Space. The final frontier? Not necessarily. Barcelona-based musician Jordi Ruiz spent eight years as the sole member of instrumental outfit Exxasens, pursuing astral trails across the universe before fixing his sights firmly on home. Back To Earth, Exxasens’ fifth studio album, sees the musician exploding back into the atmosphere with a new band of explorers and a revised set of objectives punched into his mission terminal.
“Space is always a part of the Exxasens universe,” says Ruiz over Skype from his home in Spain’s Catalonia region. “It’s a very important element in the process, from the composition to the live show, but with this new album, I tried to bring it back to earth. We now have a band playing the live sessions. It feels real and not so ethereal, like on the other albums.”
This move from ethereality to reality isn’t a commentary on the subject matter of the new record, which continues to cover a range of galactic miscellany – “Since I was a child, my main idea was to be an astronaut,” Ruiz admits – but more on the development of Exxasens as a band.
Back To Earth sees Ruiz’s brainchild growing into a fleshed-out musical unit. Cesc Céspedes (bass), Oriol Planells (drums) and Sergio Ledesma (synth/keys) join Ruiz’s guitar to complete the line-up of Exxasens 2.0. Having previously worked with these musicians for his live performances, their presence on Back To Earth marks the next stage in the band’s out-of-this-world adventures.
The move to becoming a ‘real’ band, as Ruiz calls it, has its up and downsides. “Generally, it’s easier. With the other albums, programming the drums was really hard work. It’s hard to do drums without being a drummer. On the other hand, I used to compose in my home directly after dinner. If I had an idea, I would record it and start to produce straight away. Now with the band, it’s not as easy.” Yet he concedes: “I do love it and prefer it this way.”
Since I was a child, my main idea was to be an astronaut.
Exxasens is still Ruiz’s baby. Every track on the new album is composed by him, bar Bright Side Of The Moon and Hugeness, “where the guys in the band helped to develop the main ideas”. For further proof of this, look no further than the song Saturn, Back To Earth’s penultimate track, which features Miki Abril of Playmotive, Ruiz’s former band. It’s the only full track with lyrics on the album, and Abril’s Scott Stapp-like, grungy delivery is a left-field but strangely suitable addendum to the record.
“We try not to close doors. If you listen to the album, there’s some electronic sounds there, some progressive. Ultimately we try to open doors. We broke the instrumental style. We’re keen to make music not in a certain way. Perhaps you can call it post-rock…”
Of course, elements of post-rock can be heard on the new album, from Mogwai-like textures through to the joyous muscularity of Hugeness – suitably titled for its room-filling scope. Then there’s the blissful Your Dreams Are My Dreams, which is probably the band’s finest piece of music so far. What’s more, Back To Earth is Exxasens’ heaviest record to date, which Ruiz prescribes to the more “direct” playing approach of his new bandmates.
Yet he continually refuses to be drawn on the band’s sound, or even his direct influences. “I have a lot of influences,” he laughs. “I listen to Florence And The Machine and Death Cab For Cutie, but also heavier metal music like Katatonia. When I make an album, I don’t think about the influences. One day I’ll play and compose a riff, but I don’t know where it’s come from.”
The album, much like its 2013 predecessor Satellites, is a celebratory and uplifting work. The notion of celebration comes up again and again as Prog talks to Ruiz. Having spanned two decades forging an innovative niche in the Spanish progressive scene, he’s rightly proud of the burgeoning Barcelona alt-crowd and the city’s rich cultural past. It’s something he finds room to applaud in the recent music video for single My Hands Are Planets. The video’s protagonist, a former Soviet astronaut (of course), finds himself mesmerised by Barcelona’s explosions of colour and people, before ending up in iconic rock venue Sala Apolo where Exxasens are playing.
Events like innovative indie festival Primavera and upcoming instrumental three-dayer AMFest, as well as new music from the likes of proggy upstarts Toundra, are consolidating Spain’s burgeoning progressive credentials. For Ruiz, it’s vital that Barcelona’s musical diversity gets publicity to challenge the overarching hegemony of Northern Europe. “Barcelona is the most important city for progressive music, alongside Madrid. It’s where prog music is growing up most quickly.”
Ruiz seems fired up when we discuss the aforementioned Toundra, a band he once considered his level-mates, until they were signed by Century Media. For him, a significant international label signing a contemporaneous Spanish band is another reason to be cheerful.
Ruiz’s enthusiasm is infectious. Whether it’s discussing the patience of his wife, who helps to translate some of our interview over Skype, or the prospect of playing Back To Earth’s heavier arsenal to “crazy people” on the Russian leg of Exxasens’ upcoming tour, he’s endlessly upbeat. His only frustration comes when we talk about the eight months he’s spent producing this album. “I’m happy with the results, but the time is passing so slowly until we release this in September,” he sighs.
For a musician who has worked so hard to build a galaxy-conquering unit, it’s this final countdown that’s the hardest part.
Back To Earth is out now on Aloud Music. See www.exxasens.com for more information.