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Mesmerizing Mire: An Interview With Cat and Rocky of Idi Et Amin

Idi Et Amin by Landon Hale
24 September 2022

Photo by Landon Hale

Idi Et Amin are a self-proclaimed dirtgaze project started by Rocky Maldonado and Catalina Gallegos in 2019. That same year saw the release of the duo’s debut album Texas Rose on the ¿Por Que No? label. Featuring heavy doses of mood, texture and vulnerability, the record quickly garnered comparisons to the heavier shoegaze bands of the genre.
Idi Et Amin now perform as a 5-piece that delivers massive and hypnotic walls of sound which are cut through by the dreamy, calmed styling of Maldonado and Gallegos’ vocals. Much gratitude to Rocky and Cat for taking time out for this interview, (a couple years in the making!).

James Broscheid: Congratulations on the release of your new album, Candy Suck! This record has been in the works for some time since your debut Texas Rose in 2019. What accounts for the time in between? We did have a bit of a pandemic since then! 

Rocky Maldonado: Thank you! Well they don’t call us slackergaze for nothing (laughs)! After Texas Rose we spent some time putting together a live band, playing some shows, getting ourselves out there you know? Cat and I are creatures of habit, so once we got going (2019-2022) we recorded hours and hours of material. Obviously some of it was more fleshed out than others, but we always knew exactly what we wanted Candy Suck to sound like, so a lot of time was spent going back through all those songs, seeing what worked and what didn’t, then finishing them.

Catalina Gallegos:  One self-deprecating perfectionist can slow a project down for sure, but TWO is definitely gonna ensure that analysis paralysis hence the snail’s pace, so sorry about that! We also both write and record a LOT of songs, and it’s tricky to put an album together. Texas Rose really popped my proverbial cherry, in a lot of ways. I finally got my hands as dirty as the noises I was aiming to cultivate, and really use my head and Rocky’s experience

JB: How did you two meet and how did this project start initially?

RM: We met because the stars had finally aligned in the right way. After spending years trying to find this dream person, I had given up… and then there she was. The true definition of magic. We’ve had a couple of different bands together but we’ve both always wanted to make something that was just as fucked up sounding as it was dreamy, and beautiful. After a couple very traumatic years, there was this emotional urgency to do it. So we did it and I couldn’t be happier. 

CG: We didn’t meet so much as collide! Having both independently embarked upon the same reputedly hazardous route (that of creating and releasing music that’s honest, abrasive yet alluring/soothing, and genuinely intimate, AND feasible in terms of some semblance of collaboration on something with such specificity and peculiarity of taste) we encountered one another  at a proverbial  literal crossroads , and we just linked arms as though we’d been traveling together from the start. Rocky showed me how to carve a hole that became a window into the possibility of making music that felt the way I intended it to, or rather, that WE intended it to! I’ve always wanted to make filthy, yearning music that makes people feel something, and if you want it to be PROPERLY filthy, that means messing with gear and feeling intimidated as a total novice and a bit of a klutz to boot, so finding someone who encouraged me to “just get in there and do it” which eliminated any excuses to stall at that point, so thank you Rocky!   
As my grandmother used to say whenever I’d hesitate to try something out of self deprecation, thereby reminding me that lack of effort is a far worse folly than failure, (laughs).  

JB: I remember speaking to the guys in (then named) Viet Cong (now Preoccupations) after a show in Cincinnati where several protestors were present outside the venue before the show. How did you two settle on Idi Et Amin and have you received any flack for it?

