Latin-influenced Kansas City rockers Making Movies have been making waves in the Latinx community for their unique blend of sounds and powerful message. A day prior to their Dallas show, Radio UTD was lucky enough to speak with singer and guitarist Enrique over the phone about DACA, the growing Chicano movement in Kansas City, and some insane tour experiences.
Radio: What’s up?
Enrique: I’m enjoying a day in Austin, Texas; not exactly a day off, we don’t have a show tonight but we’re hanging out with Los Lobos today because they do play tonight.
Radio: What’s it like jamming out with Los Lobos?
Enrique: Oh man, this dude is amazing. There’s no other artist that could give us better counsel and advice than them. I really can’t think of another cross-cultural band that has survived 30 years of the music business stuck together. I mean, maybe Carlos Santana has done that, but not with one band- he did it through multiple projects. But they did it together. So, we learned a lot from them musically and from them as people. I was hanging out with Steve Berlin today and we got to curate an hour of music on KUTX’s radio station; we hung out in their studio and were guest DJs for the hour. He picked some songs, we picked some songs, and it was a total blast, man. It’s an honor and it’s great. Our percussionist, actually- whenever Making Movies isn’t touring- if Los Lobos have big shows and they need a percussionist, they hire our percussionist. So tonight Juan-Carlos will literally be in the band.
Radio: That’s really tight! Speaking of how cross-cultural they are, and speaking on the Chicano movement, I wanted to know- what are some ways you can describe what that movement is like in Kansas City?
Enrique: Yeah, the Chicano movement is- there is, there is a movement. It’s more recent in that it’s starting to pop up. Things like activist groups have started to come up in the last couple of years, and there’s this great organization called Folk Alliance that does, like… they’re mostly an American folk music conference, but they have made an intentional change into making it more cross-cultural. Like, last year they brought Las Cafeteras in for this conference and we curated a room, so from a musical perspective the movement is growing right now. And I think we’ve been a part of it! We came out of a scene that has no other Latino music in the scene and we built it on our own. A little standalone Latin music scene of Kansas City was just us. It’s been fun to be a part of it and see it develop.
Radio: It’s cool to hear that you’ve built your own scene. It seems like you have a lot of different influences from across Latin America- how does that impact your music or how said scene has developed?
Enrique: Well, Diego and I are brothers and we’re from Panama. Juan-Carlos and Andres are brothers and their family is from Mexico. What we started to realize, the more we dug into all the music in the Americas- whether it’s the blues in New Orleans and the jazz scene, or country, all the way to the tip of South America, Peru, or even Panama where I’m from in the middle- there’s this common thread of the rhythmic pulse coming from West African music. Like, the same shuffle that makes blues come out of the delta is kind of that 3 against 2 or 6 against 4 pulse, like [imitating beat] chka ch chka ch that you hear in West African spiritual music or you hear in huapongo in Mexico, Veracruz… Juan-Carlos and Andres grew up dancing folkorico, so they use that folklorico rhythm since they were little kids, and you can hear that rhythm coexistent in Panamanian music and in the clave, the [imitating beat] dun, dun, dun, dun dun… that’s Bo Diddley, takka ta takka ta ta, or the genesis of a reggaeton beat. And so we started this floor and found kind of a common link in all this music. So when we pull from different influence it’s like we’re trying to find the thread, the common ancestor for all those musical forms. Each musical form is like a different color, and we get to paint with that different color for the moment, but we’re actually painting on top of a canvas that has a similar identity as everything else. That’s where the musical styles and not being afraid to mix in the ‘wrong thing’ for a song- like, this song has a cool cubana rhythm, let’s throw in a Mexican instrument, let’s throw in a psychedelic moment or something that should be folkloric- that’s where that attitude comes from. And I think that when we started with the question about Los Lobos and jamming with them, they are the kings of being in the wavelength and realizing that you can use the ancient rhythm on top of a new rock and roll song and make something beautiful out of it.
Radio: Yeah, for sure- a lot of my favorite bands, personally, are ones that are able to combine rhythms and styles from across cultures. Are there any bands in particular that you’re seeing on the map that really interest you or have a particular influence on you?
