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Latin Grammy nominee Hello Seahorse! is riding the waves

September 25, 2009 |  4:43 pm


Denise Gutierrez, the lead singer of Mexican pop group Hello Seahorse!, is thrilled about her group’s first ever Latin Grammy nomination for the title track off last year's “Bestia.” But for her money, this Van Nuys-born, Mexico City-raised singer would rather have the more tender cut, “El Recuerdo” (The Recollection), as the song going up against Calle 13 featuring Café Tacuba in the Best Alternative Song category.

“ 'Bestia' is more like, bam, here it is. 'Recuerdo' is really light," Gutierrez said in an interview in Mexico City's Roma neighborhood. "When I sing it, I feel much better. When we started recording the album, I was taking new singing classes [from Mexican opera singer Héctor Sosa] and as the months went by I started getting much better with my voice. 'Recuerdo' is the last song we recorded."

With a name like Hello Seahorse! reflected in the playful sound of their first two albums, you would expect Mexico City’s current indie darlings to be a better fit for a guest spot on "Yo Gabba Gabba!" than going up against big-name acts for a Grammy statue in Las Vegas next month.

But this is Seahorse's year, with two nods from the Los Premios MTV, the Spanish-language version of the VMAs, as well as appearances at music festivals and concert stops all over Latin America. With major tour stops in California, this week will be an important litmus test for the band's international appeal.

If appearances count for anything, it should go well. The 21-year-old, with her oversized glasses (just a tad too thick to be solely a fashion statement) and usually perfect asymmetrical bob (Mexico's rainy season was stressing out her smooth style), will blend right into L.A.'s cadre of bilingual hipsters.

Gutierrez speaks French, English and Spanish and began her singing career at 8 while attending the prestigious Les Chanteurs du Lycée choir school in Mexico City's upper class Polanco neighborhood. She later hooked up with producer Oro de Neta (literally: the golden truth) and drummer Bonnz via a MySpace ad for a singer, and taking the name Lo Blondo, formed Hello Seahorse!

Like the music she sings, Gutierrez is neither fully Mexican nor American. “When I'm here in Mexico and I go to another city, they say I'm a chilanga [a colloquialism given to Mexico City residents]. When I'm here [in Mexico City], they say I'm a gringa because I'm kind of blond.”

The bulk of the group’s first two albums are in English, but with "Bestia," she wanted to try something different, express herself more deeply in Spanish. She also wanted to use the full range of her voice and craft more complex and thoughtful songs. 
The hard-driving "Bestia," which was recorded months before work started on an official album, was a free offering from iTunes Mexico when it opened this summer. Pitchfork Media gave the album a 7.1 out of 10 in its review, a pretty high mark for the notoriously indie cool website. They called the title track one of the group’s “near-classic moments” of “melodic complexity."

Despite the stamp of hipster approval, Gutierrez isn't sure of what it means for the Mexico City indie community or her own band.
“I feel weird about the scene here in Mexico. That scene that the [media] call it is really reduced, it's really small. I don't think it's a scene... I don't know if what's really been happening to us is luck," she said, nervously brushing aside her frizzy bangs. "But I hope it keeps happening."

-- Camilo Smith

Hello Seahorse! plays Senor Fish in Little Tokyo at 7 p.m. Saturday.

Photo: Hello Seahorse!