Dr. Vena: Chile Rock

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Videos by American Songwriter

jc y mati

For any live music enthusiast, the scene is not unfamiliar: Friday night, packed floor, and the kind of sweaty intensity that only stage lamps and a drunken crowd’s catcalls could produce. Showcased here is the type of locally-celebrated talent who nearly wore their fingers off to get out of the studio and into this bar for such an occasion. The type whose music isn’t on the radio, but in the CD players of 200 of their closest friends; the kind who can’t cross the room for an after-show drink without being mobbed, but who still have to get up on Monday morning and go to work. Could be an excerpt from any number of would-be-artists’ monologues wistfully recounting the early days, but as it goes for this particular pack of rock-heavy, guitar-laden musicians, much of their devoted crowd is chain-smoking indoors and ordering liquor most native English speakers wouldn’t recognize. Why? Because despite an overwhelming sense of “every gig” embodiment, there is one significant difference.

This is Chile. And this “pack,” Juan Carlos Silva, Matias Redard, Francisco Campbell, and Felipe Claps, is Dr. Vena: the English-speaking, self-proclaimed ¨bourbon rock¨ band from Santiago. And you probably haven’t heard of them. So when a former AS freelancer finds herself at the end of the globe one smoggy night, shoulder-wedged stage front at a Dr. Vena show and appreciating their modern interpretation of Sound Garden-esque musicianship circa ‘91, it seems a waste of uncanny improbability to not give such an event further review. I sat down with vocalist and rhythm guitarist Juan Carlos “JC” Silva to discuss why Dr. Vena is worth a listen.

So let’s start with this. Suppose I hadn’t been told that the gig I saw you guys play took place in Chile. I would have ignorantly assumed it was in any given bar, in any given state in the U.S. What do you think when you hear that?

Actually, I feel flattered because it means we’re doing something right. If you consider what live musicians do in the States–where the industry is extremely developed in all aspects–to what Dr. Vena does in Chile–where the music scene is nonexistent and the industry is the antithesis of professional. It means that a band can survive with little or no support from the local media, which, for me, is essentially what rock and roll is all about: struggling, getting up and playing live, sticking it to the man and saying: “I don’t give a f*** what you think, we’re gonna do this anyway.”

How much of an impact has being from Chile had on the production of your English music?

A very significant impact, because we’ve had absolutely no media support whatsoever. But I’d also add that producing English music comes with the perk of immediately standing out from the rest of the bands here, most of which sound alike apart from a few exceptions. There are other bands in Chile that have lyrics in English and we completely respect them. In a sense, it’s comforting to know we’re not the only ones fighting against the grain. [It] makes us work harder to achieve what we believe in, regardless of what the Chilean “mainstream” dictates.

Tell me about the context from which your music/album have emerged. Supportive/unsupportive/non-existent, etc….

Very unsupportive, though not completely non-existent. There are a couple of bands that have pulled the English thing off, mainly because they got attention abroad, which immediately turned them into a novelty in Chile…

Do you think being where you guys are from has the potential to be a distinction that works in your favor?

Very much so. Our approach to music, even though it may sound familiar, is unique given our situation and background–not only because of what we write about, but how we write about it. It’s like there’s a “nothing to lose” attitude we’ve had to adopt and in some aspects, that intensifies the realness of our music. We are not a “produced” band, we weren’t “made” by anyone. We’re four guys that love music and know each other because of music… we’re not a group started out of friendship, but rather musicians that became friends because of the music. It seems that doesn’t happen very often with bands, though I may be wrong.

I want to steer clear of the word “familiar” because it makes it sound generic, but how do you think a band from Chile ends up sounding like “the group next door” in terms of the U.S. live music scene? Does it have to do with external influences? Was that your aim all along? Do you consider that a good or a bad thing?

Thanks again for the compliment, because I do find it a good thing. Our influences are all bands in English, regardless of what country they’re actually from. We’ve tried to sound authentic and write lyrics that people can identify with, and while our audience in Chile might appreciate this, the “powers that be,” so to speak, have not. At least not so far–I don’t know when was the last time they checked, but of the Top Ten selling albums in Chile, seven are by English-speaking bands. And the other three are by Spanish-speaking bands, but none from Chile.

And let’s say you knew you weren’t ever going to be successful, financially speaking. Would that make a difference in what you’re doing right now?

No. People can appreciate what we’re doing or not, but I like it. And I’m gonna keep on doing it. I know a lot of people who used to play an instrument or used to be in a band and they stopped for a million different reasons, but each one of them has the same look on their face when they talk about it. And that’s what separates those who don’t from those who do. You can leave something you’re crazy about behind, but you’re never going to be able to get rid of it.

So there’s a sense of fearlessness in that regard, but are you afraid of anything else?

I live in Chile. And I play in a band that speaks English. I’ve been hearing for 10 f***ing years that’s not the way to do it, and I’m still doing it. And I’m afraid that they might be right. But if you asked me to do the same thing in Spanish, I couldn’t. Rock has to be in English. It was invented in English and it sounds best in its origins. I like Spanish music, but it’s not what influenced me to play. I didn’t pick up the guitar because of Spanish music in my life, I picked it up because of Jimi Hendrix.

