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'They needed some Mexicans in there': Pop & Hiss premieres the Los Lobos theme to 'Rango'

February 1, 2011 |  3:32 pm

RANGO_6_

By the time Los Lobos were brought in to contribute music to "Rango," band principal David Hidalgo estimates that there were already somewhere between 12 and 20 takes at the theme to Gore Verbinski's spaghetti western-like animated feature. It was composer Hans Zimmer, said Hidalgo, who admitted defeat at trying to craft authentic mariachi music. 

"They could do it on their own, but it sounded funny," Hidalgo told Pop & Hiss. "It didn’t sound authentic. So they needed some Mexicans in there. That doesn’t sound kosher and it doesn’t sound right to say it that way, but in a way it is. You need someone who knows this music, someone to play it properly and get the real effect. That’s why they called us in."

Hidalgo hasn't seen how the band's music is used in the film -- a couple of storyboards and some rough scenes were all the band has been shown -- but the act's "Rango" theme will no doubt play a pivotal role, and act as an anchor to the soundtrack. Paramount Pictures' "Rango," about a Johnny Depp-voiced chameleon having an identity crisis, and who suddenly finds himself in a desert town with all the action of the Wild West, is the first animated feature from "Pirates of the Caribbean" director Verbinski.

"Rango" the film will be unveiled to the public on March 4, and "Rango" the song makes its debut below. Local label Anti- will release the soundtrack digitally on March 1, with a CD version available in stores on March 15.

Los Lobos - Rango Theme Song by antirecords

Los Lobos' "Rango" references Ennio Morricone and "Rawhide" in sound but is a 3 1/2-minute tale that envisions the once scrappy and hapless Rango as something of an American myth. Shown images of the desert-worn Rango, Hidalgo said he immediately went to a mariachi theme, although he noted Los Lobos cut multiple takes, including one with more of a surf-rock feel. 

"You see the film, and you see he’s kind of scrungy and old," said Hidalgo. "He’s worn out, older, lives in the desert. He’s dusty and dirty. So there’s the mariachi. Then you have to make that rough a little bit, as he’s been out there for years. We had to kind of get in character. They would say, ‘Can you make it more ethnic sounding?’ They didn’t want to say, ‘Sing it like a Mexican.’ I told them not to worry, it will come out that way."

Hidalgo said the band didn't mind that they were called upon to add a little Mexican culture to the major film. "They had demos of guys trying to play Mexican music who had never played it before," he said. "They did a decent job, but that wasn’t quite right. They wanted the real flavor.

"It was all in good fun," Hidalgo continued. "We were all laughing during this. I’d say, ‘You want me to sing it like Cheech?’ It wasn’t a racist thing, though. I understood. This is for kids. We had to mug it up. You want to mug it up a little so the kids don’t get bored." 

The band recorded music to be used throughout "Rango," but Hidalgo does not know how much will make the final edit. The band was directed, said Hidalgo, to write a number of 30-second or 90-second pieces, and recorded a couple of tracks to rough edits of the film.

"They had ideas on what they wanted to do, but we weren’t really in on that," Hidalgo said. "So we just kept giving them material to work with, and I don’t even know how it’s used. I can't wait to see it."

If Anti-, the Epitaph-owned Silver Lake label that works with Tom Waits, Wilco and Grinderman, among many others, seems an odd fit for such a major project, it isn't once one scans Verbinski's credits. The director helmed a number of videos for Bad Religion, whose Brett Gurewitz founded the label.

As for Los Lobos, Hidalgo isn't shy of his love for animation, and 2009's "Los Lobos Goes Disney" put the band's playful side front-and-center. Now with three grandkids always nearby, Hidalgo's pop-culture diet starts with "Kung-Fu Panda" and ends with "Wow! Wow! Wubbzy!"

"There’s so much good stuff right now," Hidalgo said. "I love The 'Toy Story' trilogy, of course, and ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ is a great movie. I love ‘Yo Gabba Gabba!,’ ‘Wow! Wow! Wubbzy!,’ ‘Ni Hao, Kai-Lan’ and 'Handy Manny,’ but we did the theme song for that.

Hidalgo paused, and added, "Yes, I have seen them all." 

-- Todd Martens

Photo: The "Rango" title character. Credit: Paramount Pictures.

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