Enrique: So, this may be surprising, but re-listen to the record with this in mind: two albums that made me feel confident to go as far out as we did were Kendrick Lamar’s album To Pimp a Butterfly and the Beatles’ White Album. Both of those albums have this zaniness, like the Beatles with that “Revolution 9” song where they were cutting up tape loops to make scary sounding music- people thought it was demon music- and I think with Kendrick Lamar’s album there’s these interludes and sounds almost like a horror movie, like you’re losing your mind inside of it. Hip hop has cuts in it, too, like if you have an idea in the song it snaps and cuts to it, but the Beatles were the first to really do that in 60’s with songs like “Happiness Is A Warm Gun”. Those two albums made me feel empowered to go that wacky and to put pieces of music that are intentionally scary or destroyed sounding as a cut up song; we recorded a whole ballad, and then a whole rock song and slammed them into each other so that the song takes a completely different turn. Those albums made me feel confident enough to do that. Okay, if they can do that, then we don’t have to be afraid of being weird. And Steve Berlin from Los Lobos as a producer got on board right off the bat.
Radio: Building on that, and art as a whole- who handles your art for your album covers and websites? I noticed it right away, it really fits your songs and style.
Enrique: It’s a friend of ours, his name is José Faus, I’d love to give him a shoutout. He’s a talented Colombian artist who moved to Kansas City. Those pieces are enormous, some are maybe 10, 15 feet by 4 feet and he does them by hand. To him, they represent both the ancient Mayan artwork- sometimes if you take a step back they look like a bird’s eye view of a city- and also a common theme of dance. I fell in love with that artwork, and we just asked for his permission to use it. He’s also a really talented writer, a poet; we collaborate a lot, we’ll be performing for his book opening as a big thank you to the fact he makes such beautiful artwork that fits our music so well. His book is called The Life and Times of José Calderon. It’s a loose autobiography that’s a semi-fictional, semi-non fictional account of his life.
Radio: Is there any location you look forward to the most on a tour?
Enrique: We love playing in Dallas; I have cousins there. A great aunt of mine moved to Dallas, married a military guy in Panama and moved there and had her family. It’s always fun to be with these kind of distant cousins that have become friends after all our years of touring. The Dallas audience is always really supportive of what we’re doing and believe in the cause. We also have built a nice thing in L.A., we have a lot of friends coming out to the show and it’ll be fun. The last show, that is surprising, we were playing in Watsonville, California. Watsonville is this tiny town pretty close to Santa Cruz. The first guy to come to that show was a longtime friend of Los Lobos, he used to be a roadie for them. Later in life he became the mayor of this small town. He’s no longer the mayor, but because he once was, he’s kind of the king of the town. Everywhere he goes everybody says ‘Hey, how’ve you been doing mayor? What’ve you been up to?’ So he takes us out, shows us all the cool little spots, and he also introduced us to Ritchie Valens’ family. They moved up from L.A. to Watsonville. So when we were in Watsonville, we got to go see Ritchie Valens’ younger brother play blues harmonica in a little blues band in this tiny little bar, and it’s like oh my god! This is musical history! It’s bad-ass! Little things like that- it’s not like I’m excited for Watsonville because it’s going to boost my career, but I’m excited because of the unique, weird experiences rolling around town with the mayor.
Radio: Would you say that’s your craziest tour experience? What’s your most defining tour memory?
Enrique: We were on tour with Hurray For The Riff Raff, and the shows were going really well. We were headed up to Portland and we wanted to save money. Our producer Steve lives in Portland, so I texted him and was like ‘Yo! Can we crash at your house so we can save a couple bucks since we’ll be in town for 2 days?’ He’s like, ‘I’m out of town, but let me work on it for you’. So the next thing we know he texts back and’s like, ‘Look. I’ve got a place for you to crash, but you might not be able to get much sleep because I don’t think he’s on a normal sleep schedule. So good luck.’ It was actually the warehouse of Modest Mouse’s recording and rehearsing studio. And this dude, the singer of Modest Mouse, Isaac, is a complete sweetheart. Having never met us, he opened the doors to his whole studio and let us crash on the couches and spare bedroom that they have there. We pulled in around 2 in the morning from a late drive and he wasn’t worried about it, let us in late, and was like- ‘Dude, it’s not a museum. Touch anything, play anything.’ So we had a whole warehouse and recording studio worth of musical toys and had 2 days between our show- and he had just gotten off a tour, he was tired and had this deal unloading equipment the next day, a semi showed up to drop off all the gear- but he just hung out with us. We had our weird Latin American guitar, he would pull one out and try it out, then he would show us his weird guitars. He would show us these crazy old Seattle grunge records from before it got popular, this music, and that music- we just had a great time with him for two days, and that was a complete surprise. We were expecting, like, air mattresses and to save a couple of bucks but turned out to be a couple days of hanging out and experiencing creative stuff. He was so sweet, he didn’t know us at all but just because Steve Berlin recommended it he gave us the thumbs up and let us have a place to sleep.
