Bringing the Desert Into Their Sound: An Interview With Tera Ferna

The local music scene in San Antonio has been on the rise for the last several years, as more and more local bands pop up and events like the Alamo Basement Sessions and Something Good Fest showcase these bands. One such band, Tera Ferna, have been making a name for themselves in the scene as they prep for the release of a new album in December. Tera Ferna and I met at the studio where pianist Richard Castillo works at, as they prepare to practice that night. Right as the last few lessons and ballet classes begin to finish, they give me a tour of the studio and we walk into a practice room to start the interview where we talk about the surreal experience that is Sonic Ranch, the mess of Alamo Vaudeville, and being able to fufill childhood goals.

You guys just released an album, tell me about how that came into being.

Matt: Well we’re about to release a new album, we’re shooting for December, it’s been a year in a making. Last year around, what’s before September? August! Like last year around August, we went to a studio in El Paso called Sonic Ranch. You know about Sonic Ranch? It’s one of the best recording studios in the world. Some of the best albums ever have been recorded at Sonic Ranch and we were lucky enough to have the opportunity to record there. We spent about a week there and we recorded a full-length album. So it’s like I said, it’s been a year in the making and we’re releasing it this December that’s where we’re at. Everything’s done, we’re getting artwork for the album cover right for a matter of fact.

Jolly: Yes! That’s mainly the main thing we’ve been waiting on like it took us a while for us to get it mastered and stuff so the recording and writing of it wasn’t the hard part, it was some of the other stuff that we’re not good at. I mean, this record has been a long time in the making. Sorry, we’re snapchatting right now (acknowledging bassist, Brandon Kent who is turning in a full circle, taking a Snapchat video).

It’s okay.

Matt: One thing we really try to do is stay up with all the social media and stuff.

Richard: But yeah, album artwork then we still need a few photo shoots, you know, collect some more content for the album and then we’re set.

Jolly: Yeah we’re trying to make the release of the vinyl something special, like the CDs are going to be pretty basic because you know, you get a CD you can just stick them in your car you stick it in…. I mean laptops don’t even have CD drives, cars don’t have CD drives anymore. We’re trying to make it something special, where it’s something you’re spending a little extra on.

On the topic of the album, how do you guys go about writing it?

Richard: With writing the album, before we even went to Sonic Ranch we probably had all these songs on the album close to a year, a little under [Matt: so two years in the making] and these songs that are on the album were composed as I guess the final phase of Tera Ferna, the final members that are in it now, right? Nobody had it before any previous projects. It’s fun and it kind of reflects each one of our own personal styles. And to finally hear it back all mixed and mastered its like wow this is what we all came up with, how we work together is really interesting and how it all meshed perfectly. And the album isn’t over super produced, there isn’t any crazy effects. It’s pretty raw, it’s just us playing our instruments.

Brandon: Richard is our only crazy effect.

Jolly: I mean there was a moment where he had the piano open and doing harmonics with hitting his fingers on the strings and then slap. So you will hear what sounds like crazy effects but it’s just us being crazy. Brandon: weird

Matt: For the most part it’s just straight up raw instrumentation. Of course, we recorded and what not. We brought in trumpets and we also some of the production things that we did, we brought it a guy to play trumpet lead and we also brought in a girl named Kendra Wilkerson and she did a duet with me on one of the songs and that’s a really special track, it’s gonna be one of the tracks, just get ready.

Brandon: Yeah that trumpet player kicked some ‘brass.’ [laughs]

Richard: There is also one track on the album that we did that we do not perform live. It’s a little personal

Brandon: Well, I sat there and watched Jolly in the recording booth with a classical acoustic guitar, you know, playing it and we were on the other side listening to it and he was playing it and behind it, you hear [Darth Vader-esque breathing]. [laughs] And everyone said like “Jolly, you need to stop breathing.” So he had to literally hold his breath during the guitar part of that.

