Profile: Cesar Inserny of Telephantom
Profile: Cesar Inserny of Telephantom
By Omar Afra
Cesar Inserny, the reclusive singer-songwriter formerly of noted local band the Watermarks, has been playing in Houston for 12 years and has built quite the catalog of well crafted tunes. However, in 2012 the Watermarks played their last show and the Venezuelan-born audio-engineer-soundscape-geek-turned-band-leader took a break from their rock and roll vibe, tackling a new indie-ish, dance project, Telephantom. Telephantom includes former bandmates Nick Dudek, Patricia Lynn, and Jason Petzold. Telephantom will be taking their maiden voyage on stage at Fitzgerald’s on Saturday, January 17th, along with Night Drive and Chandelier. 2706 White Oak Drive, Houston, TX 77007. Doors at 8pm.
How did this new project come to life?
After Jessica (Brand), our bass player, left The Watermarks, we decided to continue as a trio, so we had to change our songwriting to be able to adapt to the change. This resulted in songs that sounded different and felt different. I’ve always thought that The Watermarks were a bit overlooked here, despite all our hard work, so we decided to start from zero, and the search for a new name began. I thought adding another lead singer would consolidate this change, but I had to convince the other guys who didn’t want to bother with another person. The reason is that our experience had been that the 4th person always felt like someone playing someone else’s songs, not a member. I just had to find the right person. I looked everywhere, I needed to find someone who could take us to the next level, someone who was as dedicated, who could sing harmonies, and female. And I couldn’t have found a better person. Paty may not be well known here in Houston, but her musical career is way beyond ours, most local musicians would dream to do what she’s done. But she doesn’t like to talk about it too much, so I’m not going to reveal much. She has everything I wanted and a lot more, to the point where it could be quite humbling working with her. With someone like that, the other guys couldn’t say no. She jumped in after we had written most of the current songs, but she’s become involved in the songwriting process full on. She’s one of us.
What differs with your current songwriting from the Watermarks?
The Watermarks had a very wide range of style, but in average, a lot heavier, a lot dirtier, a lot angrier, we were a rock band. Telephantom is not meant to be an PG version of The Watermarks, but it definitely tastes sweeter, there’s more pop than rock. In The Watermarks we always wanted to make people dance, but the rock took over. These first batch of new songs aren’t really dance music, in the true sense of the word, but they are more synth oriented for sure. I think our set could be considered proper indie, I guess. But you should expect to hear “dancier” music from us in the near future.
Dealing with nuanced soundscapes, how do you finally call a song ‘done’? Do you ever get bogged down in production?
I used to be obsessed about perfection, and I used to spend a lot of time producing our music. It was always enjoyable to me, maybe because I love solving puzzles and producing music can be seen as a puzzle, so I worked my ass off and polished the songs as much as I could. The song I Used To Be Your Rock N’ Roll took me almost a year to finish, that one is kinda my baby. It’s never been frustrating, but it did take a lot of time. This time around, it’s not like that at all. I realized it’s just not worth it, so I’m taking a much more minimal and raw approach. Now the songs don’t include 500 different sounds, but just one or two lead parts or hooks, an stripped down basic synth bass line, and minimal guitar work. The idea is to let the songs talk for themselves, without any tricks, not that there’s anything wrong with that. The songwriting is also affected in the same way, and that has allow us to write music faster than ever before. Before I used to call the songs finished when they sounded perfect (to me), now a song is finished when it sounds right. Once all the elements are recorded, all I have to do is make sure they sound leveled in the mix, in other words, I’m just getting rid of whatever sounds bad, instead of continuously adding new elements like I used to do.
Your vocal range is pretty wide and pronounced yet you seem to put the brakes on it. Is that intentional?
Is it? I don’t know. I’m an accidental singer, and in my opinion, not a very good one. I like how my voice sounds in our songs, and sometimes I manage to sing well onstage, but I think that’s probably one of my weak points. I’m not sure if when you say “put the brakes on it” you are talking about live or or on the recordings, though. I don’t think I’m putting the brakes on the recordings, I’ve never heard any of our songs and think “I could have sounded a little more aggressive here” or “I could have pushed my voiced a little more”. Jim Reid from The Jesus & Mary Chain was who taught me how to sing. Not him personally, but by me singing along all the JAMC albums and then attempting to sound like him when I’m singing. In a live situation, there may be occasions when I could be putting the brakes on my voice, mainly when I can’t hear myself and I think I may be singing off key.
How committed are you to translating studio recordings into precise replications on stage? Or do you find they become their own monster?
It depends on the song. I don’t think our music will ever sound exactly live, but sometimes that’s the idea. However, I don’t think that can be possible in smaller venues and without someone who’s familiar with our music behind the board at the front of house. Other times the songs become their own beast live, and we intentionally choose to let the beast run free, instead of taming it. Such is the case of Shut Down by The Watermarks, where we even sped the song a few BPM to make it even more aggressive, or on Sick City, that became much heavier live than in the recordings.
Writing songs in both Spanish and English, is there a calculated decision per song or does naturally it emanate from the creative process.
The idea of singing in Spanish came from Paty, since she knows a few people down in Mexico in the music business, it may open up a few doors for us down there. We have discussed translating a few of our songs to Spanish, but so far we have only written one song in Spanish, which was written by Paty and myself, and it’s my very first Spanish song, believe it or not. It’s easier to translate from Spanish to English, than the other way around. This is because unlike in Spanish, monosyllables are so abundant in English, so it’s easier to make things fit. We were supposed to translate the Spanish song back to English, but we never got to it, so we’re playing it in Spanish. We’ll work on a proper English version at some point, and we’ll probably keep working in Spanish first when the songs that fit better the market in South America.
When you were 17, what records were most important to you? How about when you were 12?
At 17 I was full on into metal, hair metal, specifically, although I still liked plenty of the heavier stuff. But you have to understand that back then, while in the USA Guns & Roses and Skid Row were topping the charts and were on heavy rotation on MTV, in Venezuela, that was far from mainstream. The preppy popular kids in high school listened to Depeche More, The Cure, and REM, while the outcast who had no friends in school was made fun of for listening to “noise garbage” like Iron Maiden. Having long hair and earring was not cool at all, you were seen as gay (in a derogatory way), a drug addict, not trust worthy, and probably a Satan worshiper. We were a very small minority and we hated anything that the popular kids liked. It was a few years later that I finally was able to appreciate and adore some of the bands I used to hate as a kid. However, I never stopped liking metal, unlike some people, my taste in music doesn’t change, it just gets wider. I can’t remember exactly of all the records I considered important, but I know it was a huge list. On the top of my head, some of them are:
Tesla - The Great Radio Controversy
Skid Row - Skid Row
Def Leppard - Hysteria
Motley Crue - Dr. Feelgood
White Lion - Pride
Cinderella - Long Cold Winter
Guns N’ Roses - Appetite for Destruction and Lies
When I was 12 was when I found “my music”. Prior to that I used to listen to what my parents listened to, some of it. But at 12, I discovered this Spanish band that cursed in their songs, which talked about being the underdogs, being the kids that girls didn’t want, and sometimes about crazy surreal shit, I was sold immediately. They are called Hombres G, and that was all I listened to until the day I went to the music store and decided to buy Maiden’s The Number Of The Beast.
So I guess the albums that were important to me at 12 were:
La Cagastes… Burt Lancaster
Estamos locos… ¿o qué?
Agitar Antes de Usar
All by Hombres G.
And yes, I still love them as much as I loved them back then.
And as you can see… they were huuuuuge!