In Castaneda's books, Don Juan Matus was a Yaqui Indian whom he met during anthropological field work around the U.S.-Mexico border beginning in the early 1960s. On subsequent visits, Don Juan revealed himself to Castaneda as a brujo (Spanish for warlock), which is a sort of healer, sorcerer, or shaman who had inherited (through a lineage of teachers) an ancient Central American practice for refining one's awareness of the universe.
Don Juan was an expert in the cultivation and use of various hallucinogenic plants (specifically, psychedelic mushrooms, Datura, and Peyote) that can be found in the Mexican deserts, which are used as aids to reach states of non-ordinary reality in the philosophy he conveyed to Castaneda.
The actual existence of Don Juan is a matter of some dispute between Castaneda's supporters and critics. If Don Juan were a real person, his real name was apparently changed to maintain his anonymity.
Don Juan Matus was formed as a studio project in Lima, Perú, in late 2005 by Joaquín Cuadra and Richard Nossar.
After several months of sporadic jam sessions as a duo (drums - guitar), Cuadra met bassist Hugo Elías through a mutual friend and invited him to join.
With the arrival of Elías, rehearsals became more frequent and the band started to be taken seriously. It was around this time that Nossar suggested changing the name to Don Juan Matus (the band was already operating under the moniker Los Brujos del Bosque Encantado (The Wizards from the Enchanted Woods)) and recording as soon as possible, with the goal of self-producing a 7” single or EP. After a while, it became clear that Elías wasn’t too enthusiastic about recording. Musical and ideological differences led the band to a period of inactivity towards the end of year.
After a few phone conversations, Cuadra and Nossar got together again in January 2007 and decided to search for a new bass player. Nossar asked Oscar Reategui B., who plays guitar in the HC band Dios Hastío, to come and jam with them. He came to one rehearsal but things didn’t work out due to a lack of chemistry.
The definitive replacement for Elías came in the shape of Richard’s long-time friend Manolo Garfias, who joined the band a couple of weeks prior to the recording of Superzarza at Fonola Mobile Studios on February 20th 2007.
Don Juan Matus’ eponymous debut full-length was recorded between late February (starting with the above-mentioned recording) and mid-August 2007. With only a couple of songs rehearsed, most of the album material was written in the studio and produced by the trio with the assistance (in the final phase) of brothers Saúl and Manuel Cornejo of New Juggler Sound/Laghonia/We All Together fame. Guest musicians included Félix Varvarande, Saúl Cornejo, guitar hero Javier Mosquera, singer Alex Rojas and Carlos Torres, with the participation of recording engineer Miguel Yance.
By September, the band had been approached by José Morón (Dios Hastío’s singer and owner of Impulso Ruin Records) who was looking for a group to start a new label (Espíritus Inmundos) with. Morón became interested in Don Juan Matus after hearing a couple of samples and offered to release the album on CD as soon as the mastering was finished. A modest limited edition of 300 copies was released through Espíritus Inmundos in mid-October.
At the end of October the band decided to accept a deal with Nasoni Records from Berlin, Germany. The disc was remastered by Eroc of Grobschnitt fame and scheduled for a mid-January 2008 release.
In December, the band entered the studio once more to cut a track for a split 7” with Germany’s Angel of Damnation, to be released in early 2008 through Golden Procession (Japan) and Espíritus Inmundos (Perú). After the recording was finished, Alex Rojas was invited to join the band as a full-time member and he accepted.
In late January 2008, Nasoni Records released the band’s debut album on LP and CD to widespread critical acclaim.
In early February the group returned to MCA Studios to record their second album, which was produced by Garfias and Nossar and finished on May 3th. During the recording process, personal problems arose again between founder members Joaquín Cuadra and Richard Nossar, ending with the departure of Cuadra from the band. The album was completed with Garfias and recording engineer Miguel Yance sharing drumming duties (Yance also played tabla on one track). Guest musicians included Javier Mosquera on guitar, Manuel Cornejo on piano and Piero Chávez-Velando on farfisa organ.
A couple of weeks prior to the end of the recording sessions, the band recruited Veronik as singer, flautist, guitarrist and thereminist, giving a new dimension to their already unique sound. The new line-up was completed with the addition of drummer Alfonso Vargas, which Nossar met through graphic artist Pablo Goto in late 2007.
Produced by Garfias and Nossar, on September 6th Visiones Paganas (Pagan Visions) was released in Lima through Espíritus Inmundos. The album was scheduled for an early 2009 release in Europe through Nasoni Records but, due to a lack of communication between the band and the label, the Germans decided not to release the album over a concern about exclusivity.
With a title, artwork and 6 of the 9 selections included inspired by the 1973 British cult film The Wicker Man, John Pegoraro of StonerRock described Visiones Paganas as a must-have for fans of classic rock and doom.
