Walter Salas-Humara was a new New York resident, a recent émigré from Florida, when he started the Silos in 1985.
Since then, the membership of the musical co-op has rotated, grown and shrunk. Sometimes as many as 15 people have been part of the group, sometimes only one. But the constant has been the band’s sound, a mix of roots rock, the Velvet Underground and the Allman Brothers, and Salas-Humara.
"It’s still a collective," he said, but "the Silos has pretty much always been a vehicle for my music."
The Silos, then made up of Salas-Humara and two other Florida natives, got their first taste of national attention in 1987, when they released the album "Cuba," drawing comparisons to REM.
The latest lineup of the Silos, featuring bassist and steel guitarist Drew Glacken and percussionist Konrad Meissner alongside Salas-Humara, comes to Iota next week. The stop is part of a series of small tours behind the band’s most recent album, "Laser Beam Next Door," released last year.
It was an accidental career for Salas-Humara, and he has pursued it in his own way. The Silos were picked up by RCA after the success of "Cuba," but the label promptly dropped the band after financing one album.
That soured him on record contracts with major labels. "In these times, big labels are all about selling big numbers. If you’re young, and you’re that type of artist, I would recommend a big label contract," Salas-Humara said. "But it makes sense for me, not pursuing a highly commercial path."
Still, that can mean less exposure and less money for albums. The Silos make up for it with more shows, but not in long stints on the road. "Even though we play quite a bit, we don’t do superlong tours," Salas-Humara said. "We go out a couple weeks, then come back." He always looks forward to a stop at Iota, though, and in Arlington.
"It’s one of my favorite venues," he said. "The people are nice and the food’s good." That means he can open up a little more, and experiment. "We’re going to be playing a bunch of new songs," Salas-Humara said.
<b>THERE ARE MANY</b> new songs to play, following a solo swing through the United Kingdom with three other songwriters, called the Songwriters’ Circle tour.
"It was just a group of friends," said Salas-Humara. "We’ve known each other for years."
The quartet included Steve Wynn, founder of 1980s college rock standouts the Dream Syndicate, and Deanna Varagona, a member of Tennessee art-rock collective Lambchop. The four played together on each other’s songs, swapping lead vocals around the circle.
It was inspiring to be a part of the tour, Salas-Humara said, and when he returned to the U.S., he put that inspiration on paper. "Since I got back, I wrote a lot of songs," he said.
They may not all show up on the next Silos album. Sometimes, Salas-Humara said, songs may not mesh, and he may have to bump a song he loves onto a later album. That can help when songs aren’t flowing so freely. "Sometimes, I was touring so much, I didn’t write," he said. "Then I would realize, ‘I need to put an album out.’ So I would stop touring and write."
Most of the songs on "Laser Beam Next Door" are about the decay of relationships, with a man or a woman often on their way out the door. On two other songs, though, Salas-Humara uses Spanish to deliver more political lyrics, musing at one point, "Capitalism is the new religion/Where are the tenets of the revolution."
"Most of my songs are about real people in real life situations," he said. "Sometimes there’s more of a narrative, sometimes less, but most are relationship songs. This one is more straight-up, let’s go into the studio and record what the band sounds like live"
But when he writes in Spanish, he said, it’s for a different type of tune. "I’m Cuban, my family’s Cuban, but I was born in the states and it’s still a second language for me," Salas-Humara said. "Spanish sings really well, and the lyrics are more blunt, more passionate, more political. Those are concepts that feel very natural to sing about in Spanish. I think in Spain and in Latin American countries, those ideas are more in typical conversation than in the U.S."
<b>ALMOST EXACTLY ONE</b> year ago, the Silos came through Arlington as well, in the wake of Sept. 11.
Coming from New York, Salas-Humara said, the Washington area felt like a sympathetic ear.
"I think the people in DC were feeling a lot of the same things" as people in New York were. "When we went down farther… it was very strange to be talking about it to people who had just gotten the media spin on it, who had not seen an actual part of it."