When you’re doing a live show, is there anything you find that still surprises you?

We’ve only played 40 or 50 live shows over the course of the past 10 years, sometimes it was for five people, sometimes for 50, at the launch for 500, but the thing is, since day one, playing live has just become better. We feel more “live,” more comfortable. We’re playing well, and we can tell the audience appreciates that. For example, for the launch, we had a couple of setbacks but the feeling at the end was…it was awesome. And we had the same feeling after a gig weeks earlier for a crowd 1/10th of the size. It’s just the feeling of doing something you love, and doing it well. If I could just play live forever, I would. There is nothing else in the world that you could offer me that I’d rather do.

Let the man play! And if you could change one of the following in regards to the band, which would it be? Geography, era or performance?

I’d change the geography. For me, that’s key, because if we were in the States I think we could have done a lot more than what we’ve done here. Sure, maybe it’s a case of the grass-is-always-greener, in that, if we were actually in the U.S., we’d just be another band in the U.S. But what I will point out, despite the fact that we are where we are, and being a band in English in a country that does not speak English, we still get gigs going and a lot of people that like us. We still get people to come to the shows… and if not, we force them to write interviews. [Laughs] And lie. [Laughs again]

Dr. Vena’s debut effort Round One launched August 28th, 2009 in Santiago, Chile amidst throngs of English and Spanish-speaking fans. For more on the band, log onto www.drvena.com.

Standout tracks include “Mephisto’s Disjuncture,” “Preludio A Una Tormenta,” and “Control.”

28 Comments

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  1. having the oportinuty of playing with dr. vena was one of the best experiences I´ve ever had.
    Thank you all for “la buena onda” and for playing amazing music.
    You are the best!!!

  2. Dr Vena is the best rock band here in Chile, you have to hear their songs, they are pure rock like in the old days, for my personal taste the best song is called OK, check it out

  3. this band really rocks!!!!

    i like the vocalist…now him since his starts!!!

    i think passion is what moves all tipes of art, and music is an art, passion is what they have…i can see it in his eyes

    keep on working, i think the price of being sucessfull is not in medias acception,thats financial aid, the real price of gaining success is by travelling all the way…no matter its cost! keep on walking!!! and trust yourself.

  4. Stick it to the man, brotha!! Doesn´t matter where u rock from, as long as the music is good. I just went to the band´s website and checked out a couple of tracks….sweet tunes. Keep up the good work.

  5. Dr Vena is great… even here in Brazil we had access to this great rock band, on my point of view with the same energy of seattle scene, with a touch of living colour on the instrumental

    cool, enjoy the band

  6. Dr Vena, pretty nice band.
    havnt seen a live perfomance jet, but i must say they got something… they definitely got the classy rock style, great musicans and a very nice voice.

  7. That night I have the honor to play sax with my friends of DR. VENA and it was a power experience because we sound loud and the people love it.
    Here in Chile there is a small group of bands that compose their own music in english, all the rest are cover bands so recording an album not in spanish is something to be proud of!

    BLESS

  8. I was at the launch and loved it!!! I am also fortunate enough to be possessed by their CD. “I do the very best I know how, the very best I can, and I mean to keep on doing so until the end” – Abraham Lincoln and/or JC

  9. Hheeyyy ya! I likeded this music very nice! This guys really know how to putted on a awesome show! Ya nice! I dance all night at the stage and lose my voice for screaming in joy!!

    You will see I in next concert for certain!!!!

  10. Just checked out the website, heard the tunes and this band is f***ing awesome!! Someone´s gotta get these guys over here. A first album like Round One only means that there´s a lot more these guys can create…and even better. Incredible…and from Chile?? Even cooler…

  11. Awesome album!, hope they come to Australia and play on a gig or festival one day…..
    Reminds me a lot to my favorite years on music, 91, 92 and 93……just great!. Cheers!

  12. These guys are awesome, they are the best anglo rock band that I’ve ever heared in Chile, Their music is fresh, and the lyrics are very deep and faithful to the essence of rock… Keep on rokin dudes!!
    DR. VENA KICK ASS!!

  13. I felt curious about a chilean rock band being the comment of the week, so I went to their website and heard some tracks. I must say I am impressed.
    I don’t know what is it, but this guys got something special. It sounds like an interesting fusion between grunge and pure rock. A great revisit to the end of the 80’s and start of the 90’s. Loved the lead guitar in songs like OK and Control. It was also interesting to hear them go from hard rock, to some very neat power ballads, like Preludio a una Tormenta (awesome voices!)
    For weird people that still like to buy CD’s, like me, it would be great to have the chance to do so.
    Kudos to Dr. Vena and their very solid debut album.

    P.S. Sticking it to the man…. Reminded me of Jack Black in School of Rock. LOL.

  14. Great rock band, if you guys out there have the chance to see them live, don’t think about it.
    I bought “Round I” and it’s fckn awesome.
    Who said rock? Dr.Vena

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