To explain the band Salvador’s longevity of seven years in an industry where bands fail more often than they succeed, one needs to look no further than their latest album Dismiss the Mystery due out in the summer 2006. A collection of well-rounded pop songs in the realm of Contemporary Christian yet with the scope of daring ambitious creativity, Dismiss the Mystery is more reminiscent of an era when albums were created more organically rather than songs strung together to make a product.
“When I was writing the songs for the record, I wanted all of the songs to feel as if it were one collective thought, and that thought being the ability to give the love of Christ to people without insulting their intelligence,” Nic Gonzales, Salvador lead singer and founder, said. “I wanted to show the public and myself that a lyric can be very powerful and useful.”
Salvador’s sixth studio album marks a seminal point in the band’s history where it is evident in their work that they are no longer fresh faced boys off the streets of Austin, Texas, but rather proven young men of experience who have developed a savvy style of musicianship that is both equally avant garde and marketable at the same time.
“With each album we have the opportunity to change our sound, but each time, and especially this time, we chose not to. Along the same lines, however, we didn’t exactly want to be at the same level as before. I think it was in our best interest to step up the level of excellence in order to continue to do what we do best, but also have the ability to bring something unique to the table,” Gonzales said.
The ability to be familiar yet different at the same time is apparent in Salvador’s first single from Dismiss the Mystery entitled, “Shine.”
“We distinctly chose to do a song like that in order to put our stamp on it, which I hope transforms the song into something that is from the heart and was labored over with great care.”
Over the past seven years in which Salvador has toured throughout the country and at times outside of it, a fan base began to rapidly grow. According to the members of the group, no matter how huge the fan base gets, they are still surprised and grateful to be a part of that environment, and even more surprising to them is that their fans keep coming and supporting.
Not only has growth been among the fans, but also within the group as well. Adding to the existing members of Nic Gonzales (lead vocals and guitar), his cousin Josh Gonzales (bass and background vocals), Chris Bevins (co-producer and keyboards), and Jared Solis (trombone and saxophone), the band completes its family with brass man Edwin Santiago (trumpet and flugelhorn), drummer Ben Cordonero and percussionist Robert Vilera. Nic Gonzales calls the three men Salvador’s “valuable acquisitions.” Cordonero, a Nicaraguan from Miami, not only plays the drums but also traditional Latin percussion such as congas, timbales and bongos. Santiago is a Boricua – of Puerto Rican decent -who brings not only amazing talent but an unending work ethic as well. And Vilera, an established session player who’s worked with Marc Anthony, Gloria Estefan and Celia Cruz (to name a few) also brings more of the sonido Latina to the music and, ultimately, their fan base.
Dismiss the Mystery is, like the band itself, a self-made and contained endeavor. Along with Nic Gonzales as producer, who co-produced Salvador’s last record, the band’s keyboardist Chris Bevins stepped in for this album as co-producer. Although having a band produce their own work may be a risk for some record labels, the worth in taking that risk is not lost on Salvador’s own members as attested to by the band’s bass player and co-founder Joshua Gonzales.
“I really haven’t experienced the chance to flow and create as I was able to on our very first record, and like all things, you expect everything to be like it was the first time,” Joshua Gonzales said. “Being in the business as long as we have, you begin to realize that time is money and songs sometimes have to be recorded as quickly as possible, so I’m used to being kind of locked down on my playing and creativity in the studio. However, this time around, because our producers were Nic and Chris, my cousin and band mate respectively, as well as friends, there was a level of trust from producer to musician and I was encouraged to just let the creativity flow.”
What also helped out in developing their sound, according to the members of the group, was being able to record the album in their hometown of Austin. To a further degree of inspiration, the majority of the album was tracked at Willie Nelson’s studio, a personal favorite artist of Nic Gonzales. To bring it all together as a family affair, a huge part of the album was also developed and recorded at Nic Gonzales’ studio at his home church, King of Glory, where his parents pastor.
What is it that sets this record apart from other Christian albums and even Salvador’s previous ones? Three words: horns and percussion. According to the producers of Dismiss the Mystery, there is a greater reliance on horns and percussion to take an already existing tapestry of excellent vocals, rhythm and strings, to a higher level of excellence creating nuances and gravitas that exudes a timeless capability.
Along with Bevins, who shared horn arranging credits, the band’s trombonist and saxophonist for the past three years, Jared Solis, was also instrumental in arranging the horn lines for this record. “The process was very creative and true to Edwin and Jared’s artistic expressions of what they wanted to play,” Bevins said. “Jared would come into the studio from a long night of developing ideas, and it was just really fun to let an idea grow like a classical composition where the hallmark of it is a certain theme and variations are construed upon it throughout.”
Another factor to the success of Dismiss the Mystery, according to Nic, is the skill and creativity of Vilera’s percussion work. “Robert is a very creative percussionist who doesn’t settle for the standard way of playing,” N. Gonzales said. “He did something really interesting where he would insist on recording all the congas first on every song leaving space for the bongos which he would record next and then the timbales. In essence he was creating an interaction with his own playing that turned into a musical conversation. It was a remarkable thing to witness.”
Inspiration for the album stems from the group’s usual proclivity as to what good music should and shouldn’t sound like. The horn lines in songs such as “Can’t Find the Reason” feel organically integrated into the song as if it could not exist without it. Songs like the sole all-Spanish track, “Te Enaltezco,” bring a refined tranquility to the ear that is aesthetically pleasing without being overbearing.
Regarding the future of Salvador’s ability to keep creating in the face of growth, change and an unstable marketplace, one thing is for certain: after seven years of hard work culminating with Dismiss the Mystery, it is impossible to dismiss their undeniable musicianship, and the only mystery left at this point is what can they possibly do next to top it.
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