Crocodiles’ Brandon Welchez on the Importance of Latino Voices in Punk

Sometimes the journey of discovery can take you to faraway places. For Brandon Welchez, this path has led him to Mexico City, a place he fell in love with ever since he came to play with his band Crocodiles almost seven years ago. The band’s love for fuzz and reverb has garnered comparisons to The Jesus and Mary Chain, and Welchez and bandmate Charles Rowell are punks at heart. Welchez has been reconnecting with his roots in Honduras, and getting close to Latin American culture has been on the top of his list for some time now.

We sat down with Brandon to learn more about his story, his thoughts on growing up bicultural in the U.S. and of course, Festival Marvin, a staple in the band’s career. This year, he’s DJing at one of their stages. We’re hosting a ticket giveaway, so read on and find out how you can go to the festival.

What made you move to Mexico City?
I needed a change. I already loved this city a lot. It’s sort of one of these things that there are these are some cities – and you don’t know why – but you just feel good in this place. The first time I was here was in 2009, and I loved it here. I’ve been collecting friends since then.

You have become one of Festival Marvin’s mainstays. You played last year in addition to when you played in 2012, and now you’re doing a DJ set. It’s safe to say you know the festival. What you think about it?
The way they treat bands is more of a family atmosphere. You know so many people that work for the magazine and every time I have come back they tell me “It’s so good to see you!” They make you feel really welcomed. It’s a great festival; they curate it really well. They have cool headliners and the bands I don’t know about, half of them are really cool. It’s always a good time.

Have you encountered any Mexican or Latin American acts that have impressed you in your past visits?
I had heard her music but I had never seen Jessy Bulbo and she was amazing live. I’m very good friends with A.J. Dávila now but when I saw him I didn’t know him very well and he was very impressive. I’m sure I saw many along the way but I can’t remember well because I was muy borracho…again, the people from the magazine are very friendly and will usually tell me “Hey, let’s have a shot together.”

Tell me a little about your background.
My dad is an immigrant from Honduras. He came to the United States in 1969. My mother is a güera, a Jewish lady, so I had an interesting upbringing where half my family is Latino and the other half is Jewish. There would be interesting things like hondureños coming over for Passover. The majority of my cousins are in Honduras. I’ve been reconnecting with them over the years, [although] I’ve been to Honduras only once. I’m not fluent in Spanish; I’m only halfway there…the interesting thing with immigrants in the United States is that sometimes they want to assimilate, and it’s not about forgetting their culture, but my parents never spoke to me in Spanish. [My father’s] mother was my caretaker when I was growing up and she didn’t speak English at all, so when I was little, I was speaking more Spanish than English. She died when I was six.

“What I think is so important about punk is that it’s like an oasis in a desert of shit.”

When I started school, I assumed everybody was bilingual. I didn’t know any difference; I didn’t distinguish between languages. So when I started school…I spoke Spanish and I got teased, so I came home and said “no más español.” [laughs] I wish my father spoke Spanish regularly because I feel a disconnection with half my family. Part of the motivation for living here is to improve on my Spanish skills.

It’s funny, I also have family who migrated from Mexico to the U.S. and none of their kids speak Spanish.
It’s sad. There’s a lot of racism still in the United States. And it’s not just Latino immigrants; a lot of my friends whose parents are from Asia or Africa or even Europe, they don’t learn their parents’ language. My father speaks English better than most native speakers but he has a thick accent. I remember asking him in my teenage years why he didn’t speak Spanish and he told me because he had such thick accent he faced much prejudice and he was worried I was going to speak English with an accent as well, and he didn’t want me to be discriminated against. His heart was in the right place, I guess. But I think the demographics are shifting in the United States.

You mentioned a shift in the U.S. I think with all the racism and the police killings it’s reaching a tipping point for those resisting this shift. In my opinion, people who harbor prejudice are holding on to it with all their might and lashing out.
The United States is a white supremacist culture; unfortunately, our country was built on it. There’s still people from the baby boomer generation who are still holding as much racism as ever existed. So yeah, as the culture is shifting, a person who is in a position of supremacy sees that he’s losing that he tries to hold on to anything, and [people] are turning up the aggression and the hostility and racism as a last gasp…As the baby boomers die, culture is going to be a lot different in the United States. I don’t think it will be a white supremacist culture much longer. It’s a really interesting time.

Do you think your cultural background gives you a good perspective to think about these issues?
Definitely…I grew up in San Diego. On la frontera, there’s so many Mexican-Americans there and white people there are very conservative; it’s a military town. It’s a culture clash. If you’re not an oblivious person you have to be aware of what’s happening and pick a side…It seems like the older I get the more desire I feel to be part of [my] culture, whereas in my teenage years I had more desire to be part of punk culture [laughs] than with my background.

But punk is…
…an equalizer.

Yes! It’s also a place where you do something and you become part of a culture along with what makes you you.
What I think is so important about punk is that it’s like an oasis in a desert of shit. And in San Diego it was great because it least it was half Mexican-American; there were black kids, gay kids, lots of women were involved. It was almost like a [microcosm] of what you could hope society could be on a bigger scale. It was great to be a part of it in my formative [years].

“It’s important to have voices like Downtown Boys and Los Crudos.”

It makes me think of Downtown Boys, who are Latinx, queer, and feminist, and they speak out and act in ways other artists can’t because they don’t have the punk background or the scene around them. And they are now an important band from our times.
You know this band Los Crudos? Martin Sorrondeguy is a fucking hero. Being from the United States, they said “We’re going to sing in Spanish, we’re going to sing about political issues” and when they broke up and [Martin] started Limp Wrist which was “Now I’m going to sing about queer issues.” The guy is a legend and a total hero. I got to see Los Crudos in San Diego and it was so cool to see a lot of my Latino friends feel empowered by what this guy was saying. It’s important to have voices like Downtown Boys and Los Crudos.

How has reconnecting with your culture translated into your music?
On the last album, we incorporated some Latin rhythms in two songs, “Crybaby Demon” and “Kool TV,” which are based on salsa and Tito Puente. On the new album there will be some more [Latin] influence. We recorded in January and February with Martin Thulín [Exploded View, Los Fancy Free] again. We experimented with some cumbia rhythms and stuff like that. We want to maintain our own thing, but I think it’s interesting that the further along we go we can pull different influences from different places…We have a lot of fans in Mexico City and they’ll understand the cumbia thing even if they don’t like it, but I have no idea [what] our fans from Japan or Germany who have no idea about Latin music will think. I played a song for a friend in England and he said it sounded like Kate Bush [laughs].

What do you like about Mexico?
What I like about the country, and not to say that people in the United States are not nice, but here people are warmer, overall…When I go out with a group of friends, not everyone is on their phone not talking…Here you can walk around and see locally owned businesses. It makes the city seem more genuine.

What are you looking forward to living in Mexico?
Besides becoming more fluent in Spanish, I just want to fucking enjoy myself.

Crocodiles plays Festival Marvin this weekend. Enter to win tickets below: