How Sergio Díaz De Rojas and Lo-Fang’s Chance Meeting in Spain Led to Collaboration (and Friendship)

Talking why “Ibiza is like Jurassic Park for people,” and more.

Matthew Jordan Hemerlein, aka Lo-Fang, is a singer-songwriter based in LA; Sergio Díaz De Rojas is a Peruvian artist based in Spain. Sergio’s latest record, Muerte en una tarde de verano, (out this Friday on Nettwerk) was partly inspired by the process of the death of his grandfather — who himself was an accomplished pianist and composer. Matthew contributed to the album’s centerpiece, “Holding her is where I learned forgiveness,” so to celebrate its imminent release, the two hopped on a Zoom call to catch up about it all.
— Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music

Matthew Jordan Hemerlein: OK, let’s try and remind ourselves of this space that we inhabited around first meeting. I believe I remember hearing your music, and then I think I sent you a message — is that correct? 

Sergio Díaz De Rojas: Yes, you wrote me on Instagram.

Matthew: Yeah, that’s right. I slid in those DMs. 

Sergio: [Laughs.] Yeah. And I mean, I’m pretty sure I was following you already on Instagram, but I don’t think I was aware of much of your work.

Matthew: Oh no, I think, I think I went with the follow first. I think I launched on in there. [Laughs.] 

Sergio: But the thing is, I remember that when you wrote me, I spent the ride from the town where I live to the center of Valencia—where we met—listening to your music. Like the most recent releases, because I was familiar with your Blue Film album, but not with the cool music you were working on recently.

Matthew: Yeah, thank you. I just released Near Other Worlds at that point. It was some music I’d made in Nepal, and then this other — it was a two part album that was also influenced by this really special rainforest near Canada. So that was a moment in time. I just remember hearing some of your music, and then I saw you were in Spain, and at that moment I was new to Portugal and was kind of open-minded to seeing who would be around that I could potentially make something with. And I was so inspired to hear your music. 

And then little did I know, I’d end up getting ripped off buying a Toyota Corolla by this completely dishonest car salesman in Porto, and all my plans for France would end up with me living in Spain legally for two years, and that was the opportunity that we would have then to make this song. Because I wasn’t planning to go to Valencia. Like, I was thinking about it, but it was really because of that scenario. This guy lied about — I mean, if we want to, we can talk a little bit about the basics of car mechanics, but basically, it’s very important to check [into things] when you buy an old car… So that was the incident that led towards us eventually being able to collaborate in this way. 

Sergio: Do you remember exactly when was it that we met? Because I don’t know exactly, I have a terrible memory for that kind of thing.

Matthew: I do a little bit. I was there in August, and then I believe we met early September or thereabouts. 

Sergio: We met before the pandemic started, right?

Matthew: No, no, this is—

Sergio: Oh, this was pandemic time, you’re right.

Matthew: I remember where we met. We met in this cafe and had lunch and then walked around. It was so fun. 

Sergio: Yeah, I remember that part. I didn’t know exactly the moment in which it happened. But something that I remember is, I was already in Valencia for some months, and because of pandemic and everything, I didn’t meet anybody. I was hoping to be part of a community of musicians and everything, but nothing happened. And the first person I met was not even a Spanish person — it was you, just by accident.

Matthew: [Laughs.] Yeah, exactly. I remember feeling really lucky at that time to even be doing anything social — even the normalcy of just like, “Oh, let’s meet up,” felt so energizing. And especially the quality of musical ideas that we could talk about and have different places to come from as well around it… That was kind of my entry point into Valencia. 

You gave me a record on that day, and the album art is by Ryan Carl [Sergio’s Postcards]. I’d always put it near my little music area, when I’d make these different studios in the spaces I was living, so it meant a lot to me. 

Sergio: Oh, that’s so nice. For me it was also quite special in many ways. I have already told you that the second time that we met, we went to the apartment where you were living here and we played some music together, and that was the first time that I was on the piano [improvising] next to somebody else. That was super intimidating at that moment for me, because I had no idea what to expect. But it felt so natural. It went so smoothly in that moment. At least that’s what I remember.

