It’s been proven time and time again that, in the music industry, rushing rarely ends up in a positive result. What exactly are we referring to? Well, most specifically, writing and recording. The most forgettable albums are often the ones that were hurried through just so that they could meet a particular, artificial release deadline. Rather than fall into this trap, Mexico City’s El Shirota has taken all the time that they wanted and needed to produce their debut album, Tiempos Raros, released last month via Devil In The Woods. The recording comes seven years after the band initially formed and began playing together, certainly a long time, but, judging by the results, the wait was well worth it. Meaning ‘weird times’ in English, Tiempos Raros is a more refined, better arranged, and better produced than any of the groupd’s three previously released EPs, all raw, more rough displays of post-hardcore power.
Produced by the guys themselves, Tiempos Raros is a more sophisticated sound for a band that has taken the time to grow to the point where they wanted to be. Although things may be more polished, it doesn’t mean that El Shirota has somehow forgotten how to be aggressive, and even abrasive, at times. The sound of the album was heavily inspired by many of the acts which the members initially bonded over when they started playing together, seminal acts such as Nirvana, Pavement, Sonic Youth, Guided By Voices, and Weezer. There’s also a real diversity of sounds included in this collection, with very intense moments, as well as melodic and heavy, and even brooding moments.
To get up to speed on Tiempos Raros, we spoke to all four members of El Shirota about the long wait for the album, the band’s original plans upon forming, the reaction to their music in the United States, and the creation process behind the record’s witty and original artwork.
If I had to describe your debut record, Tiempos Raros, I’d say it’s a mix of modern and retro shoegaze, characterized by a ton of feedback. How would you describe your sound to a new listener?
Rubén Anzaldúa: “As intense dance, slam, beautiful liberating music.”
I’d say that your sound is a blend of a lot of different styles and eras of rock and punk. Who are some of the bands or artists that really helped shape the way El Shirota sounds?
David Lemus: “Maybe more than a particular band or artist, impressions of a moment, or life circumstances came to shape the style of Tiempos Raros. Many songs came in to play while recording the album, the record is filled with bits of our personal music tastes. It varies from song to song, while there are songs like ‘El Chirota,’ which to some extent was inspired by the ambiance of an electronic music club in Berlin. There are other songs like ‘El Bob Rosendo,’ on which the illusive depiction of someone going extreme at slam to the point where she or he ends up losing a tooth.”
Not that it really matters because it’s the final product which counts, but Tiempos Raros is your debut record, released over seven years since the band’s formation. Why has it taken until now to release this album?
Ignatio “Nacho” Gomez: “We started playing together when we graduated from high school, but eventually we all got into college and this kind of double life always makes things go slower than usual, even some side jobs I’ve had are very demanding, and the stamina left for music sometimes isn’t enough. We all continued playing shows and recording music during college, but some releases took a while to come out. Some of the songs recorded with Hugo Quezada in 2015, we didn’t release until 2018, for example. We weren’t in a rush or anything so, when the time came, we started writing music for a full-length in 2019, which became Tiempos Raros.”
When you formed back in 2013, what were your original plans for the band in terms of releasing music? Did you originally set out to release an album or EP much earlier and it just didn’t come together?
Nacho: “As far as I remember, we all wanted the band to release music properly since the beginning, we were kind of prolific at the time, but the ideas were just floating around in a lot of different rock sub-genres. When we decided to record our first EP, we selected some of our favourite tracks from back then, much of that stuff never came out, then we all got into college, Mauricio left the band to be more focused on his personal project Buried Under Stars, and we started writing music with Rubén now on board.
Our self-titled EP (2018) was originally set to be our first record. But being over 50 minutes long, it wouldn’t come out as we wanted on vinyl, so we decided to split it into two EPs.
We then started to write new music, and ‘Carreta Furacão’ (single in 2019) was intended to be part of the record, but things changed. Some of the ideas we wrote during that time in 2018 ended up in the vault as we decided to move forward now with Gabriel (Mendoza) on the drums. In the summer of 2019, we started writing new music and by the fall, we had all the songs recorded on demos, ready to record.”
