Sing the Blues or Die: Demitasse Debuts in the Desert

by Morris Fleugelsang

I drove 12 hours across the desert from Palm Springs to see a band play in the tiny art town of Marfa, Texas. With my jalopy overheating and fires raging in the drought ravaged desert, I was thirsty, positively starving for a very particular brand of music.

Demitasse is the guitar and vocal duo of Erik Sanden and Joe Reyes who are both based in the South Texas city of San Antonio. Their debut performance was held at Padre's Marfa in Marfa, Texas on Friday, July 29 at 9:30 pm.

"We are Demitasse and we are trying to write the saddest song in the world" Mr. Sanden proclaimed into the Padre's Marfa's high ceilings. The former funeral home seemed well suited for their debut. Their set lasted one hour.

This hour was something special for me, a depressive with a thirst for sad soulful music. For me an Elliott Smith soundtrack is happy time. Demitasse was just what the doctored ordered: beautiful painfully stripped down music, fragile and elegant. Mr. Reyes calls what they do "music therapy." I couldn't agree more.

"Demitasse" supposedly means that the cup is half empty. Or half full. You know.

After the show, a few listeners were asked for their opinions :

"The first and only thing that came to mind was Simon and Garfunkel going to the absolute limit of their friendship" said producer Billy Harvey, who was passing through Marfa on his way from Los Angeles to Austin to work with Charlie Mars. Many grilled cheese sandwiches later he remarked, "Beautiful singing. Just this beautiful sound made with two guitars and two voices -- it was pure, minimal."

Padre Marfa's owner David Beebe, of Houston's The El Orbits, was even more succinct - "Great singing. Beautiful songs. Wonderful."

The artist Hills Snyder compared the show to cathartic theater, "this show was equal parts songcraft and equal parts therapy session. Lovely."

South Texas has been the nexus of American, European and Central American folk styles for centuries, and it is here that Demitasse has found its soul. Sparse, but moving, behind the beat and clearly tugging, each song a map of humans crumbling - corridos for the truly broken-hearted.

As for the delay in the duo's official debut, Mr. Sanden answered, "We are serving a very small niche of the public. And the fact is our audience base probably can't get it together to hold down a job long enough to purchase our music. We'll have to give this away."

Joe Reyes, the clearly more balanced of the two, mused "It was one of those happy accidents that created something we feel is truly special. The songs are a real discovery for us, that we want to share with the world, but we want to do that very carefully and only with those who really need this."

That morning they let me have a listen to some bits from a full length record that the have already recorded. It is masterful. But they are keeping it, for now, to themselves and to those "who really need it." You can hear a sample of these recordings on their facebook page to judge whether you need your glass at least half filled.