CG: When we set out to release Texas Rose, and all through recording it, we always had this given in the back of our minds that the band name would be two people’s names, like Sonny and Cher or Captain & Tennille. It was also a given that names would find us and it would happen incidentally, as this entire band was/is (laughs) a living and evolving thing. While recording that album, we listened  to a LOT of yearning and angry country (George Jones, Sanford Clark, Johnny Paycheck, Blaze Foley, Townes Van Zandt, etc.), and Rocky played me a Blaze Foley song called Springtime in Uganda, a declaration of disdain and disgust for Idi Amin Dada (Oumee), with ample hyperbolic ridicule towards and fantasized punishments for the Ugandan dictator.
At the time I had encountered several people who didn’t even know the name Idi Amin Dada, or recall it as that of a military dictator whose regime was one of the most heinous in the annals of human atrocity. Which kinda surprised us both in a world where moral and cultural imperative are thankfully a more dominant aspect of modern discourse. Rocky and I had been writing a lot of these songs about terrible things that people do without really understanding what they’re truly doing and we felt like a juxtaposition of those themes with the pop duo/pop cultural trope stage names idea was also a nice built in confirmation that we’re not always singing/writing lyrics from OUR point of view. So when I heard Springtime in Uganda, Idi reminded me of “Elli’ as in Elli et Jacno the (French – JB) synthpop duo, and the “et” between the two individual names “Idi” and “Amin” sounded like “Idiot Amen” or “Idi Ate Amin” in phonetic English, and thenceforth we were “Idi Et Amin”!!!
NOT Idi Amin Dada Oumee, but simply two people playing music whose lyrics are sometimes the opposite of our own perspectives and ideas. Yes, it’s admittedly provocative, but it’s not abrasive, detrimental, or ignorant. It’s an adieu to lingering aspects of certain paradigms created by atrocities themselves but preserved by the unconscious legacy of the monsters who committed them. We are not trying to appropriate or offend, trigger or harm anyone, as we are NOT  “The Revolutionary Suicide Mechanised Regiment Band” or even “Idi Amin”, we’re “Idi Et Amin” which means “It was, and Amen” in Turkish, and a myriad of things in MANY languages and cultures. We shouldn’t forget and dismiss atrocities, nor should we wear the names and symbols associated with them in that context to arbitrarily or detrimentally provoke. But we shouldn’t preserve the detrimental power of their legacies by letting them dictate the permissibility of their eventual, subsequent use in our culture, thereby preventing their momentary association, contemplation, deconstruction and evolution away from their toxic connotations. 

Photo courtesy of Idi Et Amin
Catalina by Idi Et Amin

JB: The two of you build on the sonics of Texas Rose beautifully here with Candy Suck. Can you describe the writing and recording process when you approached creating your second album?

RM: We really appreciate that. We live in our “studio” so whenever an idea pops up one of us will grab a guitar and the other will set up the mics and record it. It’s interchangeable who does what. Honestly at this point Cat and I can just about read each other’s mind. If I write something and feel there’s a missing piece, she knows exactly what it needs. But for the most part the songs would start out with a guitar, we would refine it, figure out where the changes should go then quickly track a guide guitar, maybe a guide vocal as well. After that Cat would usually pilot the computer and record me playing drums over it. From there it would really just depend on the song, but it’s always a hot potato kind of thing. Some of them took longer than others though.
Jetlagged for instance, had been done for a while, but it always felt like it was missing something, then like two days before the album deadline Cat was playing around and came up with this fucking insane guitar part that absolutely needed to be in there, so we threw a mic on her amp and got it tracked just in time. For me personally that solo she added absolutely makes it. But yeah, most of them were done just like that, once we had a good outline we’d start experimenting with sounds and all that. We only have one rule about writing for Idi Et Amin: Anything goes, but no chorus pedals, no dreamy reverbs, and no modulation!!!

CG: Texas Rose really popped my proverbial cherry, in a lot of ways. I finally got my hands as dirty as the noises I was aiming to cultivate and with Rocky, had just accomplished something so nasty yet romantic, so filthy and pious and reverent of all that is human interaction, the good and the bad, and created something that people really LIKED and seemed as moved by as we were by the experiences that spawned it. It was intimidating to follow that up. But we love illusionists and magicians, so we have tricks up our sleeves—we use a genre whose classification or identifying nickname (Shoegaze) that has a lot of built in sonic expectations, while simultaneously devoid of these limiting “rules” in terms of HOW you get the sound you need. Because the term is used as a signifier by journalists/critics/industry darlings, aspiring “Shoegazers” and fans for certain characteristics, it’s DEFINITELY got some steadfast elements and a type of evocative yet abrasive melodic brand of emotional indulgence and transference that so much contemporary pop or arbitrarily attempted invention as far as music goes, so we really want to keep using this genre as a vehicle for transparency in derivation.
We really wanted to infuse this album with some melodic elements characteristic of that sort of dirtier, fuzzier, more irreverent and thereby potently sacred, sort of cheekiness of 1990s Britpop, 90s Alternative, and Indiepop (I initially cut my teeth listening to soundtracks for movies like Empire Records, Angus, Clueless, Gregg Araki’s Nowhere and the seemingly wildly inappropriate films of Jon Moritsugu and their equally jarring soundtracks, Moto Cancer by Teryo Tengoku.

JB: What are some of the positives/challenges with being a couple in a band? I hope the positives are plentiful!

