Alejandro Jodorowsky's art-house masterpiece, The Holy Mountain, is about many things. Capitalism, religion, greed, immorality and materialism are all critiqued by the filmmaker throughout the duration of the 1973 film. One of the foremost and prevailing themes is the quest to self-discovery in a cruel world. Yes, deep, dark and thorough stuff.
Dallas ex-pat and current Los Angeleno electronica musician, Mystery Skulls (née Luis Dubac), says films are an inspiration for his music, and The Holy Mountain is among his favorites. As he sees it, the two mediums intersect. "You can paint an audio version of a picture," he says. "If you look at something and put it [a film] on mute, you can write to it, and that's how I do a lot of my music."
Forever, Mystery Skulls' debut LP through Warner Bros., was created in the midst of isolation in L.A., the second most populous city in the United States.
"I didn't know anyone. I left all of my friends and family in Dallas and everyone I'd ever known and moved a million miles away," Dubac recalls. "It sucked at first, and it was hard. And that's what the songs are about. That's what the future's about." This sentiment is echoed on the album's second track, "The Future," in which he sings "I'm worried about the future, ain't fuckin' with the past."
Forever was Dubac's route to a self-discovery -- the realization that he wanted an opportunity to start fresh in a new place and make an autobiographical piece of art that's important and new. "In the end it ended up being kind of cool," he says. "I could just focus on myself and focus on my art."
Dubac was born in a small town in Venezuela where he was raised until his mother met his stepfather. When he was 8 he and the family moved to Toronto. "When you're a kid you don't really pick it. You go where your folks go," he says.
Toronto was a cultural awakening. He had been sealed off from the wave of pop culture in Venezuela, but there he immersed himself in the music of the '90s. At 14 he moved to North Texas, where he took a job at a Sam Goody in Lewisville.
What were once his obsessions -- Boys II Men, Deee-Lite, Black-Box and later Nirvana, Wu-Tang Clan, Slayer, Beastie Boys, Prodigy and Daft Punk -- would later greatly influence his music. The footprint of Deee-Lite's spasm of mirth classic "Groove is in the Heart," is found on songs from Forever like "Magic" and "When I'm With You."
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His interest in R&B is reflected by the choice of getting a Brandy feature on two songs after the suits at Warner Bros. asked who'd he'd like to work with. "Straight up, I just said, 'I have this song and I really think Brandy would be perfect,'" he says. Brandy, you would think, is a little left-field for electronic dance music, but not as Dubac sees it. "In just the spectrum of just amazing beautiful voices she has one of the best ones," he argues. "It's nostalgic and perfect."
The two must enjoy working together, apparently, as Dubac's now contributing to her upcoming album as well. Another tenured musician who pops up on the record -- the two songs with Brandy -- is Nile Rodgers of CHIC and the popular "Get Lucky." Dubac got in touch with Rodgers by way of a friend. One day, out of the blue Rodgers gave him a call and expressed interest in working together.
Forever has a wealth of deep synths, basslines and grandiosity. One of its stronger points is a penchant for melody. Dubac says he's keen on melodies that are "nicely repetitive" and give you a sense that you're in a place that's familiar, a feeling of warmth, like you're inside the song. Currently the album sits at No. 2 on iTunes' electronica albums chart and the lead single, "Ghost," holds the seventh spot on the electronica singles chart. This is due in part to the vibrant cartoon music video for "Ghost," which was animated by Ben Mangum, who made a fan video of Mystery Skulls' "Money" in 2012.
What brought Dubac to Los Angeles was a call from his now manager, Larry Little, that expressed interest in working together. Dubac picked up everything and left on a whim without telling many people, which spawned the creation of "Ghost," in which the chorus refrains, "This time I might just disappear."
Dallas is home, but one thing Dubac relishes about L.A. is the city is current.
"Even if you're into the most obscure thing ever, there's just more people that are going to like it. You can play the same venue every night of the week and literally play to a different crowd of people," he says. "There are so many transients. There are so many people coming here; moving away; coming; going. It's just a beautiful opportunity I never considered."
Dubac has also delved into metal, playing drums in a Tulsa-based band named Thirty Called Arson in the early aughts. "The cool thing about metal is it's one of those genres that's not rooted in reality," he explains. "Punk rock is about society and teen angst. Hip-hop is about being real. Metal is about demons and hell. It's over the top, and it's awesome. That's always appealed to me."
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If Dubac would compare metal to a movie genre, it'd be horror. He says he put metal on the back burner because he grew up, wanted to explore self-discovery and create something founded in realism.
"I didn't want to keep making the horror movie," he says. "I wanted to make the autobiographical adventure movie that felt futuristic and retro. Something that could take you away and really inspire people."
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