Valpo Surf Project
Throughout the year, we’ve reviewed nearly every aspect of the program, from surfing to English and everything in between. I say nearly, because, after combing through our blogging content, it has become clear that we left a big piece out. Tinta Negra may be the most unique aspect of our program. The name itself, meaning Black Ink, doesn’t give much away, nor does the house in which this workshop takes place.
In a nondescript suburban home in Quilpue, a small neighboring city, Nate Sprague, an
American expat, has built a sophisticated music studio. As a producer and artist, Nate has worked with numerous Latin American artists, building several hit songs from scratch. He and his team facilitate the work of these musicians from preproduction all the way through video creation, utilizing the space as a one stop shop for creative output. If you've been wondering for years what DJ Khaled actually does, it's probably not that different from Nate's work. We the best!
A small crew of students hit the studio last week to work on a song that began several months back. Stemming from a particularly catchy Dragon Ball Z flute line, Alvaro, Cristobal, and Alexander laid down a beat with Nate’s help. While the three were pretty shy at first, they opened up a lot as Nate threw out some new ideas that would complement their beloved flute line. The song blossomed before our eyes starting with that simple Youtube video and the lyrics came next. They had written some bars about the frustrations of teenage boyhood, but, sadly, did not have enough time or vocal dexterity to lay down a final take of their lyrics.
This past session, Isa(bella) joined Alvaro and Alexander in the studio, providing some new energy and perspective to the #hotfire Dragon Ball Z beat. As you may know firsthand, sometimes you just need a little new energy to finally bring a project to life. At first, there was some talk about starting from scratch or reworking the song entirely, but, after tweaking the beat a little bit, they decided to pursue a new lyrical direction. I’m not entirely sure what inspired them, although I’d imagine Rick and Morty had something to do with their futuristic direction.
With Isa’s energy and direction, the crew pulled together a song about time travel, each selecting a specific decade to go back to. Isa went back to the 80’s (her style is reminiscent of Stranger Things), Alexander went back to 2010 (it’s not too clear why he used the miracle of time travel to go back nine years), and Alvaro went into the future to spread the word about Dragon Ball Z. Altogether, the beat and the lyrics create a sense of their raw creativity and exhibit the ways in which life trickles into the creative process in such an unexpected way. The track needs a little bit more polishing to be sent out to the world, so stay tuned tuned for the release date.
To finish off the session, Ethan had the opportunity to briefly interview Nate about his work, the studio, and the future of his philanthropic work. Many of Nate’s answers have been paraphrased and edited for style, but are almost entirely in his own words.
If you could give a brief description of yourself and your work. Who are you and what do you do?
I’m a music producer and owner and producer of Tinta Negra, a recording studio, label, and booking agency. It’s a company that is involved in the community through schools functions and VSP, [with the goal of] being a well rounded organization, and helping everyone, including the future of music.
Where are you from originally? What brought you to Chile?
Originally from Norwell, Massachusetts. Went to UVM, where I did an exchange through the IFSA Butler program in Viña and traveled a lot through Central and South America. [After that] I finished my degree and didn’t know what to do, but had a lot of Chilean contacts. I moved down to give music a shot, had some money saved up just in case, but now its been 11 years and has exceeded expectations.
What and/or who initially inspired you to pursue a career in music?
I started with sax in fourth grade and played for 12 years. That was the first introduction [and there was] a lot of music in the family; all genres. Through this exploration, I found hip-hop, which caught my attention. Growing up in the 90’s inspired me and I started making music in Chile. [My] family was a huge inspiration and very supportive and is to this day
How long have you had your studio? How did the project start and who has worked there?
The idea started in 2012 and I wanted a means of being independent, by running it and producing. It began as a means to pitch [ourselves] through the label. In this venture, I work with an engineer, take interns from DUOC (a local community college), have a community manager named Camila, and two interns from PUCV (a local university). I want to creative professionals, and want it to benefit other people. We also have a photographer that does photos for artists and promos.
How did you hear about the Valpo Surf Project originally?
I was involved with the initial conversations about starting VSP, because I was surf buddies with the founders and [we] shared the same sort of idea about taking the non-traditional job route. [Tinta Negra] is a great match for the mission of VSP and works with VSP on everything, [including] funding. I want our connection to become a more permanent thing and to always be beneficial for all [parties involved].
How has your involvement with the VSP evolved over time?
We’re working on making it more permanent part of VSP [programming] and to having a dedicated team of people working on documenting/recording and helping in the process.
What’s your favorite part about working with kids?
I like the genuine-ness of kids, they tell it how it is with no filter. The fact that I can hopefully affect them positively by providing a unique opportunity that they might not otherwise have access to. It provides a new break from their (the kids) routine and it’s a safe, fun space to express themselves.
What do you hope they learn during sessions or takeaway when they leave?
Life skills: teamwork, respect, ability to listen, patience, motivation, that they can express themselves however they want, freely. And, of course, to always have fun.
Any future goals for the “Cuando Sea Grande” program or for our student’s work in general?
My goal is to put together sessions to finish songs so they can have something to show, a mixtape or something like that.
Do you have any specific stories or favorite memories from any of the sessions with our kids?
All the sessions have been special because they’re all so different. Seeing the energy and creativity of the kids writing is amazing. Seeing the Montedonico boys focusing and opening themselves up. Seeing kids smile when they try to rap their rhymes. Seeing the idea becoming whole.
VSP for life. Thank you to VSP for trusting in Tinta Negra, allowing us to do it. If there are supporters of the art and music, reach out to VSP or Tinta Negra to donate money, time, or resources.
Although I’ve only worked in Nate’s studio once, those hours made it clear that Nate is dedicated to our students in a meaningful way. Based on his level of Spanish, the kids are always surprised that he isn’t Chilean, so he’s immediately able to connect to them in that sense. He radiates creative energy from the moment the session begins and he has a magic ability to turn the smallest idea into a fully formed track. We are extremely lucky to work with somebody who has that level of know-how and insight, as our kids have no other access to creative industries. As Nate mentioned, we intend to strengthen our relationship through integrating these session into our schedule more frequently and bolstering our ability to create finished tracks. Thank you Nate and the Tinta Negra team for opening our student’s eyes up to a whole new world and for showing them the tangible possibilities of creativity!