Interviews

Published on November 16th, 2017 | by Darren Paltrowitz

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Mexican Institute Of Sound’s Camilo Lara On His New “Disco Popular,” Mexrrissey’s Future, And New Movie “Coco”

An electronic music project led by Mexico City-based DJ and producer Camilo Lara, the Mexican Institute of Sound launched in 2006. Lara released his first album under the Mexican Institute of Sound moniker in 2006, Méjico Máxico, which earned rave reviews from Spin and the New York Times. Prior to this success as a recording artist, Lara had been successful behind the scenes within the music business; his credits include working as music supervisor for the film Y Tu Mama Tambien and the hit video game Grand Theft Auto V, in addition to serving as Chairman of EMI Mexico and EMI’s head of A&R for Latin America.

2017 brings the first new Mexican Institute of Sound release in three years, Disco Popular. Featuring collaborations with Sly and Robbie, Toots & the Maytals, La Yebros, Adan Jodorowsky, and Calexico, Disco Popular shows how Lara has been influenced by all sorts of artists and genres. Between Mexican Institute of Sound albums, Lara has also kept busy with the Mexican Morrissey tribute project known as Mexrrissey and as a music supervisor for the new Pixar movie Coco.

I had the pleasure of doing Q&A with Lara — who I first encountered during his EMI tenure — on the eve of the release of Disco Popular. The Mexican Insitute of Sound visionary opened up about his past as a music executive and what is coming up for him beyond promoting his new album. Camilo Lara can be followed on Twitter via @CamiloLara.

I remember corresponding with you when you were working in EMI’s A&R department years ago. How did you make your transition from being an artist into the record label world?

Camilo Lara: It’s a really small world… (laughs) Well, I did exactly the opposite. I transitioned from being “the record label guy” into an artist. I remember a few years ago I read that René Magritte was a publicist that decided to paint. I thought it was interesting and I felt related. My case was similar. I always thought my work on the label was my day job to pay the bills. The only big difference with other people — I was actually good at doing that. I had a few hit albums.

I still do some A&R. I have an indie label in Mexico called Casete, so we release cool Mexican albums as well as Radiohead, The Cribs and Bjork. I love some artists that are also “jefes” at labels — James Lavelle, Julian Casablancas and Daniel Miller at Mute. One thought is not in dispute with the other.

Did working within A&R at all change the way you make music? Make you more considerate of creating accessible music?

Camilo Lara: Well, I guess not. I have not made a global “Despacito” hit. Yet. (laughs) Most of people think A&Rs have a sort of “key” to success. Reality is, they have not… If that was the case, we would have a world of A&Rs becoming artists and ruling the world. A scary thought!

Disco Popular is the Mexican Institute of Sound’s latest release, coming out five years after Politico. How long did you spend creating Disco Popular? I ask because it has a lot of outside collaborators.

Camilo Lara: It took me a year to finish the album. The previous project I did was Compass, in which I collaborated with 80 artists in eight different cities, so this was relatively easy. The Compass project helped me to develop collaboration skills, so this one was natural. I spent more time on developing the songs than actually collaborating. The songwriting process was fun. I had a bunch of crazy samplers and my ukulele. So most of the album was made initially with those two elements.

When you are writing music, when in the process does the idea of the collaborator or special guest come to mind? Or were some of these tracks part of co-writing sessions?

Camilo Lara: I wanted to join dots between the different dance floors across the continent, from the U.S. to Argentina. So I started looking for those particular flavors I want on the album — dub, dancehall, dembow, cumbia, Americana… Stuff that you hear on the different barrios. Once I got that sorted, I called my favorite on each genre. Lucky enough, I got very positive feedback from every collaboration I requested.

Do you have a favorite song on Disco Popular?

Camilo Lara: Probably the song “En El Batey.” It is a love song inspired in the seaports of the Caribbean, especially in La Habana. I wanted to have this feeling of a soca song. A lullaby from Bola de Nieve, the guitars from Paul Simon’s Graceland.

