By alexander laurence
Hecuba is a new band based in Los Angeles. It is an exciting duo composed of
Isabelle Albuquerque and Jon Beasley. They are named after a play by
Euripides. They combine hiphop beats with exotic sounds, and storytelling and theater.
Recently they got to open some shows for Devendra Banhart. Some audiences were
shocked to see Hecuba’s brand of art rock. All the time they see themselves
as a pop group. Some songs have already been on a compilation, like “Peace &
Money” and “Sir” is on Myspace. The new EP is coming out in April 2008 on
Maminal Vinyl. They are a band that should be making some waves this year. Finally
here is a band that is part Bowie and part Nina Simone.
They will be playing a show in LA on March 24th, at Bordello.
AL: I am here talking with Isabelle and Jon from Hecuba. I heard that Jon has
a film background. That you met while making some of these films. Can you
talk about that?
Jon: Yeah. I was making movies and art. At the time I was making a movie for
a gallery in Chicago. When I met Isabelle I was casting that movie. That was
the first project that we worked on. We started in a film way rather than a
AL: What were your films like?
Jon: I made several films. They were art films that I made for art galleries.
They were very short. I was doing art for a long time. The film I did with
Isabelle was about an alien abduction.
AL: Isabelle, did you go to art school too?
Isabelle: No, I was doing a lot of acting and film stuff when I first met
Jon. We were both always making music. When we came together it became the main
AL: What were some of your previous bands like?
Jon: I was in some bands when I was a kid. I was in some hardcore punk bands.
For many years I made music that never saw the light of day. For Isabelle, it
was the same thing. We were working on our own solo projects for a long time.
Isabelle: We did this one band called Aldiss. It was a sci-fi thing. It was
like a movie.
AL: Brian Aldiss was the writer who worked with Stanley Kubrick?
Isabelle: Exactly. He wrote that film Artificial Intelligence.
Jon: We were inspired by him and we named the project after him. It was a
sci-fi pop opera. It was a crazy thing we made.
Isabelle: It was really cool. But I think that we needed a whole orchestra
and a bunch of other things to do it. That was the first thing that we started
Jon: That was the first thing that we decided that was an official project.
Isabelle: It was pretty hilarious but serious too.
AL: What are some of these other things on Myspace? There is Dirty A and then
there is Haz-m.
Isabelle: You found Dirty A? It’s a secret. I don’t know how you found that.
Haz-m is amazing. Haz-m is like an alter ego of Jon’s. He does these shows
with dancers. It’s pretty wild. I have never seen anything like what they do.
AL: You already have a side project?
Jon: Since we started Hecuba we decided to do these others things. Haz-m is
like a hiphop show. There is rapping and music and there is dancing. I work
with this dance group called Hysterica Dance Company (hystericadance.com). We
work with some dancers from that group on these Haz-m shows.
Isabelle: My sister Jasmine is a dancer too.
Jon: I did that originally as a side project. Once I did it to open for
Hecuba a few times.
AL: Did people notice that you were in both bands?
Isabelle: Didn’t you change your hat?
AL: When I think of Hecuba, it’s just not some band presenting some songs. I
think of it more as a theatrical experience.
Isabelle: The live show is a little bit different from the recorded stuff. We
work with some pretty amazing artists. We play with Justin Dicenzo who plays
Koto Harp, Trombone, and Bass, and pretty much everything. We also play with
Eric Layer who is a multi-instrumentalist. When we play with them things get
Jon: That is a huge part of our shows. We don’t really do a regular show. We
do wild shows.
Isabelle: Hopefully they will get wilder.
AL: How was it playing with Devendra Banhart? He has built up this following
over the past five years. You are a new band. People might not have heard of
you. They are going “Who is this?”
Isabelle: It was really cool. People were surprised. It was amazing for us to
do that tour. We are doing something different from Devendra, so every night
we had to win them over.
Jon: Every night we would come out and the audience is “What the fuck is
this?” It was good for us to win them over every night.
AL: Some of those shows were in very large venues. It’s not like you are
playing some small indie venue for fifty people.
Isabelle: We played at the Orpheum Theater. It’s the most beautiful place
ever. We played all these beautiful places every night. What the hell! It was
crazy. We were so excited. People thought we were a little weird.
AL: At the Orpheum there was a riot at the show. Everyone jumped onstage
during Devendra’s show.
Isabelle: Yeah. That was one of my favorite nights ever. I don’t know what
happened. I remember one kid was yelling and then, another kid was yelling. They
called the fire marshal. The whole stage was shaking. I remember Devendra
going “What? We can’t dance?” There were hundreds of kids on the stage. Devendra
was like “Bring It On!” It was so good.
Jon: I thought the floor was going to fall in.
AL: How do you write the songs in the band?
Isabelle: It’s different every time. Jon plays all the instruments on the
recording. I don’t play any instruments. We do write songs together. Sometimes I
will write a song or Jon will write a song, and we will keep to it.
