An Interview with Felix Rodriguez (of Open/Honest)

Under the moniker Open/Honest, Felix Rodriguez makes music which soothes the soul while unafraid to look at troublesome emotions, albeit wordlessly. The first EP to blossom out of the project dropped last month, and it’s the perfect soundtrack for your morning coffee or nightly existential quandaries.

An astoundingly quick turnaround saw Rodriguez get right back to recording, and just over a month later, he’s released Overhang.

Felix & I used to play together in the band Surf Minus Surf. He currently plays bass for Costello & Plain Speak. As stated on the debut EP’s page, he’s “been a backing musician playing bass for nearly a decade. Acting as a hired musician for recording sessions, playing live shows, and composing. Open/Honest is the alias I’ve adopted for my solo project.” With introductions out of the way, the description for Overhang sets a new kind of stage; “Rain falling on a city mid morning. An idea of the future that isn’t grounded in dread. Happiness is an act of bravery. Nostalgia for the ideas which formed our boldest selves.” These fragmentary statements grant glimpses into the musical world of the album: adventurous, expansive and captivating. For the occasion of Overhang‘s release, I decided to write to Felix with a few questions about its inception.

open honest overhang.jpg
Album art by Sarah Warmker

MLP: How did you come up with the concept for the new album, about rainfall from the future?

Felix Rodriguez: There were a number of influences that lent a hand in creating the album. Looking back, I realize now that I wrote the majority of the album over a two week period of constant rainfall. I’m sure that had an influence on the type of music I was making. The concept came fully into being, at least consciously, while writing track seven on the album, ‘Growing Together.’ There is this moment where the piano starts growing more intense in the last section that made it click into place. Playing that part in the moment gave me the sensation of being outside and realizing you are about to be caught in a storm but without any fear. That sensation of being immersed entirely in the unknown.

Is the unknown something you actively seek out when writing music?

Certainly, I explicitly gave myself a rule that nothing is off limits in the creation of this music. This album was written primarily on the keyboard, which I haven’t played in over a decade so from the jump I was approaching the unknown.

That makes sense given the change in sound from your last release to this one – and in such a short period of time! I know you’ve written a lot of solo material over the years but rarely recorded it beyond small snippets… How did your approach to the writing process change once you’d decided to start recording full tracks?

Before diving into this project I primarily wrote songs using a loop pedal and built soundscapes. I still enjoy writing that way but it took me a few months to realize that wasn’t a feasible way for me to build full tracks. Loop pedals are great for introducing ideas piece by piece into a song but that layering structure can make almost “static” music that treads on being repetitive if you aren’t careful.

The writing process for me used to always be melody first and foremost, then find the key of the song, then rhythm. Now it can start with anything. Multiple songs on the record started as drumbeats only. Others began by me sitting in front of my work station and asking “how can I capture ___?”.

Did your approach to writing bass lines change at all? Or was it pretty similar to writing them in the context of a full band?

I’d say my approach on this record was quite different than other music I’ve done in the past. Part of giving myself no rules in making music meant trying out new ways to write parts including using synths as bass.  I think the album is 50/50 live bass versus synths.


I’m guessing from the name Open/Honest that part of eliminating those limitations also meant being true to yourself?

Absolutely. Believe it or not I came up with the idea for Open/Honest about 4 years ago but I didn’t feel like I was ready to be this kind of artist yet. It took quite a few life experiences for me to become open to being honest with the world as an artist as well as with myself as a person.

Gmail suggested “Interesting.” “Cool, I’ll check it out.” or “Very cool!” as automated replies.  Overhang seems to be engaged in conversation with technology and nature through ‘human’ and ‘electronic’ elements musically. How do you feel about the way technology has infiltrated our daily lives, communication & engagement with music (both as musicians and listeners)?

That’s the biggest question isn’t it? I certainly do explore that relationship between nature and technology in Overhang. Over the summer I spent about a month in Oaxaca largely disconnected from my digital life. Being in a culture that has such a close connection to the land and the food and each other really changed me. I’m still learning Spanish and that language barrier made me engage in my surroundings in a much more present and tactile way.

I know that technology in its current state is used has a weapon of control by both nation states as well as corporations. Our communications are owned and copyrighted by private interests who cull our lives for “usable data points” to build “more engaging” advertisements. But at the same time, it has truly democratized access to materials, platforms, and information that was extremely limited previously.

All cards on the table, I wouldn’t be able to make the music I do without open source learning materials, digital audio workstations, and virtual instruments. I used to be a bit of a purist about “real music making” but I remember Cedric Bixler-Zavala saying “we have the technology to sound more than human” and I have taken that to heart when approaching music creation.

In writing the concept of the album I came up with “An idea of the future that isn’t grounded in dread” which I feel can be seen as learning to embrace both our closeness to nature and the freedom that technology can give us.

And how did you decide on the title Overhang?

An overhang is something that can be used as a shelter from below or a viewing point from above. It can be both safety from a deluge and a way to reach beyond our natural limitations depending on what is needed.

What (if anything) were you listening to while working on the album?

This is a far from comprehensive list but off the top of my head:
Steve Reich – “Music for 18 musicians”
Iceage – “Beyondless”
Jamie Isaac –  (4:30) Idler
Willie Colon – Lo Mato
Khruangbin – The Universe Smiles Upon You
Wes Montegomery – Music For Lovers
Bill Evans – Days of Wine and Roses
Alice Coltrane – Journey in Satchidananda

What’s next for Open/Honest?

Maybe I’ll learn to use a [guitar] pick? Haha.

 

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