Interview With Public Nature Frontman Oscar Canas, to perform benefit for Arlene’s Grocery March 25

On Thursday, March 25, up and coming band Public Nature will perform a livestream event to support Arlene’s Grocery.  Due to the unfortunate circumstances that COVID-19 has left indie music venues in, without the support of live music crowds, Arlene’s Grocery is in need of funds to remain open.

Arlene’s Grocery, located on the Lower East Side, has seen many young and well known acts get their start, including Arcade Fire, Lady Gaga, Lana Del Rey and Jim Carrey. You may also recognize Arlene’s Grocery from the #SaveOurStages movement, where now Senate Majority Leader, Senator Chuck Schumer, was seen on the street showing his support for the venue.

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Tickets are just $10 with an option to donate to help save this historic venue.  You can purchase tickets to the event here.

NYS Music’s Rob Tellerman recently spoke with the band’s frontman, Oscar Canas, and found out his roots growing up in Colombia and what got him interested in coming to America to pursue music. He was kind enough to perform some songs exclusively for NYS Music.

Rob Tellerman: Where did you grow up?

Oscar Canas: I grew up in Medellín, I’d say it’s Colombia’s prettiest city. It’s a very cosmopolitan place where “everything is happening”. It’s very similar to New York City in many ways, it’s 5 million people but feels very small, maybe it’s the layout. The weather is the best, it’s called the city of the eternal spring, 75° all year long. No humidity, just perfect. When it’s cold is 70°, when it’s hot is 85°.  It was very violent when I was a kid, Pablo Escobar was gone and there was a war of power going on. Many kids were killing each other fighting for a corner. I saw dead bodies my whole childhood, many of them where my friend’s “big” brothers. The city is a valley so it’s surrounded by mountains that reflect the sound of thunders in a beautiful way, I miss that sound. A thunder reverberating across the city for several seconds and you know what neighborhoods is hitting and then it bounces again and you know it is south or west or is leaving the valley. And when it rains the clouds are purple, an apocalyptic beautiful purple color.

We have the second best train in the world and one of the two only profitable ones. It’s a highline, we don’t have a subway, the ride is clean, punctual and picturesque. Not that graffiti is bad, but there is not a single graffiti on it inside or out. Leaving the city through the mountains is best, there are cables spread out so you get these steep and very high advantage points that are super fun if you’re not afraid of heights. Quite an immense view. My childhood was half good and half bad. It was fun, I had a good education, tons of bicycle rides, friends, exposure to science, but it was violent inside and outside the house. My dad was a crazy dude. He’s cool now and mom and dad love eachother but it was bad back then. What saved me was the huge amount of love they gave me, as my grandparents and aunts and uncles did too. I was a very loved child that witnessed a lot of violence. Is that a good balance that can create and nourish an artistic drive. Maybe.

RT: What first got you interested in music?

OC: Now that I look back on it, my interest in music happened unconsciously first. My family used to gather all at somebody’s home for christmas and such and music was the centerpiece of the fun. By the end of the night after eating and dancing, everybody would sit and my dad and uncle would swap vinyls endlessly. My first memory of music is maybe at 3 years old. I remembered I liked the music and that I missed it, but I never elaborated on it until I was a teenager.

These vinyls were mostly 60, 70 and 80’s italian, french, spanish music. All in spanish. The artists would sing in spanish their originals. These songs were so melodic and catchy and epic. The singers voices were always unique and the quality of the recording inmence and I can say in many occasions better than those of my favorite big bands like Led Zeppelin, The Beatles and others like that. So, so, so catchy. They had the beatlesque simplicity of the verse-chorus-verse kind of music and the orquestras were always gigantic. These Italians, French and Spaniards were onto something. I wish I could show these songs to everybody but being in spanish people lose their interest from the get go. ha!. That built and hard-wired my interest in music I think, I was never conscious of music, until one night.

We had recently gotten MTv in our cable. MTv Latino which they produced out of Mexico. Great stuff. The VJ was Ruth Infarinato, I’ll never forget her pick hair. She was presenting top 20 translated songs, you know, with the dual subtitles, and I was flipping channels and not much interested because some songs I already knew and then the number 1! Smells Like Teen Spirit. I remember the converse shoe at the beginning of the video and the guitar and then it exploded and I was in awe. My brain struggled with such different sounds, it was confusing, I felt I didn’t know what those sounds were. And it’s odd because I’m 15 or 16 there and I’m supposed to have heard lots of different music, guitar music. Nirvana is not super alien, I guess it was the power that was confusing and he hadn’t even started to sing.