RM: It’s funny, we were talking about this the other night actually. It seems like since the first time we hung out we’ve just been attached at the hip. We’ve lived together for 8 years, spending all day, everyday with each other. It feels like we’re just one person at this point (laughs). It’s like we have a hive mind. It goes so deep it’s hard to explain. It would be a lie to say we never have disagreements or arguments, but over the years we argue less and less and when we do it’s always constructive and we come out of whatever situation as better people. I’m a very lucky guy. 

CG: The positives are so overwhelming because not only are we in love with each other, we’re also in love with all of the same aspects of the plethora of influences, musically, artistically, philosophically, sonically/tonally, even in terms of something trite or vain like style/furniture/colors/clothing/certain sounds achieved with different recording techniques. Even the sonic articulation of a lyric or specific word can be syllabically important, goals, and pertinent, powerful specificities regarding both our own music or what we set out to do with any given song, and not only the twin-sanity of Rocky’s and my extremely eclectic scope of musical inclination and obsession, but also this sort of telepathic shorthand elevated by our shared synesthesia.

JB: How much trial and error went into recording the tracks that make up Candy Suck? Album notes state that recording started back in October 2019. 

RM: There was quite a bit of trial and error. Our songs are surprisingly simple from a recording and engineering standpoint, there are never more than 3 guitar tracks, drums, bass and our vocals… but mixing them and trying finding the right balance between all those things, especially with the chaotic guitars and layers of vocals with a complete lack of any echo or reverb… it can be a HUGE pain in the ass. We use a pretty basic setup to record, and we’re both self taught in terms of playing and recording music. I do think it’s a blessing in a lot of ways… but it’s all very subjective. The trial and error part of it mainly came from us not knowing how to do certain things. It’s like “Oh great, you can’t hear the cymbals because the fuzz guitar is in the same frequency range. How the hell do we fix that without making the drums louder than the guitars!?” We’ve gotten to the point now I think where we know what sounds we like and how to get those sounds out of what we have. 

CG: Trial and error is our constant because we’re both really picky yet also very practical. Achieving a certain sound or tone can be quite a rush but figuring out how to both record it properly and replicate it live is a different animal! Often it’s not about replication so much as translation… it’s really important to us that an album flows well in the ordinal sense so it takes some time to arrange songs in order. Then record them or mix and adjust them to achieve some sense of consistency, especially when they’re still being written and recorded as you’re planning the album and arranging it, (laughs). I’m a really spontaneous person in terms of songwriting. I write when I feel the urge and need and recording it is a practical byproduct of my haphazard memory. Rocky’s the same way, we can’t force something to happen, it just has to feel necessary. We both experience life using musical expression as a kind of spiritual vehicle for deeper understanding and reconciled sensation with human atrocity. That’s not an easy thing to call upon at will, although I’m working on it (laughs).
This album has also been a huge period of learning for me. Rocky’s taught me SO much about recording. I’ve gotten more intimate with gear and my understanding of how pedals and amps work in conjunction with one another. How “pedal order” isn’t necessarily set in stone when the life experience and perspectives (not usually our own, by the way) explored in your music are as flawed as the process itself, and the chaotic evolution of our methods for processing reality and experience, can be refined as they evolve. I think the microcosmic parallel in that notion takes precedence to convention, even within specific genres and scenes. Another thing that slows down the release process is my stubborn perfectionism.
I like to add things I hear in my head as the song evolves in different phases of recording (we’ve recorded a song a couple times or more in the past in order to fully achieve either a semblance of more coherence within the context of the album or as an indulgence in personal OCD – laughs), and Rocky’s the kind of person luckily, who not only understands but shares these tendencies and needs. So we need to know when to say, “Ok, we’ve been tweaking with this track long enough, it’s time to take a step back and avoid the ‘analysis paralysis’” we’re so prone to falling victim to. Let’s go get an ice cream soda!!!! 

Photo by Landon Hale
Rocky by Landon Hale

JB: Is Idi Et Amin a full band now or only for live dates?  

RM: The songs are written and recorded by Cat and myself but when we play live we have the absolute best band anyone could ever hope for. Derek Fonnesbeck plays acoustic/Electric guitar, treated sounds, Johnny Cassidy is on bass and Jeremy Divine plays drums. 

JB: There are some similar qualities between Idi Et Amin and another couple-fronted band I love in Fleeting Joys in addition to Japanese bands like Tokyo Shoegazer. Who/what are your influences (obvious vs. not-so) and what draws you both to shoegaze as a genre? One of the tags I’ve seen associated with your work is “dirtgaze” which is a new label to me!

