“It’s important to document the sound of your time” – Exclusive interview with Snow Owl

Back in October, an interview request came from the press office of the world’s best bassist, Snow Owl. I was in shock, but of course, I was in it! Juan Garcia-Herreros was nominated for a Latin Grammy Award, he is currently working with Hans Zimmer, and is now off to pastures new. During our 20-minute conversation, we tried to touch upon every topic, yet it wasn’t a forced conversation, which was due to the bassist’s kind and friendly nature.

Snow Owl was born in Bogotá, Colombia and his first musical studies have begun (with flute) after he had moved to New York with his family – he was only 9 years old back then. After he completed middle school his family moved again – this time to Florida – where he discovered electric bass. However, even after that, his life was not easy at all: since he and his family did not have the money for private lessons, he became a self-taught musician. But despite the difficulties how could he remain passionate? “Thank you for this question and also for taking the time to interview me. I think that I was especially inspired by my uncle, Rafael García Herreros. He was a priest in Colombia, he was fighting every day for the good of all people and there were really terrible situations, drug wars were happening everywhere in Colombia, and my uncle was fighting for the good every day. And that inspired me to never give up. He was one of the strongest examples that I had as a child.

Rafael García Herreros 

(Cúcuta, January 17, 1909–Bogotá, November 24, 1992) was a Colombian leader of the Charismatic Catholic Minuto de Dios organization. In 1923, when he was 14 years old, he went to Catholic Seminary of Pamplona, where he finished his studies in November 1927 . In 1928 he was invited to be a member to Congregation of Jesus and Mary, founded by St. Juan Eudes; He became a member February 7 of 1932. In the following years and until 2000, García Herreros studied philosophy, Latín, Greek, English, science, ecclesiastical history, interpretation of the Bible, dogma, canonical, straight canonical, Hebrew, art, literature and others. In 1950 he began hosting a radio show “El Minuto de Dios,” a daily one-minute show of religious reflection. It proved popular and soon expanded on the radio and moved to television in 1955. In 1961 he began to Banquete del Millon fundraiser, where the wealthy paid large amounts to eat a simple meal. The organization used the funds to build housing for the poor.

And why exactly is he Snow Owl and what’s the story behind his iconic blue facepaint? “Yes, well, I have Arhuaco blood. That’s a nation from indigenous people of the Sierra Nevada area of Colombia, and we have a name when we are born, which is a spirit animal, so that is my real name: Snow Owl. So the reason for the paint on the face is: each album, that we are doing right now, they are about different spiritual paths. Souls are living on this planet and there is a blue, a red, and a yellow path. So for the blue one that’s the blue mask and now that we are going to be releasing the Red Road, there is a different red mask that I will be wearing for that as well. So, it’s significant which path my soul is on right now.”

The Arhuaco 

are indigenous people of Colombia. They are Chibchan-speaking people and descendants of the Tairona culture, concentrated in northern Colombia in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. They are also known as the Aruaco, Bintucua, Bintuk, Bíntukua, Ica, Ijca, Ijka, Ika, and Ike people. The Arhuacos live in the upper valleys of the Piedras RiverSan Sebastian RiverChichicua RiverAriguani River, and Guatapuri River, in an indigenous territory in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta Mountains. Their traditional territory before the Spanish colonization, was larger than today’s boundaries which exclude many of their sacred sites that they continue to visit today, to pay offerings. These lost territories are the lower parts by the steps of the mountains, lost to colonization and farming. (Source: Wikipedia; Photo by Kelly Tatiana Paloma)

These are traditional masks! These masks are actually probably over one or two thousand years old. These are very old masks that we have in our traditions. So, I’m just using elements of my indigenous roots and I taught my assistant how to paint it on me before the concerts.

The history behind the blue and red masks

Blue Road was a Latin jazz album, while Red Road is a rock solid heavy metal record. So why is that? “I think it’s important to document the sound of your time, and as a musician, and as a bass player I want to show as many different ways of how do I interpret or how do I feel different extremes of music. So, my whole life I wanted to do an album that would have been heavy metal bass, just to express that music is also a part of me. Not just jazz and orchestral music, and Latin… And also to give my fans something new every time. Something new, that they could say “wow, I didn’t know that you could know that” or “I didn’t know that you could feel that way.” So I love the surprise element of choosing different directions. And it also fits with the different paths. The Blue Road was a very spiritual album, that’s the path of the spirit, and The Red Road is the path of the warrior. And the only music that I connect with a warrior is heavy metal. So I think that’s perfect.

I think it’s time that inside of everybody there is a warrior. A warrior inside of you. And it’s time to ask ourselves: what are you fighting for? That’s also the hashtag that I use for the album. It’s “#WhatRuFighting4”. So, you’re getting up every day, you’re living in this difficult world, but there’s a power that is making you stand up and fight. So, what are you fighting for? What is the warrior inside of you? And if you haven’t discovered the warrior, now is the time to go inside of yourself and discover that power, that strength and fulfill your destiny.