So I’m losing it during the first bars of the song and the foggy dark kind of scenes of the video were helping too. Then he sings and I jump out of the blankets, I’m sitting like when you are a kid and you hear your dad coming home late with a gift and you’re about to jump to hug him and get your present. Then the chorus explodes and I just lose it. I got dizzy and had that feeling in my stomach like when you hit a low pressure on an airplane. it was physical. Free fall feeling. It was very intense and that song is not my favorite Nirvanas’ song but it changed me right there. The beautiful soft and raspy voice and then the yelling. The sound is all entangled and distorted and is big and is new. I never had such a reaction to something new. I was obsessed. My mom is a Nirvana’s catalogue expert. 

RT: How did you learn to write/sing/play?

OC: I learned to play the guitar to Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged in New York album. I played every song everyday for months and months. And I tried to sing but it was hideous. I’m not tone deaf but I cannot hear the notes I’m singing so I would think I’m singing pretty good and I was trying to sing Nirvana’s songs and that’s harsh on your vocals if you don’t know what you are doing. I was destroying my vocals. I feel sorry for my family and my neighbours. My mom used to say I sang like a choking cat, haha! They were very supportive. A few days later after knowing about Nirvana my dad bought me my first guitar. A cheapo nylon acoustic guitar that was hard on the fingers. And I didn’t want a teacher or many lessons. I liked science so all I wanted to know was the mechanics of the guitar and the physics of the waves and how notes and chords worked and stuff like that.Then, I figured out how the notes were distributed over the neck and how scales worked and chords and I was set – played like crap for 10 years. But it was good because I played like me. And even though I adored Nirvana, Muse, Radiohead, Placebo, and such I didn’t want to play like them. I always played like myself, crappy and all. Same with singing. I wasn’t trying to imitate. I did try to yell with a raspy voice like Kurt but that only gave sore throats. So I was singing and playing like crap for years without any technique and I was writing from the get go as well, but I didn’t know I was writing. I have a folder with the first guitar riffs but I never considered them as my riffs. It was odd. Only now I can say I am a songwriter but still feels weird. I wasn’t doing it to write songs but I was. I wouldn’t say I ever learned how to write or sing or play. A leat not jut yet.

RT: What was the first instrument you learned to play?

OC: The guitar, I started playing on a horrible cheap spanish guitar with nylon strings. But I loved it. She was named Orange, but it wasn’t orange. Guitars would tell me their names. She had a good burial. I smashed it to a set of concrete stairs next to my house like every guitar should die. It was broken all over, it was requesting a proper rock and roll goodbye. But I haven’t “learned” to play. I started playing very late in life at 16. And during the first two years I would play 4 to 10 hours a day almost everyday. But then I went to college and basically would forget the guitar two years at a time. When I started my first real band I barely was able to play my own guitar parts. I had to practice lots again and learned quickly but still it was rough. Lately I’m more precise and I feel in total control and can do what I exactly want but, I mean, for myself, my style, I am a world expert, but for the regular definition of what a guitar player is, I suck big time, but that’s ok.

RT: Is your family musical?

OC: All my family is very into listening to music. All of us, uncles, grandparents, brothers. Everybody would either gather to listen to music or have those moments alone in their bedrooms to listen to music. My dad collected vinyls, cassettes and cds. He introduced me to classical music and 60, 70, and 80’s italian, french and spanish pop when I was very little. And my mom is still crazy about her teenage years idols, I still love those songs and listen to them. But nobody played any instrument, it was all about listening to music. I mean, really listening. Music was rarely a backgroung thing. The adults would sit, play the records, and analyze the vocals and the instruments one by one and they would argue about quality, artistry, authenticity and whatnot. It was so fun for me as a kid to be there listening to the arguments. They were so passionate about it.

RT: When did you decide to come to America and pursue music?

OC: I had hundreds of riffs and a few melodies I accumulated over the years. One day I started to put them together as whole songs. I liked a few and I thought “I gotta go to New York”, that was 2014. 3 years later my girlfriend told me she needed to spend some time in the US and we decided to live here. It was easy to decide, the market is here. It’s not as easy as I gullibly thought it would be but definitely this is the place to be.