Jon: Even when we do that, we bring in a song, and it changes, and it becomes
something different from what we would do on our own.
AL: You have played as a duo and with others. How do you decide who plays
Isabelle: The band has changed a lot. We have worked with a lot of different
people. It’s been like an ensemble. But for a while now Justin and Eric are
our main guys.
Jon: They are the mainstays. They are incredible musicians. We found two guys
who can do something that other people can’t do. We do tailor the songs to
all of our strengths. We try to do the best live show and the best recordings.
They come out totally different.
Isabelle: The live show has changed too. Up until now we have done it
completely live, but now we are adding some synths and electronics. I am excited to
get into more dance music. We change with every show.
AL: You have always listened to music from the Middle East and Africa. When
did you get into that?
Isabelle: My family is from Tunisia. My great grandmother was an Arabic
singer in the 1920s. That was something that I always listened to around my house.
I always loved that. When Jon and I met, we used to go to the New York
Library. We really got into the world music collection.
Jon: That was a jumping off point. We wanted to make music outside pop music
and Western music. Those made us think about music differently. Those
influences have moved into the background.
Isabelle: In Tunisia, the men and the women were really separated. Each woman
had her own rhythm. When someone played a song, they knew that it was that
certain woman’s rhythm for dancing. There is a lot of dancing.
AL: A lot of that music is different from the western music that is a
standard 4/4 type of rhythms.
Isabelle: We have a friend in band called Lion of Panjshir. They just came
back from Afghanistan. They recorded with all these traditional Afghani
musicians. Those guys had to bury their instruments during the Taliban.
Jon: They are all traditional instruments. One of which is the last person to
play that instrument in the world. We are interested in many different types
Photos: Lauren Dukoff
AL: Do start writing songs with beats or with melodies and lyrics?
Isabelle: We have started out with cats purring before. It’s different every
time. We are beat based. We usually start there.
Jon: I focus on beats and Isabelle focuses on lyrics. That is what we do more
of. We come to each other with ideas in different ways. We have so many
influences that aren’t really musical ones. We are influenced by painters. We have
this background that isn’t so much music.
Isabelle: Sometimes I go on a walk and come back and say “I have this hook.”
Jon will start doing the beat box. That is how it works.
AL: In the art world, there are all these artists who have done music and
performance like Yoko Ono and Robert Rauschenberg.
Isabelle: Kippenberger is our guy! We have a picture of his face that I am
staring at right now. He has a huge bandage on his head.
AL: If you play in art galleries, maybe people will get your music more. But
people who only know conventional bands, might have a hard time with Hecuba.
Isabelle: Our goal is to make pop music. We want to make music that everyone
likes. It doesn’t always come out that way but that is what we are striving
AL: Are you going to work with some slick producer?
Jon: I am trying to be that person myself. If we are making music that
exciting to the ear or makes your feel good? If you can answer “Yes” to both of
those questions then we are on the right track.
AL: How many songs get vetoed?
Isabelle: Maybe 95%.
Jon: We have an 80% cut rate.
AL: Some people look at Devendra Banhart and automatically think he’s
obsessed with the 1960s. But you get to know him and his music, and you find out he
likes all music from all periods.
Isabelle: People talk about all this other stuff like his hair and crap. But
Devendra is an amazing songwriter. He writes great songs. That is what we want
to do. We are not a retro band either.
Jon: We are not working from a negative impulse either. We want to make music
that is new to our ears. We want to make music that is exciting. We want
people to go “What is that? I have never heard that.” That is what we are looking
Isabelle: We have these friends Lucky Dragons. You go to the show and you
don’t know what happened. You just know that your whole body has opened up. That
AL: Some people want to brings this whole history to music. Whereas it’s just
better to leave all that stuff behind and just be open to this new
Jon: Absolutely. This EP we just finished has a techno song, a 1950s doo-wop s
ong. It’s not an exercise in genres. I feel that in music you can jump around
to any style as long as it’s exciting.
Isabelle: When we are making a song, it definitely sounds like Hecuba. It
should stand alone. I understand why people are like that. Music is based on
memory. When you hear something it touches your heart.
AL: Are there any other artists or books that you like?
Jon: I like Pierre Huyghe. I don’t think it’s an influence on the music but
I like him.
Isabelle: I like the book The Story of The Eye by Georges Bataille. I like
Jeff Koons. I like Michael Jackson. I like Mickey Mouse and Walt Disney.
AL: Did you get the 25th anniversary edition of Thriller?
Jon: Yeah. It has all these great vocal takes.
AL: What is going on with Lita Albuquerque? When I was in high school and
college she had shows like every month. What is she up to?
Isabelle: She is doing some wild shit. She just went to the North Pole and
Antarctica. She does these big earthworks. You can see stuff online
(stellaraxis.com). I spent most of my childhood traveling all over the world putting up
AL: What other bands do you like?
Isabelle: We like Lion of Panjshir, Lucky Dragons, Vuk, Santagold, and oldies
like Roberta Flack, Donny Hathoway, and Charles Ives.