Q&A: Jotdog, From Rock en Español to Sci Fi Über Pop

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We don’t usually veer into the pop music world but, then again, Jotdog isn’t your typical pop music group. The duo of Marisela Rodriguez (formerly of the powerpop María Barracuda) and Jorge “La Chiquis” Amaro, producer and collaborator of basically all the heavyweights of Mexico’s rock en español, exploded onto Mexico’s pop scene in 2009 with a self-titled debut album that was nominated (and won) a zillion awards thanks to the juxtaposition of cheerful, danceable tunes and serious, introspective lyrics.

I spoke with Jotdog about why they left rock for pop, their love of science fiction, their preference of sinister pop verses bubblegum pop, and why Amaro is monikered “La Chiquis,” meaning “the little girl” in Spanish.

So why the name Jotdog?

Maria: We both come from rock music and we wanted to erase our past and start from scratch. The name sounded very pop to us like something from Andy Warhol’s pop-art era when he took something ordinary and turned it into art. So we chose hot dog and used a “j” for the “j” sound in Mexico.

Jorge: Phonetically speaking, we also wanted to use a simple name for a pop group, something with no more than two syllables.

How did you two meet and start working together?

M: I was in Maria Barracuda. That was our project together and he was the producer.

J: I used to play in some old-school Mexican rock bands like Fobia, Rostros Ocultos, Kenny Y Los Electricos, and Mask, which was the first band I joined back in ‘82 with Jose Fors from Cuca. I produced a lot of rock bands in the ’90s like La Lupita, Las Víctimas del Dr. Cerebro, Fobia, I worked with Beto Cuevas [of La Ley], I worked with…everyone! [laughs]

I stopped performing after my time with Fobia and then María invited me to produce her first record. Afterwards, she invited me to play guitar in her band. Our label had no clue what to do with María Barracuda. Sony Records, back then, was only interested in boy bands.

M: This was back when genres were very divided and María Barracuda was super eclectic. They couldn’t figure out what genre to label us.

J: They couldn’t understand that, for me, this was an incredible record. We had collaborations with Ruben Albarrán of Café Tacvba, Tony Peluso, may he rest in peace, who worked with Molotov and was the guitarist for The Carpenters, we had Ramon Ayala with his accordion. It was a great album but, after we saw that nothing happened, María decided to go independent.




So what happened when you released your sophomore album, Turista del Amor II?

We released a second album that we published and distributed ourselves and, obviously, we weren’t going to live off 2,000 records alone. We decided to look at some other avenues like composing songs for other artists and, eventually, we started getting called for work for other artists. We wrote about three super-pop songs that we’d never done before. We transformed ourselves into boy bands. Many of the songs from the first record like “I Love You” were from this first batch we sent in. We sent them in to see if they liked them and neither the producers nor the artists liked them! They returned them but we liked them a lot. We thought there was something cool about them and thought, “Why don’t we keep writing songs like these and see what happens?”

We completed the record in 2006 and we started sending demos out and opened a Myspace page. We were very careful with our Myspace page because we didn’t want people to know who we really were. We didn’t want to be seen as traitors who switched to pop from rock. We uploaded some songs and people left comments saying, “Hey, that voice sounds like María Barracuda.” María would write back and say, “No, that’s crazy, of course not!”

M: “We don’t even know who that is!”

J: “Who is that?”

M: Then I’d erase the comment. [laughs]

J: [laughs] So this project grew and we started playing in El Imperial and other small, exclusive shows as Jotdog and our fan base grew. We passed more demos around and got no attention until we played a show with some friends where we met an A&R rep from Sony again. Three days later, María was in Miami signing a contract for Jotdog. She returned happy, saying, “We did it, we have a label!” and then, bam!, they froze our contract for a year. Thankfully, the A&R rep was kind enough to free us from our contract.

M: And, thankfully, he saved us from another label!

J: And thankfully, our management group Seitrack, which wasn’t a label before but is one now, decided to give us a hand and published our first album. They also promoted us and everything started falling into place. The album was completed in 2006 but wasn’t released until 2009. So, finally, the album is released and things started happening. For us, we were just happy to have the album out. Then came the airplay and the nominations. We were nominated for two Latin Grammys and nominated as Best New Artist for the Mexican Grammys, which are the Premios Oye! We won Best New Artist and are nominated again this year for this second record, which we‘re very happy about. We were also nominated for Best New Artist North America for Premios MTV. We were nominated in Premios Lo Nuestro, we won in Los Premios Telehit, the most important station for pop music in Mexico and we won all these awards and nominations without trying to win any of them. Of course we were very happy about it. Who doesn’t like winning awards? And the folks at Sony probably kicked themselves afterwards.