After a long delay, the split 7” with Angel of Damnation was finally released on October 12th.
Built upon a couple of drum patterns recorded by Vargas around August 2008, the band's third album was finished in May 2009 after recording sporadically due to the studio's tight schedule.
Más Allá Del Sol Poniente (Beyond The Setting Sun), recorded entirely at Fonola Studios and produced by Nossar, is a darker, more electric and eclectic affair than Visiones Paganas. The album was released in Perú and Japan simultaneously via Espíritus Inmundos and Golden Procession in early September 2010.
Don Juan Matus is on the verge of finishing an additional album entitled Espejismos (Mirages) that will feature different versions of old and new tracks as well as unreleased material. (Don Juan Matus Myspace)
Salute men! A year ago we had a talk with one of the Don Juan Matus zealous followers - with your drummer Joaquín Cuadra, but we mostly spoke about his project El Hijo de la Aurora. So who will answer today?
-Alfonso, the new loquaciously opinionated drummer and founder member Richard, are answering today.
-Is Joaquín still with Don Juan Matus or is he concentrated only on El Hijo de la Aurora?
Alfonso: Joaquín has been out of the band for over two years, now. It's not really my place to elaborate on it.
Richard: In early February 2008, we returned to MCA Studios to record our second album. During the recording sessions, personal problems arose between Cuadra and myself, ending with Cuadra being asked to leave the band. The album was completed with Manuel Garfias and recording engineer Miguel Yance sharing drumming duties. Yance also played tabla on a song called Ritual.
The new line-up was completed with the addition of Alfonso Vargas, who I met through a mutual friend in late 2007.
-Don Juan Matus just released brand new CD "Más Allá del Sol Poniente" and it's a great occasion to let the world know more about the band. "Doom-band from Peru" is still a rare thing… Don't you think that farawayness of Peru from another world is one of reasons of Don Juan Matus original sound?
Alfonso: Not really. Our sound would be exactly the same as it is right now if we were from Greece, Turkey or the Tasmanian netherworlds, and its uniqueness is due to the disparate, and sometimes downright conflicting, influences the five of us have as individuals. Typical Peruvian folklore, while appreciated by us, had no place whatsoever in this project.
-How did "typical Peruvian folklore" influence on you when you composed songs for "Más Allá del Sol Poniente"? Did Alfonso take part in the process of composing?
Alfonso: As mentioned on the previous question, Peruvian folk music played no role in this record. Without going into much detail, I did participate in the writing process of the LP.
-Your music is intricate mix of classical doom metal and psychedelic rock - which of this components play a leading role in your music and why?
Richard: First of all, Don Juan Matus isn't a metal band. Creative freedom plays the leading role in our music since we don't restrict ourselves to a specific genre. We enjoy a wide range of styles.
Alfonso: The psychedelic spirit is most prevalent and important to the band, even moreso than the genre itself. Doom metal is a relevant influence, but on this new record there's only one song that would kind of fit in that particular box. On the other hand, the explorations that take place in pretty much every track on the LP make it more of a psychedelic experience.
-Okay, but our readers need some guideline to make conclusion about what Don Juan Matus play in such case - can you give few more hints?
Alfonso: Readers' ears should be far more trustworthy than what any of us can say about our own music, my friend, but I think our records should be available on the heavy psych cosmic doom folkadelic ambience section of any record store.
-As I understand from our interview with Joaquín most of you are followers of neo-pagan wicca religion and I wonder again how did you come to it? By the way your band's name points us to the teaching of Castaneda - does wicca's beliefs combine with it?
Richard: I read the interview with Cuadra and it's quite confusing. We're not followers of any religion, but I can't deny my interest in the occult. During my life, I've been involved with many practitioners of ritual magic and I've tried a few things here and there.
Wicca's beliefs and Castaneda are two different things. The fact that we use the name of a character from a series of books, doesn't mean that our lyrics have to deal with any of the issues and themes from those books.
-But there's a song "Mundo Alterno" into new album with lyrics about themes which is close to Castaneda's teaching. And don't you think that most of beliefs are the same? Different are some methods and details.
Richard: The lyrics of "Mundo Alterno" can be related to Castaneda's writings (not teachings) due to it's imagery, but the main source for inspiration was Ken Russell's film, "Altered States".
Alfonso: "Altered States". Particularly the part where peyote makes William Hurt forget about his academic background and rock the fuck out, apeman style.
-And man dare I ask another question: do other pagan metal-bands take you serious? Pagan bands play another music - not doom metal or psychedelic doom metal for example as you, as there are vibes of Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin in your music which were hardly pagan bands… What do you think?
Alfonso: We're very serious about our music, regardless of our personal beliefs. As such, we really don't give a shit about being taken seriously by others. If being a pagan metal band means running around naked in the woods, drinking mead and starting fires, we're not having any of it, but we hope they're happy and don't catch a cold.
