An Interview with El Shirota

Raghava Lakshminarayana speaks to the Mexican punk band after their NRML set about the meaning of the band's name and the nature of bands in Mexico getting worldwide listening opportunities.
By    March 20, 2019

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The Mexican underground music scene has seen its fair share of weird acts. Los Blenders and San Pedro El Cortez play drugged-out garage rock (the former focus on jangly pop riffs, the latter sound like a distant cousin to early-Black Lips). There’s sleepy post-rock like Hawaiian Gremlins and carefully-curated art rock like Jóvenes Adultos. But El Shirota is a new kind of weird that delivers post-hardcore crafted in suburbia to the country’s ever-growing music palette.

El Shirota’s set at this year’s NRMAL in Mexico City officially announced their arrival. Hailing from the suburbs north of the city, the noisy quartet took to the Azul stage at 2:30 sharp. The opening riff to “Desobediencia” came on strong and blasted the small crowd that baked in the sun. A few kids knew what to expect and instantly starting lashing out, breaking into small pits. The older people in the crowd—probably only there to have Mazzy Star lull them to sleep later that night—shied away from the front, forcing awkward smiles. The kids, in turn, filled the spaces as El Shirota pushed waves of perfectly distorted riffs out onto them.

Their set was a compact, 45-minute affair that showcased the band’s best work. They’ve been at it since 2013, playing a very specific sound unique to the post-hardcore scene of Ciudad Satélite and its neighbouring suburbs, north of Mexico City. Nacho, one of the two lead guitarists (there is no Lennon-McCartney hierarchy or rivalry in El Shirota) attributes this sound to growing up in suburbia where owning a car was essential. He admits that they’re a bunch of internet kids that were brought up on a strict Pitchfork, indie rock and hardcore diet.

As the band drones on and drowns out all the other sound in the festival, more kids surface and start circling like sharks to the tune of “Listo (El Tornillo).” Things calm down a bit when they play “Carreta Furacão,” their latest single, which is an ode to American Football and other early indie rock influences. The groovy riffs and trance-like spoken word saunter over the sweaty audience catching a breath but raving to go again. The band seems poised, comfortable and in-control; Nacho proudly says that playing NRMAL has been one of their biggest, most important shows.

They then pick back up on their heavy doses of noise on “No Quiero” and “Intro,” both from their eponymous 2016 EP. Rúben, the other lead guitarist, bursts out of his shell and collapses onto the stage floor. It’s like watching a Hendrix-clone from Satélite, but save for a few onstage cigarettes, he later says that he mostly plays shows sober because of the immense physical effort the music requires. But still, watching Rubén dry-hump his guitar without missing a note on “Tres de la Mañana,” drives the concert photogs mad, as they pile on top of each other, their camera shutters noisily fluttering away.

The set comes to a close with the crowd-favorite, “Chiluca.” It’s a high energy track from the get-go and perhaps the best business card for anyone looking to get into El Shirota. The warchant-like lyrics, laid over wailing guitars, call out on those that have disrespected the band’s birthplace: Chiluca. Like any rapper repping their block, El Shirota are proud of their suburb and call out those that disrespect it on “Chiluca.”

After NRMAL weekend, I met Ruben and Nacho at AAuurraa, a coffee shop in the heart of downtown Mexico City. We talked about their biggest show to date, the music scene in Mexico and the band’s fresh sound. During the interview (originally conducted in Spanish and later translated for this piece), two young fans walk up to shake their hands. They were full of praise for their festival set; one of them says, “it’s cool that you’re establishing a Mexican scene, man.” — Raghava Lakshminarayana

Does that [fans approaching the band] happen a lot?

Nacho: No. Of late, a little bit more, but not really. It’s cool.

Tell me about the Mexican music scene.

Nacho: There’s currently an immense opportunity for growth but bands have to be responsible to take advantage of it. We also need to open the door for other bands. We shouldn’t do what older generations did, like just getting together with other guys that are established. We should start to open the door to other projects that have potential.

Ruben: I feel like I see a lot more kids that are interested in starting bands. I think there’s a lot of interest right now, from both audiences and people that want to start bands and that’s really nice, man. I really think it’s a good moment. I joined [El Shirota] in 2015 and we would go play shows with eight other bands, but only 10-15 people would show up. But now you see 400-500 people shows and that’s nice.

Nacho: Even if it sounds a bit naive, things are happening in Mexico City. The whole KEXP crew came here for a five-day residence [for the NRMAL pre-festival events]. I don’t think we should take that lightly. We should understand that there are opportunities in Mexico and that we should make use of them, but we must also work a shitload. It’s clear that not even in the U.S., bands make it only because of luck. They make it because of the work they put into their art.

Do you guys make a living off of El Shirota?

Nacho: No.

Ruben: [laughs]

Do you have day-jobs?