On November 20th the Snow Owl fans got two singles on Spotify, plus a music video for the single Hush and The Horde. This is the first step of single releases that we are doing for the full album, so there is going to be a full year of new music. 

Credit: Dita Vollmond – World of Hans Zimmer – 03.11.2019 – Arena Nuernberger Versicherung – Nuernberg

Of course, we were also curious about his favorite metal bands, and if he had the opportunity, which one would he play in? “Oh, wow, now you got me, huh?! (laughs) It’s hard to say, you know, because I know the bass players in the bands, we’re friends, so I don’t want to take their jobs. (laughs) They would be really angry with me! But I mean the first music that I was learning on the electric bass was Master of Puppets from Metallica, so I’ve learned everything, I mean EVERYTHING that Cliff Burton did. He was my inspiration and David Ellefson from Megadeath, I mean that is just an amazing bass job that he did there… There are so many metal bands that influenced me and if I have to pick one that I could perform in… wooh! I mean it’s hard to say because I would love to just be in Meshuggah. Like they have the lowest notes, those notes are so low that the gates of hell are opening. (laughs) But I don’t know, I think it’s a tie between Metallica and Meshuggah. There’s one of those two.

I think, coz I’m so addicted to music that whatever music I’m doing at the moment that’s my favorite one. Because I want to give myself completely to the moment, and if it’s the film music that I do for Hollywood then I’m in there 100% if it’s jazz I’m 100% if it’s rock, I’m 100%, if it’s Hungarian dances I’m there 100% you know. (laughs) It doesn’t matter, I just celebrate anything that has a sound, I want to be a part of it.

Snow Owl about his favorite genre

During his career, he has worked with several superstars – for example, Christina AguileraHans Zimmer (we will talk about that one later), and Elton John – just to name a few. And what was his favorite moment of those collaborations? “That’s hard to say, there are so many… There’re a lot of memories and all very special to me, and they’re also unique. It’s hard to say which one is my favorite, but I think that each moment that I shared with these superstars was a lesson to who am I as a person, and who do I want to be or how do I want to sound… So it’s very hard to just pick one favorite moment, all I can say is that I’m just thankful that these moments happened and I hope that many more come.

Three years ago Snow Owl was selected by Hans Zimmer to perform electric bass in his Symphonic Celebration Tour – and how much this turnaround impacted his career? “Working with Hans Zimmer has changed my life completely. We are still working together right now, as a matter of fact, we are finishing right now The Dune soundtrack together. And I think one of my most beautiful memories was the first time that I met him: he gave me a really-really big hug, and he thanked me for being a part of his music and he said ‘you’re too good for my music!’ (laughs) Which was very-very beautiful how he said that, and I replied: ‘no, no, that’s not at all, I play whatever the music needs’ – I said. ‘So, you just tell me what to do, and I will do that.’ And another really special moment, that I’ll never forget, was our first concert in Berlin when he came out on stage. It was a surprise, people didn’t know that he was going to be coming to that concert. He showed up, and he walked out on the stage while we were playing “Inception” and all of a sudden I couldn’t hear my monitor in my ears anymore, it sounded like a huge sound of water-wave or something, then I looked up: Hans was on the stage and there were so many people screaming, standing, and yelling that we couldn’t even hear in the monitors anymore. (laughs) That was a very special moment and I will never forget that. He’s amazing!”

Special technique? The only thing that I would say that I’m very transparent and I’m very honest. I would say that the best technique for me is patience. Lots of patience to take the time, to work and develop the talent, the riffs, the vision. I think patience is the most important technique for any musician that wants to reach very high levels because it takes a lot of time. Sometimes you’re alone in a room for hours doing something without human contact and you feel like an alien. (laughs) You have to have a very strong sense of self to complete the tasks. So, I think my favorite technique is the dedication of patience to always practice and that’s where all the secret is really. 

Snow Owl about his “Special Technique”

As a closure of our interview we wanted to know: how does it feel like when someone lets you know that you’re the best bass player in the world? “Last year we were on tour in Norway and the editor of Bass Player Magazine wrote me a text message and he said: ‘guess who’s been voted the best bass player in the world?’ So, I wrote back to him and I said ‘all for sure it was maybe Joe Dart from Vulfpeck or it was Robert Trujillo from Metallica’, and he wrote back to me and he said, ‘No, the people voted for you, you are voted.’ So I wrote back and I said: ‘that’s very funny… Who won? Who’s the number one?’ (laughs). And he said to me that ‘no, you won, everybody voted for you.’ So for the third time, I wrote to him that ‘you know, you don’t have to joke’ (laughs), I’m fine even if I didn’t win, and then he said: ‘listen Snow Owl, the people voted three times higher for you then anybody else in the list’. I was a bit paralyzed at that moment because I have never thought in my life that so many people would appreciate the work that I do. So it was very touching but at the same time, I still can’t believe it, if I’m honest with you. (smiles)”

Interview by Péter Tepliczky
Written by Afrodite Szeleczky

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"I associate heavy metal with fantasy because of the tremendous power that the music delivers." - Christopher Lee

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