El Paso Music Scene

Devices in Shift interview

For this interview with Devices in Shift, we interviewed Matt Maldon (guitar), Jaycee Salinas (guitar, vocals, programming), and Brandon Torres (drums, who came later) over the phone. We interviewed them separately, and edited their answers together later.

EPMS: How do you classify your music?

Matt: Indie/rock/alternative kind of genre... somewhere in there.

EPMS: What was the band named before?

Matt: Kiss Me Dead. That was about 5 or 6 years ago.

EPMS: What did you do in between Kiss Me Dead and Devices in Shift?

Matt: Random stuff. Devices in Shift has been going for three years now.

EPMS: How long have you been in the band?

Jaycee: Since a year or two ago... I guess a year and a half.

Brandon: I just moved to this city. I was born here, but only been here 6 months. I moved back from Brownsville. I've played three months with Devices in Shift.

EPMS: What places have you played in El Paso?

Matt: Probably everywhere, from venues that are long-gone, to venues that are still around. H. O. R. R. (House of Rock and Roll), Hineys, Club 101, Club Xcape... it's a long list... UTEP...

EPMS: How did you come up with the name, Devices in Shift?

Matt: It was absolutely random. We were looking at something, we were thinking about being able to take different ideas, kind of mesh them into one.

Jaycee: The band was named before I joined. It works, though; all of us being devices, shifting, making the music.

Matt: To me, it doesn't have any real meaning, except being able to do something through something else.

EPMS: What percent of the set list is original?

Matt: All of it.

EPMS: Does Devices in Shift have any history as cover band, or have you always been original?

Matt: We've always been original.

EPMS: Who is the primary writer?

Matt: Myself and Jaycee. Most of the time, I start by laying down rhythm. He'll put down a melody. The rest of the band comes in with their observations and comments. After a lot of work, the piece will mature.

EPMS: When you're by yourself, do you every play really different stuff?

Jaycee: At home, absolutely. As far as with the band, I'd like to do some covers, but not any time soon. At home, I play or listen to anything from Spanish rock to random stuff like Expose. I like a lot of music from the early 80s, techno-type stuff. Stuff with crazy-ass beats and melodies.

EPMS: Speaking of Spanish rock, how do you like Alejandra Guzman?

Jaycee: I honestly haven't gotten into her. I really like her voice, though, it has that raspy feel. I've always liked chick singers.

EPMS: What do you listen to in Spanish rock?

Jaycee: Heroes del Silencio, Jaguares Caifanes. They come here a lot. When I met the singer of that band, it was a really hardcore inspiration. They are so very well-respected in Mexico, yet he was so down to earth, it really made me think about things.

EPMS: Who came up with the concept for the album?

Jaycee: That was a collaborative effort, between me and Matt.

Matt: It fell into place after the lyrics finalized. We took the meanings from each one. After we saw how they fit together, we switched tracks around. Ordinarily, the music generates a feeling... The lyrics, from the album, are like a chapter in a book. Maybe you think about growing a tree, for example. I'm thinking about the roots, then the trunk, then the leaves...

Jaycee: At first, we had an album cover done by Tony from Red Letter Day Design, but the more we got into it, the more we saw that it didn't work for us.

We took some pictures of my girlfriend, like she was slitting her wrist. Matt was going through some stuff with somebody, and the way he was talking kind of made me think (the person he was talking about) was crazy. It made me think of lighting candles for this person (in the Mexican tradition), like they definitely had some problems.

EPMS: What does velas, or candles, refer to?

Matt: It has to do with the whole album. On the opening track, this girl says, "Their is something I really need to tell you," while in the background you hear Hitler saying all these things. Throughout the album, the girl is saying, "There's something I need to tell you..." So, obviously something is wrong with this girl, so you think about burning a candle and saying a prayer for her.

Jaycee: When I started taking my pictures, it kind of fit. Most people just look at it (the album cover, featuring a girl's arm, with marks indicating where to slit), think we're death metal.

EPMS: That was my first reaction. After I read the review of your CD, it started to make some more sense, and not just look like violence for its own sake.

Jaycee: I never like explaining what I write. This guy (that did the album review) hit the nail on the head. I thought that was really cool. That review was crazy.

EPMS: What was on the original album cover?

Jaycee: It was something he (Tony) put together, not related to anything. It was yellow, and had a happy, kind of dark feel. There was a little girl with a candle. A rocking chair by itself. It was really cool, but didn't fit the idea.

