San Antonio native Joe Reyes took up the guitar at age seven, and is one-third of the popular art-rock band Buttercup. He received a Latin Grammy nomination in 2001 for the Sergio Lara and Reyes recording World Jazz, and he won a Grammy for co-producing Freddy Fender’s 2002 La Musica de Baldemar Huerta. I interviewed him via email while Buttercup toured the West Coast.
1. What’s the first piece of music that had an impact on you? When I was 6, I saw the Beatles’ Help! on TV. A few days later, my Aunt Bea was visiting, and took my brother and me to Winn’s to get a little treat, usually toys of some sort. But that day, I saw the soundtrack in a rack of albums, and brought it to her. She looked at me and said, “Are you sure you want this?” To which I replied, “Yes!”
2. Why is popular music obsessed with the theme of romantic love? Great, timeless songs seem to have several things in common, but one of the most important traits, in my opinion, is feeling and emotion, and one of the strongest, if not the strongest feelings that humans experience, is love. To channel that feeling into song form seems quite natural — and maybe they’ll forgive you and take you back.
3. Are you an enchanted person? Romantic would be a better term. To me, music was, and still is, this magic that exists in our world, and when a person’s head, heart, and hands are all working together, it can change a person’s life. Despite the romanticized notions I have about music, I learned from my parents that everything requires hard work and effort. Still, when you get that feeling … yeah, it’s definitely the love of music coming through me, and I guess that could be considered enchantment.
4. Do you produce better music when your heart’s conflicted? Again, a song’s effectiveness as an “emotional delivery system” seems to suggest that a strong emotion would be the jumping-off point for any lyric or music and we as humans tend to dwell on things that we feel bad about, or that scare or upset us. I know of very few people who stop to remark to themselves, “Hey, I’m really happy right now. Awesome,” except maybe Kurt Vonnegut, and so when we are in pain or our heart aches, we reach for pens, paintbrushes, instruments, tape recorders, clay, etc.
5. How do you account for your sunny disposition? That’s a good question. As someone who suffers from depression, the world seems, at times, very hard to traverse. But with a lot of professional help, I’ve come to realize how lucky I’ve been, and how many great things I’ve experienced, despite all the times when despair seemed it would swallow me whole. I still find great solace in music, literature, art, and my friends and family. I really love what I do, and I love sharing it with others, whether as a teacher, performer, writer, or recording engineer. That, to me, is a great gift which I have always been thankful for, and I guess maybe it shows.
6. Is your worldview more David Byrne or David Lynch? The are both incredible artists, but I’d have to say my worldview is more in line with that of David Lynch. There are so many inexplicable things in this world that leave me both simultaneously terrified and thrilled, which to me seems very “Lynchian.” David Byrne is, of course, brilliant, too. Years ago, `Buttercup bandmate` Erik `Sanden` and I watched Stop Making Sense, and it totally influenced the way Buttercup performs.
7. How many times have you been in love? Several, and most of those loves were unrequited. It’s the kind of love that’s perhaps the most powerful simply because of our inability to attain it. It remains apart, and yet part of us, like the moon or the stars; things we gaze at late at night and wonder what it would have been like if things had been different, and of course they then enter our dreams and the art we create.
8. Is imagination and talent something one can develop, or is it a case of “some have it, and some don’t”? I have students who seem to not trust that they can play music. They won’t give themselves a chance to make a sound because they’re worried about not sounding good. Sometimes, with a lot of encouragement, they can sometimes begin to come out of that fearful place, close their eyes, and simply bang on the guitar. Sometimes, something magical happens. The great thing about most art is that, if something fails, no one gets hurt. Although there was that one poor woman in California who was killed by one of Christo’s umbrellas.