When Making Movies released their narrative album I Am Another You in 2017, they laid out of heaving, multicultural epic that explores storylines of asylum seekers, broken families and irreversible decisions. A theatrical display of humanity’s locura colectiva, our collective madness, set to permeating instrumentals that blend modern sounds with the traditional and ancient. Received by critics as a “politically charged,” project, the band decided to run with their new role. They lined up a companion EP, You Are Another Me, donated all the proceeds from I Am Another You to the National Immigration Law Center and put out the pairing as a double vinyl.
After closing out their Carnaval tour with their fourth annual hometown block party in Kansas City, Missouri, the band has hit the road again for a northeastern tour. You can catch them play The Hollow in Albany on June 14.
Vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Enrique Chi recently stopped during the band’s music video shoot at Bedrock Studios in Los Angeles for a quick chat about the deep-rooted history of their sound, their friendship with Los Lobos and more:
ALT: How did you guys get connected with Los Lobos?
EC: We were a young band but we learned a good lesson: you have to tour to get anywhere. It helped us actually build a fanbase at home, the fact that we weren’t around a lot made it really special when we did play shows, so the venues in town liked to have us open for bands. So we ended up opening up for Los Lobos. There are a lot of bands that wished they could’ve gotten that gig but we were the young Latino band that got it.
Years ago we opened up for Ozomatli and we were like, “Yeah this is it, this is gonna be our big break! They’re gonna listen to us and they’re gonna love us.” Then I got the rude awakening that touring artists are at dinner when we play, so that pipe dream would be very hard actually. So I didn’t expect anything of that night but just coincidentally, the band was already there and Steve Berlin–who produces a bunch of their music–was like “Man, this is a cool sounding album,” and poked his head out like, “That’s a band? In Kansas City, Missouri?” He talked to us that night and was like, “Can I please produce your stuff?” and we had to pretend we had a lot of people asking us the same question so I tried to look cool, “Let me think about it,” then went outside like, “Oh my God! It happened!” Like you can’t find a girlfriend until you stop looking for one? It’s like that.
ALT: David Hidalgo sang with you also, on You Are Another Me.
EC: We did a version of “De Paisano a Paisano” as a protest ode to the immigrant experience and he liked our version. We sent it to him and asked if he would be willing to play accordion and sing on it and he was gracious enough to do so. And, Juan Carlos [Chaurand], our percussionist, tours with Los Lobos at times if they’re having big shows, so we’ve become part of the family. They’re such homies, such good people. They have our backs.
ALT: A number of your songs are based on LA and its culture, do you do a lot of your writing there?
EC: For the last album we did. Life kinda happened that way. We had this plan to come out here for two months so we lived out here for two months and were playing shows but were also exploring other things and demo-ing the new album. We were here at Bedrock Studios three or four years ago with our producer Steve Berlin. A couple songs from the albums came together that day as we were creating things. We had a jam session with Asdru Sierra from Ozomatli and that connection brought him onto the last song on our album.
Also at that time in our lives, we had this cousin, Juan Carlos Andres, who we grew up with and everytime we came here it would be such a party. He’d be like, “Hey let’s go out, VIP at this hotel.” All that shit. We were always like, “Wow, this dude’s killin’ it. So cool.” And the next thing we knew, it had all been because he was mixed up in the wrong crowd and he was in prison the next time we came back.
That story became part of the story of the album, the coming of age where, if you make the wrong decisions it can impact you forever. It’s kind of what the record is about, how universal that feeling is. Then, [there is] my cousin emigrating from Venezuela to Panama–a totally different circumstance but still he’s facing decisions that will impact his life forever. Saying, “That’s it, I can’t take it. The government is too fucked up in Venezuela, I have to leave. But that means everything my life was gonna be, it’s not gonna be anymore and I have to face that.” Another character is a buddy of ours in Kansas City who, after having three kids with his wife, had to split up. Same kind of thing: I’ve made this really important decision and now, whatever I thought my life is gonna be, it’s gonna be completely different. Everything pre-that event to post-that event is dramatically changed and I find that so interesting. Those kinds of life experiences transcend place, culture, language, everything. It’s humanity. It’s this feeling that as human beings, we all end up having to face that feeling that our decisions have intense impact.
ALT: I Am Another You, the album that Steve Berlin produced and the EP, You Are Another Me, seem to have an important pairing to them.
EC: I Am Another You we recorded almost three and a half years ago, but it only came out a year ago. It got delayed. Our record label, we parted ways with them in the process of trying to figure out how to release it. After releasing it, everyone was calling it a “protest album” and we were really just talking about human experiences and growing up, through the lens of immigrant stories because that’s what we’re always around. In the Trump era, people just took that as a protest album, but we wrote it long before Trump was even a figment of our imagination. So I kind of had the attitude of, “If they’re gonna say we’re a protest band, let’s fucking protest.” So we leaned into the “We Are All Immigrants” message and donated all proceeds through crowdfunding to the NILC, we started giving away free tickets to any DACA recipients to all of our concerts and then we had this idea that we wanted to press a vinyl before Christmas.
