Just two months after being submitted by Italian music blog Going Solo, our community labelled multi-instrumentalist and composer Pablo Serrano, aka PBSR, as one to watch. Pablo is sort of a renaissance man for the digital era, collaborating with filmmakers and graphic designers and also composing music for art exhibitions. While listening to his EP ‘...and Dusky Doors’, the second and final chapter to a narrative, we wondered what is behind the story.
Where should we start. From the beginning, I suppose…
…it makes sense. [laughs]
You come from Murcia and I think your family is involved in music, am I right?
Yes, sort of, my mum use to play the guitar in a folk band when she was younger and my dad has always been a huge music lover. We are four siblings and the eldest studied piano, the one below me plays the saxophone… I wouldn’t say I come from a family of professional musicians, but there has always been an interest for music in the household.
Growing up, from the records your dad use to play, which are the ones you are more fond of or have had a bigger influence on you?
There are several ones. My dad was never a big fan of The Beatles or The Rolling Stones, but he use to listen a lot to Pink Floyd, Mike Oldfield, Yanni, Goran Bregović… a lot of world music. He has a wicked record collection. I always mention on all interviews Mike Oldfield, because there were a series of records like Tubular Bells, Voyager, Platinum, Ommadawn… pretty much his whole discography, that has been to me a kind of bible. I’m very fond of them because they were instrumental records, although some of them have vocals. The point I am trying to make is that if he would have played The Beatles or The Rolling Stones, I would probably be making a completely different kind of music.
So your dad’s choices had a bigger influence on you than radio, for example.
Yes. I didn’t listen to radio very much, close to nothing at all. When I was in my early teens my eldest brother, four years older than me, was listening to American rock bands and that was another influence. I listened to a lot of punk-rock bands when I was a teenager, but yes, my dad was the radio in the household.
Murcia is not a big metropolis, but it has a very healthy music scene with plenty of live music venues and a major international music festival. Was this also important to your music development?
I suppose when you are growing up and living it, your friends, your school, etc, you don’t realise and think, wow, this is great. It’s only when you detach from it and see it from a spectator point of view or read about it in the press that you are aware of it. But yes, I felt like a kid on a sweet shop; there were great gigs every week at venues like 12 & Medio and Stereo by national, international and local bands and artists. I was also in a band with my brother. This is something I miss now living in London. Of course there are many, many live music venues and fantastic scenes in London, but it’s not the same not having your friends and support network around you. I miss that.
You sound quite melancholic when talking about this.
Totally. I’ve just returned from a couple of weeks in Murcia and Madrid… better not to dwell on it right now. [laughs]
What differences do you find between the scenes in Murcia, Madrid and London?
There’s a huge difference. I’m not talking about the quality of music, but the vast quantity of it. Murcia is a small town. Madrid is a capital city but in the end everything is concentrated in a couple of scenes. Leaving the house or going to a venue and bumping into your mates, it’s more difficult in London. There, it seems to have a feeling of closeness, more relaxed, warmer.
Coming back to Murcia and the band with your brother, is this where the “Of Flaming Souls…” EP, the preface to “…and Dusky Doors” was created?
Not quite. “Of Flaming Souls…” was my first solo EP as PBSR. It was recorded in Madrid as a solo project with the idea to form a band to play it live. It turned out very cool in the end as all band members, in my opinion, where the best out of all the great bands from the Murcia scene.
Any artists from this scene you can recommend?
Based on my personal taste or because they are successful?
On your personal taste.
Without a shadow of a doubt Rey Lobo, a project by Víctor Hernández. He released the Nonduermas EP a year ago and I think is superb because it has lyrics that if I’ve heard them in a different context I wouldn’t like it that much, but he has managed to combine electronic music, Spanish guitar and great arrangements to create an excellent fusion of sounds.
How was the move to Madrid?
I moved to Madrid in 2012 after a brief stint studying in Alicante. I was there until September 2014 when I moved to London to continue my degree. I’ve always been very outgoing, always being told off by my parents for endlessly going out. Moving to Madrid when I was nineteen was a great opportunity. It also marked the beginning of my solo writing and I was selected for Proyecto Demo [Spanish National radio and Benicassim Festival new talent contest] as semi-finalist. It was the first time my songs were played on the radio, which gave me the motivation to continue. That was the start of PBSR. I also met my first manager, who I still continue to work with.
I find it quite curious that you got more out of the radio than from the internet.
Yes, PBSR was almost a secret project until then. It was at a later date that I uploaded the music to social music streaming platforms.
How important was it for you to have the support of a manager as an artist?
It was a gradual process, perhaps over a couple of years. It wasn’t a case of “I like you, sign on the dotted line” and off we go. It was very important because it took away the tasks of me contacting radio, press and other musicians to play with. There seem to be other artists and bands that can do everything by themselves. For example Baywaves from Madrid, and many other bands. I don’t know where they find the time or the money.
I guess that’s the advantage of being in a band and not a solo artist.
Yeah, I guess so. For me having a manager it was a step-up above all in the quality of my music. I also have a manager here in London who without, my current output wouldn’t have been possible.
You also compose a lot of music for films and videos.
