Marinero is the moniker for songwriter Jess Sylvester, who’s making his debut on Hardly Art with Hella Love (out today). The record is a parting love letter to his hometown of San Francisco that muses Tropicalia sounds with lyrical hints to the Bay Area. To celebrate the release, we asked Jess to compile some of his favorite Tropicalia tracks and tell us how they influenced the new record. Check it out!
—Keenan Kush, Talkhouse Director of Operations
Agustin Lara — “Granada”
This is definitely a standard, and most people will probably recognize it, but my mother used to have pride in telling my sister and me about Agustin Lara — one of Mexico’s most famous composers — and how a Mexican wrote one of the most popularized songs about Spain. Personally, I like to think there is a little Agustin Lara in the openers of my songs “Hella Love” and “Fanfare,” as well as the intro to “Luz del Faro.” This version is performed by Trio San Jose and their three-part vocal harmonies are incredible.
Aldo y Los Pasteles Verdes — “Interrogacion”
My musical partner from Mexico, Carlos Pesina Siller from Francisco y Madero, turned me onto this song a few years back, and I’ve had it on repeat. It’s such a sad and sinister opening riff on guitar. I love the guitar, organ, and even synthesizer arrangements. “Nuestra Victoria” is my way of paying tribute to this style of románticas and the 1970s era of many other gruperos like Los Pasteles Verdes that I love.
El Chicano — “Cha Chita”
One of the first time I hung out with Jason Kick (engineer and co-producer on Hella Love) I gave him a ride in my car and blasted this track. He liked it enough to ask me who it was. This band has a lot of amazing songs and covers, but I love how this piece has such lush violin arrangements. El Chicano is a huge influence of mine and I feel like you can hear their influence in “Luz del Faro” and other songs I’ve made on my last album.
Juan Gabriel — “Hasta Que Te Conocí (En Vivo [Desde el Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes])”
I have a fond memory of my friend and collaborator Oscar singing almost all the words to this entire album, as we were driving back to San Francisco after a West Coast tour with Y La Bamba. This is one of my favorite live albums of all time. The horn and string arrangements definitely blew my mind and inspired me when I was starting to make Hella Love. I even considered making it a fake live album. Juanga’s voice is incredible and brings me to tears how beautiful and talented he and his music was. It would also be a dream to perform my music with the same amount of musicians he had on this album.
Chico Buarque & Ennio Morricone — “Rotativa / Roda Viva”
The first I met with Jason Kick to record a demo and try him out, I referenced this album as a huge inspiration of mine and he already knew of it, which was a sign to work with him. Most of the Brazilian-sounding songs on the album are hugely inspired by Chico Buarque and I added a lot of Ennio Morricone-style arrangements to “Hella Love.” In fact, when I would tell friends about what my new songs were sounding like I would say that I was approaching Hella Love as more of a composer, arranger, or a bootleg version of Ennio Morricone. In any case, it’s amazing to have both legends on the same album. It’s like an old episode of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! when where Scoob and the gang would team up with Batman or the Harlem Globe Trotters.
Perez Prado — “La Octava Religión”
This maestro of mambo is definitely known for his snarling saxes and blistering trumpets, but this one is his more experimental, groovy, psychedelic album. This song is especially stripped down compared to his others, but I love how classical the organ part sounds mixed with such simple Latin percussion.
Jane Birkin & Serge Gainsbourg — “Jane B.”
Similar to the Perez Prado song, I love how Gainsbourg and Birkin added their ’60s swagger to this Chopin song. In writing Hella Love I tried to infuse my own classical melodies with Latin rhythms and even disco.
Shuggie Otis — “Island Letter”
Even listening now, this song still kills me how good it is. The vocal melody and performance during the verse of this song deserves a Guinness World Record for “Dopest Verse Melody of All Time.” When I was working on the title track to Hella Love, I asked my childhood friend and musician Diamond Ortiz to sing vocoder on the song. I told him Shuggie was an inspiration for the track and he suggested that we use Rhythm Ace drum machine. I stole that idea from “Island Letter.”
Cindy Lee — “I Want You To Suffer”
I know most of the tracks I added to this list have all been from the ’60s and ’70s. This song is from my favorite album and artist from 2020. I feel like a lot of songwriters play it safe stylistically — it’s easy to copy from the past — but Cindy Lee is an artist that truly takes risks. They can write better songs, chords, and melodies than most songwriters I hear today but they can also add a juxtaposed guitar feedback noise section that lasts about two minutes.
Ennio Morricone — “Come Maddalena (Versione 12” maxi disco 78)”
It’s basically a disco version of a film score Morricone did for the movie called Maddalena. I love how grandiose it is with the vocal choir mixed with Italo disco. There would be no “Frisco Ball” without this song.