Spotlights are a calving glacier in the world of music. Their second full length album, Seismic, is a blistering, post-rock, wall of noise that punches you in the gut as much as it adds layers of sonic beauty to the landscape. In truth, it’s in my top 5 for 2017 and only gets better with each listen. Fresh off a tour with The Melvins, Slickster was afforded the opportunity to speak with guitarist and lead singer, Mario Quintero to discuss the pros of being in a band with your spouse – the equally talented Sarah Quintero, the negatives of owning your own studio, and why many metal bands in the 21st century cite The Cure as a major influence.
First off, you guys are a married couple performing in a band together, which is rad. How did you guys form Spotlights?
Mario Quintero – “Sarah and I met through music, I was recording her band years and years ago in San Diego at a studio I owned down there and… we were friends for years, and eventually ended up dating. And we played in a band called Sleep Lady for about 4 years, which started happening right around 2009.
“Right before that happened Sarah and I had the idea to write and record some music, and we had recorded a song but then never did anything with it. We did put it on a compilation that I put out at the studio. Sleep Lady kind of took over and we put that song on the backburner to focus on Sleep Lady which was doing really well. We really liked the band.
“Eventually we decided to move to Brooklyn, New York and Sleep Lady parted ways, didn’t really breakl up, but the other couple in the band had a kid and moved back to Chicago. Sarah and I were like… eventually we’ll get back together. So we moved to Brooklyn and focused on what ended up being Spotlights.From there we started writing and recording stuff, and little by little got to where we are now.”
Does the style of music you guys play help with relationship issues?
Mario Quintero – “It’s funny… we don’t really fight much, but are definitely better as a couple when we are on tour or when we are working on music in general. We’re both doing exactly what we like to do. Especially on tour when you’re playing every night you get that excitement every night. We work really well together when it comes to music. I think its a helper in our relationship.. For sure.
“We enjoy the whole aspect of touring and we each have our strengths in different departments. Plus, we don’t have to leave one person at home. Which is what I think puts a strain on musicians and relationships.”
Where are you guys originally from, it seems like you found some footing in Brooklyn?
Mario Quintero – “I grew up in Miami and Sarah grew up in Chicago. We actually met in San Diego. I lived there for about 10 years and Sarah moved there right before we met and stayed there for about 7 years.
“We decided on moving to Brooklyn out of nowhere, we needed a change. There is only so much you can do in San Diego. I had sold my studio and didn’t have the business there anymore. We didn’t have anything holding us back, so we decided to go to New York. We’ve been in Brooklyn for about 4 years now.”
Do you ever entertain the idea of going back to owning a studio?
Mario Quintero – “Definitely working, even since then I still kept working, and I still mix records and stuff like that. Probably not owning a studio, cause you really have to put everything into that. I loved it, but it was really stressful, and just a lot of work.
“Especially working there,and then playing in a band, it’s just a little too much. But I do love recording. I still work with bands and mix records. I love mixing records. I’ve really haven’t done too much tracking other than our own stuff. The studio business can be a lot harder than being in a band I would say. You really have to hustle.”
How was the tour with the Melvins? You got to jump up on stage with them and perform the last two songs.
Mario Quintero – “We started doing that a little before halfway on tour, and we did that at least 40 times with them. Everything about the tour was great. Luckily there were no snags, no issues, but The Melvins are such a great band, and such good people and good…. I don’t know if mentors is the right word, but it’s inspiring to see how they do things and how they work. Especially tour wise. Those guys are just veterans.
“They were not only welcoming and super-nice, but seeing how they do it, and their process was awesome as well.”
Mario Quintero – “It’s pretty planned out ahead of time. Usually I do most of the initial songwriting. And I’ll end up recording a guitar part and adding a little sequence drum part on the computer. I’ll show it to Sarah and she and i will add, take away, and arrange stuff around until we are happy with it.