Richard: Robert Plant cited Lewis Spence's Magic Arts in Celtic Britain as one of the sources for the lyrics to Stairway To Heaven. With its starkly pagan imagery of trees and brooks, pipers and the May Queen, Stairway was an invitation to follow the old gods. And what about the jacket of Houses Of The Holy? I think you should go back to the Zeppelin catalog!
-Indeed I must! So what is this pagan lore for you? Joaquín said that he did some practice so what about you? Did you gain a gift of astral vision?
Richard: I was gifted with astral vision from the day I was born! Hold one of your hands out in front of you and close your eyes. Breathe slowly and evenly. Relax your mind, and don't worry if this doesn't work the first time.
-Don Juan Matus was a studio project so is that fact a reason why I didn't find any of your live videos? Did you ever play gigs?
Alfonso: We were offered to play a show about a year ago, but it didn't come through in the end. The nature of the songs and our respective schedules made it impossible for us to play gigs, and the fact that Manuel has moved to Australia just leaves the possibility of playing live shows out of the question.
-But I hope that Manuel's departure will not damage the band's creativity, will it? Will you continue your collaboration via internet?
Richard: The fact the Manuel is living in Australia does not mean he will left the band. We're discussing the possibility to record a fourth studio album and he is willing to participate. By the way, Manuel has publicly renounced to El Hijo De La Aurora to concentrate in this project, I guess.
-You know man that Peru is still an exotic country at the edge of the world for most of people, therefore forgive me my lack of tact but how and where do you rehearse, what kinds of underground metal clubs do you have?
Alfonso: We ride on llamas' backs for two hours to get to the rehearsal studio, which has recently acquired a bass drum; I was forced perform percussion duties by stomping on the floor with steeltoe boots before, which made it kinda hard to listen to the other guys' pan flutes. The flute playing is recorded, sampled and turned into synthetic electric guitars by "studio wizardry", and drum tracks are actually constructed from Electric Wizard samples. There's no such thing as underground metal clubs, but there's a few guys around the corner of my house that play old Slayer cassettes on boomboxes in their cars, and they sell homemade liquor out of their gas tank. Business is good, I hear.
-I did surmise that… And Golden Procession with Espiritus Inmundos labels will release special edition of "Más Allá del Sol Poniente" on stone round tablets with all songs' lyrics carved upon them, right? How listeners can order your new album?
Richard: The album will be available through StonerRock in a couple weeks, as well as other cool online stores from around the world.
-And in continuation of that theme let me ask you about how and where did you record "Más Allá del Sol Poniente"?
Alfonso: The new LP was recorded, on and off, over a one-year period at Fonola Studios, which are located in San Miguel, Lima. As each track has its own particular approach, the process wasn't exactly linear, which worked in the final product's variety of moods and sonic textures.
Richard: This is the first album recorded entirely in one studio. The recording started around August 2008 and was finished in May 2009 after recording sporadically due to the studio's tight schedule.
-And why did you wait whole year before released new material? I bet that you composed a couple of new songs during that period!
Richard: After finishing the recording, I went to Buenos Aires for a couple months, then I returned to mix the album since nobody took care of it. Fonola's tight schedule delayed the mixing for three and a half months. After that, we had some problems with the mastering, which was actually done twice by two different people!
After the album was finished, I moved to Arequipa in December. In January, I asked Marcos Coifman from Reino Ermitaño to do a painting for the album cover and then returned to Lima for a few weeks in February to oversee the final product.
All these inconveniences left us exhausted and unwilling to search for a new label since Espíritus Inmundos was having financial problems. Finally, José joined forces with Golden Procession and told us to wait until July. We did.
The disc was made in Colombia and the graphics printed in Perú at request of the Japanese label. After trying in a couple printing shops, we found the right one thanks to Veronik's husband. It was hell!
During the recording process of this album we were busy with other musical projects. Most of the outtakes of Más Allá Del Sol Poniente will be included on Espejismos.
-Songs lyrics of "Más Allá del Sol Poniente" are in Spanish as all lyrics of your previous albums so let me ask you to comment all songs from new CD if you do not mind of course!
Richard: This is the first album that includes the lyrics translated into English.
Bajo La Sombra Del Arbol De La Vida Y La Muerte (Under The Shadow Of The Tree Of Life And Death) : I can't remember how this title came to my head, but it felt right with the music.
Kadath / Más Allá Del Sol Poniente (Kadath / Beyond The Setting Sun) : The lyrics were written by Alex Rojas and are inspired in The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath by H.P. Lovecraft.
Ectoplasma (Ectoplasm) : I came with the title after listening to the music. For me, this piece could be the soundtrack to a seance
Mundo Alterno (Alternate World) : As mentioned earlier, the lyrics to this song are based on Ken Russell's film, Altered States.
