Mexicans with Guns talks lucha libre, action films, unveils new MP3
Like Ernest Worthing, the protagonist of Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest,” Ernest Gonzales leads a double life. Most of the time, he goes by his given name, the identity of the introspective and sensitive soul behind last year’s “Been Meaning to Tell You.” Released on local label Friends of Friends, it was ideal after-the-high music, the soundtrack to the desolation and disorientation of sleeplessness and depleted serotonin.
With cuts like “Purple Heart,” “We Can Live in a Forest,” and “Dancing in the Snow,” it circled the intersection of the Postal Service and Daedelus, with beats that hummed with the low-lidded glow of 4 a.m. streetlights and a songwriting craft often absent in electronic music.
Then there is Mexican with Guns, a luchador-mask-sporting alter ego who makes adamantine beats that sound like dubstep remixes of Baltimore club tracks made by a man who may or may not have assassinated Herb Alpert in a fit of rage. Listening to his “Me Gusto” 12-inch released by Stones Throw subsidiary Innovative Leisure, one would assume that Mexicans with Guns had clamped Gonzales in a figure-four leg lock and imprisoned him in a room with nothing but Ableton software, a crate full of dusty mariachi records and undisclosed stimulants, with the orders to make the soundtrack to watching 48 consecutive hours of lucha libre.
The boss of his own Exponential Records -- San Antonio’s premier purveyors of "electronic music for humans" -- Gonzales' doppelganger comes to Los Angeles this Friday to play “Buena Suerte: A Benefit for No More Deaths (No Mas Muertes)," along with Alpha Pup-artist Take. In advance of the show, he spoke to Pop & Hiss about lucha libre, the creation of his alias and his favorite action film.How did you come up with the name Mexicans with Guns? What's the meaning behind it?
While working on my "Been Meaning to Tell You" album, I started to really crave making some hard, uptempo, aggressive beats. I knew the tracks I had in mind would really contrast what I was already recording, so I decided to work under an alias. My main thought was to come up with a name that would sound hard as hell to match the sound I kept imagining. One of the all-time hardest and most gangster groups is N.W.A., and the name Mexicans with Guns is a play off of that. I knew that the name was politically loaded, but it seems to be becoming more and more so lately with everything that is going on.
How did you end up signing with Innovative Leisure? What made you decide to go with them rather than releasing the record on Exponential?
It was really the whole Friends of Friends model, in effect, on how Innovative Leisure got the MwG demo, but it also made total sense to sign with them because I knew we had put together an amazing team of hard-working, trustworthy and forward-thinking people to push the project. With a solid team I knew the project would reach more ears, and that's what its all about.
Who's your favorite gun-wielding action movie hero?
I was always impressed with Machete. I even dressed up as him for Halloween a few years ago. Needless to say, I was psyched when I found out it was going to become a full-length film.
What's the dubstep/bass music scene like in San Antonio? Is there a scene there? If not, is it hard to be outside of what's typically considered the mainstream music community in town?
San Antonio has a reputation for being the biggest small town there is. With a population well over a million people, it's easy to assume that there's a lot of diversity within the music scene, but there really isn't. There's a conservatism that is pervasive throughout San Antonio and because of it, the clubs are dominated by top 40 rap and rock 'n' roll. That positions us as the underdog in the situation, but that's what I'd prefer to be. Despite all of this, I think most people that are involved with the underground art and music scene truly want change and feel that it is imminent.
Exponential's mission statement prides itself on being a Hispanic-owned business with majority Hispanic artists. How do you think your ethnicity influences your own style of music and Exponential's releases?
I can't say that my ethnicity has ever consciously influenced Exponential's releases or my sound until I started working on the MwG stuff. I originally went to art school, and while there I noticed a lot of Hispanic/Chicano artists pushing a similar aesthetic that I didn't identify with. I am a hyphenated American, but I grew up without learning Spanish at home and without Catholicism. I grew up on pop culture, art and technology, and this is a major part of who I am now.
Sometimes I feel like there is an expectation for Mexican-American artists to continue the Chicano aesthetic, but because it's not my main influence I feel like I don't fit the mold. Exponential's sound doesn't really fit the mold either. By stating who we are and what we do, I hope that people understand that the music we make is honest and an expression of our influences. I also hope that others see that it's a beautiful thing to experiment with new sounds and new ways of creating art, regardless of past traditions.
How do you get into making music in the first place? Was there an event that galvanized your love? Do you come from a musical family?
My family is not the least bit musical, but they can crush you in bowling. In fifth grade, my dad took me to the local guitar shop and let me pick out an electric guitar -- a Fender Strat knockoff with blue neon tiger skin as the design. I think this was my galvanizing moment in time. I never took lessons, but I would always try to play it and make up songs. It was later sanded and spray-painted black, but I used this same guitar to make my "While on Saturn's Rings" album.
This is an impossible question, but if you could pick an all-time top 10 favorite records, what would it be?
Top 10 (but not in order): Amon Tobin, "Permutation"; Postal Service, "Give Up"; Telefon Tel Aviv, "Map of What is Effortless"; MIA, "Arular"; Aether, "Artifacts"; Air, "Talkie Walkie"; The Beatles, "The White Album"; Modeselektor, "Happy Birthday!"; Daedelus, "Love to Make Music To"; and Buck 65, "Vertex."
How does one go about making electronic music for humans and ensuring that it sounds organic and emotional rather than robotic and sterile?
You have to somehow translate thoughts, experiences, influences and emotions into the language of music. I think there's an app for that, right?
You often perform wearing a luchador mask. Who is the greatest luchador of all time?
Photo: Mexicans with Guns. Credit: Gari Askew.