Jolly: We went to Sonic Ranch with this song incomplete. We knew there were three phases of it, with Matt acoustic, me on classical, and Matt singing over that and we knew the chords we were going to do at the end, but no one knew what we were doing at the end. We knew it was going to be the full band in the last movement so Junie and Matt, they just jammed those two chords and then after that we all [came together]. While everything else was going on, we were writing our own parts, it came out to be my favorite song. It happened in the last part of our time.

Richard: We were pretty exhausted, going at you know, three to four in the morning.

Jolly: And also ridiculously inspired as well, so.

So, how did you guys get your time at Sonic Ranch?

Matt: Well, we really, again, this has been a long time in the making we had these ideas to do this, when we first got the idea to write some songs for an album we wanted to record it at the best studio possible and you know, a lot of us grew up knowing about Sonic Ranch, I grew up knowing that that was one of the best studios and as a young musician, had a dream to go there and we emailed them

Jolly: That’s the story: we emailed them. We just asked them.

Matt: They had the time and we were like, alright so we’re going. Honestly, our time there was more of a mythical legendary experience you know, that whole week that we were there messed me up.

Jolly: It messed us up for six months after. We were really tired, and you know the burritos and coffee.

Brandon: I miss those mosquitos, man.

Richard: I remember, we were on the road, and it’s in Tornillo, which is like what, three miles south of El Paso. As soon as we get out the car, we see the owner of the studio, Tony, welcoming us and we’re like “Oh my God.” We’re getting attacked by mosquitos as soon as you get out the door, no joke. Well it’s a ranch so you know, it has irrigation and water everywhere, and you know, you’re in the middle of everything.

Brandon: Stock up on OFF, it is your best friend. [laughs]

In a continuation of that, if you could describe the experience in three words, what would it be?

Matt: I think mythical would definitely be one of the words because it has its own myth already, like its own legend behind it. So mythical would be cool. I would say inspiring, I mean, surreal, they are kind of the same. I mean we were playing on some of the best equipment ever and just everyone was so nice and we were just kind of septic

Matt: It was just so cool, and while we were there, there were other bands from all over the world recording there at the same time so it was such a cool experience to eat breakfast next to people from a different country who are a famous band over there and even people here. We were there one time at the same time with Of Montreal. But it was just a cool experience to be that close with other people who are chasing the same thing you’re chasing.

Richard: I think the one word for me would probably be perspective and seeing where we’re going at at that time period, and where we could be like wow. How great would this be to do this year in and year out and be traveling, performing so this put a lot of things in perspective for Tera Ferna in the future. It just made us like “okay when is our next album” and we already have content for another album so it’s only a matter of time.

So how do you think it influenced your sound recording there?

Jolly: Funny thing is is that we’re working on album art with Hilmy productions right now and they were listening to it and they described it as a mirage because you could hear the desert-y rawness of it. Like when you listen to the record, I guarantee you if you imagine a desert, it would make sense. The guitar tone just has this very earthy vibe. The drums, like sand almost sounds like a bad thing, is like dry.

Matt: It’s more like going into a spiritual journey into the desert and then, in the middle of that realization, the snake appears and you’re like “I have to ride the snake and take it to wherever it leads me.”

Jolly: That’s what the tone sounds like.

Brandon: You ride the snake, and the snake takes you.

Richard: Peyote is a hell of a drug. [laughs]

Jolly: Anyway, in one way to sound off of Brandon’s story, my nose was super congested from the air so when I was trying to record the classical guitar part, I nailed it but you could hear my nose sniffling like there is a little tunnel so I literally had to go like [deep breath and mimes guitar playing].

Matt: The mics are so sensitive, you could literally hear a pin drop and it’s a perfect take and you just hear sniffling. We can’t have that on the record.

Jolly: Yeah some creepy guy over your shoulder and just breathes through his nose.