"Visiones Paganas" (Pagan Visions) : This is another song inspired by the british film The Wicker Man.
"Summerland" (Summerland) : Summerland is the name given by wiccans and other neo-pagan religions to their conceptualization of an afterlife. I knew I had to write a lyric on the subject after a conversation with a white witch friend of mine.
Espejismos (Mirages) : A soundscape to descend to.
Verde Nocturno / Las Horas Azules (Green Nocturne / The Blue Hours) : This is a two part song about night and dawn.
-" Espejismos" is a weird track with leading drum-session, was that track composed totally by Alfonso? How did you get that idea to write instrumental track with only drums?
Alfonso: Yeah, the blame is all mine on that one. I was thinking of early Kraftwerk and Gyorgy Ligeti the day it was recorded, and "Espejismos" is what came out.
-I'd like to ask you about "Visiones Paganas" song - there are the words of addressing to Gods of the Earth, The Air and The Sea and to Pan. I'm sure that you're both well-read men that's why I think that such separation is a bit strange… I'm meaning that don't you think that God - pagan or Christian or Indian - is One, others are emanations, manifestations of His/Her different sides?
Richard: For me, God is something that escapes to human understanding. I'm more into vital existence instead of spiritual pipe dreams (quoting one of LaVey's Satanic statements). On the other hand, I have a strong respect for nature and ancient beliefs. "Visiones Paganas" depicts a May Day celebration. In neopaganism and Wicca the archetype of the horned god is highly important, as represented by such deities as Pan.
Alfonso: I think we're on the same page regarding a divine entity. Personally I think of God as a centerpiece of energy that is to be respected, if not worshipped, since it's the source of everything positive and negative. Or, as Tom Waits so eloquently put these matters to rest, "Satan is God when he gets drunk".
-You released your CD with a help of Espíritus Inmundos label - how does it owner José Morón work with you? What are his methods and how does he promote his production?
Richard: I know José for about 22 years and he has been pretty supportive within his possibilities. "Espíritus Inmundos" has 12 or 13 releases to date, which is not bad for a small Peruvian label with less than 4 years of activity. Since he has a 9 to 5 job and run the label alone, the promotion is not the best, but I can't complain either.
-You still collaborate with Japanese label Golden Procession who once again was eager to release new album of Don Juan Matus. Is your music really popular in Japan?
Alfonso: I guess we're as popular as an antipodean niche act can be over there. Golden Procession gave us the best offer, so we went with them and we're glad we did.
-I'm sorry because next question may sound impolite but what is your occupation? What do you do besides playing music?
Richard: I'm a photographer.
Alfonso: I'm a lawyer and I deal in civil litigation. That's how I pay my bills, and I also play in two other bands, one of which is quite poppy and the other one on a much more "heavy-dance" vibe.
-"Heavy-dance" vibe?! What is it?
Alfonso: The band's name is Liquidarlo Celuloide, who I've been playing with for about five years now. We've come a long way, since we started as a full-on improvisational noise thing, but we've evolved into something more structured and easier to grasp, thanks to listening to the Melvins and the first three PIL LPs repeatedly.
-Is it difficult to find a job in Lima nowadays? What is economical situation on Peru?
Alfonso: I wouldn't call it difficult, but it helps if you can fend for yourself in that sense, as big companies make you go through a lot of hurdles before hiring you. That said, the economy has improved quite a lot over the past decade or so, even if such improvement has been mostly on a macroeconomic dimension, to the point that the big economy plunge from two years ago didn't hurt us as bad as it could have if we weren't in such a good financial condition.
-It's known that Don Juan Matus is on the verge of finishing an additional album entitled "Espejismos (Mirages)" that will feature different versions of old and new tracks as well as unreleased material. Which songs will be included in the album and how soon it will be ready?
Alfonso: Espejismos will contain 7'' tracks, alternate mixes, extended takes and more assorted oddities we have lying around our vaults. With the new record just out I think the smart thing to do is wait for at least a year before putting it out there..
Richard: Espejismos will be released early 2011 through Rauch Musik, which is a label run by my girlfriend and I. The compilation will feature 2 new tracks: Carne Humana Para Las Masas (Human Flesh For The Masses) and Aura Tornasol (Litmus Aura) plus re-recorded versions of Matorral (Bush), Vórtice Espiral (Spiral Vortex), Ciervo (Deer) and 7-8 more tracks.
-True to say, that's all… So let me wish to you and all of your family all the best! It's great that we have internet nowadays and we can communicate even being in bloody different countries! Thank you for this interview friend. Please add few words to our readers.
Alfonso: We hope you enjoy our new record. Thank you for your time!
Richard: Thanks for your interest in the band and spread the gospel!
Interview By Aleks Evdokimov
Don Juan Matus @ Myspace