RM: The dirtgaze thing was something Cat came up with and honestly it’s just funny to us. There are so many genres and labels people give themselves. I think when the word “shoegaze” is used, people automatically get this mind picture of what they’re about to hear… the usual dreamy, reverb-y, washy sounds which are all of the sounds we typically try to avoid. I mean there’s nothing wrong with any of that. Like I said before, all music is totally subjective, that stuff just isn’t for us. There are tons of bands that have influenced us, but for the most part, beyond My Bloody Valentine most of the music we pull from wouldn’t be considered shoegaze. Cat and I just really love music and listen to so much of it that in terms of influence… sky’s the limit really.
Texas Rose was recorded while we were listening to nothing but George Jones, Stanford Clark, and Johnny Paycheck (to this day we still write A-11 on every release). At the root of it is mostly ‘60s music. One thing I love about music from that time period is how everyone would steal from each other. We steal A LOT from bands we like. Candy Suck is full of nods and homages to the things we like. It’s healthy to wear your influence on your sleeves. Everything has already been done, you might as well be honest about it you know? I dunno, I just love music.
There is a band across the pond called Black Market Karma and they are really doing amazing things. It’s not typical shoegaze but has all those qualities with the fuzzy, bent guitars and I love that. We’ve actually become pretty close with Stan (Belton), the songwriter of that group, I’m really happy about that because he’s a true bloke. 

CG: As much as we are obviously and very transparently influenced by bands like My Bloody Valentine, Teenage Filmstars, Sweet Jesus, Secret Shine, Swirlies, All Natural Lemon and Lime Flavors, Loop, Flying Saucer Attack, Jesus and Mary Chain, Ultra Vivid Scene, The Pale Saints and far too many to list, I love transparency in derivation, it pays tribute while infusing your music with something unique, and you can build on those built in shoegaze/dirtgaze criteria  by infusing your songs with elements of other genres. Like ‘90s Indie and Alternative, along with jangle, twee, cuddle core, indie pop, and 1960s baroque pop, psychedelic, garage, and even early electronic music, and of course Helium and Excuse 17 and The Amps, The Breeders, The Pixies, plus so much glam I’ll just leave it at all the Brians, Bowie, Steve Harley, Nick Gilder, and even power pop and ballad in-betweens like Nicky Hopkins, Al Stuart, Dwight Twilley, Chris Spedding, Shoes, and even Squeeze. The notion of trying to radiate something from within despite crippling self-doubt that’s only now starting to feel as absurd as the world that I sought an equally absurd and therefore in my opinion, rational response to, which I felt the crucial need to create with someone whose heart is kicked by the exact same things which knock the air into me, (laughs).
I truly feel that this music and performance and these releases are my “rational” response to a global paradigm so dark and unyielding, there were some really filthy and sweet sounding influences like Henry’s Dress and The Aislers Set ignited a potent urge and  desperate inspiration. After this foray into hands on, intense and effective but messy and honest work, I finally found someone whose goal was identical: to manifest that elusive cacophony without compromise. When you find your footing and evolve WITH and not in spite of someone, your music grows in the same way. ESPECIALLY with “dirtgaze” we can embrace being the filthy side of that which is etherial (shoegaze vs. dirtgaze) to the effect of a sort of infernal delivery of angelic and radiant transmutation of both expectation and (figures crossed) barbarous nature!!!

JB: Sanford Clark’s They Call Me Country is essential – such a great record! Hailing from Salt Lake City, can you describe the music scene there and other local acts you think would be worth seeking out? I used to frequent Urban Lounge and Kilby Court for shows when I lived in Western Colorado. Loved going to Randy’s Record Shop too. I remember the surreal feeling I had after watching Beach Slang implode and break up (the first time!) on stage at Kilby Court way back when!

RM: That’s awesome! Our drummer Jeremy worked at Randy’s for years. Such a great shop. We actually had the Candy Suck release show at Kilby Court which was a lot of fun. The SLC music scene is getting bigger and bigger by the day. To be completely transparent I do think the scene here can get a bit incestuous but that’s a byproduct of living in a small town. Everyone plays in everyone else’s bands so there can be a bit of a built in audience which can be either a good or a bad thing depending on how you look at it.
There have been tons of great bands from here though. Our guitarist/sound manipulator Derek worked with some huge SLC legends back in the day like Ether and Form of Rocket. Cat and I are really reclusive, we need to get out more. I’m not as hip on local music as I should be but we love Worlds Worst and those guys. Hoochie Power are also fucking awesome. The Choir Boys have been great to us as well…. but they don’t live here anymore. 

