After a lineup revamp, Mexico's longest-running symphonic group, Cast, has begun a new chapter after twenty-five years and fifteen studio and live releases. Recent events caused some turbulence that seriously threatened to derail Cast's active status, but persistence paid off in the form of the brand new double-disc, Al-bandaluz. Sea of Tranquility staffer Elias Granillo nabbed keyboardist/founder Alfonso "Poncho" Vidales for a drive-thru interview just before Cast departed for a short tour of Europe.
Sea of Tranquility: Cast was formed in the late 70s. Many fans are calling the eleventh studio album, Al-bandaluz, the band's best work ever. It's the first (!) to feature Spanish lyrics/vocals, instead of English. I think the music calls for this, it sounds better this way. Will this be the norm from now on? How much input did the new guys have when it came to composing?
Alfonso Vidales: The new band members are totally receptive, and like very much what we are doing and what I compose! I accept their influences and their perspectives of the music I am creating. They really love the music of the previous Cast albums and now they are looking forward to more challenges and more tours! Long tracks and mathematical music is what they name our progressive rock! The lyrics are now in Spanish (at least for this album), but the new album— or whatever comes as the new production of Al-bandaluz II, etc.—will probably have some tracks in English. I think now we can do both even in the same album!
SoT: What are the meanings behind the album's title, and the track
AV: The name "Al~bandaluz" means "Al," as in the [prefix for many descriptions in Arabic]. Second, "banda," for the word "band"; and "luz" (light) or "andaluz," for the region of the Andalucia in Spain— Enrique Slim, our former drummer, friend and artist for many album covers and inner sleeve artwork, was baptized there—where half of the album was recorded. Enrique traveled with us to Jerez de la Fontera where the recording studio La Bodega is located. The title also pertains to the Arabic influence that the album has, as you already noticed. Encrucijada" means something akin to a hidden challenge.
SoT: What circumstances led to a near-complete lineup change? What are some of the former members, like Dino [Brassea, flute/vocals] and Antonio [Bringas, drums], up to? I understand Antonio has a metal band.
AV: Dino left the band in 2001, and due to many personal circumstances, wasn't interested in having a really friendly relationship at that moment with the rest of us. Not very participative in the overall sound, he didn't collaborate in many of the tracks that he was supposed to, and was facing a really hard time in his life, and still is. Antonio is totally immersed in his metal project. Also, I do not think he will come back because he is a main force in his band (Cruz de Hierro) with his brother, Ernesto. In Cast, Antonio was only a drummer, and also the youngest member, with four other guys much older than he. I think the old Cast was ready to [disband] and that really affected my way of thinking…about the continuous work of the band for many, many years.
I decided that it was time to leave, and Carlos [Humarán, guitar] and Kiko [King, drums] both accepted my invitation to create a new band, and we decided to go to Spain to record an album. Later, we added more music in a studio in the USA, and also at Castudio, at my home. Flavio Jiménez [bass] was invited, and recorded with us on the USA and Mexico stints. Carlos and Kiko decided to invite [vocalist, guitarist and longtime Cast member] Francisco Hernandez to sing. Francisco suggested that we continue the tradition with the Cast name. I think we sound more rejuvenated, more powerful, more solid. We're going to many places in the rest of this year, and this is probably going to be a really good jump into more touring [in foreign countries].
SoT: Cast is about to leave for a short tour of Europe—bouncing back to North Carolina for ProgDay on Labor Day Weekend—and will play a few dates in Chile this November. With this new crack lineup, Cast may make an even bigger impression on audiences yet. How did you enlist the new members, Kiko, Carlos & Flavio? Are they concurrently members of other bands, too?
AV: Carlos was the guitar player for four tracks on Infinity (2001), Francisco played on the rest. We noticed Carlos was a really good guitarist, he adds yet another dimension of sorts. Of course Francisco was only going to be a singer and percussionist [on Infinity] but that was only for the part of the recording when Enrique Slim played drums—because half of the material was from his years as a full-time drummer with us. Antonio had already left the band. Rodolfo [Gonzalez, former bassist] only recorded three tracks and was no longer interested in what we were doing. Dino also left the band that year, and we invited him to return many times, but his head was in a total cloud of obscurity.
Kiko, whose real name is Francisco King, was a band member with Carlos in Aria, playing music heavily influenced by Rush. I saw them at three gigs, and when Carlos recommended Kiko, I agreed almost immediately. Flavio was introduced by a friend who runs a music shop in our town, but even though he'd known for many years, he didn't exactly recommend him to us because of his [musical] influences. So after a little interview, Flavio agreed to join us. His father and my father are friends, but we didn't know about that until months after we had started playing together.
SoT: Who is Pepe Torres—he's also credited as a new fulltime member?
AV: Pepe Torres is the newest band member. He's played eight of the last nine gigs with us, and you can see that most of those shows have come out of our region in Mexico. He plays many woodwind instruments, and also cello & violin, and he's a very good musician. He improves and gives the band a different look, even though we already had flute in our music.
SoT: Have you ever thought of integrating female vocals into Cast?
AV: The addition of female vocals to Cast's music will happen from now on. My wife [Lupita Vidales] is a great vocalist. She's an important part of two tracks on Al-bandaluz. The next album(s) will involve her voice even more & more! You will see!
SoT: Which other bands/projects have you produced at Cast Studio?
AV: Probably ten bands recorded in the now-defunct "Castudio"—it's not open, now. I'm building a basement at home, where the new studio will be. Probably a little after our arrival in September from Europe and Progday, we'll put the final touches on the basement and [re-open] the new studio and rehearsal room. Bands like Ekus, from Argentina, Cruz de Hierro, Dino's songs for an [abandoned] solo project, our "Baja Prog Theme," and more, were recorded there.
SoT: Which keyboards/synths do you take on the road, and/or use in-studio?
AV: My keyboards on the road are my 88-note piano—if it's a Roland A-90 or a Kurzweil PC-88, whatever, it's good; a Korg Triton and 01/W; my Minimoog—the new one; and a Hammond B3 with Leslie's. For home-recording, I use other different modules by Kurzweil (K2000R), Ensoniq, etc.
SoT: Thanks very much for taking the time to talk to us! The new album is great; I hope it outsells everything before it. Take care.
Alfonso Vidales has also released several solo compact discs from 1995-present, including: Entre Dos Paredes, Clavico, and Shepperd. Cast is returning to ProgDay in 2003! For more information, discography, and tour dates, visit Cast's official web site: