A musical marriage

Guillermo Sexo survive a break-up
By IAN SANDS  |  July 28, 2006

JUST FRIENDS?: Guillermo Sexo split the difference between Barnett’s Siouxsie Sioux sexuality and Bettsak’s more ambiguous experiments.
Seated across from Jess Barnett (keyboards, vocals) and Reuben Bettsak (guitar, vocals), founders of Cambridge-based foursome Guillermo Sexo, on a rainy Sunday afternoon in Central Square, I have little trouble believing that the two were engaged to be married. The platinum-blonde Barnett looks out of place in her black cocktail dress at the Asgard, which as we talk is brimming with Brazilian soccer fans. Bettsak has less trouble blending in. He’s wearing a long-sleeve patterned shirt, but his dirty blond hair is wet and disheveled from a recent trip to the gym. Their intimacy is evident. They talk over each other nonchalantly, and she slaps at him underneath the table when touchy subjects are discussed. As they inevitably are. Earlier this summer, the Herald featured Guillermo Sexo in an article about Boston local bands whose members are or have been intimately involved. According to that story, the Barnett-Bettsak break-up “almost ripped local quartet Guillermo Sexo to pieces.” At the Asgard, the two use less sensational terms.

Reuben Bettsak first appeared on the Boston rock scene in 2000 with acclaimed local prog-rockers the Nationale Blue, a band he founded along with Dave Altman, his friend from the University of Hartford. “It was definitely really intense, we put out the full-length album A Different Kind of Listening, and it got on the CMJ charts, and it got a decent amount of press.” Bettsak and Altman disbanded the Nationale Blue in the summer of 2004, after the band’s second European tour, because “people kept moving out of town and we just wanted to take a break from it.” Later, the duo would join up with local metal giants Big Bear. Unlike Altman, who is still with the band, Bettsak — second guitarist at the time — wasn’t satisfied with his role. “Joel [Roston, vocalist/guitarist for Big Bear] at that point wrote all the music to the band, he wrote all the guitar parts. . . . I think ultimately I wanted to be a part of the songwriting process.”

He went on to explore some of his own musical ambitions. Last summer, he performed at Charlie’s Kitchen under the stage name “Guillermo Sexo.” (“Guillermo” was a nickname that Barnett, his fiancée at the time, had jokingly given him.) She was at his side that night on keyboards: “We just wanted to play together, we thought it would be fun, and it was.” A friend suggested they take the name for good. They tried out drummers before settling on Appomattox’s Nick Gaynier. Gaynier enlisted his band mate Dave Nurmi to play bass and the line-up was complete.

The band were still writing tracks when Bettsak and Barnett called off their engagement. Bettsak claims that the working process didn’t alter drastically, but he and Barnett agree that they began spending less time with each other and more time working out their own tracks in solitude. Guillermo Sexo trudged along nonetheless, and five months later the band headed to the Vermont woods to record their debut album, Oh Wow!, with engineer Justin Pizzoferrato (Dinosaur Jr., Apollo Sunshine).

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