Brandon: We’re recording this guy’s [points to Richard] piano part for the very end of the album and this guy, and just came up with it and it was phenomenal. But he is in there recording it, he does the most perfect take that you couldn’t have possibly done it better. Thank God he nailed it and that’s what we got but he did it and couldn’t have possibly done it better, but there was one of the engineers in the with him and as he’s finishing it, letting the last ring off, the other guy you hear ‘oof I cough’ at the very end of the track and we were like “no! Marco!” [laughs]

Matt: Overall it was an amazing experience.

Brandon: I cough.

Matt: It let us meet so many interesting people who are doing what they love to do, which is make music and make it.

Brandon: Making those connections was really cool too because we still keep in contact with a lot of those people who we met from there and you know, they’re helping us out and we’re trying to help them out. It’s awesome.

Richard: We kind of went of on a tangent just talking about the place brings back memories. We apologize.

So, how did growing up musically affect the sound in your music?

Matt: I grew up playing music in church, my family was a Baptist family. The church-going Baptist family so I grew up in that environment. I’m not a part of that culture anymore but growing up in that really lead me to ultimately want to know more about what the whole existence of, what the meaning of life thing is. You know, God, Devil, all that. So for me, all that influence come out in the writing for sure. I love the subject of dark, light, good, evil, love, hate. I love doing the opposite so growing up in that environment influenced all that for me.

Richard: For me, I started taking piano lessons when I was 10 and after my first lesson, some lightbulb went off in my head, and thought this is exactly what I want to do with the rest of my life and pursue music, classically trained. Then I met Jolly in college and now we were jamming together. There is a long story between that. I just always knew from when I was a kid that music was what I wanted to do and piano was a way that I could communicate my feelings inside. Now, I’m playing with this band, bringing the art of piano hopefully back to music and art in our generation.

Brandon: So I also grew up in a very Christian household, my grandpa was a pastor and as soon as I picked up any music, any instrument in the church, that’s how I met Mr. Charles over here. Playing in the church, I was the 15-year-old little curly headed fro-headed big kid. I was playing music, jamming out and I was listening to a lot of The Beatles, a lot of jazz, a lot of blues, a lot of classic rock. At that age, I was absolutely refused to listen to anything that was passed ’79, everything else is crap. Now I know that isn’t true, there is a lot of good music out there. But I was very classically influenced, there is a lot there.

I think every 15-year-old goes through that phase where they go “oh my God, everything now sucks and no the last great rock band was the Beatles.

Richard: Or Zepplin, or…

Jolly: I feel 15 right now. I guess for me personally my mother tried to get me to play piano because she’s a great pianist and taught me herself and I just sat there at the keyboard crying because this sucks and eventually my dad was like “get the boy a guitar.” Well, my mom was like “well it has to be classical and start off right” so that’s what I did. And the funny thing is, I play classical guitar on this record so that influenced this circle. My parents were nice enough to give me lessons growing up, because if you’re going to do it, do it right. I thank them for that every day, then I hated it, now I’m really grateful I had that. My dad was also very into classic rock, Deep Purple, Led Zepplin, all that stuff and then that was the only rock that made sense to me. So my parents for sure, my guitar teachers, all five of them, God bless them wherever they’re at, those crazy S.O.Bs, so yeah, those are my influences.

Brandon: That’s cool man, my parents never knew what good music was, my dad’s favorite band in high school was the Beastie Boys and I was like “dad, really?”

Matt: My dad loved music in general, like everyone on my dad’s side, they all sang so I grew up with that influence. I don’t know, we grew up listening to stuff from Christian hymn songs to like Black Sabbath.

So on the topic of growing up, did you guys meet…

Brandon: No, it was all just random life events. We were the first ones to meet [Matt and Brandon]. Like I said, I was 15, at the time, he had just turned 21 and that shows you now how much of a time span there was, the age differences was. None of these guys, I didn’t know any of them growing up.

