Salt Cathedral Infuse Full-Length Debut Carisma with the Magic of Colombia

Photo Credit: Amber Rana

Salt Cathedral is more than a name for the New York-based duo of Juli Ronderos and Nico Losada. “It’s an umbilical cord,” says Ronderos by phone. The actual Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá is an underground church, built in a salt mine about an hour outside of the duo’s shared hometown of Bogota, Colombia. “It’s our heritage, especially as someone from Bogota,” says Losada. “Kids from Bogota would go to the Salt Cathedral, the mine, and it was really awesome,” he explains. The two describe the monument, from the smell of sulfur to the darkness inside the space, as “magical.”

“Since Colombia is a Catholic country and it was a dangerous job, all the miners started doing shrines to the Virgin. We have many different virgins in Colombian culture that people pray to,” Ronderos explains. “It ended up being that the entire entrance to this mine was filled with shrines and they were religious.”

And, Losada says, Salt Cathedral is a name that reminds them of home. Ronderos and Losada left Colombia about a decade ago and met in Boston while they were students at Berklee College of Music. In 2012, they moved to New York and have been steadily making music, all the while exploring their interests and learning as they go.

On May 8, Salt Cathedral releases their debut full-length, Carisma, on Ultra Music. The dance-pop duo has been at work since 2013, having released a handful of EPs and singles, including last year’s collaboration with Big Freedia and Jarina DeMarco, “Go and Get It.” Over the years, they’ve also worked with dub legend Lee “Scratch” Perry, dancehall DJ Assassin, famed drummer Jojo Mayer and the singer Matisyahu. On Carisma, they collaborate with vocalists MC Bin Laden and duendita on the track “How Beautiful (she is).”

Losada and Ronderos say that it’s important for them to work with artists with distinct, specific sounds. “They do their thing and we do our thing,” says Losada. “We don’t want to collaborate with another producer or with somebody who sounds like Juli or writes like Juli. We want to collaborate with someone who can bring something else to the table.”

For the duo, making music together has been a long journey of self-discovery. The two have quite different musical backgrounds. Losada started playing classical guitar as a child and gravitated toward hardcore and metal in his teen years. It’s music he appreciates now more for the energy and message. “I love Minor Threat, not because of the music, but because of what it symbolizes – that freedom of being yourself,” he says.

Ronderos, on the other hand, didn’t have much exposure to music growing up. “I grew up almost without music. My parents don’t really listen to music,” she says. It wasn’t until later in her teens that Ronderos gravitated to jazz and began studying it on her own. Both ended up at Berklee College of Music. “There were a lot of great musicians around us,” says Losada. “People were practicing ten hours a day and people were taking it very seriously.”

After finishing school, they headed to New York. “It was a different kind of world,” says Ronderos. “All of our classes were about jazz composition, writing, orchestrating and improvising. We had never produced or recorded really. We started a band in college, writing our own songs. We had only done it for a year.”

Starting out in a new city, without the community of potential collaborators that they had in college, meant that they were on their own. They learned how to make electronic music and record themselves. “That was a really big transition,” Ronderos recalls. They wrote new songs. Ronderos recorded the vocals herself. Losada mixed the tunes. It took them a while, Ronderos says, to really come to understand what they were doing. “We were fearless and we started doing everything ourselves and started making it work,” adds Losada. At the same time, they were also asking themselves, “What are we trying to say? What are we trying to develop?”

Carisma, then, is an exploration of who they are, where they’ve been, and where they are now. “We went through this process of discovering that super-Latino side of us that wants to dance and move to music in an uplifting way,” says Ronderos. “This music [comes from] a period in our lives when we were exploring that.”

In the weeks leading up to the album release, though, Salt Cathedral has gone through another period of exploration. “We can’t tour so we want to write more and be active and continue to create this world that we can create because we can’t go and play,” says Losada.

“We’re taking advantage of the time and the fact that we’re very self-contained,” says Ronderos. “We can make music at home. We have our instruments and we can record.”

