There’s a lot going on in “Contéstame” (“Answer Me”), the opening track off the self-titled debut album by Latin Psych Rock duo Mascarada. And no wonder. Leana Courtney and Shawn Grindle have woven together two sounds, two musical traditions and created something enchantingly different. “I just remember driving in Phoenix with Shawn,” Courtney recalls, “and he proposes the idea of doing a Latin Psych Rock project.” She was a little hesitant about collaborating with another musician. “The process took me completely out of my musical comfort zone,” she says, but “it wasn’t as hard as I imagined.”
“Contéstame” is the first song Courtney and Grindle recorded together, their firstborn if you will. The seed came from an unfinished track Courtney had recorded previously. “It had some mild Latin flavor,” says Grindle, “and an interesting melody, but what was the most intriguing about it was the bass line.” Grindle suggested picking up the tempo of the original and switching the piano with a more rocking guitar. “Within an hour, we had it done.” The resulting track is the original expression of what Mascarada is all about. Both the Latin and the Psych sounds are there, but the mix is subtle, with neither one looking to upstage the other. The duo clearly has an intuitive feel for each other. “The whole track was recorded in a day,” remembers Grindle.
A glockenspiel tingles, once, twice, as if calling you to dinner, or perhaps warning you of an incoming storm. An old-fashioned keyboard prologue puts you back at ease as the drums, strings, and vocals all come to the table and slide into place. It’s lovely, perhaps a bit bucolic at first. You’re feeling pretty comfortable, finding your groove with the tune. But then the refrain bursts to life with its bold, even rash, guitar lick and its beseeching chorus: “Answer me! Answer me!” It’s a little disconcerting, this switch in tone, but it’s meant to be and it works.
If you were to smush together the sultry rhythms of tropicalia with the rebellious strings of rock en español, then added a sprinkle of psychedelic electronica, you would be close to the full experience of listening to “Contéstame,” but not totally there. You would be missing Leana Courtney’s siren vocals, possibly the MVP of the whole sound. The lyrics, written by Courtney, are deceptively simple. “I want to ask you something important,” the voice lures you in with a crystalline purr. “Will you walk the Earth with me… tomorrow?”
“Contéstame” is a love song. But, as it turns out, “you” is not some imaginary character but you, the you who is listening, the you who can’t help but fall under Courtney’s spell. And then, without warning, her voice turns serrated and bites into your neck and grabs onto you in a new way. “Answer me! Answer me!” Now you’re a little worried by the feral energy, but then the purr returns to calm you down, and brings you along on the journey, to the sea and to the mountain’s peak. “Will you stay with me?” she demands. “Answer me! Answer me!” And you think, how could I say no to that?
Courtney and Grindle loved “Contéstame”. They immediately “decided to move forward and work out an entire record.” And so they have. Mascarada will be making their live debut on May 9, 2017 at the Hotel Café in Los Angeles. Their self-titled LP is set for independent release later this summer.