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RT: Who are some of your influences?

OC: Nirvana, The Beatles, Muse, Radiohead, The White Stripes, The Hives, Interpol, Placebo, David Bowie, Led Zeppelin, The Black Keys, Rodriguez, Queen, ABBA, Coldplay (when they were good), Natalia Lafourcade, Zoe, Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, Gotye.

RT: What is the story behind your band name?

OC: There is no story, but I really like it and I’m proud of it. It’s just such a cool sounding couple of words, I just like the sound of it. I’m glad if people Google it and they find nature landscapes and such, but really is just the sound of the two words. Public Nature. I could say it means nature is for everybody and stuff like that, but nah, it’s just a band name. I looked for a name for years and that happened.

RT: How would you describe the music you create?

OC: I’d say it is raw, honest, melodic and effortless in that it is not trying to be anything, it just flows. The most important thing for me is that the music is sincere. Our music it’s not designed to sell but it’s  designed to be as good as we can make it. It’s not trying to please a market but I think it is marketable. I’m lucky to like guitar, bass, drums, verse-chorus-verse rock music because that is easy to the ear and that is exactly what we’re doing.

RT: Are you signed to a label or totally independent?

OC: Last december we signed to a label in Amsterdam. To be honest I feel lonely, I mean business wise lonely, I could do with some help, I wish I had a record deal and somebody would do my advertising and such. I’m very bad at socializing. I only have a few real true friends so I can say I’m good at true friendships and fraternal relationships but I’m bad at business relationships. It’s all about who you know and more so in this business. I have to step up my game there. So in that way I’m very independent, big euphemism for being bad at public relations and not being able to reach people with our music.  

RT: Who are/were the other members of your band? How did you meet them?

OC: Rex Fenton from Canada on drums and Curzio Aloisi on bass from Italy. We met thought the all mighty Craigslist

RT: Can you describe your creative process?

OC: 50% of the time if I want to write a song I’d be fiddling around with the guitar for hours to find a riff or part I like and then I’ll spend more hours trying to find a melody for it that I like. Then I’d accommodate the syllables into real words and that’d be it. A couple of days most of the time. The hard part is to find myself truly inspired because I always want to write songs, I write 2 or 3 songs everyday but they’re shit. The good ones happen once in a while. The other 50% is about being in the zone. I go deep in concentration and sometimes the first thing I play on the guitar with the first melody I babble becomes the song. With this method a song has come to be whole done in 3 minutes, then the lyrics take a bit more, anything in between 3 minutes to 6 months. I love writing songs, it is the process where I am 100% myself. It just flows, it’s very thought to be in that state, it requires a huge amount of peace and calmness and sincerity and no fear whatsoever. It’s awesome. I have to reach nirvana in order to write a song.

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RT: What was your first single?

OC: A song called Nothing Special (The Science Song) it’s under our previous band name “Tender Beats”. I like the song, and we recorded it in one take live. Then I added the vocals. But it’s cool to have those one-takers. We recorded it at a friends cabin in the woods in Hudson. It was Rex’s first couple of months with us in early 2019. It’s about enjoying life and buried in every line there are the deepest science notions ever. Very nerdy if I explain it. Very.

RT: How did you get hooked up with Richie Ramone?

OC: Vicky Hamilton was our manager for 3 years, I didn’t ask her how she and Richie knew each other but she heard Richie was looking for an opening act and Vicky called me asking if I’d like to do that and of course I said of course. She said he was very honest with his opinion of the music and that he would need to truly like the songs. She sent some demos we had and out of a pool of bands he picked us, he liked two of the songs he heard. He called me after Vicky gave me the good news and we talked about music a bit, it was awesome. The tour was the most beautiful musical experience I ever had. He is like a monc, like one that has lived milenia. Every sentence he spoke was a life lesson. A wise person and with a swag. So cool and witty, caring and strict in the best of ways.

