Combining Latin roots with contemporary psychedelia and pop, Making Movies channels a unique sound into intense, high-energy performances. The Kansas-City-based group is known for its onstage theatrics, playing contemporary and traditional instruments from electric guitars to the folkloric Panamanian mejorana. The group’s activist work is inseparable from their music, with lyrics that speak to the immigrant experience, and proceeds from their 2017 release, I Am Another You being donated to the National Immigration Law Center.
We spoke with Making Movies’ frontman and vocalist Enrique Chi ahead of their show on October 26th about connecting with ancestral pasts, the role of poets in the age of Trump, and Billy Bragg’s advice to the band. Read the full interview below and get tickets for the show here.
Q: The last time you were in Minneapolis was about 3 years ago for a Salsa Dance Party under the moniker ‘Making Movies Social Club.’ What developments do you think audience members from that show would be surprised by at The Cedar in October?
A: In the last three years a lot has changed. First of all, we’ve added Juan-Carlos’ little brother to the rhythm section so now the band has two pairs of brothers. It creates a really organic sibling synergy that is hard to top. Also our new album, I Am Another You, is more dramatic and the emotions have a deeper range than any of our previous material. This has allowed us to dig deeper into our live show and emphasize the more theatrical parts of our personality. Also, Donald Trump was elected and as he began to fan the racism flame, our show has evolved into an anti-shame, anti-racism, pro-immigrant, pro-human dance party celebration.
Q: You began as a band with deep Latin roots that stood out from a lot of the rock music being made in Kansas City. How did your roots in Kansas City shape your sound?
A: I think the isolation of Kansas City created a weird but effective incubator for us. We had nothing to compare ourselves to, so we only chased our own muses as opposed to trying to attach to any scene. For the most part, no one makes it out Kansas City, so there is this attitude of doing your own thing, DIY, punk ethic. I think that influenced our music. Also, the grey winters make angular sounds/dissonance sweeter while heightening the need to romanticize the folk music of our immigrant past.
Q: Can you discuss why it’s important for your band to support political causes you believe in?
A: I never really thought of them as political causes originally. I just thought of them as social causes, like, how can you meet these wide-eyed kids, struggling to find their place in the world and not be inclined to help? It seems inhuman to ignore that. Making records just about our feelings would seem like such a waste of the gift it is to be able to create music. Music is such an amazing tool for empathy. At some point in the process, we also realized that just talking about the problems from the stage and in song isn’t enough so six years ago we started an inner-city music camp to impact the communities we felt were disenfranchised.
Earlier this year we had the chance to perform before Billy Bragg’s keynote speech at the 2017 Folk Alliance Conference. His speech resonated with me, he explained, “music is a powerful tool for empathy and if you can turn empathy into action, then you have solidarity.” As he got off stage he told me that it is our turn to tell the stories of our time and as he did so, Nora Guthrie walked backstage and echoed his words to me. That moment impacted me deeply and I decided that our social statement is an essential component to our lives. We are hoping to create empathy and inspire action the way it inspired action in us. It’s time to be the leaders we wished we had.
Q: Contemporary bands such as yourself or La Mecanica Popular are reinventing ways of incorporating psychedelic music into a Latin context. Where does this psychedelic influence come from?
A: I think psychedelic music and any psychedelic spiritual journey hinges upon reconnecting with your ancestral past. Latin music is built upon a reverence to the ancestral past, some “hit” Latin songs literally shout out the ancient spiritual rhythms that are being used to create the work. I think that makes mixing in psychedelia feel like a natural progression to the lineage of Latin music.
Q: You sometimes incorporate traditional instruments, like the Panamanian guitar, into your music and performances. What do those instruments add to your sound that you can’t accomplish with traditional rock instruments like electric guitars and a drum kit?
A: I think it ties into this idea of trying to pay reverence to and summon our ancestral past. Music is as old as time so when you pick up an ancient instrument or use an ancient rhythm or technique it touches a special part of the human psyche. At the shows, it feels at times like we are scratching an itch pre-programmed deep into everyone’s DNA. From a textural perspective, it also creates more contrast than we’d be able to achieve with a traditional four-piece set up.
Q: After self-producing your debut EP, Aguardiente, you worked with Steve Berlin of Los Lobos on both your second and third records. What about his style as a producer resonates with your band?
A: He is truly a wizard. His musical experiences are so varied that when we’d reference influences he would often have an anecdote of having recorded with, produced or performed with the influence we were describing. This man knows more music than anyone I’ve ever met and he has devoted his life to chasing the sacred link between all traditional music forms. It couldn’t be a better fit for us. He taught us what it truly means to make music, he taught us what it is we are all listening for.
Q: Your new record, I Am Another You, tells a story about three men from Venezuela, Mexico, and the Midwest. Can you talk about this theme and its relevance to your lives right now?
A: The three characters in the album are our friends and family. The album was intended as a real snapshot of what it feels like to be close to vastly different people, love them all deeply and while being aware of their differences, realize there are some universal qualities to the human experience. Hearing my cousin talk about his immigrant experience from Venezuela to Panama echoed the struggle of Mexican immigrants in the United States. Today, this message has evolved out of being a snapshot into our lives and now stands as a statement against the anti-immigrant rhetoric in the United States. It’s now a plea for real empathy.
Q: What’s inspiring you lately?
A: Oh man, so many things. I dig the new Frank Ocean record, the new Queens of the Stone Age record. Last weekend we played with a band from Mail, Trio Da Kali that was amazing. We toured with Hurray for the Riff Raff this summer and they inspired us so much. There is a time and a place for poets to speak. I don’t fear the fate Lorca, I’m not afraid. Rigoberto López Pérez is a hero to me.