Nothing Can Hold Buscabulla Back
The indie duo is back with their long awaited album, "Regresa."
Photograph by Mara Corsino
Raquel Berrios and Luis Alfredo del Valle, the husband-and-wife duo that make up Buscabulla (slang for "troublemaker"), are both Puerto Rican, but did not meet until they had moved to New York in the early aughts. Berrios had moved to the city to complete her MFA in textiles, and del Valle to continue his studies in music and production. Like many young Puerto Ricans, they left the island looking for better opportunities, but always thinking they might one day come back. During their decade-long stay in Brooklyn, they met, had a daughter, put out a critically acclaimed four-song EP on the Kitsuné label in 2014 co-produced by Dev Hynes, followed it up with another five-song EP in 2017, and founded the PRIMA Fund to aid artists whose lives had been affected by the path of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. Then, a few months after the the hurricane, they packed up their things, and moved back to the island.
Regresa, or "Return," is the name of their album, and with their signature mix of tropical and Caribbean rhythms, deeply grooving basslines, with pop, disco and electronic sounds and melodies, and Berrios signature dreamy vocals, tells their story of their journey back to the place that saw them grow up. The record is not not a concept record. "We all live inside our own experiences, so anyone that documents their feelings and their experiences along a specific amount of time will come out of it with a certain narrative," del Valle tells GARAGE over Zoom, "It’s just that in our case it was so drastic and shocking, and with so many loaded emotions..."
"Like a chapter in a book," interjects Berrios sitting next to him. Del Valle completes the thought, "...it was something worthwhile to make a story of."
"Viene, vámono, que es tarde ya," (Come on, let's go, it's already late), sings Berrios in "Vamono," the song that kicks off the album, following a bright steady drumline that also doubles as a call to action of sorts. Berrios calls this feeling "pompeaera," an anglicism that comes from the expression "being pumped" that is prevalent in the island. It is the emotion of having the future reveal itself to you in a dream, so bright you must follow it, when you know something will be hard but you know it will be worth it. "There’s something about the first and the last song being really strong, upbeat, like I’m super confident," Berrios explains, "and then everything in the middle is sorting through feelings and emotions." Their music has always had an underlying feeling of melancholy and nostalgia, and in this record there's no longer room for subtleness, they must now face those same emotions. In a way, Regresa is oddly suited to be released in these times. Towards the end of the record, when the singer Nydia Caro, who has long been one of Berrios inspirations speaks, not unlike an oracle, and says "You can't see the stars without a dark sky/ Darkness pushes you towards the light." Regresa is the brilliant light. It's the light for Berrios and del Valle, but also for us who get to listen to it and let it envelop us in its message. Feeling a little homesick, but with the hope that we can always return home.
This interview was conducted in Spanish, it has been condensed and edited for clarity.
What prompted your move back to Puerto Rico?
Raquel Berrios: When I left Puerto Rico I didn’t leave because I was dying to get out of here, I left because I was looking for more opportunities. I left but I kept like one foot behind, anchoring me to the island. My father is here, Luisfre’s mom, my grandma, my cousins, my friends… even though New York was a fabulous place and we found a community and everything, coming back was always an option looming in the background.
I think with each year I spent in New York, the desire, the nostalgia, the hope to return grew stronger and that became part of our songs. In 2014 our daughter Charlie was born, and that’s when it really hit even harder like, Oh here I am in New York, working this job, living in this apartment that isn’t mine, raising this person that isn’t surrounded by her language, by family, and that’s when the decision started weighing much heavier.
Did you move knowing that you would make a sort of "concept" album about your return to the island and your whole experience?
RB: What made us be able to return to Puerto Rico was actually the music. We had full-time jobs, and we had the band, and as the band got bigger then that’s what was able to give us the freedom so that we could make the jump. It was many years of working really hard—having a full-time job, having a daughter, having a band… I would get home from work at night and that’s when we would start rehearsing and writing music. We got a record deal with a small label in California, and once that happened we thought, This is the chance, now we can go to Puerto Rico to make a record and see what happens.
The interesting part of making a record is like, you don’t decide, Oh, this is the record I want to make. You start every day by just writing and sometimes you don’t know what’s going to come out. You can have an idea and you can say, Oh, I want to try certain instruments, certain vibes, like this is what I like. When I started recording demos and writing the songs, I wasn’t really expecting anything to come out of it, it was more like psychoanalysis, like sometimes you don’t know how you’re feeling and you start writing and it is revealed to you in what you write. Living in New York for so long, then moving to Puerto Rico, to a house in the suburbs with our daughter was a very intense lifestyle change, and the idea was to utilize the shock of that change, and to record that.
