Celluloid Humanoid by Issy Josephine

Celluloid Humanoid is a Southern California band that proves there’s much more to the Coachella Valley than the annual Coachella Valley Music Festival. This trio of self proclaimed “art freaks” features James Montenegro, the instrumentalist, Venus Martinez, the vocalist, and Joce Sanchez Gomez, the percussionist.  Their striking visuals and eclectic musical style joins to form a genre defying act that showcases each artist in a unique way. Inspired by classic acid rock, the music of their childhoods, and the mysticism of the desert, Celluloid Humanoid gives a voice to their diverse community and finds a way to speak to everyone. This group is defined by the leaps of faith they’ve taken to reach where they are today from starting a band during a pandemic to releasing their first full album.

When did the band form? How did you all meet?

James: Celluloid Humanoid formed in 2020. Venus and I had been in a band previously and so when 2020 came around it just made sense to start making music again because we hadn’t been making music for about 3 years prior. Joce has been making music in the Coachella Valley for a handful of years now as well and when they saw us performing on a livestream they approached us and asked to join the group to drum for us.

Joce: I saw Venus and James playing their livestream show and I was so amazed. I realized that they didn’t have a drummer. I just took the leap and asked them if they needed a drummer. I auditioned and it’s just really great. I’m appreciative that they’re able to do this and let me join.

How did the pandemic affect the band when you were first starting off?

James: It stopped a lot of shows here in the valley. I think the valley scene was really put on a standstill. No one really wanted live streams because that’s a cool idea but it doesn’t feel the same as live entertainment. When Celluloid Humanoid formed in August 2020 we were like, “alright, this is going to be a band that primarily exists online,” because we didn’t know when live shows would begin again.

Venus: On live streaming, there’s not a lot of resources for people to be able to buy equipment to be heard clearly or recorded properly. Most of us just have our phones we’re recording on.

Has that changed now that restrictions have lifted and people are going to shows again?

Venus: I would say yes and no. Things have started to pick up especially this year; more events are starting to come back. We’re less cautious with masks being lifted and vaccines coming out.

Who and what are your musical inspirations?

James: We have such a wide source of inspiration when it comes to music. When we’re recording music sometimes we’ll be like “this sounds like someone.” There’s a song we recorded, je t’aime je t’aime, that we jokingly refer to as our MGMT song. But a lot of more psychedelic acts are what inspires Celluloid Humanoid. We like stuff like Animal Collective, The Beatles, The Electric Prunes, and The Flaming Lips. Seeing The Flaming Lips play live is what inspired the drive to play music again.

Venus: I do take some personal references but I mostly just write and think about how I can translate this whole world. I’m a little cryptic sometimes because we’re shy about our personal lives so sometimes we have to keep some things a mystery. As for musical references, I would say listen to the greats – Lou Reed, David Bowie, Iggy Pop,  X-Ray Spex. But I also listen to Delia Derbyshire, and a lot of Mexican music because I have that rooted culture. As I’ve gotten older I see some of the irony and sadness of these songs even though they’re in Spanish. I wish more people could understand them.

Joce: I always go back to three bands, Warpaint, Beach House, and Tame Impala. They’re just so catchy. As well as what Venus was saying; the hispanic music that you grew up listening to definitely has an impact. For me it was Los Ángeles Negros because that’s what my mom would listen to. It’s very romantic and emo too.

Your cover art and music videos have awesome visuals, what inspires those and what is the process like in creating them?

James: The album art for Clean Oil and And Start West was done by an artist named Janet Zepada. She’s been making artwork in the Coachella Valley for 7 or 8 years now. Her work speaks to us in a certain way. It feels so honest but at the same time so out there. It perfectly illustrates what we’re doing musically. For the music videos, I’m kind of a film nerd. I like stuff like Jean-Luc Goddard, Andrei Tarkovsky, and Alejandro Jodorowsky especially. When it’s time to make our glorified commercials we say “let’s not make the usual video, let’s make something more visually interesting.” We’re film geeks. We like celluloid stuff.

Venus: Regarding the music videos, it’s mainly just me and James. That’s kind of the way me and James met at our local community college. He needed an actress for some films and I was totally down to make art. It’s been like that ever since. We use whatever we have around us.

How did you find Ode to Quetzalcoatl? What inspired you to reach out to David to cover Drug Song?

James: Several years ago for my birthday, one of my friends gave me a mixed CD and one of the songs was Drug Song. It really stuck with me. It’s a really naked and stark song. I love that aesthetic. I purchased a record copy online and when I received it there was a note with Bixby’s email. You don’t really ever see that. I just decided to take the dive and email Dave to say thank you for the music. It was really rewarding to get a real human response from him. He contacted me out of the blue and sent me a license to rework the song how I wanted to. We wanted to do it without just replicating the song. We wanted to translate it the way we wanted to hear it.

Venus: I learned about the song through James. I remember hearing it on an iPod while I was waiting for the bus. At the time I didn’t have a car so waiting was like my whole life and music really helped the situation. The song was so desolate. It’s very desert out here and it was hot and I was waiting. Listening to Drug Song and hearing that raw vulnerability was very captivating. When someone gives me their true emotion it’s beautiful. Vulnerability is unworldly.

What is it like making music in the backyard of Coachella Festival? How has this changed over the years?

Venus: It’s hot. It’s super hot. Sometimes it can drive you berserk. But you know the art freaks out here are dedicated. Everyone makes their music regardless of what’s going on. Sometimes it’s very difficult because the resources around the festival aren’t available to everyone. There can be a very ‘flown here not born here’ mentality. People come out because they’re excited for the music which is great but sometimes people can be disrespectful to our community. It’s a very love-hate relationship. You feel so small compared to those big acts coming through. Now, bands who have already played the largest venues are playing Coachella and it’s taking the spots from those smaller acts. There are some opportunities to play shows but only if you fit the festival’s specific genre. You can tell some of these festivals are catering to a very stereotypical hispanic demographic but we are a diverse melting pot here.

James: It’s definitely corporatized over the years. It doesn’t have the same vibe. The last time I worked the festival was 2009. That’s a cool thing about living here, you get to work the festival and see the acts you want to see. It’s cool to see some of the artists you love up close but I don’t feel that way about the artists they’ve brought the past few years.

Joce: Sometimes it feels so far away as artists. We want to see ourselves on a stage and at venues but it feels like you only have one shot during festival season to make a statement. Once the festival is gone, all of the art and musicians here are forgotten for the rest of the year. Sometimes it’s so focused on the festival, the art around is ignored. It’s kind of difficult.

What does the future of Celluloid Humanoid look like?

Venus: Hopefully by April we’ll have a music video out for our new song Pale Fire. It’s on our album Loose Affair (released February 14th). We will be playing our first live show on February 25th. We’re playing a mutual aid benefit show for ECV No Se Vende! This group aids our homeless community that has been pushed out due to rent hikes and low wages.

Joce: I came into the band late last year and stepping into this creative energy that Venus and James have has been an amazing ride. I’m so excited to work with them and continue the growth of Celluloid Humanoid.

Check out Celluloid Humanoid on Bandcamp, Instagram, and Youtube.

Issy Josephine, Journalist, Harbinger Magazine

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