Matthew: I got lucky. I was renting an apartment from — he’s like a brother now, but I basically just wrote on Twitter like, “I need an apartment in Valencia if anyone has one.” And Astor replied, and his uncle had an apartment with a piano in it, so it just was this perfect thing. [So] I lived there, and I wrote music on the piano and we got the opportunity to play, too. And shortly thereafter, things kind of closed back up a little bit in Spain.

Sergio: Yes, that’s true. 

Matthew: That was the last time we saw each other, I think. That was end of October. or thereabout. 

Sergio: And then you went to Ibiza? Or did you go somewhere else?

Matthew: I rolled the dice and just hopped on over to Ibiza. I was there… surviving, I guess. And thriving and adventuring through there for a while. So I didn’t have access to a piano — had access to a lot more hippies, which is the trade off sometimes. [Laughs.] Then while after that, we were still staying in touch and I was trying to get you to go there.

Sergio: I wanted to! It was just impossible because of the timing, and residency.

Matthew: Yeah. I was always plotting, like I was telling people there, “Hey, Sergio is really close, we jammed, it was awesome, we gotta get him here!” And it just never materialized. And I think that was your anti-hippie repellent that did that. 

Sergio: [Laughs.] I mean, I don’t think I have ever met a hippie in person actually. So I don’t really have an opinion.

Matthew: [Laughs.] But I got my ass kicked a little bit by Ibiza, as well — that place is kind of rough, believe it or not. It’s really nurturing and amazing, but it’s one of the most wild places. It’s like Jurassic Park for people. And I didn’t know anybody. And there’s no wild animals on that island — there’s no deer or hawks or any kind of naturally occurring, feral animals — but the island is very much run by cats. And so the point is, when you sent me this melody [for “Holding her is where I learned forgiveness”], I was at a pretty low point in this adventure of chaos. It really resonated with me to kind of reflect, because I was also like, What the fuck have I done? Like, should I have just stayed in Portugal? So I was able to channel some of that homesickness for nowhere and sense of reflecting on lost love. 

Also, in a way, there’s a strong kind of death energy to the island as well, because there’s a lot of going into the void with various degrees of safety attached to it. Sometimes it can be very reckless. There’s a lot of experiences around DMT and going into the bardo, and some of these experiences I think led into connecting on a deeper level with the melody, and the idea that you shared around [the record being about your] grandfather and being older and looking back, but you’re in this sunny-ish afternoon. I always had this Gabriel García Márquez feeling to the idea [of death] — 100 Years of Solitude is one of my most influential books, and that’s what I felt from this melody. 

Sergio: Oh, that’s really nice to know. For me, working on that song and sending it over to you, and working in general on the album, was also kind of… I wouldn’t say I was in a low moment in Valencia, but I’m pretty tired of being here now. I’m ready for the next chapter. 

Matthew: Come to LA! You can stay with me here.

Sergio: I would love that. Maybe one day, when I have permission to travel to the US. So the thing is that I was a little bit sad that I have been in Valencia almost four years. and that I haven’t really made anything that I could consider significant. I was releasing singles for compilations whenever a record label invited me, and it’s nice, but I missed the adrenaline and emotion of working on an album, and of collaborating and creating something on a deeper level. And this album was born out of nothing. I just sat down one day and started trying to compose again with a purpose, and the songs started coming out one after the other. Then I got the idea of sending you that melody, and you sent it back so fast. Everything was so natural, so organic.

Matthew: That’s so beautiful. I feel like you did capture — because I think Valencia and that area is a little bit of a hidden gem to outside of Spain. It’s not what most extranjeros visit when they come to Spain. So I think you shared some of that languid and warm quality that also is a part of that place too. Because it is a little bit more low key in some regards than Barcelona or something. 

Sergio: Exactly. There’s something so magical about the city. There’s all the beautiful things from a big city, but without all that chaos, you know.

Matthew: Yeah. And with the bats as well, which is very important.

Sergio: Yeah, the bats. And the oranges!