[I Am Another You] was too long for one and too short for two pieces of vinyl so we thought, ‘Why don’t we just record more music and make it a full double? Let’s grab some songs from other artists and other eras that are saying the same really simple, human message–we’re not new in describing this– please have empathy. The world’s not black and white and perhaps things you don’t understand are vastly different than your original perception, like the immigrant experience and migration.
ALT: The message of the album is ancient, a mayan greeting that’s addressed in one of the songs (“In Lak’ech ala K’in” in I Am Another You). Did you start out with that and then build the album or was it something you discovered while writing?
EC: I had the song pretty early on, the concept, because that song narrates it. It tells us, here are three characters. You’re gonna watch them all face something challenging: In Lak’ech ala K’in, you are another me, I am another you. I think I had that penned in the first batch of songs for the album and then it became clear. I think it was actually the old record label president who said it, ‘That should just be the name of the album.’ I was like, ‘That’s perfect. That’s exactly what the album is about.’
ALT: The song doesn’t introduce the album, it’s more in the middle. Is there a reason for that?
EC: It took a long time to figure that out. We’d never gone through such a crazy endeavor of the album having such a narrative link. I thought originally that we should put the songs in order but it’s still music right? It still has to sound right. We needed a structure that would be logical to the listener if they’re really trying to pay attention to how the story is being told but to also have the energy of the album flow correctly. I like the conclusion that we came to. As I’m already dreaming up the next album, I’m more educated on how important all of that is, in the way people perceive your music: What is the mood of this song? What mood needs to come next?
ALT: You’re juggling a lot of different sounds from a lot of different places. How do you manage to blend it all together?
EC: The more we study it, the more we find a common history to all of this stuff. The huapango in Mexíco, the mejorana–the name of the instrument but also the folk genres–of Panamá. You hear them, and then you watch the zapateados from each culture–you start studying the history and realizing they come from a very similar place.
Cuba had a huge influence on all Latin American music. Being this slave port in the Caribbean, it not only innovated music but also became an exporter of its innovation. Not that all Latin music is Cuban, but there are a lot of paths that converge through Cuba, even the Veracruz coast and Cuba are geographically close. There’s also the New Orleans-Havana exchange going on.
Bert Berns, who was a brilliant songwriter wrote “Twist and Shout”, The Beatles song. He was this New York kid who spent a long time in Cuba, who loved Cuban music. If you think “Twist and Shout” you can hear it, “Guantanamera.” A DJ should mash that up because that’s where it came from. These people are forgotten. The US loves to talk about their history of blues, rock n’ roll and jazz but they leave out the Latinx part of the story.
If you were trying to make someone a really healthy smoothie–kale, garlic and ginger–that’ll fix you up but might taste too abrasive, you throw in some fruit and some honey to sweeten it up. You open the doorway so that little by little, they don’t need as much sweet and they can start to take it as it is. I’ve kind of found that that’s our role in the music community. To dig deep into this old ancestral music–that is like medicine really–and try to open a portal for people to explore it. We just may need to be adding some honey, fruits, maybe some chocolate, so it’s digestible. I think it’s kind of our specialty, to be able to include these instruments like the batá or using the zapateado as rhythm while I play the mejorana guitar, these are things that aren’t seen in the rock n’ roll world, in the pop culture world.
There’s not a lot of bands on Pitchfork with batá and zapateado. We’re trying to carve out that space to remind people that in this country and in rock n’ roll history, the Latinx influence, the Afro-Latinx influence is as important as any other influence to make rock happen. It’s been completely disregarded and it’s crazy to think about. I’m kind of hell-bent on telling everyone to not leave them out. You could Netflix 100 rock n’ roll documentaries and none of them will talk about the influence of Cuban music…maybe not none, but not a lot.
ALT: Integrating that Latinx influence is a big part of your Carnaval tour, and the Carnaval block party you host in Kansas City. How did that come about?
EC: We’ve been workin with bands like Mariachi Flor de Toloache, Las Cafeteras, Alex Cuba–these are artists who have a deep understanding of where this music comes from but they’re also not stuck. It’s not about reviving a genre and dressing just like the era and all that. Everybody is trying to bring this into the modern context in a way that keeps everybody excited.
We put a big workload on our shoulders to curate and organize all of that. We invented this. We always had an event for the kids from our music camp to perform at but [we thought], “Wouldn’t it be cooler to be opening at an event that features Latin Grammy winners Ozomatli?” That sounds like a real event, a street fair, a block party. We added a bunch of bands our first year, it was small but it was fun.
Now, in the fourth year, we’re taking this concept on the road because Kansas City doesn’t usually make space for that kind of music. There’s people there that appreciate it but there’s not a lot of intention in the community to make sure that stuff comes through.
We’ve been able to watch our own nonprofit Art As Mentorship expand the camp from just one week to a three-month program so the festival itself is now a fundraiser for that. Steve Berlin from Los Lobos will come record the kids so that’s the big hook: a Grammy winning producer coming to record them. That kind of positive pressure is awesome for the kids because they feel inspired and empowered to rise to the occasion.
Making Movies, The Eastern Highs and The Flam Flams: Thursday, June 14 at 8 PM at The Hollow Bar + Kitchen, Albany