Interview – Mama Pulpa

We, like Mamá Pulpa. We really, really like them. If you want to lose 2 hours of your life reading our dissertation-length reviews, here’s one for El mundo es muy difícil and one for Tocadiscos.

We managed to cajole Alfredo (vox/guitar/cool beard) to answer a few of our questions via email…

Thank you for taking our questions! We know you are busy being a star and taking over the world (we could be good servants), so we appreciate you take your time to answer our bobbins. ‘Robot’ always brings a smile to our weary cynical writing minds.

1) El mundo es muy difícil was ages ago. What has happened in the world of Mamá Pulpa these past years?

A lot!! We toured all over Mexico, then we spent four summers touring West Canada and some cities in the U.S. We got to know a lot of bands, places and people that we would never get to know without the music. We learned a lot! We got a new drummer, the original bass player is back in the band, a new album is in the oven and the same old rebel spirit is still here. These years have changed our perspective about music and life.

2) There was a slight change in the line-up from the original Mamá Pulpa. How’s the current band holding up?

The band started as a trio with León, Chalo and me, Alfredo. Us three recorded the first album, with the exception of three songs.

León left. Then Chipotes, who was our roadie and friend came in. He dreamed of being the bass player for the band, but he never managed to be a good musician and that’s why he left, two years later. Then came Juan.

Marco joined in 2005, he plays guitar and he’s still is in the band. Chalo, the original drummer left and Pascual joined in. After him, Esteban did. A few years down León came back. Nowadays there’s two of the original trio: Alfredo (voice/guitars) and León (bass). Marco (guitar) and Esteban (drums) are still around. This has been the best line-up by far.

Once we were just a group of friends making tunes, but we weren’t that good live. You can watch a few old vids on Youtube and see for yourself. Now it’s different, Esteban is one of the best drummers in México, having played with Petróleo, Santa Sabina, La Gusana Ciega and many more. We now have a very solid live sound, which we didn’t have before.

3) Something that caught our attention is something we named in the office the “Rodrigo y Gabrielaeffect“, i.e. a musician not getting recognition in their own country, but achieving fame outside of it. How do you feel about this? You certainly hit it big in Vancouver.

When we were first invited to tour Canada back in 2006, our musical perspective changed in a radical way. We realised that many of the bands making it big in the Mexican market, where bands copying the sound of English-speaking bands, without adding anything to the mix.

In Mexico, radio programmers prefer to play bands that play like American or British bands, but in Canada what they value about our music, was not the influences from foreign bands, but our inevitable Mexican or Latin sound and flavour, that was fresh for them.

Our mixture of Reggae, Ska, Punk and Latin music made them dance and go mental.

Their reaction changed our perspective, we realised that our aim was not to sound like foreign bands, but like a Mexican band. Recording, mixing and mastering, with the highest possible standard without plagiarising anyone. A proposal to the world, not the market in your city, where fads come and go, with the bands just following suit.

The “Rodrigo y Gabriela” effect is a classic case of “malinchismo” for the 21st century. Nobody paid attention to them in Mexico, because they played acoustic guitars and got labelled as “buskers”. If you don’t have the attention of the media, you don’t exist. Someone in Europe understood the potential that Rodrigo y Gabriela had and promoted them so much, that now they fill up venues in Mexico, but only after the foreign media gave them the time of day.

It’s a similar situation to what happened to Los de Abajo, a band with kudos all around the world. Maybe the Mexican media has not heard about them or they don’t realise the current importance of this band internationally.

It’s a stalemate between being true to your culture and your geographical place, or simply plagiarise and be accepted because you sound like what’s en vogue. A lot of critics, radio producers and record executives dislike the Mexican (or Latin) sound in Rock bands, they find it appealing only to the lowest denominator or passé.

*[Editor’s note: Malinchismo is a pejorative in Mexico for the belief that anything outside of Mexico is better, including culture, life and, yeah, everything]

4) The lyrics in El mundo es muy difícil are slightly jokier than the more introspective Tocasdiscos. Can we ask what drove this change in your style?

It’s funny, I grew up listening to bands that wrote humorous lyrics, like Botellita de Jeréz or El Personal, their songs inspired me to write whimsical and funny lyrics. When El Mundo es Muy Difícil came out, one of the reviews said that the funny lyrics could be us digging our own grave, pigeonholing us. One day, I was talking with El Mastuerzo (drummer for Botellita de Jeréz and who promoted and bigged us around) about this particular review, and I showed him the lyrics for ‘Señor Pacheco’. He said it was good, but that I should start writing lyrics that reflected more about my deepest feelings. Whatever actually stroke a chord. So, following his advice, I wrote tons of lyrics about those deep moving feelings, several of which had to do with my personal relationships. There have been a few complaints, as some people expected more whimsy tunes, but there’s also people that really felt the songs spoke to them and identified with the feeling, so I have no regrets of experimenting with those lyrical themes.

5) I really enjoy the warm sound found in Tocadiscos. What made you choose analogue over digital?

Our generation grew up listening to vinyl long plays. The first rock albums we bought in our teen years were vinyls. Obviously there’s a sense of nostalgia for that old ritual of buying a record, sitting down to listening to it, flip sides and listen to the other half.