CG: I haven’t been as abreast of the local scene as I once was but there are always bands that resonate with me. Worlds Worst is a band whose heart kicks are numberless and whose music fills me with this nostalgic sense of a dire desire to find those experiences in life which shape and move me and there are some truly kindred artists around here. The Mercy Seat has been one of those bands whose honesty and vulnerability are so potent that it’s impossible to neglect mentioning them.
Choir Boy, of course, has a je ne sais quoi that won me over in the last year as I came to understand the effect they had on not just peers, but multiple generations. I hope we can create something that makes others feel less hopeless, unseen, alone, or invalidated, and I hope we can show them that those things are now theirs in whatever capacity they choose. With that potency, we hope to imbue, perhaps our fans will express themselves and use art and music or writing or anything they so choose, to make this make of human vulnerability, desperation, urgency and finally, strength …especially in the world  we currently live in, where The Master and Margarita (1967 novel by Mikhail Bulgakov) is perhaps more logical and comprehensive than the collective absurdity and dissonance we seethe at and suck from one another outside of the context of subcultural communities.

Photo courtesy of Idi Et Amin
Photo courtesy of Idi Et Amin

JB: Are there any plans to tour in support of Candy Suck? Any chance a vinyl pressing is in the works?

RM: We want to do both, but realistically neither would be until next spring or summer. We definitely want to do a vinyl pressing but good God it’s expensive. Not to mention all the pressing plants have about a year long waiting list. They’re all super busy repressing Fleetwood Mac so we are gonna have to wait it out. Right now we are just kind of letting the album do its thing. “The future is in the hands of the money holder” … or however that saying goes!

CG: I’m gonna concur with that last statement. We’re ready, willing and eager to tour, but logistics complicate things, no matter how urgent or potent the desire, ambition, and dare I say NEED, may be!

JB: The new record was mastered by Scott Selfridge. Can you tell us who he is and how did you hook up with him? What was it like working with him? 

RM: I’ve known Scott for years. He used to live with one of our best friends Terrance, who is the coolest dude ever and they had a band called Nightsweats who were awesome. Scott mastered the last EP we did called The Remedies For Violations EP (Library Group Records, 2019) and his work was perfect, it was just a natural choice. I also used to work with him at the one … the only… Guitar Center!!

JB: Is it difficult to self-release your work? Would you prefer to work with a record label? Seems to not be necessary these days!

CG: When we released Texas Rose with the help of our fine friends at ¿Por Que No? (Records), as well as the folks (namely my mate Joshua McBeath) at Library Group Records in Australia for some of the online streaming aspects. I have to admit that the tedium of manually printing, cutting and formatting the inserts for jewel cases and tapes is tedious but the freedom to really convey the visual aspects that reflect the sort of chaotic melange of technique and eclectic influence whose collage results in the sparkling squalor and mesmerizing mire of our chaotic glamour steeped in swooning sentimentality is my childhood dream realized. The biggest issues however, are financing our own releases and ensuring that we translate the mix accurately to different mediums like tapes and CDs, (although that does force us to learn about the intricacies of ferric oxide and mastering specifically for tape, which has been really eye opening and conducive to understanding those intricacies which imbue the process with those symbolic alchemical allegories that get my rocks off so thoroughly).

RM: Yes and no. I like that Cat and I have complete creative control and do everything from the ground up but it’s also very, very hard. This group has been slowly growing and it’s really cool to see, but also kind of freaky because we can only do so much with our crazy brains. We’ve worked with labels in the past and everyone involved were amazing and super helpful, but things didn’t pan out that way for this release so we ended up doing it ourselves. It would be nice to find a label to help out with physical releases, distribution, helping to book a tour etc. At the same time there’s something really off putting about label shopping, and we’ve not had much luck with it. It seems like even most “indie” labels don’t really have much interest in anything that isn’t totally cut & dry and we always seem to fall into the “frayed and damp” category (laughs). I know we will meet the right people soon enough. We’re just glad the album has reached the people it has. Cat and I are weird fucking people and we just want to comfort anyone else out there who feels like us. Show them they’re not alone. It’s okay to actually be weird in a time where being “weird” is the norm. Fuck what everyone else wants. Be yourself, don’t follow the group…. but follow our group @idi_et_amin!!!

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