Matthew: I love that city for those things. It also was the place where I was able to understand the Spanish accent too, because it was initially named Valentia — that’s the Roman name for it. And then it got changed to Valencia, and that’s kind of where, [in] the tension between the Moorish pronunciation and the Latin writing, you get the Spanish accent. I didn’t know that until I was there. But I’ve always heard preposterous stories about like, “Oh, this king had this speech impediment,” and it’s just not true. The place is about honor and valor — which I think comes through in the work as well. There is a lot of honor in the work that you’re doing, and a, dare I say, sacred quality to the aspects of being human that I think you share. And I think that’s a really important space to keep on inhabiting.

Sergio: Oh, that’s so nice. I’m blushing. [Laughs.]

Matthew: I hope you are, dude!

Sergio: One of the songs that really made me want to send you that melody is — first you showed it to me when we were in your apartment in Valencia, and then you released it on Bandcamp, I think.

Matthew: Which song is it?

Sergio: I’m terrible with names… “I Always Dreamed.” I fell in love with that song and I have listened to it so many times. You never put it anywhere else, right?

Matthew: Well, I think the one that’s on Bandcamp really just sounds like a demo. It was recorded live, so there’s some timing stuff in it that’s a little bit wonky. I would like to record that song a little bit more intentionally. But I’m glad that was what inspired you to hear that this could work in some way.

Sergio: You know, this kind of wonkiness that you talk about, this organic feeling to it of recording it live, I think that’s what I love so much. It reminds me of Nick Drake, Sibylle Baier.

Matthew: Wow! I think that these songs are related in some way. Because there’s one line in your song that I just referenced from my own life, and it was about people that you share time with in your life. The line about the silver shoes [in “Holding her…”] relates to the same person, actually.

Sergio: Yeah, I was thinking a lot about that because that line was… I wouldn’t say random, but not… 

Matthew: I like songs where there’s descriptive lyrics, and then there’s story lyrics, and then they’re also kind of just conveying an emotion. In a lot of ways, what I’ve noticed in lyric writing — and even in the way music is being classified — is kind of dumbing down emotions. It’s like telling people how they feel. And I kind of blame — I don’t want to go on some playlist [rant] or something, but basically it’s just giving people these concrete emotions that they understand. So I still really respond to having a feeling of a world and these little lines that you can kind of hang your hat on that are real descriptive.

I mean, the lyrics wouldn’t have been that if it wasn’t for the melody. You write very, very beautiful melodies and I was very happy to not even want to change some notes or something like that. It just was like, “Oh yeah, this sounds good. I love it.”

Sergio: So I really thought when I sent it to you that you would make big changes on my melody, but you just left it.

Matthew: Yeah. I was willing to be a big pain in the ass in other ways, let’s be honest. [Laughs.] I think we were friends enough, and we respect each other enough, to… It was cool the way the thing went, is what I’m trying to say. I learned a lot in the process, because I’m also somebody who’s had some negative experiences with labels and this and that, and I really kind of shunned all this for many years. So I really was grateful, because I thought I learned a lot from you as well, not just around the shape of the song, but also having a buddy that you could actually communicate with and compromise with.

Sergio: Yeah, absolutely. It’s been kind of like that for me as well. It’s been a big group of first times here: improvising together and collaborating for the first time with another artist — something I never did before — then releasing with a label, getting to experience this world of contracts. It’s been exciting.

Matthew: I want to say, I think you have an incredible amount of poise and fairness and confidence around your decision making. The music is one thing, and you have that really naturally. But then beyond that, there was stuff that I wasn’t resonating around some album art and stuff — and I’m sharing this because it’s fine, it’s part of the process.

Sergio: Yeah, absolutely. 

Matthew: You were really cool about when I was like, “Ah, I don’t know…” I just appreciated the whole thing.

Sergio: Yeah, me too. I’m very happy with the result. I have been sharing this song with everybody, and somebody told me something that stayed with me: “Lo-Fang sings the same way you play the piano.”

Matthew: Oh, that’s beautiful. 

Sergio: I was thinking about it, and yeah, they meld so well, at least in that song that we have done.

Matthew: Well, I can’t wait until we can do this on Jimmy Kimmel. Come on, Terrorbird!

Sergio Díaz De Rojas is a Peruvian artist currently based in Valencia, Spain. His latest record, Muerta en una tarde de verano, is out March 10, 2023 on Nettwerk.