When we’d last spoken, Henry D’Arthenay, the leader of Venezuelan rock group La Vida Boheme, was shut inside his Caracas home, communicating with his band mates via Skype. The group’s last album, Será, from 2013, was what the songwriter and musician then feverishly described as the “soundtrack to an apocalypse;” a concept album inspired by the political and social turmoil in Venezuela, whose eviscerating songs of protest were grasped like torches in the dark by the country’s dispirited youth.
“It was a moment when we were in a downward spiral inside our heads,” remembers D’Arthenay. “Será left off in a very dark place. Now the windows are open and we can see.” D’Arthenay’s current view is through the tall windows of his new home in Mexico City, which, as revealed during a recent Skype interview, let in plenty of light.
The band members have just finished mixing their new album, titled La Lucha, which D’Arthenay describes as more “naturalistic” and sensorial than Será, or the band’s breakthrough album, Nuestra, which was released in the United States in 2011.
“Nuestra was about showing our music to the world,” the lead singer says; something that happened after the then-unknowns sent a blind email to Nacional Records CEO Tomas Cookman in Los Angeles. (The album earned them a Latin Grammy and Grammy nomination; Será won a Latin Grammy for Best Rock Album.) “Será was very cerebral… [now] I feel for the first time that the music really sounds like us.”
He describes La Lucha as being “about feeling.” It incorporates field recordings he captured on the band’s travels: “the New York subway, the sea somewhere in Spain, birds… accidental recordings; things we recorded because we were somewhere playing music.” Although he describes the new record as “more organic,” he also alludes to electronic landscapes, distortion and “traditional and non-traditional instruments.”
D’Arthenay, Rafael Perez, Daniel De Sousa and Sebastian Ayala, who formed the band ten years ago as teenagers, have been in Mexico City on and off, since 2014, but put down roots in the city last spring.
“Mexico has been healing for us,” D’Arthenay continues, acknowledging that the daily stress in Caracas, and more typical band burnout had both taken a toll. “We’d been playing together for a long time, we were beginning to have arguments. We realized that we don’t have anything else. We have no one else. There’s no way back, it’s just the four of us. In Venezuela, things got worse, a lot worse. Sometimes you think things are bad, but you are not even close to how bad they can get.”
D’Arthenay continues to express support for those who oppose Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro through social media.
“It was a very tough decision to leave Venezuela, [but] we wouldn’t have been able to carry on with the band – and I would not personally been able to carry on as an artist if we had stayed,” D’Arthenay relates. “We didn’t even know if coming here to Mexico we would find work to pay our rent. It’s not like in Venezuela, where we are a big band. When we moved here, we played a lot, but when we started very few people knew who we were.” (But they are paying the rent: Ram trucks is using La Vida Boheme’s song “La Bestia” as the theme for a new ad campaign this fall.)
In Mexico City, the band built a home studio which D’Arthenay says has been at the center of the foursome’s catharsis. “We’re playing live in our living room just like when we were kids,” he says. “Just the four of us, with no pressure, making up songs a playing and playing and playing.”
La Lucha is due out in early 2017 on Nacional Records.