Then we usually demo everything as good as we can until it sounds like what we would want it to sound like ona record. That is where we are even before we play it in a room. We like to have it said and done before sitting in a room being loud. So that way when we are in a room being loud it’s just a matter of tonal tweaks.
“That works for us because it takes away a lot of back and forth, sitting in a room, loud amplifiers. That works for some bands. I’ve been in a lot of bands where you start playing and it breeds arguments. People start butting heads, everyone wants to be heard, and have their own ideas in there. It always takes a little longer than what we’ve been able to do with this.”
When I saw you live, you obviously play with a drum machine as there was no drummer, you look like Geddy Lee playing 7 different things at one time.
“Sometimes it’s like that, we’ve played with a drummer. But even when we play with a drummer, I still trigger all the synths and the atmospheric stuff with my pedal board. I’ve gotten pretty used to it. Our drummer Chris couldn’t do the whole tour so we just decided to do the rest as a two piece.
“I basically added the recorded drums from the record and chopped them up into parts. I was triggering all that, along with the synths that I usually would trigger from my pedal board. I used Ableton to do all that. I added the drums like synthesizers along with the other parts I would be triggering normally. It ended up working out pretty well eventually.”
Spotlights released a previous record called Tidals a few years back, how do think that Seismic is different than the previous recording?
Mario Quintero – “I think it’s definitely more expansive and we were able to hit more of the aspects that we can play as Spotlights. I feel like we highlighted a little more of our influences growing up. More of a post-hardcore sound, we got to explore different tones which we really wanted to do. Tidals had a different sounds, which was good and I liked it, but we took a little more time with this one, and wrote more songs to move through it as an album.
“But also, some of the songs were written while Tidals was being written. So some of those were songs we were still working out or finding the right place for them. Little by little we started putting stuff together to see what would make a good album. And that set the theme for it and continued writing. Mostly the record feels more dynamic than Tidals did.”
What major influences drove you to make music, what did you guys grow up listening too?
Mario Quintero – “I grew up listened to a lot of progressive stuff like The Cure, Depeche Mode, The Smiths, which is one of my favorite bands where they will have a really poppy song with morbid lyrics. A contrast that I don’t think a lot of people realize is happening.
“Right alongside that stuff I was listening to a lot of hardcore like Bad Brains, Fugazi, Minor Threat and stuff like that, which developed more into bands like Helmet, Quicksand, Jawbox.
“The Melvins are actually one of Sarah’s all time favorite bands, who she has been listening to since she was a kid so that tour for her was on a whole other level. Failure, Hum, those bands are where she came from.
“The Cure are one of those bands that I think have influenced everybody even if they don’t know it. A lot of the songs that weren’t singles or hits were really dark, weird, and the songwriting is not conventional at all. They’ll have an intro that will go for 10 minutes.”
Was there a moment when you were growing up when you decided that you were going to be a full-time musician?
Mario Quintero – “As soon as I started playing guitar when I was really young – I think I started when I was 11. It was something that felt so normal. I always loved music growing up, but the idea of being up onstage and playing with other people was something that I really wanted to do.
“As soon as I started playing I immediately loved it. I remember when I was 13 or 14 and my mom was giving me shit about it, and I told her that that was what I wanted to do. I wanted to play music. It was something that I never stopped doing. It’s been the kind of thing that I just always have to do as a hobby.
“If it worked out great, if it didn’t it didn’t. We’ve been pretty lucky with Spotlights to have a little bit of success. You have to really love it, cause if you don’t than it won’t work out. People react to the genuine side of things.”
What’s next for Spotlights?
“We’re definitely touring, that is really where our focus is right now. Tour as much as possible right now. We’re going out again in December with a band called Hundredth. We have a few other things that are already in the works, but we should be on the road for the rest of this year and all of next year, hopefully.
“We also have a lot of music that we are working on which we have a tendency to have too much music to where we have to slow ourselves down. But I think we’ll end up putting something out, even if it’s an EP.”