Over what time period were the nine songs that appear on Tiempos Raros written? Do some of these songs date back to your early years? Or are they recent creations?
Anzaldúa: “We wrote most of the songs by the end of 2019. A few of them around June. The rest in December.”
With being together for seven years now, I’m curious as to how much music you have written in addition to Tiempos Raros. Do you have other songs stored up that you’ve already written, or at least perhaps components of songs that you have ready to go?
Mendoza: “As an artist, in order to keep yourself active, there’s two options when it comes to your instrument: One. Either you’re on tour and constantly playing shows, that leads to the need for writing new music or, Two. When you’re not playing shows, you’re writing music to keep yourself creative. Having said that, we do have music stored, not as many songs as we’d ideally like to, but during these crazy times, we’ve taken the opportunity to ‘think outside the box’ and write songs from our homes and sharing recordings so that the dynamic of not rehearsing with one another, challenges us to have a different and interesting result.”
How was the recording process for Tiempos Raros? Did you record each song together or were they recorded individually at different times and different studios?
Lemus: “Recording Tiempos Raros was fun and enlightening. Due to several circumstances, we ended up recording at David’s house, mounting a rough studio with recording equipment we either own or borrow. We lived in that house for a month or so between December and January. Some instruments or things were recorded during the fall of 2019. On weekends we got together to write at David’s house, but most of the record was tracked down during the month we lived together. The mix of the album (mixed by David, our bass player) was done alongside the recording process. Much like Bob Dylan’s The Basement Tapes.”
Being a band from Mexico City, what’s the reaction been like towards your music in the United States?
Mendoza: “It’s been really good, great actually. We’ve had the opportunity to play a couple of shows over there and the response was always overwhelming. Taking into consideration the fact that there are many Latinos throughout the United States, there’s going to be always an ‘amigo’ who’s going to welcome Latino acts with open arms. It’s an amazing feeling. Besides that, we cannot thank enough (radio station) KEXP for always supporting us and putting a good word on El Shirota. That’s been definitely helpful in order for us to have a broader reach and acceptance from the audience in the United States.”
Let’s talk a little about the very original artwork for the album. Who did you work with to create this awesome piece of art?
Anzaldúa: “We partnered up with Guiyer (Guillermo Anda), a friend who always used to make wild parties at his house with rock groups when we were around fourteen years old. The first El Shirota show was on his patio back in 2013 so we know he knows what El Shirota is all about, and he’s always been an amazing artist with his cartoons. We take our music half serious/ half making fun of ourselves so that’s probably what’s on the cover. Serious drawings with funny things inside.”
I like the graffiti look and style to the artwork; I think it really helps emphasize what the band is all about. Whose idea was it to do more of a street art type look for the album cover?
Lemus: “At some point, after talking with Guiyer about making the artwork, he started sending different pictures of artwork to the band, we liked them all, but at first we did not know if those pictures were for the cover, or the inner sleeve, and so on. Then he sent us around 4 or 5 different images that were more concrete, among those images was the graffiti art like, to identical designs, but with a different set of colors, one more yellowish, and another one on the purple side. The one that came out was the one Nacho decided.”
How involved was the band in the process of creating the artwork? Did you offer guidance as to how you wanted it to look?
Nacho: “We had some references of album artworks we love that involve both illustration and collage, at least in my perspective I simply was expecting that Guillermo could translate the mood and the vibe of the record into colours and characters. He’s well-known in our community for his funny and weird cartoon characters that remind me of the cartoons I used to watch when I was a kid. When we had the final result, I couldn’t be more excited for this artwork to be the companion of the music that’s inside this record.”
When listeners look at the artwork for Tiempos Raros, what would you like them to see or think?
Mendoza: “They could find a connection between the album title Tiempos Raros, which translates to ‘weird/strange times,’ and definitely perceive the image as that, a visual reflection of the crazy times we live in, and not only around the pandemic surrounding us, but a few years before where the excessive information and disinformation is present all the time. The constant distractions in our daily routines, the craziness of the world we currently live in, and how it affected the way we wrote and created this album we ‘prophetically’ named Tiempos Raros.”