When he did that, we realized we should put more thought in it. As far as the record goes, when we started recording, we had let our old singer go, and I had to re-write some of the lyrics. Once the other tracks were recorded, I put down the lyrics. The whole thought process worked out really well.

EPMS: Who set up that photo on the sofa that you have on your site?

Jaycee: Chris Chavez, a photographer, who is obviously really talented, who works downtown in some loft. It was taken on a freight elevator.

EPMS: What about the band would surprise your fans?

Matt: I think the people that are our fans come to enjoy the mechanics ... how a melody might allude to another melody.

How the lyrics might be a little bit clever sometimes. We might change rhythms.

EPMS: When you say "A melody might allude to another melody," you mean to another of your melodies. I was thinking about how, a band will mix in part of a well-known song into their song...

Matt: Actually, a song we do live, during the bridge, it slows down, and Jaycee will throw in "Time after Time" (by Cyndi Lauper) for the lyrics.

It's totally dependent on the feeling. Jaycee will use 'Rock you like a Hurricane' (Scorpions) to warm up... he was warming up once, playing the theme to the Mario Brothers.

EPMS: What surprised you about the band?

Jaycee: That they're willing to push harder, willing to change things to better themselves. Most bands just give up.

EPMS: You mean they settle?

Jaycee: Settle? Yeah, they just give up.

EPMS: I know you haven't been in the band long, Brandon, but where do you think the willingness to work hard in the band comes from?

Brandon: I hadn't been with a serious band before. I was in a band before called Black Letter. You go in to practice with Devices in Shift, it's like coming in to work. There are laughs, but we're very serious. Each contributes to create one great product.

EPMS: On your MySpace page, you say about El Paso, "There's enough influence and not enough of anything to drive someone insane." What does that mean?

Matt: You can hear where we're getting ideas from. You can have influences like At the Drive Inn, or 202, but those are only influences; we still mix in other things.

Jaycee: It does make total sense. It's just the way El Paso is, what its like to be a band in El Paso.

EPMS: How does El Paso compare with other cities?

Matt: Folks in other cities, have a more stabilizing situation. More people get into the local music scene. That hinders El Paso. El Paso will see a club opening up, then another closes the next week. I think it all goes back to the types of resources that bands in other cities use.

I hate to use Norman of Lylah as an icon, but he does a great job utilizing resources. Also, bands in LA, San Antonio, use every resource, just like a business will. In El Paso, a band's record looks one way, and if they think about making the web site look the same, they worry too much that they will look like they are selling out. Bands try so hard to look indie, that they forget they need to constantly promote themselves.

EPMS: What would you like to see changed about El Paso?

Jaycee: I would say, a beach. If we had a beach, I would 110% love this place. I already love this place 100%.

Matt: From the bands perspective, the bands should utilize more resources. Myspace.com, venues. Do more networking with other bands, teaming up with them.

From the venues' perspective, maybe they should go back to how it was six or seven years ago. They should request a bio, maybe a demo before they hire a band. I've gone into venues where they had a horrible band playing, and I wonder: Did the venue screen this band, or just book them? If they have a lousy band playing, people aren't going to stick around, and they might not come back.

EPMS: What do you think of The Mars Volta calling themselves an LA band?

Matt: I see both sides. I see, from a personal perspective, they don't want to be tied to the negativity associated with El Paso, that they didn't get any support from El Paso. From the other perspective, I'd like to see them give more recognition to El Paso to help the scene out here.

EPMS: What is your idea of support?

Matt: Just more people being at shows, listening to bands. It is discouraging when a band throws out 1000 flyers for a gig, and only twenty people show up. It's not that easy to win a fan base in El Paso. It's a lot easier to do in other places.

Lets say a new band starts up next week. You record quality tracks. You start playing gigs. How many people check you out, unless they know you because their friends checked you out before? Abinormal has been around, Tension, too. Obviously, it takes time to put the whole package together. Last year, before our tour, we had a couple dates, and got fairly decent response. When we went to California, there were like four nights in a row, where ten people from every show came up to us and said we where the best thing since sliced butter.

EPMS note: They're slicing butter? Wow! I won't be breaking any more knives on Land O' Lakes!

EPMS: Who cracks the whip? Who makes sure everybody stays focused?

Matt: Probably me.

Brandon: I'd have to say Matt.

Jaycee: Actually none of us. I don't think any of us goofs off. When we goof off, it's because we should. I guess as far as keeping things going, it's either me or Matt.

EPMS: In your video, there is some footage of you going through a tunnel. Where was that shot?

