Phicus – fauna and flora of improvisation in bloom

Andrzej Nowak (

Alex, like I have noticed, the Barcelona improvised scene is large but musicians know each other very well. Where is the idea of playing in such personal compositions?

The improvised music scene in Barcelona has experienced a growth during the last years, but it's still a relatively small affair, where almost everybody knows each other and many musicians play in several different bands and records. Obviously, that kind of endogamy has its drawbacks: it's easy to unconciously adapt to certain expected roles that may end limiting creative possibilities, or feel a certain stagnation after playing many times in similar configurations. But the positive aspects, in my opinion, surpass them. The (relatively) limited pool of players, combined with the manageable size of Barcelona, makes it easy to develop strong personal and musical affinities, even between players of different age and backgrounds. My relation with Ferran is a good example of that: in spite of being from different generations and backgrounds (Ferran is several years older than me, and he is an extremely curious and organized self-taught avantgardist while I am a kind of weird conservatoire/academy product), since the first time we met we developed a strong affinity, at first based on similar interests and artistic goals. After months playing weekly at his place, that creative relation evolved into a personal friendship. Different story with Vasco, but with similar results. He is one of the most active and innovative drummers in Barcelona. I played with him dozens and dozens of times in different situations (Discordian Records sessions, concerts, the Soda sessions organized by El Pricto, etc. etc.) even before the first Phicus rehearsal. In fact, Phicus is a good example of a product of that kind of situation: we knew each other quite well (both personally and artistically) before we noticed that forming that band was a good idea.

I think, that for Ferran, who is involved in another kind of improvisation, you know, for example like contemporary avangarde electronic, that model like Phicus is something new. Am I right?

If we look at what's or has been happening in Barcelona, the answer is yes. Phicus is going through new unexplored paths, especially regarding the timbric qualities of their music and the highly energetic attitude. The fact that the guitar is not intoxicated by effects and it's placed side by side with the bass and drums (if you are not playing, then there's no sound) takes Phicus apart from the usual power-trio sound we all have in mind when we think about that kind of formations.

There's also certain compositional strategies aiming at different situations than the usual action-reaction that many musicians misunderstand while facing music creation situations. It's also worth of highlighting that Phicus has been polishing and honing their sound and craft with an intense rehearsal schedule since its conception on 2016. The three instruments deal with roles and situations differently than the usual preconceptions, and it's probably this new paradigm what pushes Phicus music toward those stylistic horizons you mention.

Why name “Phicus”? Is it a good sound of this word or something more? And this chemistry in tittles. Should we look for a kind of unusual experience?

(Vasco): We wanted a short name not related to the usual musical nomenclature: ensemble, trio, project, etc.... We were looking for a band name, since the project was conceived as it. “Phicus” sounded to us completely unrelated to any particular genre, a detail that could be interesting in the future. It makes me happy to think that one day I’ll be able to tell my grandsons that I played in a band named after a plant.

The song titles were first suggested by Àlex. He’s been obsessed by natures elements and processes since his youth (probably a consequence of his impossibility to understand his science lessons at school), and they are a constant feature in his iconography: he had two bands named after an animal and many of his early compositions had animals, plants and natural phenomena in its titles (cats, birds, grass, jellyfish, wind, rabbits). The elements of the periodic table are just a logical development of those interests. We really feel that there is a certain relation between the music and the titles, and especially with the album’s name: since the very first listen of the album, it was clear that there was something lead-like in its core. It also sounds nice.

Phicus often exists in concert reality as trio plus 1. I think, for example, about tour and recordings with Martin Küchen.. Is the trio too small band for us or you only look for more artictic impressions?

Phicus is a trio and we really like it that way, but we are interested in develop and consolidate a versatility that allow us to play with an extra member. Wind instruments give us extra timbric possibilities that expand the musical language we want to explore. But for us is important to keep our identity us a trio.

In the particular case of Martin Küchen, we were looking for a musician with a personal language that could combine well with our extended timbre palette, but with a character strong enough to challenge and force us off our comfort zone. We are very satisfied with the tour and extremely excited with the upcoming record (we almost finished the mixing process yesterday).

In one of the reviews of yours first CD, the journalist wrote the second track on the album (“Plom 1”) is “maybe the most punk rock improv recording we’ve heard this year”. What do you think about this punk connotations? Did you play that music in the youth? (I know that Vasco played death metal!).

(Ferran): Maybe we should consider what specific references this journalist has in mind while writing this. Anyway, if we obviate the rethoric question, it is easy to understand that somebody uses thins kind of label to categorize us. In my opinion, Plom 1 and 2 are two small doses of what could be a hypothetical bridge between free-jazz and the raw energy of Rock. If I have to be more precise, I’ll say that the kind of reckless energy of the guitar relates to the sound of some 80s American bands like Fugazi, or our beloved The Ex. But I have to admit that I’ve never been so into them as to consider it a real influence.
I haven’t played punk music during my youth; I’m doing it now, in my 40s.

(Àlex): The first band I ever played in was a sort of teenage punk-rock band, and during my formative years I played tons of rock and metal (from Led Zeppelin covers to the most messy and sloppy death metal imaginable). I’ve never been much into punk, but I absolutely adore 90s European black metal, early American death metal (I still can’t believe how something so good like “Blessed are the Sick” is not illegal) and much of what’s generically called “noise music” (japanoise, harsh noise, power electronics...). Lately I got into the doom trend, and been really influenced by musicians like Dylan Carlson or Electric Wizard.

So in my opinion, it’s obvious that all that background leaks into the music somehow.

Kind of question about the philosophy of improvisation. Which aspects are the most important in the process of improvisation, especially free improvisation?

The nature of improvisation is always something obscure and hard to grasp. In our specific case, we wanted to develop a specific “Phicus language” , not necessarily unrelated to our own individual vocabulary, but that make’s it different than just a Fages-Reviriego-Trilla meeting. A good example could be to listen side by side the Völga record with Plom. Considering that the 50% of Völga is the 66% of Phicus, is interesting to see how different both records are (especially considering that both are completely improvised and recorded in the same studio the same year). While Völga deals with slow viscous and dark landscapes, with some sort of folksy beauty hidden in the music’s corners, Phicus is a clash of disparate forces, sometimes a fragile equilibrium at the verge of chaos, others more a strange and stubborn dance of mysterious characters. Those differences reveal the obvious difference that context (and intent) makes in free improvisation: I may be (relatively) free to act spontaneously, but the surrounding events will filter the “meaning” of those acts, and feedback into my next decisions (that will condition the rest of the canvas), generating very peculiar and unique environments.

Thanks Alex, Ferran and Vasco for interview! See you at the gigs in Poland!

Phicus’ tour dates in Poland are following:

30.11 - Łódź (Format)
01.12 - Warszawa (Mózg Powszechny)
03.12 - Poznań (Dom Tramwajarza).