"The album, D.F., is not only about the place, but it's also about how much cities change. It's like when you fall in love with someone and over the years they change, they get surgery, and in 10-15 years they are a completely different person than the one you met and fell in love with."
Mexican Institute of Sound is none other than the brain child of Camilo Lara, the "sampling sommelier". Mexican Institute of Sound (hereinafter "MIS") has been around for over fifteen years. Some would describe the music as a fun and danceable "political science class", but others would with no doubt consider this project a delicious blend of Latin beats with references to Mexican culture. Regardless of whether you understand the lyrics or not, the consensus is the danceability and cumbia flare.
If you are reading this article and asking yourself, "have I listened to something by Mexican Institute of Sound or Camilo Lara?" The answer is probably "yes". Camilo's talent goes beyond MIS. He is a producer, DJ, composer, and singer. You name it. He has produced works for artists like Los Angeles Azules, Norah Jones and Band of Horses. He's also remixed with Beck, the Beastie Boys and Interpol. He hosts his own DJ station on Grand Theft Auto V and he was one of the musical consultants of Pixar's Coco (he even made a cameo)! This isn't counting the other projects Camilo's work has also been featured in like Narcos, Breaking Bad, and Y tu mamá también.
I could go on and on about Camilo's contributions to the music and film industry, but we are here to celebrate Camilo's upcoming album called Distrito Federal. This new album is a love letter to his city, a city (formally Districto Federal and now Mexico City) that does not exist anymore but lives on in mental photographs. This album really showcases a growth in MIS' sound, yet still retaining what makes it fun and unique. This album takes you on a whimsical ride of Camilo's fondness for el D.F. From it's initial "Se compran" to "The Lunatics". In addition the music itself, we get awesome features from Cuco, Dan "The Automator" ( Gorillaz), Graham Coxon (Blur), BIA, Duckwrth and more! The album comes out January 21, 2021! Singles will released up until the release date so keep an eye out for them!
Last week I had the honor of talking to Camilo via a Zoom call. Most of it was in Spanish (with some English exceptions), but for the purposes of this website the conversation has been translated to English below:
Desert of My Eye ("D.O.M.E"): I am going to start off by asking you a question I have been asking everyone. I actually asked Jonaz the other day. Have you found any new hobbies or new creativity during quarantine?
Camilo: Not at all, the opposite. When quarantine started I thought I was going to read 4-6 books a month, work on a CD, mix some things that I had, and in reality that did not happen. My new hobby is cleaning plates. I've cleaned like 1,400,000 plates.
To be honest, I had started to going to the studio everyday and I would stop midday and that would be it. I've also developed a fondness for wine. So basically every meal we are doing it with wine or gin. That all contributes to the problem of me not being able to develop new hobbies. I do go run really early and that is what I have been doing constantly. But on the other side I've drank all the wine that I have not drank all my life. Ha-Ha.
D.O.M.E: I will confess that I never went to the Distrito Federal nor have I gone to Mexico City. I know this album is a love letter to the Distrito Federal, but as someone that has heard the new album but has never been, would you say this album is a good representation of what it once was?
Camilo: Well, you know, for example, I've never been to Nebraska but I love Sufjan Stevens and I love his work. At the end of the day, these things are not mutually exclusive. Like the discussion that was on the internet saying, "you didn't understand Roma (the movie) because you didn't grow up in
Mexico City". It's not about that. You know, even El Paso. I remember going to El Paso and the only thing was there was going to the mall. Now, in the past times I've been back, it's grown so much and it even has an indie scene. This is not the El Paso I grew up with. It's like when I tell my mother that I am going to Marfa and she says that's a stable! It like as if we all have an image of what we remember as kids.
The album, D.F., is not only about the place, but it's also about how much cities change. It's like when you fall in love with someone and over the years they change, they get surgery, and in 10-15 years they are a completely different person than the one you met and fell in love with. This is what the album is about. It's about the Mexico I loved.. The city changed names and it's like when Madonna changed her name to MDNA. I feel like our city is having a midlife crisis and it's different. I mean I still live here. It's more of this memory of when I was a kid, rode the bus, and listened to sonideros.
D.O.M.E: So as I am listening to the album, few things come to mind. Although I've never been to Mexico City, I do think and reflect on the cities I have been to. The first song, "Se Compra", pulls you in immediately with the word "se compran", "microndas", and "lavadoras" and so on. Did you have a story or memory in mind when choosing the song order or do you have a method of doing it?
Camilo: The order does have a "sense" of sorts. It starts with that (song) because that is the first thing you hear in Mexico. Doesn't matter if you are rich or poor. In reality, I am putting it in a nice way, but it's actually horrible because you hear it all day, every day. But if taken out of context, it's actually poetry.
*Camilo is referring to the street vendors in Mexico that can be heard all day. Some of them even have megaphones.
D.O.M.E: Not only are the order of the songs interesting, but for example, the Songmess podcast once described your songs like a "political science" class. And as someone that studied political science, they are not wrong. Is this intentional?