Radio: It’s crazy how far just one connection will get you! One thing we really took notice of over here is that you’re letting DACA recipients into your shows for free on this tour. What led you to that decision?
Enrique: 8 years ago I started volunteering at a non-profit center that was in a kinda rough part of town, a very immigrant rich neighborhood. I remember when I was volunteering there, I was a little bit younger and it kind of hit me, like, oh my god, my parents brought me to the States as a kid and I had no control over the fact that my dad had a crazy connection to allow me to get proper status in the U.S. Like, I had no power for that, I was a child! And then I was working with these kids who were intelligent, creative kids. Some had musical talent, some had other talents- it was an after school thing where we would show up and play guitar and teach guitar lessons. Some of the kids didn’t have that opportunity (that I did) but it wasn’t their fault. They would have this realization when they would turn 14, then turn 15 and be like, ‘Wait. You’re saying I can’t get a permit?’ And that would sometimes be the moment where they realize they were different, and that their life was going to be incredibly complex. That shifted my perception. So we made a video, it’s kind of an old song called “Tormenta” we put out about 8 years ago. It’s a little embarrassing to listen to now because it was before we met Steve Berlin, we were amateurs trying to create new music but we didn’t know how to do it yet. But we made a video all about that neighborhood, and by the time a couple years passed and we grew and matured as a band we released our first album “A La Deriva”, which is inspired by that neighborhood. We’ve been voicing those ideas for so long, so to me it’s a no-brainer. It was long before I even thought of myself as a political human being. I just thought, look, I don’t understand immigration law. But I understand that children deserve a right to have access to resources and education. I don’t care what kind of politics you believe in. If you look at a kid in the face and you think, yeah, we can screw over this kid’s possibilities- then to me you and I have nothing in common. Like, how could you possibly do that? And so, I didn’t think of it as a political thought at all. It’s a human being thought! Have you ever looked at a kid and thought, let’s hold this person back because he’s a kid. I thought that was just evil. There’s no way you could ever stand for that. Fast forward to today, we made our album about the immigrant experience and the politics of the United States have shifted. And we decided that we were going to record some protest music. So we were in the studio in September recording protest music that we’ll be releasing in December, and the week we’re recording, the White House announces they have pulled back the DACA program. And that just fueled us with frustration, with sadness, with anger and inspired us that we have to voice that we do not agree with any of this. Like, it’s one thing to think that you have ideas about how a whole country’s immigration policy should be reformed, or you have other ideas about how the economics of a country should be decided upon- I get it. We can have differences of opinion in all those realms. But if you’re going to look at the face of a child and say, this kid is here from decisions that are not their own but you’re going to give them the consequences of decisions their parents made, that they have no control of? How could anybody with a heart do that? So for us allowing DACA recipients to come to the concerts for free, it’s just the smallest thing we could do to say publicly that we do not stand for this. We believe you guys deserve to have a right to a path for citizenship, and more importantly that this living in fear- I mean, turning 15 and realizing, oh, shoot, I have to be fearful of everything now. I can’t drive to work, I can’t drive to school, I can’t go to college without fear. That is psychological poison. At the very minimum, these children should not grow up with that fear. I think that our president is doing an amazing job of creating fear in the American public and creating fear for immigrant communities. I think that’s complete trash and poison. Letting DACA recipients into our concerts is the concerts is the least we can do, we invite our guests to celebrate with us and have one night that is not about fear, but is about love and celebrating the diversity of the people in this country.