This is a perpetual debate, at least for me. Because when I compose music for films, advertisements or art installations, I don’t dedicate any time to PBSR and vice-versa. At the moment I am focusing on PBSR, and not composing for visuals, but I would like to do both at the same time. At the end of the day we all have to eat and pay our bills.
Which one you get more out of it?
Financially? Without a doubt music for visuals. Some are paid better, some are paid less, but you always get paid in theory… Unless you agree to do it for free, which I have done at the beginning of my career, but I try to avoid that.
Definitely, I think you should always get paid for a job. Even if it is little, but never work for free.
There are punctual cases, when for example the benefits are for a charity, where I understand it’s possible. But yeah, artistically, unless you get to a certain level of success that you can maintain for a period of time, it’s very difficult to live off. But at the moment I think I’m on course… Let’s see… [laughs].
It’s difficult indeed, but you never know. You seem to have a good team working with you.
Yes, I’m very happy with my team at the moment. It hasn’t been easy, though. I didn’t find my UK manager and owner of label Yucatan Records until being in London for three years. Perhaps I didn’t put myself out there enough. I had a lot of personal hang-ups and going through a process of personal and musical mutation. I wasn’t particularly confident.
What type of hang-ups? If you don’t mind me asking.
Hang-ups in the sense of not being confident on myself. Perhaps motivated by a sense of loneliness. If I were to be in Murcia or Madrid, I could meet my mates, exchange ideas, collaborate with them… but being in London by myself, living by a cemetery, during the most rainy year I can recall… it was quite a hostile climate to be in.
I’m surprised you felt that way. Perhaps if it was the 80s or 90s, but nowadays? With all the communications technology available?
Yeah, I know you can use web based video and audio calls, but it was more a case of not being in my comfort zone.
It figures now. “… and Dusky Doors” is quite dense and oppressive, similar to a dark cloud parting and letting a ray of sunshine through.
Yes. That’s it. That is what the EP tries to transmit. Though I didn’t sat down and consciously made it like that, but perhaps it was impregnated by all this. The second year in London got better, I moved to a new place where I found space to compose, met my girlfriend who also moved to London, so things started to look-up. The idea of the EP is that one, the journey from loneliness and darkness at the beginning to now where there’s light, and all those contrasts in between.
Let’s talk about your live shows, is it just you?
Yes, at the moment is just me. But I’m not totally convinced about the results. Ableton live is my greatest ally, but I’m putting together a live band with a drummer and a multi-instrumentalist to play some parts of the songs for September. What I’m doing right now is more an interpretation of the EP than an honest rendition.
Are you going back to the more organic sound of a live band?
I never conceived the EP as an electronic work, the different tracks have been recorded separately. Live drums, acoustic guitars, re-amplifying electronic drums and synthesisers.
How would you describe the sound of the EP then? You are being compared a lot to certain electronic music artists in the press.
Yes, that’s true, I even started believing myself that I am an electronic music artist. But... I don’t know.
Does this type of label or box they are trying to put you in bothers you?
It doesn’t exactly bother me…Thinking about it, when I started composing modern music, it was electronic music. Though it wasn’t the ‘boom-tss-boom-tss’ type. Electronic music doesn’t mean house or techno. Electronic music means that originates from an electronic instrument, as opposed to an acoustic instrument. I think my music has also influences of ambient music, world music, pop music… though perhaps they are not so evident and all end up mixed on an electronic nebula which is what resonates with people. I don’t know.
There’s also a page on your website with compositions that steer more towards “neo-classical”.
Yes, there’s a lot of influences by Ólafur Arnalds, Thomas Newman and other music film composers. That’s why perhaps is not totally correct being described as an electronic music artist.
Are people more interested nowadays in gossip about artists than the music itself?
There is a tendency that the musician is more important than the music. That’s kind of annoying. But people are interested in what they are interested. It’s more important who you are than what you do. You can be copying what a band or artist did fifteen years ago and… I don’t know.
What are your thoughts on music generated by artificial intelligence?
I’ve read about it but I haven’t sat down and listen to any of it. Have you?
Not knowingly, but without being aware of it ...
In that sense, and perhaps I’m contradicting myself, I don’t think music generated by artificial intelligence, robots, or how you want to call it, will have any value because in the end people, and myself to a certain extent, we are interested in who made that song, how, why, where, if they are dead or alive, don’t you think? It’s like any art form. A painting generated by artificial intelligence can look beautiful, but the value aside from its aesthetic one is attributed by the person that created it. I’m not really concerned about it. There will be a use for it, I’m sure, probably in the advertising and documentary world.
Speaking of the future, any other projects or plans we should know of?
I’ve just recorded some music with Mavica at Malena Zavala’s studio, also a Yucatan Records artist, which will probably come out in September. I am also recording with my brother for a new label co-created with a friend of mine, but it’s all very relaxed. It’s just a platform to give output to music we like and admire, from people we know from Murcia but have practically no exposure. I’m also doing a couple of remixes for Tusks and Malena… I seem to be doing a lot of stuff for other people, actually. After working with my EP for so long, I feel oxygenated by working for other people. I will also be supporting Telefon Tel Aviv at the Archspace in London at the end of June and then concentrating on the live band until September.