Camilo: Yes and no. It's like when a fan comes up to me after a show and they ask, "why don't you make a song about the city's traffic?" I get the most random questions. They must think I am always thinking about what Mexico needs to do better. Thinking about it that way is horrific. The one thing that is true is that, my music revolves around Mexico, I started sampling Mexican music, and then I started producing Mexican things and my life slowly started revolving around that. You slowly realize that it is what it is, but I probably do it subconsciously. You know in. that case, I could call Joey form Calexico the mayor of Tucson. Everything that he does in Tucson, he can give a thumbs up or a thumbs down. Then there is Sergio Mendoza that is like the sheriff of Tucson. I don't like the idea of that. You know becoming Lola Beltran or Juan Gabriel, the epitome of Mexicanism. Yeah, no. I hope that is not me.
*Camilo, after answering this question made a soccer team analogy, which led me to the following question.
D.O.M.E: You know now that you mention that, can you separate the music from the artist? Is it harder to navigate being an artist nowadays? You know, we live in an era of cancel culture and such.
Camilo: Yeah, it's totally harder. Artists are more "3-D" and artists are now on social media as well. It is an important moment to take a stand. Beyond those discussion that are good or bad, you have to pick a side. In the beginning of the 2000's the world was more "central," but we have to opt for the correct thing. It is the right time.
"Beyond how collaborations work out, an album is just a slice of your life at that one moment."
D.O.M.E: You are correct, it is a special time in the industry. However, moving back to the album, you have features from very interesting artists like Cuco, BIA, and Graham Coxon. How was it that you chose to work with them? Was it a thing that happened over the years or did you listen to their music and liked it? Was it planned?
Camilo: It was a little bit of everything. You know, when I am touring, I like to book recording studios and do things. I'll take a "suitcase" of songs and when collaborations happen, I don't know what they will bring. I don't. even know if they will end up on an album. For example, with Cuco, I had an eye on him. We have the same booking agent and I've known him since he started and I loved his work. It was nice getting together and working on a song. With the other collaborations, I had them a bit more planned out. Like with Graham Coxon. We are friends and Damon Albarn was supposed to be there, but it didn't work out. I got in touch with Graham and he came to Mexico and we spent the day together. It worked out. Beyond how collaborations work out, an album is just a slice of your life at that one moment.
**I ended up with a follow up question about the song "My America Is Not Your America" (which is one of my favorites) I told him that when you listen to it it equally sounds like a Gorillaz track, but it actually features Graham Coxon (Blur)- my bad. Regardless, it's a standout piece and what I meant to say is that is has both a touch of Graham and Camilo. It's fresh.
D.O.M.E: So, the second track, "Dios". Would you ask God for a quesadilla?
Camilo: Ha-ha. Yes. The idea behind that s that on one side you have God and in the other you have the Devil and in the end these two separate paths take you down the same route. The ingredients and the "masa" of a "quesadilla" and "gordita" are essentially the same, it just that the "paths" in making them are different. That is philosophical interpretation of such trivial song.
D.O.M.E: I thought that the video for it was very interesting. I know you filmed it in Japan. I also know you mentioned in an interview that you chose to film in Tokyo because there are similarities to Mexico City, but there is a juxtaposition between the city of Tokyo and the Mexican (mayan-inspired) cartoons.
Camilo: It's a bit influenced by anime, but it really has to do with the fact that I was traveling at that time. They (the cartoons) are ideograms.
D.O.M.E: You know you have been doing music for a long time, did you ever think of pursuing a different career?
Camilo: I studied literature. If I hadn't done music, I would have pursued writing.
D.O.M.E: Do you ever consider writing a book about your career in music or your life in general?
Camilo: I have a novela that I wrote, but haven't published. It's been three or four years that I just haven't been in the headspace to finish it. I sent it to a couple friends and my friend Alfonso Cuaron. He critiqued it and gave me notes. It's there. One day I will finish it. That was actually on my quarantine wishlist to finish.
D.O.M.E: You have traveled a lot. Do you have a favorite place to go to or wanna go back?
Camilo: Yes, especially now with quarantine. I love Oaxaca. Everyone. should go. But I also want to go back to Marfa. With this pandemic, I can't wait to travel. There isn't one particular place that wan to go to.
D.O.M.E: I know, I will travel a lot after this pandemic.
Camilo: I would love to go to El Paso, rent a car and drive from El Paso to San Francisco. I wanna do a road trip.
D.O.M.E: Is there an artist that you haven't worked with and you want to work with?
Camilo: Yes, there is this artist, Angelica Garcia. I like her. I don't know where she is from, but she is living in Los Angeles at the moment and her album was one of the best ones this year. She's the only one that comes to mind right now. Like when I heard Cuco, I was like how cool it was to be Cuco.
D.O.M.E: Last question because we are out of time. I read Pau Donés' book (50 Palos) and there is a chapter on interview questions. He said that one of the worst questions you could ask and artist are, "if you were stranded on an island what three things would you take" and "what are you working on next?" What question do you hate the most?
Camilo: The worst question is the "is there something else you would like to say?" Well I don't know!
Well said. A big thank you for Camilo Lara for his time! Check out MIS! Links Below!
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