Syntax Issue 10
Denver Syntax

We live on a land island where, all around us are but millions upon millions of ancient acres of hollow land. It really is no wonder that the big cities on the watery ports of the world are struggling to hear the chandeliers swaying and singing in the Queen City.

Since I was a kid I’ve known people all around me that have never been to the ocean to hear the songs of the bathetic beaches and the furious, salty sea.

Thankfully then, in this arid land, we have something like the orchestral, salty Pina Chulada: the oceanic sound of longing and want – the experience of the aquatic world and its manifold emotions, in the palm tree lines of one wrinkly, waterlogged hand.

Formed by Jen Villalobos and Brent Smith, Pina Chulada was created out of the dense, foggy air of courting. Romantic courting. What began as simple pair-bond sharing – with Jen educating Brent on her songwriting and the songs she has sang, while Brent educated her on his background and where his musical ethic came from – theirs quickly blossomed into a deep, profound understanding of the other, with music at the core of their water world.

Pina Chulada is a story of cooperative painting: it is four hands painting one big, watery canvas. It is the painting of supreme intimacy – the kind that so fluently mirrors only one thing: heart wrenching red romance. In that way that only your lover can pull the secret spots out of you, so too does the life of musical partners tug and tow each other’s heart and ambition in unprecedented ways.

Drawn in the sand, there begins to emerge a picture of dichotomies and mirrors within Pina Chulada: of land and water, sand and sea, love and music, of zero and one, one and two. But the most memorable movement from the far ends of the spectrum is that one where they move from acoustic to electronic. For this is what I think of when I say those two words, Pina Chulada: Acoustic. Electronic.

And then I think of the amalgamation of these things forging heatedly into a melancholy salvation, an island, standing tall as one: As the lookout lighthouse that pulses in your night wandering - between the places of have and had, of love and lost, of just then and right now.

Acoustic. Electronic.

Jen writes the songs on her guitar. And while I’ve never seen her guitar – not too many people have these days for the act doesn’t play out – in my head I paint it blue: the lugubrious, redemptive hue. She then turns the skeletal songs over to Brent who uses their studio as his instrument – working through her words and melodies to piece the puzzle together. Then, he pulls out his paintbrush and begins coloring the sandbar figures that Jen drew in the starfish tide pools.

If you close your eyes, you will see colors. And if you close your ears you will see words. The colors are the words and the people are the places. It is here, where Brent and Jen merge as musicians, where the canvas becomes one and where their brushes become mops, hitting the tree tops.

I haven’t seen them at home, but in my head I draw them in the studio, together, smiling coyly – with her calling him, “chulo”.

New as an act, Jen and Brent aren’t interested in playing live. Not just yet. For just as they are taking their time as lovers – they have been dating for two years and still don’t live together – their music is taking its time. Still, that hasn’t deterred Pitchfork from keeping their eye on them. Musicians in Denver are talking too – for the most part those that actually know the faces of the often mysterious and shy couple.

Perhaps theirs is a healthy tale of caution, for the kind of intimacy that they share as musicians is, afterall, intensely delicate and mysterious. And sure, the word “intimacy” on its own or especially when it is yoked to anything else in your life, is delicate – possibly phony. But the couple doesn’t flinch at this descriptor – for they are humble kin, the kind of humans that know the profound when they touch it. For sure, they know how the opening-up of the ribcage happens when you’re huddled over the song that you painstakingly, personally delivered – and how that mirrors any romance of the heart and mind.

Jen spent time as a songwriter, playing her lonely guitar under solitary lights of only imagined stages. Brent came from the DIY world in the west. Together their sensibilities and ethics have aligned to form Pina Chulada, an act that is employing their personal patience to hold steady-enough to their slow musical escalation. They continue to record and have a project due soon, but only have two songs completed at the time of this writing (yes, only two, and yes, we were moved that much to crave the chance to tell their story first).

They are a learning unit, dedicated to growing as both musicians and two people yoked cosmically together in this empty universe. Brent’s electronic ideas are finding more and more acoustic solutions to the electronic swells of song. Together they are playing with how their live show will look, mulling-over how that will feel on the public stage, this private love. They are still creating cohesion in their band identity. Brent is learning, learning how to interpret Jen and Jen is learning, swerving how to interpret him and the world that they live in so that she can continue to color her starry skies with her starry eyes and the adoring characters of her song stories so that Brent can paint his pillowy explosions of white water crashing into the violent, peaceful parts of the earth.

I haven’t looked in the window of their recording studio, but in my mind I toss around the idea of music as a relationship-builder. When I close my eyes and open my ears to feel the sound of Pina Chulada I think of music as a carpenter: building the sea and the sand and swelling my heart like it does the tide, up and down and in and out.

Don’t drift away in the currents, for Pina Chulada’s first big moves will be made before the vernal equinox in 2011: www.myspace.com/pinachulada.