Matt: Somewhere in Phoenix... We shot that video the last time we were out on tour. It's two miles after the airport.

Jaycee: From Phoenix, I've always liked that. We're always cruising through that little tunnel. I've always liked going through tunnels like that. Besides, it fits the video.

EPMS: Do you make money off the EPs? There are so many groups with recording contracts..

Matt: The band doesn't make money off the EPs. We pretty much break even, when you consider the money coming in from EPs, shirts, what the venues pay us. We have to turn around and replace broken equipment, buy new equipment, pay all sorts of expenses.

EPMS: So you have to have day jobs?

Matt: We all have day jobs.

EPMS: So how do you get away to go tour?

Matt: Vacation time; Jaycee's quit jobs to be able to go out on tour... making music is a sacrificial process.

EPMS: Tell us about your out-of-town tours:

Matt: We've had two tours to the California area. The San Diego, LA areas. We were working through Tucson.

EPMS: What do you like about some of the places you've been?

Jaycee: I definitely like LA because of the beaches. Phoenix, Seattle, other places, it's pretty much just meeting new people.

EPMS: Do you like being on the road?

Jaycee: Absolutely. If it were up to me, I'd stay out of town. The other members of the band aren't able to do it as much as we should. It's just the coolest to play for people that don't even know you. Here, you're playing mostly just for your friends, who already know you. I've been in bands that break up on returning from tours. I definitely feel it makes or breaks the band.

The time when you're home, you don't spend every hour with the rest of the band until you go out of town. I've heard some bands from around town, that haven't ever gone out of town, and they think they're rock stars. Wait until they go out of town; we'll see.

EPMS: You sound like you're talking about a sports team. Are you into sports?

Jaycee: Absolutely not. It's ironic, though, because I played sports a lot as a kid.

EPMS: How much improvisation do you do on-stage?

Matt: It's based on what's actually going on... some.

EPMS: Do you do more improv than other bands?

Matt: I don't think so.

EPMS: Are there any bands you hang with?

Jaycee: We honestly don't hang out with bands. We like playing with Shawshank, Antigone, Nutty Little Monkeys when they were still around. I don't think many people hang out with other musicians.

EPMS: On your web site, Jaycee, you are listed as vocals, guitars, and programming. What kind of programming do you do?

EPMS note: Hope it's not FORTRAN.

Jaycee: That just means programming beats, sounds, making sure it all makes sense. It sounds hi-tech, but that's it.

EPMS: What is your role in making the video? Are you shooting video, editing...

Jaycee: Pretty much... Most of the shots were taken on tour. There are random shots of local shows, parts were done... like I just shot them for the video... There is a litle cartoon in the middle, something I just drew that came to me randomly. The little cartoon tells a story... the little guy meets the girl... There's another little part where I put the band's name in lighter fluid on the floor and lit it, and it all started mixing together. My favorite part is the last part. That totally gives closure to the video... if you look at the CD, the end of the video matches the CD.

EPMS: What kind of video equipment do you use?

Jaycee: Actually, just a common mini-DV recorder. I use Adobe Premiere, and Vegas Video 4.0 audio/visual editing program, that's pretty much it.

We had the song, and I fit the video fragments on top of it.

We're working on a DVD now, like no other El Paso band has done. Not that I know of, anyway.

EPMS: What musical equipment do you use?

Jaycee: I use a Parker Fly guitar. I was super happy when I got it, I had wanted this for six, seven, eight years. I also have a Gibson SG, which was formerly a very-admired person's guitar... it inspires me to write songs, kind of like if you had Jimi Hendrix's guitar, not that I'm a big Hendrix fan.

EPMS: So, who was the previous owner of your SG?

Jaycee: I'd rather not say. Some other people in El Paso will say, "He's probably just saying that."

EPMS: What kinds of pedals do you use?

Matt: I have a flanger, a phaser, record delay, and a distortion pedal. Those are my favorites.

Jaycee: On my pedal board, I don't know how many. I have a Line 6 digital delay model, distortion pedal, Digitech whammy, an A/B switch to switch between clear and distortion. I like experimenting; it's just fun. You have to know where and when to use your effects. Some get new effects pedals and just use them way too much. You can't make a bunch of noise, and expect it to sound cool.

EPMS: What other equipment do you use?

Matt: I have a Line 6 Spider amp, combo with mississippi blues head both through Roland JC-160 cabinet or Marshall 412.

EPMS: What equipment do you use, Brandon?

Brandon: Yamaha Stage Custom. For cymbals, I use Zildjian Z Customs.

- Charles Hurley