Mexican pop-rock duo cuts the mustard, dares other bands to catch-up
It almost sounds like the plot of a screwball comedy. Legendary rock producer teams up with younger, sexed-up punk singer, and they decide to give it a go as a pop band. In the movie version, Jorge “La Chiquis” Amaro and María Barracuda would probably fall in love, or at least crash a tour bus.
Neither of those things has happened (as far as we know), but the duo has managed to get some serious buzz in Mexico and the US around their textured pop-rock creations. After clinching a Latin Grammy nomination for “Best Pop Vocal Album, Duo or Group” with their first, self-titled album in 2009, Jotdog (pronounced “Hotdog”) has followed up with a sequel, Jotdog 2: Turista del Amor. Released last year, the new album takes the pop foundation from the first album and incorporates elements from Mexican banda and cumbia, as well as a reverbed-out, ‘80s New Wave vibe.
MTV Iggy caught up with María and La Chiquis at this summer’s Latin Alternative Music Conference (LAMC), where they could be spotted wearing leather and looking like old-school rock-and-rollers. We asked them how it felt to go from the world of metal studs and eating bat heads to the candy-flavored world of the pop artist.
First and foremost: why the name “Jotdog”?
Maria: The thing is, in Spanish the “H” doesn’t have a sound, it’s completely mute. Our “J has the sound of “H” in English. It’s just a silly thing…
I think it’s a great name! So, where are you guys from?
Maria: A very peaceful place…. I’m from Ciudad Juárez, in the north
La Chiquis: A very peaceful place….
Maria: And Chiquis is from Guadalajara. We met in Mexico City though. He’s a very famous rock producer, and I was in the neighborhood, passing by his studio. I had signed with Sony Music with another project under my own name – Maria Barracuda – and he produced my album. Then, a publishing house asked us to make music for another pop artist here in Mexico, so we started writing together.
La Chiquis: But nobody liked it
Maria: Nobody liked it, but then we started doing Jotdog…
La Chiquis: And everybody liked it, thankfully.
La Chiquis: Well for us, this project is very cool. We both came from rock and roll. With pop music, we can bring in more rhythms, more musical forms. Pop gives the opportunity to incorporate more genres and more elements that we love. In Mexico City, you walk in the street and you hear ranchera, and then cumbia, and then Metallica and Judas Priest and ACDC, and then Shakira and Juanes, and then mariachi. It’s crazy, you hear everything, and that’s what makes Jotdog the band we are.
I was just in Mexico City for the Vive Latino music festival, and I was struck by how much of a rock and roll town it is. People love their metal. You guys are doing something a bit more mixed up.
La Chiquis: You know, we think everything is pop music, and it just depends on how your market it. If you market yourself as a rock band, whatever you actually make, people will think it’s rock. With this project, we started marketing like a pop band, but we incorporate rock and banda.
A lot of Latin American bands that become popular with English-language audiences take traditional music and modernize it somehow. Do you feel like you have to do that to reach audiences in the US?
La Chiquis: No…
Maria: Yes! Well not exaggerate, but if we want to compete with the world, we need something special about us, something honest of who we are as Mexicans, something that has to do with our music and culture. Because if we wanted to do American or English music, we would be at a big disadvantage, because it’s not our roots.
Chiquis, tell me a little bit about your career as a producer?
La Chiquis: In the ‘90s, I produced almost every rock and roll band in Mexico — La Lupita, Fobia, so many I can’t remember them all. I also played with some bands in the ‘80s that were important if not very famous like Kenny & the Electrics and Rostros Ocultos. With Jotdog, I have an opportunity to put on record all the things I learned from all the musicians in all these bands, and also all the pop artists in Mexico. For me, it’s impossible to stay in just one kind of music. I’m a crazy guy who likes to explore different things.
Who writes the songs?
La Chiquis: Maria writes all the lyrics and we write the music together. It works really well. She comes from Ciudad Juárez, so she grew up listening to country music and Southern Rock – Credence and stuff like that.
Maria: I’m very dramatic.
La Chiquis: And I grew up listening to Rush, Bowie, Black Sabbath. So we’re rock fans doing pop. We don’t market ourselves as a rock band because we really respect that form. For me, it’s guitar, bass, drums, and lots of distortion. Once you put keyboards all that stuff, it becomes pop for me.
What’s your favorite song from the new album?
Maria: It depends… I like “Ya Se Murió.” It’s not a single but it’s a very cool song. There are Mexican elements but also rock, and it’s weird and sinister. It’s about when you meet someone and you think are you are in love and then days go by and you realize it was nothing. An ephemeral love.
La Chiquis: Like a one night stand!
Maria: Something like that.
La Chiquis: That song is cool. I would recommend “Turista del Amor” – it’s a fun song that moves your white and makes you cry all at once.