Interview: Montenegro, Newcomers are all about the riff [MEX]

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It seems they came out of nowhere with a great album full of noisy riffs, monotonous chants, energetic drumming, and musically rich passages, but Mexico City’s Montenegro have a storied past, even though they pretty much haven’t played live. We got to talk with singer/guitarist Parrillat to tell us the story behind his amazing band.

It’s fair to ask you this question since you’re very new. How did Montenegro get together?

We have all played in different bands together. Ángel [Trejo], Tony [Romay] and me played in Jacuzzi around 2004, and Bebé [Ricardo Contreras] played in a band from Monterrey called Álbum. Both bands used to play a lot together—we met in a very illegal gig in Pachuca [Hidalgo]—and we became friends.

Around 2011, Bebé came to live to Mexico City and we started running into him at parties and we used to talk about doing something together. In 2012, the guys from Vicente Gayo told me we could rehearse at their space, so I [asked] Bebé if he wanted to get serious. We started rehearsing and didn’t play live during our first year. We wrote songs, more than what ended up on the record. In 2013, we decided to make a record. After going through three drummers, we decided that we were going to sequence the drums on the album, they were played by someone but it has been built and sequenced from there.

Did you have an idea of what you wanted to sound like from the get go?

We did because we have always worn our influences on our sleeves. We didn’t know how we were going to achieve it but we knew what we wanted. We all had some riffs and ideas. We went in the studio and right away we laid down the tracks. In less than a month we had eight or nine finished songs. We didn’t have any trouble, we had the idea and we made it happen.

What really took long was mixing the album. We recorded everything in like a month, then it took us around 10 months to mix and master everything. We wanted things to sound a certain way and to have lyrics that you could listen to instead of just random stoner screaming [laughs].

What took that process so long?

Just getting the sound. There are parts on the record that sound like there’s tons of synthesizers but we didn’t record any synths or any computer effects. It’s all guitars, pedals, and filters. And, in the end, we got exactly what we wanted but it was a very grueling process, we ended up sick of everything but once we had the record, we forgot about that feeling and felt good that we did things the way we did them.

We had some arguments with Alan [Ortiz, producer; also singer/bassist in Vicente Gayo] because…he is amazing, he’s like a genius with the machines and producing in general, but he has a well defined way of working to achieve what he likes, which may have not been what we wanted. So it was a learning experience for him and us to make this record happen and it ended up being a great thing. It was a difficult process but now we are really happy with the results.

Was there a lot of pushing and pulling between Alan and you?

We experimented a bit. Sometimes we didn’t agree with how to do something but then we would give it a shot and either him or us would go “wow, it sounds great.” And he also helped us a lot with polishing some of the sounds we had. One thing I love about the album is that it has a ton of “punch,” it sounds right, it has technical quality, and it’s all thanks to Alan.

Were you afraid that taking so much time with the post production process would make it sound less “live?”

It’s a cliché, “we don’t want to lose the essence.” Of course, you want to sound as live as you can but I think what helped us was that we rehearsed for a long fucking time before we even had the slightest idea of recording.

Are you concerned about reproducing what you did on the record in concert?

Not really. We didn’t use any piece of gear—guitars, amps, or effects—that wasn’t ours to begin with. It’s a relief because sometimes you use very rare stuff in the studio that isn’t yours and maybe you can’t really find anymore or it’s expensive as fuck. We don’t have a problem reproducing what we did.

Some of the sounds you use are very “alternative eighties.” I’m thinking 4AD, for example. Some of the drum sounds remind me of the last couple of Pixies albums. Was that something you wanted to channel?

When it came time to do the drums and we had to “build” the parts, Alan asked us, “how the hell do you want to do this? How do you want it to sound like?” And we gave him a ton of records as references, like Jesus and Mary Chain, who worked a lot with drum machines. Also more contemporary stuff, like the Spanish bands we love, like when El Columpio Asesino uses drum machines sometimes. But the idea was to sound like Jesus and Mary Chain’s drum machine [laughs]. I don’t know if we succeeded but that was the plan.

How much thought went into writing the songs and making the arrangements?

It’s not so much that we thought out everything but I can tell you that the way we wrote the album, we love music that can impress you with one song. If you listen to it, there’s tons of parts within the songs, rhythm changes, and such. And it can be very visceral but it can also be very melodic. I heard some comments that we might be playing a very trashy riff and then go to another really poppy one, all in the same song. But we never talked about doing those kinds of changes. It’s the way we have always written songs, both Bebé with Álbum and the rest of us with Jacuzzi. We’re all about the riff and what comes out of the moment.

Where do you think you fit? Who do you consider your peers?

I can tell you about some of the bands we like. There’s this one from Chihuahua called The Mueres and they are amazing. We found each other and we have been talking about doing stuff together. We love a ton of bands. For instance, I really like Candy, I remember seeing them live once and going “fuck! That guy plays the shit out of his guitar.” We’re open to anything and we want to play with anybody who wants to play with us, really.