Several years ago, my dad gave me a record player as my girl had a big collection of blues and rock records that she inherited from her parents. I spent many years listening to old recordings and falling head over heels of the deep sounds from analogue recording systems. When the time came to plan a new album, we wanted to steer away from the sound of the first album, so came the idea of taking the genres we have always blended together, but keeping their original stylings. We wanted to go to the root of rock, reggae, ska, funk. We realised that the black music from the 20th century, was the root of all the music we loved, so the logical step was to make an album that sounded that way. We ended up releasing it on vinyl in order to achieve our goal.

6) Is there any recurring theme when writing lyrics (i.e. a set idea) or are you just working over the music ?

I think the recurring idea is to make it fun. It has to make you smile when you understand or feel identified with what is being sung, even if it’s a sad lyric. For me, life has no meaning without laughter, jokes, mischief, so I try to make lyrics that follow this line of thought. I don’t always get there, but the idea remains throughout. Even when it’s a painful or a heartbreak lyric, I try to put a funny spin to it.

7) Any plans to return to television?

I’ve never stopped working on TV, but after our work in Telehit (Guaguarones S.A.), I realised that being the host and show your face on TV, as a presenter or TV personality, was the least attractive part of the industry.

I’m more interested in being a screenwriter and director, than the protagonist. I prefer to be the one deciding what to say and how to say it, instead of being a talking head, transmitting someone else’s message. As a host, you always end up saying stuff you don’t completely agree with. Above all, the host is the most disposable link of the whole chain.

Nowadays, I write and direct a comedy newscast called Mikorte Informativo. The premise is that three journalists from another planet, arrive to Mexico and taken aback from the absurdity of human nature, transmit a newscast to their homeplanet. The program has been a real success and I love combining two creative callings: music and audiovisual art.

We are now planning to do a show with puppets, a dream I’ve had since I was a kid.

8) What are the plans for 2011?

We are already writing songs for the new album, we have about twenty and our goal is to write thirty and then whittle them down to fifteen. We still don’t know if we will record and release it this year, but we are very excited about these new songs, and we do want to take our time to create an album that will be above and beyond the previous two, or at least, an equal. We are not in a hurry, because we are really enjoying the whole process.

9) As a Mexican musician, what’s the biggest hurdles you have to jump around, both in México and outside (besides language, of course)?

It all depends on your goals. The biggest hurdles you have to jump, are the ones in your own mind. The fear, for example. Some bands blame the radio, some bands blame the TV. I think that the goal is not to be famous… and a lot of bands lose their time just trying to be famous… the real goal is to have the opportunity to keep creating music. Performing live, recording albums, touring… that’s what I really care about…

10) You’ve mentioned before that you don’t like a specific tag to your music and just want to be filed under “Rock”. Do you fear getting pigeon-holed in one genre or thought of as just another “funny” band?

The problem is that this music has no genre. It’s the combination of several kinds of music, and different cultures. We’re not a Ska or a Reggae band, we’re not a punk or indie band, we’re not a Cumbia or Norteña band… we’re doing music that syncretises what we have heard… and we’ve heard a lot!

I don’t like the terms Fusion, or Alternative. They don’t say anything about the music. In this new era where the music sales are not the goal to do music, the genres are irrelevant… they were invented to organize the albums in a record store. We should start thinking different about music.

11) What other Mexican bands would you like to recommend to us?

Troker, Austin TV, Antidoping, Matadero, Silvano Zetina, Monocordio, Sonidero Travesura, Liquits, Los de Abajo, Los Aguas Aguas, Le Funk.

12) We’ve heard some bad stuff about the Mexican media not supporting the local talent. Would you like to tell us your experiences, both good and bad? (

We’ve had both good and bad experiences with Mexican media… some of them are really interested in the music and they’ll try to help you, if they like the songs.

Some others just care for power, glamour or money, so it all depends if they see you as a good business or not. We’ve been lucky receiving a lot of attention from the Mexican media, like news papers, magazines, television shows and internet… but is difficult to be programmed in commercial radio if you’re not a mainstream band, and we’re not trying to be a mainstream artist… we just like to play music.

13) A few Mexican bands seem to focus their music around singing in English. You’ve stuck to Spanish and developed witty humour (based on Mexican homespun comedy). Would you ever try to sing in English or will you stick to Spanish?

Never say never, but I think it is very difficult to transmit feelings or ideas with a few words in any language. Some bands prefer to write in English because they believe that if they do so, they can automatically compete with U2 or The Rolling Stones… it’s a bit more complex than that. You should master a language to write good lyrics. Some of us in Mexico barely speak Spanish properly.

14) This might be an old question (and more of a fan thing), but would you like to talk about the history of ‘Mis amigos muertos’? How did the reggae interlude came to happen? Any story behind the lyrics?

It was a time when several close friends died in accidents. The lyrics was a way to process all that. The reggae interlude already existed as a song that never came to be… so we joined both together and we really liked the mix. I think that dub is a great way to finish an album.

15) Any plans for more videos?

Yes, we have a lot of ideas, but this week, the problem is the budget…

We dearly thank Mamá Pulpa for this interview. Best of luck with the new album and keep in touch!

Words: Sam J. Valdés López

Mamá Pulpa Website. Bandcamp. Facebook. Twitter. Myspace.

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