Matt: That’s another crazy thing, normally in a band, it’s a group of friends that comes together, they grew up together, every step of the way, there was somebody else placed there, and it was just the right timing every single time. I started the project solo, and I needed a bass player and we knew each other and invited each other to come jam and it sounded good. We had another lead guitar player who was with us in the beginning, that didn’t work out, we just had a lot of members come in and then flake out. Through this crazy drummer who was trying to fill in the band, he brought in Jolly. That’s how we met Jolly. We jammed together, us three for a whole year and we were about to release our first EP, Eyes of the Sun, in 2012 and the drummer that we had at that time quit and he left to go sell t-shirts for another band on their tour two weeks before our CD release party.

We were like, what do we do, so we got this subdrummer and he was helping us out to play and he had rehearsal spots right across the street and we were practicing one day and that drummer who was subbing for us happened to be in a hip-hop band who jammed with this guy [Richard]. So he came into the rehearsal space one day just to hang out and he heard Tera Ferna playing and you know we were like, dude you should get on the keys and see what you can do. So we jammed this one song we have, this kind of country song, and he added this organ part to it and the rest is history. After that, we were like you’re in the band and you’re never leaving. The chemistry was that good. So it was us four when we played the CD release party, we released the EP, the drummer again tells us “hey, I’m not really interested in being in a band, I was just helping you guys out so we were like ‘oh my God.'” This is after going through like five or six drummers.

Brandon: We’ve been through a lot of drummers. [laugh]

Matt: So finally, we’re going “you know what, I don’t know what to do” and we always build up to this point and fall. Alright, so this guy says he doesn’t want to help us out anymore, Richie, who before Tera Ferna, was a studio musician would get called into random sessions to play in. So a year prior to all tis, he meets our drummer, Junie, and then he decides to call him up one day to jam and he comes over. That was the first time we ever jammed with our drummer and it was an insane chemistry between us five.

Brandon: He [Matt] was late. By the time you had gotten there, we had already gone over three songs and Junie just nailed them all. All of us were just like what in the world is your problem.

Jolly: And his drumkit was on sale on Craigslist and he was about to sell it, he was done. A week later, he decided to get a new one instead.

Matt: That was what, 2013?

Jolly: Yeah, because we released Eyes of the Sun at the end of December 2012 and Junie jammed with us in January 2013.

Matt: So that happened in 2013 and we’ve been together ever since now that is has come full circle to writing all that material from that point on to getting the idea to go to Sonic Ranch to getting over here.

Brandon: That’s so funny, Junie came on and he was just like so good we sort of assumed he was in the band so nothing was ever said and the night of our first show with him as our drummer, he was just like “let me just get this straight, guys, am I in the band or not?” We were all like of course you are! I didn’t even know that was a question.

So now that you have the full circle, what was the most memorable show you guys played as Tera Ferna now?

Matt: Good question, we’ve done a couple memorable shows, whether they may be good or bad memories. We laugh at the bad memories, but we laugh at the good ones too.

Brandon: Bad Rabbits was a fun show.

Matt: Yeah we played with a band named Bad Rabbits, they’re from Boston and they’re really good, we got to hang out with them after the show. We took them to Chachos and they ordered the King Kong nachos and all of their eyes opened really big.

Brandon: They were about to order two.

Jolly: We were all like “what did you order?” and he was like “the King Kong nachos,” and we were like “dude why?” “Then he got the plate and was like ‘what the heck is this?!” [laughs]

Matt: That was a good memory, we played at the Tobin Center, which was “fun” memories.

Brandon: I managed to give myself alcohol poisoning the night before we played at the Tobin Center.

Jolly: And also the whole program was sloppily put together, it wasn’t our bad. It was supposed to be San Antonio’s best of the best. The host, I guess you should call him, the guy who put on the whole show, needed someone to host to bring in the other acts so he found this guy at HEB and was like “are you an actor??” and he was like “no I’m just grocery shopping” the host said “you look like an actor, I need you to be at Alamo Vaudeville. That was the level of professionalism at this show. That affected everything pretty drastically. We did an all acoustic show that was maybe an hour and a half, closer two hours, we talked about the songs and stuff before.

