Armando and Andres of Chikita Violenta

Armando and Andres of Chikita Violenta
Virtually unknown to the world until the release of their seminal 2007 album, The Stars and Suns Session (produced by Broken Social Scene's Dave Newfeld), Chikita Violenta have been on the cusp of a new wave of indie rock bands popping up in Mexico. With lyrics in English and a definite indie rock sound, it's hard not to mix them up for another one of Canada's indie exports. Their time spent in Toronto helped spark friendships with the entire Broken Social Scene/Arts & Crafts collective to the point that Chikita Violenta have become the unofficial ambassadors for Canada's indie scene in Mexico. From their studio in Mexico City, we spoke with Armando (keys, bass) and Andres (vocals, guitar) from Chikita Violenta about their upcoming album (also produced by Newfeld), the indie scene in Mexico and NAFTA.

You're a Mexican band that is deep in the Canadian indie rock scene. How did that happen?
We were very fortunate. A couple of years ago, we wanted to record our second album and we knew we wanted to work with a producer that knew how to approach the type of music we like and the type of music we do. So we got together, at my place, I think, and we all brought an album that we all thought had, production wise, a lot of value. Out of all the albums, we narrowed it down to a couple of independent bands. This is back in 2004, 2005, and basically one of the albums that we thought had the most interesting sound to it was You Forgot it in People by Canadian musical collective Broken Social Scene. So we set out to find David Newfeld, their producer, and after a couple of hours on Google, we found his email and we sent him a message. And that's basically it. After recording our album with him in Toronto, for some reason we started striking a friendship with the whole scene surrounding David Newfeld and the bands recording with him, especially Broken Social Scene. Funny enough, we're all still friends and now we're making another album with David Newfeld and it's been a great experience because we think Canadian bands are doing great things and we identify with everything going on up there.

What was Newfeld's reaction to this Mexican band reaching out to him in Canada to record an album?
It obviously caught his attention. He gets a lot of offers from bands in the States and, of course, Canada, and all of a sudden he gets this message from these Mexican guys who want to record an album with him. Obviously it peeked his interest, and we began to communicate through email and he started to ask for our material. We sent him three songs from our earlier recordings and he liked them. In fact, he liked one of them so much that he asked us if it was ok for him to remix one of our songs. We then started to send more demos for what we originally were planning as an EP and he would give us feedback and tell us what was working and what wasn't, until we had enough material to record. We went up to Toronto for a few days and the recordings started to go really well and we really clicked with Dave. Things started to go so well that we thought to ourselves, "Why should we just do an EP?" and we ended up returning to Toronto another three times and recording our full album.

How far are you in the process of finishing the new album?
We're about 90 per cent finished. Most of it is already recorded and right now we're just going to have to finish some minor details, but it's basically done.

How does it sound so far?
We like it! We like it a lot. I think we like it more than the last one. Although the last one has a lot of highlights, but I think this one is a much more solid album and the selection of tracks is a bit more experimental at times. It's very organic. It was recorded in a studio inside a 19th century church, so that adds a lot to the sound of our vocals and reverbs on the album. It certainly has a different sound within the Dave Newfeld magic realm, if you can call it that, but we're excited about it for sure.

What collaborations can we expect from this album?
There are less collaborations on this album; it's basically all of us in the band, but we do have a couple of special collaborations. Some of the drumming is done by Loel Campbell from the band Wintersleep. Tony Nesbitt-Larking, the ex-drummer from the Most Serene Republic, did some drumming on the album too. And we have a guest collaboration with Lisa Lobsinger; she came in and sang on one of the tunes.

How have you seen the rock music scene in Mexico change over the past few years?
Well, indie rock, if you go back like six or eight years, didn't exist. The scene didn't exist and all that existed were a few bands that were able to get deals with a transnational label. And of course there was always the big acts like Café Tacvba, Los Caifanes, Molotov, Jaguares and it was very rare that there would be independent bands. The first signs of rock that could somewhat be called "indie" was a movement at the start of the millennium in Monterrey that was called la avanzada regia, and there were bands like Zurdok, Jumbo and Volován. In D.F. (Mexico City) Zoé was a band on a major label that were later dropped and started to do things independently. Eventually, a small indie label called Suave appeared. That lasted a short while, but they were the first to pick up these bands; this was all in 2001, 2002. That's where the movement started, but very little of that material had any support from the radio stations, and MySpace wasn't around to help bands get their music online. Even our first record, there wasn't any places to play it or sell it -€“ we sold all of our discs at our shows. In those days, there wasn't much room for indie rock in Mexico but in the last few years there has been a definite boom. All of a sudden, in the past five years, media started to give support to indie bands, radio stations started to play their music and the boom of the internet in Mexico was a big help.

I'm sure there are some great moments that you've spent in Mexico with the Arts & Crafts people -€“ any stories you'd like to share with us?
Of course! Dave came here last year in the summer and he loved it. We were working on our album, on pre-production. We took him all around, to mescal bars all over the city. We went to a ranch for a week outside of Mexico City; we took all of our gear and setup in this old ranch where we started to work on the album. All the Arts & Crafts guys have been here. Broken Social Scene came to play two years ago along with the National and it was a blast; it was a huge party. We played in this place called Xochimilco; it's a city full of canals, like a Mexican Venice. We were playing on boats and we tied together the boats with the National guys and the Broken Social Scene guys and it was like three to four days of us partying. And we drank Pulque together and Tequila; that was some of the best days for sure. Kevin Drew has come and done acoustic shows with Jimmy Shaw from Metric and they've gone to the beaches, and I think they're all experts on the Mexican experience. The Stills have been down here; Stars was down here and launched Arts & Crafts Mexico. The Dears have come down to play with us a couple of times, Los Campesinos were just here. A couple of us in the band curate this festival here in Mexico, year after year, called Indie-O-Fest and we've brought down most of those bands to have their music be heard here in Mexico. It's a small festival we've been doing for the past five years and a lot of these bands that we love have been part of the festival and have received the full Mexico experience for sure.

So how does it feel to have that connection with these bands? Is this the first positive thing to come out of NAFTA?
(Laughs.) I guess you could say that. It's been a very natural development. There was just a very nice click with all the people. It all started with us listening to a Broken Social Scene album and loving it and saying, "Hey, we love this sound; we would love to record with this producer." It went from going up to record with David Newfeld and then we struck a very natural friendship that developed with all the people up there. For some reason, there's been a very nice relationship with them over the years and we didn't even notice until all of a sudden it's like, "Holy shit, Arts & Crafts is in Mexico and all these bands are coming down to play Mexico and we're able to come up to Canada." Hopefully this is a great opportunity for other Mexican bands to also go out and be heard outside of Mexico and maybe go to Canada and work with other people. It's like a musical exchange that we're all very excited about. We have worked hard but it's also been a very natural process. We never thought about opening Arts & Crafts in Mexico, and it just happened.