You posted images and videos to your Instagram that showed you were recording in your car, or at the beach. Why do you prefer this system rather than the usual renting a studio setting?
RB: Well, imagine—we were always stuck in the studio, in our apartment in New York, and going outside meant going into the cold or the snow, so then we were like, Wait we are in Puerto Rico, we can take the studio anywhere we want! It’s literally beautiful year-round, so I’d say “Luifre let’s go to the beach.” It’s a really interesting exercise because you are letting the environment change your emotional state and that allows other emotions to flow through what you are making, things that maybe when you are at your house, with no change of scenery, you couldn’t think about. It’s so important to stimulate the senses, and then we were in a place where we could do that. A part of us was also a little bit like tourists—you live in the States, right?
Yes, in Brooklyn.
RB: So you know how every time you come visit you become a little bit like a tourist in your own country, because it’s just so beautiful. And I think that was also how we were approaching some of the songwriting.
Luis Alfredo del Valle: Yes, with a certain naiveté. You have this idea of classic bands like Led Zeppelin, or whatever, and they’d rent like a gothic church for a whole winter, and they make a record; well, the 2020 equivalent is to just get in your car and go wherever, and park wherever you can, and have a writing session.
RB: I’m very pumped to keep recording that way. That technique is just so fun to engender new ideas.
Hearing you talking about it, it’s also a little bit like another extension of Puerto Rican culture like, we live in our car, we go on chinchorreos. (In Puerto Rico, chinchorreo is the practice of going on a little road trip whose sole purpose is to stop at different little restaurants to eat small bites and drink.)
RB: We got a car after our daughter was born, but in New York the car culture is really not the same—so much traffic, you can’t find parking anywhere—and Puerto Rico is like in Los Angeles: you’re just hanging out in your car, driving around, listening to music. That was something we really missed and we just integrated it into our process.
You have a song named “Nydia,” after the singer Nydia Caro and she’s also featured in it. How did that come about?
RB: I’ve known about Nydia Caro since forever, she’s an icon, you grow up with your parents talking about her all the time and she’s so beautiful. One night we met her daughter at a RadioRed show in Santurce, and [we eventually ended up meeting her]. Nydia is super cool, she’s a fascinating person, she’s not just a pretty face, you know, she knows a lot about music, and she is very spiritual. In the process of us moving back and recording, we visited her a few times, and she became like a role model for me; she’s also a mother, and she wrote her own songs, so I saw a lot of similarities between us and I found her to be an inspiration. She was born in New York and decided to come to Puerto Rico, and she has never wanted to leave since—her children don’t even live here anymore! She is very proud to be Puerto Rican. I like also that she is like another [archetype of a Puerto Rican performer]; she’s not Iris Chacón, she’s not Ednita [Nazario], she is her own person. So in one of the visits to her house, Luifre recorded us: we did little experiments, like we interviewed each other, we wrote music, and “Nydia” came out of it. The song pays homage to her, but it’s also me sort of facing the anxiety, that feeling that things aren’t making sense, feeling like I like I don’t belong, and then embodying these qualities of her that I admire to become a person that is confident and sure of herself. The little bit at the end that goes “como velero se va” is from one of her famous disco-era songs that Luifre and I love. And then at the end you know, she gives her little advice, and it’s a way to introduce another voice of reason to the record.
How are you feeling right now, so close to releasing this record you’ve been working on for so long, and then in these less-than-ideal situation?
LAV: It’s very surreal. Like everyone we are very anxious, and feeling a lot of uncertainty, but it’s something we’ve worked so hard on with so much care, with so much love. We feel like we are at a real precipice moment, because we don’t know what’s going to happen, but we’re here for it.
RB: I’m like, over it. [Laughs.] We finished this record in April of last year, it’s been almost a year since we’ve finished it. We were going to shoot a video and then we had to postpone it because of the earthquakes, then after that we were going to do another video and it was cancelled because of the ongoing pandemic. So it’s like the same struggle that was captured on the record has also been the reality of the process of releasing the record. It hasn’t been easy. We’ve dealt with post-Hurricane Maria, then all the Ricky Renuncia protests from last summer, which were really exciting, but then we had the earthquakes, and now with this situation, and it’s just like the struggle is here and full. This record is really honest about who we are, [releasing the record now], it is what it is, it’s coming out when it’s coming out, and I just hope it connects with people.
- Puerto Rico