I'll be honest: interviewing Rusty Santos was a last-minute thing. I just found out that Santos's group the Present is coming to SF. And let me tell you, I'm bummed. While Santos and bandmates Jesse Lee and Mina are making music here, I'm going to be across the country in their hometown of New York City. One listen to Santos' production for Panda Bear's sublime Person Pitch (Paw Tracks) is all it takes to recognize his special studio grace, and based on the spacious beauty of World I See (Lo Recordings, 2008) and the new Way We Are (Lo Recordings), the Present is one of the few contemporary bands I'm eager to see live. So if you check out one of the shows, tell me how good it was for you.
SFBG What are some of the first sounds you remember?
RUSTY SANTOS The sweet potato salesman's song I heard as a kid in Japan. A lot of the vendors there sing these jingles that have probably been sung for generations and remind me of hymns. I lived in Nagoya for a few years when I was growing up, and my earliest sonic memories are from there.
SFBG What were some of your favorite musical experiences as a kid, in terms of listening to music and making it?
RS Playing in hardcore bands in high school was my most formative musical experience. Also singing in chorus in elementary school was important. My life was changed the first time I heard Michael Jackson.
SFBG You're from Fresno and you've also lived in the Bay Area. What things did you love and not love about both?
RS I love how Fresno rests in the valley at the foot of an immense mountain range. Being at sea level but separated from the ocean felt pretty isolated, but there's also this sense that the sky's the limit. San Francisco has a lot more history, and is of course more worldly, so that was my introduction to the kinds of cultural activities I would pursue after moving to New York.
SFBG The Present is the Present, and as Rusty Santos you have songs or titles such as "Eternity Spans" and "Moving Time." What is it about time that interests or compels you?
RS Time has always fascinated me because I kind of feel like it doesn't exist or at least doesn't behave in exactly the same way recording equipment captures it. I feel that with music it's possible to change the way people perceive time and help [them] appreciate it more.
SFBG Did you see that Alan McGee of Creation Records fame named the Present as one of his favorite groups?
RS Someone showed me that. I like a lot of Libertines and Babyshambles songs, and of course My Bloody Valentine. And Felt.
SFBG What's the strangest or best description you've heard of your music?
RS That would have to be Alan McGee comparing it to [Wolfgang Voigt's project] Gas. He's wrong, but that's a huge compliment.
SFBG Panda Bear's Person Pitch is one of my favorite albums of recent years. You recorded it in Lisbon, and I'm wondering about your impressions of that place and how it might have influenced you.
RS Portugal is amazing. My last name is Portuguese and the first time I traveled there I felt like there was some lost family connection.
SFBG In an interview I did with him around the time of Tilt (Fontana, 1995), Scott Walker said he doesn't like the compression of most modern recordings. Would you agree with his view?
RS Yes, I completely agree, except for when I disagree. Most of the time new music sounds flat and over-compressed, but in some cases it's used to genius effect.
SFBG What are you looking forward to doing while you're in the Bay Area?
RS I'm looking forward to checking out the bands we're playing with and seeing old friends. It will also be nice to get some coffee and visit Golden Gate Park.