The first night we played awesome and he came to us and said we were awesome and to keep it up and that I sang like an angel and asked me about a couple of the songs and admired them. He wrote several of the Ramones songs including “Somebody Put Something In My Drink” and recently a crazy couple invited my wife and I to their apartment and tried to roofie us and I told him that song was our theme song for those days. It was a good night. Then we suck for 4 night is a row and he wasn’t happy, he told me to stop whining about the sound and whatnot and to perform for the kids, that it was all about the kids, and that I had two jobs, to entertain those kids who paid a ticket and to warm up the place for him to follow. After that we did ok and we had a couple of great nights but I wish we’ve done better for him. We still talk and I send him songs looking for his approval. He always replies, great dude.

RT: Who would you most like to collaborate with?

OC: There are so many names. I think mostly with Krist Novoselic of Nirvana, he’s my favorite bass player. I love that gnarly heavy drunk sound of his and would love to see what lines he comes up with for one of our songs but he would need to write a killer line like those of Curzio’s, tough opponent. Or Tom Yorke, singer of Radiohead but what the hell am I going to do? He sings like life sounds like and his melodies are amongst the best ever written. I’d love to go into a guitar duel with Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys and write and sing a song with Brian Molko of Placebo or write a song for The Hives. 

RT: What are your favorite venues?

OC: Buffalo’s Mohawk Place, Arlene’s Grocery in NYC, Slash Run in DC, Ralph’s Rock Diner in Worcester, Kung Fu Necktie in Philly, Sunnyvale in Brooklyn but is closed, Mercury Lounge, Pianos and Gold Sounds. Great venues them all, I’d play one each night if it was up to me.

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RT: What is your favorite song to perform?

OC: “Find my Baby” I think. Is melodic and catchy and I think is the best lyrics I wrote so far. But it’s hard for me to sign. I’m out of tune most of the time, the verses are particularly hard but it’s so fun, it’s a fun song and even though it’s about love it has a deep meaning and it’s pure poetry those lyrics.

RT: What do you like most about being a musician?

OC: Everything. I love writing songs. I love loud guitars, loud bass, loud thundering drums. I love touring, I love the sound of the door of the touring van when it closes, I love loading into the venues, and taking apart the gear and loading out. I love driving at night looking for the hotels and talking to the guys about the gig we just played. I love the smell of beer, piss and cleaner of the venues. I love the crappy wawa food along the east coast. I love watching the pavement pass by through the window and the changes in temperature and cities and all.

I love the band mates. I love recording and placing mics. I love singing and I love my voice when I’m in tune. I love the tension amongst the band. I love the soundcheck, I love to gig. I love to write lyrics and come up with riffs. I love my bands and the passion they invested into their music. I love the people involved in music. I love being tight and rehearsing and I love yelling my lungs out. I love the amps and the effect pedals. I love well made guitars and specifically a brand but I won’t say because they’d have to pay me. I love the science of sound. I love CD’s and vinyls and cassettes and DAWs. I love how my wife supports me and my family too. What I like the most is gigging.

RT: Do you ever get performance anxiety?

OC: I saw a movie with Jude Law, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Channing Tatum and Rooney Mara called Side Effects and I learned about beta-blockers. Before my first gig in Medellín I was lucky I had a friend who was a doctor and I asked her for beta-blockers which would calm me because I knew I was going to be a nervous wreck. And I was. My first gig was horrible, I was so nervous I felt sick in my chest. The beta-blockers helped me to be just ok during the first gigs but they would make me feel trapped in cellophane or something, my girlfriend would tell me I was distant and weird and gone while under their effect, and I think the audience felt it too, I see the videos and it’s like a zombie is doing the concert. I went down on the dose and it was better but I was too nervous to have fun. When in the U.S. I didn’t have them so I had to suck it up.

My first gig was at the Mercury Lounge but it wasn’t that bad. During my first year I’d feel bad but not horrible. I still get anxious and need some time to get loose while performing but it’s way better. Before the pandemic we had a good rhythm going on, the more gigs I was playing one after the other the best I felt. I’ll get rid of that, it’s useless to feel anxious before a gig. I want to have fun with the band and the audience.

RT: Do you have any other upcoming projects you are working on?

OC: Only as Public Nature, yes. Many songs to come. I wrote around 30 new songs during the pandemic and am still writing more. 8 of them we got to record and the rest, because I’ll be without a band soon, I’ll have to either find bandmates or hire recording musicians to record them. Let’s see what happens first.

RT: What is one message you would like to give your fans?

OC: I’d like to tell them that we love you very much and please be patient for more music to come!

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