Making Movies' Enrique Chi talks about newly released 'A La Deriva'
Making Movies are making waves. The Kansas City four-piece has received recent acclaim and exposure for its sophomore album “A La Deriva” (Adrift), which expands greatly on the group’s signature synthesis of Latin, Afro-Cuban, Peruvian and indie-pop into one palatable mix. Known for invigorating performances, “A La Deriva" capitalizes on Making Movies’ infectious live energy and growing strengths as songwriters and musicians, with a big assist from respected producer (and Los Lobos player) Steve Berlin. Ahead of their May 10 performance at The Jazzhaus, Lawrence.com chatted with Making Movies vocalist and guitarist Enrique Chi about translating complicated songs for the stage and making music until the day you die.
When Lawrence.com last spoke to you guys in July of last year, you were preparing for the new album, “A La Deriva,” to come out. Now that it’s out, how do you feel?
We’re excited, man. We definitely noticed that everything has grown for the band. The part that’s most rewarding is just artistically it has grown. The music is more challenging, more challenging to perform live, and it’s pushed us to really make ourselves better musicians. At the end of the day that’s still the most fun part of the process.
The media people that get the record and our fans that get it are really getting connected to the songs. And that’s been kind of a growth in it of itself, where [people] are really taking in to account the work and appreciating it […] for what it is. That’s been encouraging. We’re a month into the record being in the world and those are the signs that I see the most growth in, outside of ourselves.
These songs have a lot of life to them, both performed and on record. How do you balance the spirit of the song from record to stage and back and forth?
We’ve done that by trial and error. Most of the recordings were [made] in a very live setting. There are a lot of overdubs, but when you hear the bass, drums, guitar, percussion and lead vocals on 95 percent of the record, all of that happened in one take. So the album already contains kind of a spirit that we have live, but with these extra textures, we have to figure it out. Like, all right, we only have two hands per person, how do we get all these noises to come out? Which ones matter […] and which ones are OK to leave out live? And I feel like the best way to do it is just play. This month as we’re in the middle of 20-something shows, those lessons you learn them as you go.
There are only four members in the band, but it almost sounds as if you are working with a huge ensemble. How do you four achieve such a fluid and rhythmic sound?
A real huge part of that goes to Brendan [Culp, drummer] and Juan Carlos [Chaurand, percussionist] and the creativity [they use] to write their parts. Years ago we were at some Latin club and they were playing a salsa record. Salsa is usually an ensemble of nine people — seven to nine people is the usual standard. We were listening to it through a live PA, and I’m sure if you’ve ever gone to a rock show with a big band, with rare exceptions do you actually hear every instrument and the character it brings. Through a live PA you kind of get the bass stuff, some of the trebbly stuff, and some of the other stuff washes in the middle. So we’re listening to this music in a dance club and I went to Brendan and Juan Carlos and […] said, “Listen to this song, you know what’s happening in this music and know what the conga player is actually playing, you know what the bongo players are supposed to be playing, what the compana players are doing — because you know it. Just listen, what can you actually hear. When we play our music, we should just play what people hear.”
They’re actually leaving out a lot of elements and only playing the accents to create a perception of three or four percussionists. So Juan Carlos will be doing a bell pattern with one hand and hitting the accent tones on the covas and it creates that illusion that there’s two people playing those instruments. Between that, we’ve all had to start singing a lot more — the background vocals make a big difference. My brother [Diego Chi, vocalist/bassist] runs his vocals through guitar pedals and will loop things and sample things. He basically gets to be another instrument that way.
Basically it’s just compressing and having a magician’s touch to make all the elements continuous or seamless...
That’s what people started saying — magicians — about our band. When I was a kid I wanted to be a magician so bad. It’s cool that become a new adjective. It’s our goal to keep the stuff that matters that people hear and focus on that, and I think the rest of it is carried over by the visceral energy of being at a live show.
“A La Deriva” was produced by Steve Berlin of Los Lobos, who actually sought the band out. I know that you’ve talked about his influence in getting a looser sound. What do you feel like is going to be the lasting influence of that experience though?
A couple things are really lasting for me personally and as artist. He is a dude who’s nearly 60 but he’s played music for 35 years, he’s on tour with Los Lobos — this year they did a whole year of touring with Neil Young. That’s amazing [stuff] to do, but on his off time he makes records — with young bands like us, [or] Los Super Seven, [or] with Deer Tick — and he works with such fire and passion. That’s something that I worried about. I love making music but am I going to be able to sustain this kind of energy into in 30 years? He’s created a catalog of music that has his imprint on it — and I think that is amazing. Seeing his energy inspired [me to think] that I can do this.
The lyrics to “La Dia De La Muerte” — I wrote that the morning we recorded it and ended up writing some of those ideas into that song. Man, it is possible to be this excited and passionate about me creating music until the day that you die.
“A La Deriva” is somewhat of a concept album about a family falling apart. Was that something that stitched itself organically or was that something you had set out to create?
It was a little of both. I think it was more organic than preordained. A couple of things happened in my life: I had a relationship fall apart and was dealing with a family that had a bunch of insane stuff happen. At the same time we were working with this youth organization that we ended launching a summer camp with for inner-city kids [and we had] some experiences with kids there that impacted us… just seeing their struggles… so those things [filtered through]. I had a shift, too. I realized that I needed to write songs that voice those stories. People don’t realize as we travel, they’re like does Kansas City have Hispanics? Where’d you shoot the video for “Tormenta” [with] that Mexican neighborhood? Did you have to go to California to shoot that? No, we shot that in our backyard, we shot it in Kansas City in the neighborhood I live in. So I realized that we have this opportunity to be a voice for that community.
And as the songs started coming out, I sent them to Steve — we sent him 20 tunes […] and I was hoping he would pick out the ones that I felt had a theme running through them. He was whittling them down based just on how he liked them and we just wound up on the exact same page.
Aside from the lyrical connections, you have these almost suite-like interludes. There’s a lot of ambient flourishes and swells that connect the songs together. Was that something you were focused on when you were recording the album, too?
Yeah we did. We were definitely more cautious about including some of those interludes and having them tie to each other. We were conscious of trying to make it feel like it ran together. Then that’s where Steve’s influence — I’ve talked about this a little bit before — he allowed us not be afraid of that, to not trim the weird reverse guitar solo on “Ciego Sin Querer” into a shorter thing or to allow the intro for this song to be long and take a minute to get all the way into the tune.
If you go: Making Movies, 10 p.m. Friday, May 10, at the Jazzhaus, 926 1/2 Massachusetts St., $5