M: ¡De hecho! [laughs]




J: Someone at Sony probably got fired but that’s another story. Right now, we’re very happy with our label. Thanks to the popularity of the first record, our new prize is our second record, Turista del Amor II. We’re happy with our current single “Lluvia de Estrellas” . We’re happy with the changes on a musical level because our first one seems so old and we’ve been dying to release new material based on her new psychological problems and my own, all the gossip. We had all this baggage and no new album so, thankfully, we were able to get together again with help from Seitrack to make this second record. There’s a shift in visual styles between the albums. The videos for your first album reminded me of Tron while the new video for “Lluvia de Estrellas” is more steampunk. Why the switch?

M: To note the difference between the first and second album. We switched to steampunk because we’re super fans of science-fiction. The first album had a bit of science-fiction influenced by the 1970s vision of man in the future. For example, we had uniforms influenced by Star Trek and Tron. On this album, we have the man of the future with the vision of the past like the science fiction of Jules Verne.

J: Like Sky Captain & The World Of Tomorrow mixed with Resident Evil and Mad Max.

M: We always try to incorporate elements of science-fiction into our concepts to have fun and to have visual elements that’ll help.

J: The songs usually are about love and about difficult situations related to that but the majority of them aren’t written with the intention of upsetting the listener or dedicating it to a loved one. They’re written with the intention of moving on after you listen to them…like “Ya se murió.” Everyone dedicates songs to their biggest loves or toughest break-ups but very few people dedicate songs to a one-night stand or a brief affair.

Or someone you date for two months that goes nowhere.

J: Right, and we have songs dedicated to those loves that people tend to forget about.

Talk about the difference between “sinister pop,” of which Jotdog’s been labeled, verses “bubblegum pop.”

M: We’re on the edge of rock and pop and we really don’t think about not saying things we’re not supposed to say. That gives us that those dark elements within the realm of pop.

J: It’s “sinister” because, as many of our friends have explained, the music is very beautiful and sweet but the lyrics are pretty brutal. “Me mataría por tí” or “desde que te fuiste no puedo comer,” etc. People always say, “Why the hell would you sing about someone fucking up your life?” That’s sinister pop. The lyrics to “bubblegum pop” music songs in Mexico are very simplistic. I love you, I want you, end of story. What we do different with Jotdog is we go beyond those simple emotions and sentiments that are in plain sight. We look deeper and say it more directly. This is what characterizes María and why I’m a fan of her lyrics.




Tell me what are a few things that inspire the band to do what it does?

With Jotdog, we’re doing this for the right reasons. The right reasons to be in a group, for us, aren’t money or fame. The right reasons to be in a group, mainly, are to have a good time. Every time you write a song, you need to enjoy yourself. Every time you go on tour, you need to enjoy yourself. When you write a song with the mentality of writing a hit to make millions, you’ve lost the purpose of songwriting.

María and I, thankfully, when we sit down to write music, we laugh a lot and have fun. I think that’s helped Jotdog grow and helped fans identify with us because, right now, with everything falling apart, people are involved with terrible things so, all we want to do is have fun and for people to have fun and forget about all the horrible things going on. We don’t want to change the world or anything.

M: Or help anyone. [laughs]

J: [laughs] We don’t care if the world ends this year. Let’s have as much fun as we can have right now in this moment and be as happy as possible.

Other musicians I’ve interviewed, like Rodrigo Y Gabriela and La Vida Bohéme, have said similar things about songwriting.

M: Jorge used to work for a label and he was going to sign Rodrigo Y Gabriela.

J: I was director for Culebra Records many years ago and they arrived and I wanted to sign them. I loved them since the beginning. Gabriela used to sing in a metal band. It was a power metal band years before anyone else did it. I loved it but BMG was more interested in someone like Juan Gabriel and they said no. I had to tell them no.

How did you get the nickname La Chiquis?

J: I got that name years ago when I played with Kenny y Los Eléctricos. I’m not very old, rather, I started very young.

M: He started when he was 13.

J: I started when I was nine and began playing professionally at 12. My first band was Mask with Jose Fors. I was still young when I joined Kenny. I was 18 and they were all over 30. The keyboardist started calling me “chiquis” or “chiquito” and everyone else started calling me Chiquis too. Afterwards, my friends decided to fuck with me by calling me La Chiquis and it’s stuck ever since.

Watch Jotdog’s latest video “Lluvia de Estrellas” below:

[insert-video youtube=HOHHhSQ7JEU]


Download their sophomore album, Turista del Amor II