Best known as one fourth of Seattle's Dreamdecay, Justin R. Cruz Gallego, aka J.R.C.G., stepped out on his own and reached for the outer realms last year with his solo debut Ajo Sunshine. We recently chatted with Gallego to learn more about how he sonically pushed things way outward and the boundless nature of his home recording techniques.
Back in November, Justin R. Cruz Gallego of the Seattle punk band Dreamdecay released his debut solo album, Ajo Sunshine, under the moniker J.R.C.G. Released through Castle Face Records (Osees, EXEK, Nolan Potter), Gallego widens his experimental pallet across the 12-track album, wandering through hypnotic grooves of krautrock while embracing noise rock and field recordings in all its forms — it's impenetrable wall of thick distortion and droning pulse charges into an exhilarating sonic universe that's far reaching. Whereas 2016's Wash was a cinematic, minimal synth-driven soundtrack, Ajo Sunshine adds a touch of menace with its warlike drum breaks and sonic puzzles. Take for instance, lead single "Holy Hope," an onslaught of minimalist abrasiveness with its brute force of pounding drums and synesthetic noise. "Rainbow" is piloted by its swarming motorik-fueled anxiety while "Lowrider" is a percussive dreamscape that embraces space-age jazz. However despite the sonic swelter and distorted series of noise, Gallego injects a a mysterious warmth and tenderness to the album particularly on the swirling "Love is a Drum" and blistering title track. Ajo Sunshine is a mesmerizing cosmic travel of tonal intensity with a melodic force. We recently chatted with Gallego to learn more about how he sonically pushed things way outward on the debut album and the boundless nature of his home recording techniques.
Paperface Zine: What are the origins of J.R.C.G. and what was its initial vision?
Justin R. Cruz Gallego: I guess like most musicians nowadays I've been recording on my own off and on from a young age. The initial vision for J.R.C.G. was a sort of a recommitment to that approach.
Paperface Zine: What made you want to pursue this solo venture and when exactly did you start it?
J.R.C.G.: I think I saw this as an opportunity to challenge my own creative habits and reignite my own one on one relationship with music. I think I've been doing this project off and on since 2016, but it's been most active within the last few years.
Paperface Zine: You incorporate a lot of different styles on your debut solo album Ajo Sunshine from krautrock to shoegaze and dazzling space rock to minimalist noise rock. Given how wildly experimental this project is, is there an infinite nature to it?
J.R.C.G.: Like most people, I like to think my taste in music is fairly diverse and I think when it comes to influence or even how I characterize my own music I would want it to feel free and able to waver on the things it draws from with the only emphasis being feel or spirit there to anchor it as a J.R.C.G. song.
Paperface Zine: What's it like constructing songs for this freewheeling project in comparison to your band Dreamdecay?
J.R.C.G.: J.R.C.G. music comes together in a much more abstract way mostly because it's just me and the way the technology works — it feels more like painting or collage with broad strokes where as Dreamdecay is four creative voices working together in a very hyper detailed way. I have love for both approaches, they equally serve their purpose creatively.
Paperface Zine: There's a surreal, kaleidoscopic brew of far-reaching psychedelia throughout Ajo Sunshine. Where did you record it and what was the recording and mixing process like?
J.R.C.G.: The record was recorded primarily at home in Tacoma and Seattle with additional parts recorded in Tucson and Los Angeles. As corny as it sounds, making the record forced me to confront myself as a musician and what place it has in my life. It forced me to make creative decisions that only I could make and ultimately resolidified my love for music as a creative medium. Mixing was challenging, but because the mix is so aesthetically "stylized," I was able to not have to worry about making things sound so perfect in a traditional sense, say like you would while recording a band live or something similar.
Paperface Zine: Were there any songs on this release that turned out way different than their initial idea? Were there any that really surprised you?
J.R.C.G.: The last song on the record, "Love Is A Drum" had a bunch of different versions. I think that's mostly because I knew it would end the record while making it.
Paperface Zine: How did the original ideas or concepts develop into these songs?
J.R.C.G.: Kind of going back to that earlier idea of it feeling like painting or collaging — a lot of these ideas just evolved over time by recording new things on top of existing ideas, constantly kind of adding and subtracting and just letting it morph and snowball into what sometimes felt drastically different from the original.
Paperface Zine: Take me through this new single you released back in April called "Drummy."
J.R.C.G.: Yeah, "Drummy" was recorded while Ajo Sunshine was being mastered. Having figured out my own flow for home recording, I just kept going and the sessions for Ajo just rolled right into the next. "Drummy" was mixed by Zac Hernandez who is a key member of the live band. It was great to have his take on the mix this time since he’s so acquainted with the live sound — I think we were able to kind of marry both the full band and solo vibes even though it was recorded alone at home. I'm recording a new record right now and Drummy will be on it in some form, it may sound completely different or may sound the same. I'm working with both ideas in mind right now but regardless it’s definitely leading toward new music.
Paperface Zine: I know you've played some live shows already so what’s it been like translating these tracks live?
J.R.C.G.: It's been great. Our collective Dreamdecay Music Group is handling the entire live side of performing the record. It's been very collaborative which is refreshing seeing as that's not how these songs originated. Everyone in Dreamdecay (the band) is involved along with other collective members, Erica Miller, Anthony Beauchemin, Phil Cleary, and Zac Hernandez. I'm very grateful to all of them.
Ajo Sunshine is out now through Castle Face Records.
Stream the new album below.