Q&A: Los Amigos Invisibles on trying to translate cachondeo to English

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The horniest Venezuelan party band has a new album out, Repeat After Me, and it’s not at all a repetition of their past work or successful formulas. Indeed, they take on some risky changes, from the language of their lyrics to a new emphasis on nostalgic sounds of past decades. We talked Star Wars fetishes, new directions, and more with the band’s guitar player and main composer DJ Afro.

Let’s start from the beginning, the title, why Repeat After Me?

In this album we have four or five songs in English, so the idea was to play with the bilingual topic. The first thing professors tell you when you learn English is repeat after me, so that’s kinda where the joke came from. This was the first time we tried writing songs in English in a more serious way. We used to have one or two tracks in English on previous albums, but we’ve been living in the US for over twelve years now, so we finally feel comfortable releasing an album that’s half English, half Spanish.

Was it a premeditated decision or did the songs just come out in English?

They just started to come out like that. It wasn’t very premeditated; we just lost the fear. We said if they come out in English, let’s do them in English. We were a little scared at first because most of our audience is Latino and we didn’t know how they’d take it. But we thought, we’ve been living here for so long and we speak English all day, every day, so what’s the big deal?

The introduction to the album, hilarious by the way, also plays with the bilingual topic.

It was recorded at a live show we did here in New York when the announcer introduced us. It’s funny that even though invisibles should be an easy word for English speakers to pick up, they almost never get it right. That’s something we had to deal with a lot. In this particular case it was funny because the guy was very nice and he asked us about ten times how to pronounce it and then he went on stage and got on the mic and we were like nooooooo! I don’t think he knows we used it for the album, I hope he doesn’t sue us.

Moving on from the intro to the first track, “La Que Me Gusta” starts with a very distinct Motown groove, sounds like The Supremes, that’s a style you’ve never explored before.

Absolutely. We’ve always done music influenced by soul, but never anything like that. We’ve always leaned more towards the ‘70s than the ‘60s. I was intrigued by that style, we tried it and it worked. Then, while we were working on it we realized that Latin American pop is very familiar with that rhythm, but not from soul. You can find that groove on tracks by Hombres G, La Lupita, even Café Tacvba. That same kind of groove was also used a lot in ‘80s pop a lot, like The Pretenders in “Don’t get me wrong.”

That’s where I wanted to get. The new album has an overall ‘80s feel that separates it from your previous work, particularly your early records that were more explicitly disco/funk.

Absolutely. On this album, not only we tried to somehow detach ourselves a bit from that, but we also realized that we had a lot of unexplored nostalgia for the ‘80s. We suddenly found ourselves listening to a lot of Hall & Oates, Duran Duran, Tears For Fears and naturally we got more attracted to that aesthetic. We thought it was a good evolution for the band. I think each album of Los Amigos Invisibles is like a portrait of what’s musically going on with the band at a precise moment, what we are listening to. One day we were talking about ‘80s music and somebody mentioned The Cure and I said “I pretty much started playing guitar because of Robert Smith.”

“I pretty much started playing guitar because of Robert Smith.”

After the Grammy that you won with Commercial, did you guys feel pressured to follow up with a another pop album album?

Yes, in some sense yes, but more than pressure there was a debate within the band. Did we want to make a sequel to Commercial? Thank god we decided that we’d do whatever came out naturally. At some point during the recording we thought that the album wasn’t as pop and radio-friendly as the previous one. The band then said, well, this is what’s coming out, so this is what we gotta do.

Do you think this album is less commercial than Commercial?

Definitely, but I wouldn’t say it like that. I’d say it’s less radio-friendly for the Latino audience, mainly because of the English language. Commercial did really good in many places in Latin America, but not so much in the US. Anyway, each album is one more we add to our catalog. We already did Commercial and we keep on playing it, as we keep on playing “En Cuatro.” Maybe it was the moment to add something different and refresh a little bit the mix.

Another thing I noticed is that there’re no obvious references to Latin music on this album. In the past you had explored salsa, merengue, cha cha cha, bossa nova… what happened here?

Well that’s something that we discussed a lot. At one point we felt that we were pushing ourselves too hard to come out with a Latin track, just because we didn’t have one. And precisely, we didn’t wanna add one Latin track just because we were pressured to it. That would’ve been falling into a formula. We felt like doing a track like that would’ve been, in some way, offensive to the rest of the material. So we decided to simply do what came naturally to us. There will be other Amigos’ albums and plenty more Latin songs to come.

In this album I realized that most of your horny lyrics are in Spanish while the English lyrics tend to be more generic.

That’s something really curious. We do have a track in English called “Sex Appeal” that’s kinda cachondo, we had some of our American friends listen to it and they were like “wow, this is pretty heavy stuff!” We laughed, we thought this track was silly compared to some we’ve done in the past. And then we realized, Americans never understood our lyrics, so now that they’re starting to hear us singing in English they are like “whoa!” and we’re like “that’s nothing! You have no idea!”

Seriously! Imagine if they hear “El Disco Anal”?

Right. I think it also has to do with the fact that we don’t have much experience in “cachondeo” in English, so it comes out more naturally to us in Spanish.

I had a theory, let me share it with you. Since you guys moved to the US, you hooked up with monolingual English-speaking women and basically you didn’t want your wives and girlfriends to know what you were singing when you were going on tour, so you kept those songs in Spanish.

I like your theory, I think it makes a lot of sense but in reality it’s the other way around. All that “cachondeo” we always have it with Latin women, we don’t have a lot of experience with Americans. Maybe we have to try that next.

Going back to the album, there’s one track that instantly stood out, “Mostro,” were you basically emulate the Star Wars’ cantina band.

Wow, you caught that! Nice! Yes, that’s a very particular song, we had started with some kind of gypsy jazz groove and then there was a point in the rehearsals were we would always end up playing the Star Wars melody. We thought well, we can’t use it like that or it would be a total rip-off, but we liked it so we kept on playing it. Eventually we decided to keep it, we just changed it enough so it wasn’t so obvious, but we knew some people like you would get it. Besides we have two Star Wars fans in the band and we wanted to please them.

That’s the one thing I love the most from Los Amigos Invisibles. There’s this duality, on one hand you have all these girls that pack all your shows and you have to make songs for them to dance and sing along, but at the same time you also have that geeky side, that appeals to the music nerd like me, with stuff like this, that probably flies over the heads of those girls.

I think it’s wonderful to have that duality. I love it. On one hand we are a party band that sings songs with horny lyrics, on the other hand we have these hidden gems, like sweets, which appeal to music lovers, people like us. We always think about that. It’s not just about making people dance, we also want to make music that amuses us.

Download Los Amigos Invisibles’ Repeat After Me below: