for sure. Usually, we like to play new songs and songs that we are just developing. Obviously, right now, we are playing a lot of Gallery Love songs, and a lot of new pieces that aren’t quite finished. The live shows actually help a lot because we can take more risks and the audience’s energy helps us to understand its best form in a live situation.
Oso Leone | Gretchen, Kreuzberg. Dec 11, 21:00.