I also love the song “Rebel.” I initially wrote the song “Not a Rebel,” thinking on how horrible Margaret Thatcher was, and because of her we have punk rock now! How she was not a rebel, but because of her, all the world went punk rock. I think thanks to Mrs. Thatcher we have modern politicians like [Donald] Trump. Ultra-left. Killing social institutions. I played it to Toots Hibbert and he told me he never sings songs that have negatives on them. So instead of that, he did a song saying “She is a rebel,” singing about a real rebel — a beautiful image. So I included both Part A and B, ying and yang.

You were part of Mexrrissey a few years ago, which received a lot of acclaim and mainstream coverage. I’ve read that your first album was a Smiths album, yet so much of your music is electronic or DJ-oriented. Were you ever part of a garage band?

Camilo Lara: Not really. Even I love The Smiths, XTC and every single Manchester band, I also grow up listening to the beginning of electronic music. Chemical Brothers, raves… so I was never into garage bands. I either wanted to be Kraftwerk or Perez Prado. But never thought of being The White Stripes.

Is there any chance of more recordings from Mexrissey?

Camilo Lara: Yes! We are still playing live. Next year, with some luck, we will do The Queen is Muerta. Not sure if we will tour the U.S., but definitely we will do a big U.K. tour. It’s been fun to be part of a band, and my band members are sort of “all stars” from the Mexican indie scene, so I feel lucky.

Mexican Institute of Sound aside, are you working on any other music projects at the moment? Doing any music supervising?

Camilo Lara: I’ve worked for years on the music team of Pixar’s Coco. That is coming out on Thanksgiving. It’s been a pleasure to do that. And if you look closely on the trailer, there is a guy that looks a lot like yours truly. (laughs) I also will be part of the touring band of Calexico next year. They are the best people I know. So being on their live combo is a big challenge for me.

When not busy with music, how do you like to spend your free time?

Camilo Lara: I’m always busy. My brothers are musicians, my wife works on music-related matters, my friends are musicians — I have no choice. Whenever I’m not doing music, I’m probably talking about it. But when I do have free time, I write. I have a novel ready to be published. Hopefully I can do it next year.

Other than Disco Popular, what has been your favorite album on 2017?

Camilo Lara: Mac DeMarco’s This Old Dog. The new Centavrvs album is just mind-blowing. And the new Beck.

What was the last concert you attended for fun?

Camilo Lara: I saw Little Jesus at Disney Hall a couple of days ago. They are fantastic band from Mexico City. Also I will see a seminal band from Spain this week called Los Planetas. They are a sort of My Bloody Valentine for the indie Latino world.

Finally, Camilo, any last words for the kids?

Camilo Lara: Yes. Kids, please don’t mix ignorance with ambition. Otherwise you will eventually be President of the United States.


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About the Author

Darren Paltrowitz is a New York resident with over 20 years of entertainment industry experience. He began working around the music business as a teenager, interning for the manager of his then-favorite band Superdrag. Since then, he has worked with a wide array of artists including OK Go, They Might Be Giants, Mike Viola, Tracy Bonham, Loudness, Rachael Yamagata, and Amanda Palmer. Darren's writing has appeared in dozens of outlets including the New York Daily News, Inquisitr, The Daily Meal, The Hype Magazine, All Music Guide, Guitar World, TheStreet.com, Businessweek, Chicago Tribune, L.A. Times, and the Jewish Journal. Beyond being "Editor At Large" for The Hype Magazine, Darren is also the host of the bi-weekly "Paltrocast With Darren Paltrowitz" podcast, as co-produced with V13 (formerly PureGrainAudio.com). He has also co-authored two published books, 2018's "Pocket Change: Your Happy Money" (Book Web Publishing) and 2019's "Good Advice From Professional Wrestling" (6623 Press), with a second podcast set for a June 2020 launch.


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