Matt: My most memorable show with Tera Ferna was when I got to fill a lifelong childhood dream of playing here in San Antonio at the Artisan River Theater. Growing up as a kid here in San Antonio, seeing bands, I always wanted to play there. and we played at Maverick Music Fest. We rocked it, you know what, it was a personal goal.

Jolly: My knee was so jacked up too, I had adrenaline going, it was crazy.

Matt: There were moments where the river boats would pass in front and that’s only a moment that can happen in San Antonio. It’s so cool to be a part of that.

Brandon: Do you want to know something? At one of our other shows, some people after that were like “Yeah! We were on a boat that passed by.”

Matt: That’s a San Antonio only thing, just to be a part of that history.

Richard: And I was over here like I’ve never been a band before, yeah I was in that hip-hop group but that never got off the ground and I’m like “I always wanted to play at the White Rabbit” and then my first show ever was at the White Rabbit and I’m like oh, it’s alright.

I feel like it’s changed a lot since it’s the Paper Tiger.

Matt: Yeah, we got to be a part of the last show. They did like a two day, extravaganza festival thing and we were on that. That was a cool part of history.

I feel like a lot of bands who went there were like “I’ll never forget that.”

Brandon: You see, I never grew up seeing shows and I hear all the kids talking about it and I just started playing shows and I was like screw seeing them, I’m just going to go play these venues.

Yeah, I remember dropping off my brother at the metal shows he was obsessed with and now that I’m going and covering it.

Brandon: A memorable show for me was Warped Tour mostly because when I was growing up, I never went to shows and all the little kids at school talking about “Yeah, we’re going to warped tour, this and this, Warped Tour” and they were like “are you going to Warped Tour?” “No, I’m not.” “Why not?” “I figured the first time I’ll go to Warped Tour I’ll be playing there.” First time I went to Warped Tour, we were playing there.

Jolly: It was very hot.

Was it the year with Smash Mouth?

Jolly: I would’ve remembered that, no, we got the metal year. [laugh]

Matt: It was a record hot heat index that year. There were people chilling under an 18-wheeler.

Brandon: It was definitely a metal tour though. And we were definitely the odd band out. When we did our soundcheck and I plugged in, they started turning up my bass and the sound guy goes “Wow, a bass that actually sounds like a bass!”

Richard: I’m on a porta-potty and the lead singer is just like on top.

So, where do you see Tera Ferna in the next maybe 10 years, maybe, five years?

Matt: Hopefully, we’re still making music, the way things are going now and the way we all feel, we really do foresee us making albums, there’s definitely so much more to come from us you know. Tera Ferna to us means “fertile ground” so with that in mind, all five of us with our different styles and what not can always come back together no matter what and it’s always going to be a fresh fertile ground, everything is going to be fresh, we’re always going to be able to grow more and more and more, so the next five to ten years, I want to be already in several world tours.

Brandon: We ain’t going nowhere but up.

Jolly: We’ve only gone up from starting so we don’t plan on stopping. We don’t let ourselves do worse and we’re very aware of what we’re doing and trying to gradually become a better band. But ten years for sure have records to look back on. We will always love music.

Matt: Another thing, to add on to all that, is one thing that I held true to be a personal value but whenever I look at my own musical career, in perspective of life, like in  all of that, I figure if I keep working hard enough at making a name for Tera Ferna or myself, whatever it may be in music, and I’m doing this five years down the road, or ten years down, twenty years down the road, I’m going to look back and say “you know what, I made a career for myself in music because I worked at it every single day. Never giving up, never stopping.” So I always held that mentality. So as long as I can hold that, we’re going to be here for a very, very long time.

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