Ruben: We all survive by doing other things. But ultimately, bands in Mexico do this because they like it. Very few can live off of doing shows or selling albums or streams. Everyone has to have separate jobs and they do this only because they really like it.

Nacho: I think the best way to put it is: there might be or there might not be money but if that’s something that discourages you from making music, then you’re not made for music. This is like having a wife through good times and bad times. Even during bad times, you still have to be committed to keep going. If not—


Nacho: Divorce, yeah.

You put out your first EP, Chiluca No Es Satélite, in 2013?

Nacho: And we’re only starting to do well this year.

So you’ve been working on El Shirota for six years?

Nacho: Six years.

Tell me about Chiluca, is that where you’re from?

Nacho: No one is from there [from the current lineup]. But it’s a trip. It’s like Twin Peaks filled with rich golfers that are kind of lame. It’s above Ciudad Satélite.

But you two aren’t from there?

Nacho: Originally, two members were from there.

Nacho: [Rúben] is basically from Satélite and I’m from another suburb called Calacoaya. But we were all in the Satélite area and it’s funny cause the whole “Chiluca No Es Satélite” thing came up because of how far away Chiluca actually is from Satélite. But everyone would still say, “oh yeah man, you’re from Satélite.”

That’s like deeply north of Mexico City right?

Nacho: Yeah, there are squirrels roaming around your house. It’s weird. We started all this over there because [founding member] Mauricio’s dad was a musician and he had a studio in his house and that’s where we could rehearse. It was ironic because we would come out of the studio with tinnitus to smoke a cigarette, to hear birds chirping and no other noises.

How did that influence your music?

Nacho: I think it was cool. In a certain way, it did give a root sound to the project. It was basically suburban kids—well-off, living in a place where you had to do everything by car—it made you a real internet kid, man. Going to shows wasn’t really an option, so the influences came from blogs. Almost all of the content that we were consuming, from 2006 to 2009, was from Pitchfork.

On songs like “No Quiero”–specifically the second half of it–you shy away from the noise and explore genres like ambient. Can you talk about that?

Ruben: It’s cool that we also challenge ourselves to make different things and know that we can do them. Bands from Satélite, when we played house parties there [when El Shirota was kicking off], would only play Rage Against the Machine covers. So, doing things [differently] is nice.

Nacho: I like that. I feel like it’s what reminds us that in the end, we’re just kids from the suburbs. We came from that, from listening to emo bands, post-hardcore bands, we like punk a lot. It coincides with things we like from Jersey, like Real Estate, for example. Even though they’re kind of “New York” now, when they started, they played friends’ backyard shows [in Jersey]. We are influenced by all that but in our own context: México.

What does the new material sound like? Does it follow this post-hardcore, ambient narrative?

Nacho: Our musical ideas are definitely dispersed and it’s cool because I’d love to make a completely soft album and then go back to make a shouty, heavy one. One of our biggest influences is The Men. If you look at the narrative for their music, there isn’t a narrative and that’s the fun part about that band. It’s something that we aspire to: to keep reinventing and to never take our music too seriously. And have a little fun in the process.

Will we get a debut album this year?

Nacho: Wink.

Ruben: We’re planning on recording a lot but wink.

I think the live sets are a very important element of El Shirota, could you talk about that?

Nacho: Rúben lies in front of a mirror in his house and practices, he records himself [laughs].

Ruben: The truth is: outside of that moment, I don’t have to prove anything to anyone, man. But during that moment, I have to give absolutely everything that I’ve got to entertain the people that pay a large sum of money to come see us. Shouldn’t it be worth it?

Nacho: Something that we noted when playing KEXP was that no other band had given them a show. Ultimately, you’re in front of a camera, creating content. If you look at the KEXP Seattle sessions, almost all of the bands are putting on a show. We want you to get goosebumps during those 45 minutes, so that you aren’t even tempted to check your phone.

Can you talk about your NRMAL show? Was it your biggest one?

Nacho: Yes, it was definitely a huge platform. We’ve done a couple of shows with visuals before, but this show gave us the chance to explore other things. For example, our sets end in drone but we eventually have to turn off the amps and pick our things up. But to be able to literally throw our guitars and leave the stage and have someone else deal with that, it added a lot to [the live set].

Ruben: It was really nice to see a new crowd that was just discovering us but also, the crowd from those 2012 Satélite parties showed up. They were the ones moshing like we used to do back then.

Lastly, what does El Shirota mean?

Nacho: [A friend] would say that Casei Shirota is the perfect name—phonetically—for a post-hardcore band. Casei Shirota is a bacteria found in fermented dairy; it’s a probiotic. So we basically shortened that and Mexican-ized it a bit. In México, people give their projects names that no one can pronounce because we don’t speak English, or we don’t pronounce English names right, because we’re Mexicans, man.

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