They’ve been working on writing their next album; additionally, they’re trying to work on a “re-imagination” of Carisma, what Ronderos calls an “isolation mix” influenced by how they’ve been experiencing music while staying at home. Says Losada, “It’s a crazy time and I feel like we’re not listening to music the way we were two or three months ago.” No matter what happens, Salt Cathedral keeps moving.

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RSVP HERE: Bethlehem Steel Play Trans Pecos + More

Welcome to our weekly show recommendation column RSVP HERE – your source for the best NYC shows and interviews with some of our favorite local live bands.

Bethlehem Steel released their sophomore self-titled record on Exploding in Sound Records September 13th and have been on tour since. They are set to return to Brooklyn this Sunday 11/24 with a show at Trans Pecos with Ben Seretan, Sinai Vessel, and Lightning Bug. Bethlehem Steel formed in 2012 as a trio consisting of Becca Ryskalczyk on guitar/vocals, Jon Gernhart on drums, and Zephyr Prusinski on bass. Their second record features singer/guitarist Christina Puerto, who toured with Bethlehem Steel around their debut record Party Naked Forever. She was asked to join the band full time and contributed to the songwriting process of their latest release, resulting in a more empowering record that lyrically grapples with “being taken advantage of, or abandoned or fucked over.” We chatted with Bethlehem Steel about their favorite tour stories, the challenges of long haul touring and why you need to watch out for pizza prices in California…


AF: You’re finishing a super long tour supporting your self titled record out now on Exploding in Sound. What was your best show, favorite city, and favorite animal you’ve met on the road?

BS: Our best show was in Seattle. It was good to cross paths with Pile mid-tour and we had a great time playing with them at Chop Suey. Favorite city would have to be Austin because we got to swim in a lake under the stars at our friend’s house after the show. Our favorite animal(s) we met on tour were Brody and Griz. Griz is a big friendly cat and Brody is a little blind chihuahua and they both live with our good friends Brian and Brenda in Minneapolis.

AF: What are the challenges and advantages of a seven week tour?

BS: Not getting sick is definitely a challenge, as is dealing with the very long drives, and being so far away from home for so long. But playing this many shows in a row is a really good opportunity to work on the live performance aspect of things, and visiting friends and making new ones all across the country is always a wonderful thing.

AF: What is your favorite thing to do on your days of? What do you listen to in the car?

BS: We usually end up going to a thrift store to look for nutcrackers. We also like to do movie scene re-enactments, and will almost always try to find any type body of water to swim in. As far as car listening, Pat puts on this playlist he made called “Pat the 80’s” a lot.

AF: When you get a flat tire, who’s the first person to try to fix it? When your van breaks down, who cries the most?

BS: We have a Tacoma and it does us good.

AF: Any other crazy stories?

BS: We each payed $9 for a slice of pizza in Sacramento. We didn’t see the prices until it was too late.

RSVP HERE for Bethlehem Steel with Ben Seretan, Sinai Vessel, and Lightning Bug @ Trans Pecos Sunday 11/24! ALL AGES / $10

More great shows this week:

11/22 Eaters (Armonica Set) with Greg Fox, David Watson, Michael Shea, Kate Mohanty @ Trans Pecos. All Ages / $10 RSVP HERE

11/22 88Palms, HRY FLWR, Safer (single release show) @ The Broadway. 21+ / $12 RSVP HERE

11/22 + 11/23 Crumb, Divino Niño, Shormey @ Music Hall of Williamsburg. 18+ / $26 RSVP HERE

11/23 Fraidycat (Reunion Show), True Dreams (Album Release), Wooing, PowerSnap, @ Alphaville. 21+ / $8-$10

11/23 NY Night Train Soul Clap & Dance Off, Nobunny, Gnarcissists @ Brooklyn Bazaar. All Ages / $15 RSVP HERE

11/25 Nicole Yun (of Eternal Summers), Coltura, Desert Sharks, Queue @ Baby’s All Right. 21+ / $10 RSVP HERE

11/26 Military Genius, P.E., A. Savage (of Parquet Courts), Strange Magic (DJ Set) @ Alphaville. 21+ / $10 RSVP HERE

11/27 M.A.K.U. (Record Release), Salt Cathedral @ Sultan Room. 21+ / $12 RSVP HERE