About a year and a half ago, local band Making Movies opened for Los Lobos when the legendary Latin rock band was in Kansas City. Making Movies had been incorporating more Latin rhythms into their Spanish- and English-language rock, and one Los Lobos member liked what he heard.
Between sets, Lobo Steve Berlin asked Making Movies if he could produce their next recording. They released the result, entitled “A La Deriva,” on March 5th, and they’re reaching out to create an international audience.
Since Making Movies has spent a lot of time touring in recent years, local shows have become a rare treat for long-time local fans. A recent show at the Record Bar in Westport turned the normally rock-drenched club into a packed dance party. From under a mane of blonde dreadlocks, singer/songwriter and guitarist Enrique Chi guided the band through a maze of Latin rhythms and experimental rock sounds. Back in September of 2011, when Los Lobos first heard Making Movies from their dressing room, they immediately became fans.
“About 30 seconds in, I think we’re all like ‘Man, what record is that? That’s really cool,’” said Los Lobos member Steve Berlin from his home in Portland. “And it’s like, that’s no record. It’s Making Movies doing their first song. And I was like, ‘Holy s**t, what the hell’s going on here?’ So, as a band, we were knocked out, and then I sat there for the whole show. I was riveted. And once they were done, we just started talking. I said, ‘If you guys ever get an inkling to make a record, call me first.’ So, sure enough they did, and, I guess, not very long after that we were in a studio here in Portland making a record.”
Recording with Steve Berlin
About six years ago Panamanian-born brothers Enrique and Diego Chi and drummer Brendan Culp started a band named after a favorite Dire Straits album. A few years later, the Making Movies lineup was completed with the addition of percussionist and keyboardist Juan Carlos Chaurand. In March of 2012, the group traveled to Steve Berlin’s hometown of Portland to make their second full-length recording. Enrique Chi says that their new producer didn’t try to change the band. Instead, he helped them to take their own ideas to the limit.
“Everything we went for, we went fully for,” explains Chi. “Like if we’re trying to make a vocal harmony sound reminiscent of this genre of Latin singing, he would make sure we went all the way there. And if we were trying to make a guitar part loud and nasty, we made sure it was really loud and nasty. And I think those contrasts ended up creating the sound that we got for the album.”
Berlin says he only had to encourage the band to do what they normally do because Enrique and the group seemed to have a consummate understanding of how to make good sounds.
“I think Enrique’s a master orchestrator. I’ve very, very, very, very rarely encountered any musician who – I pretty much never had to touch his amp or his guitar,” said Berlin. “It was like, he had completely dialed in a sound that was just breathtakingly beautiful and complex, and kind of perfect. It almost never happens.”
Recording with the music veteran was more than a little intimidating, and the band says they found themselves overthinking and worrying about what they were playing. But Berlin told the young musicians to turn off their brains and go with their instincts.
“He would touch a talkback button in the studio,” explains Enrique Chi, “So you’d hear the talkback turn on, ‘I can hear you thinking.’ And that was when we were like, ‘We have to do it again.’”
“I find that once musicians start questioning the process and questioning what they’re doing, then you literally – I can hear them thinking,” says Berlin. “You can literally hear the gears grinding a little bit. They’re worried about the next note and the next this and the next that, and they’re not just playing.”
“And then sometimes,” says Enrique, “The first take, although it might have been rough – you know – rough around the edges or had a little bit of flubs here and there, we were more thoughtless. Usually the ones that were really good were the ones were I didn’t think they were the real thing. I felt like, ‘This is a run through and then I’ve gonna really start going for it. And those usually came out the best, because we weren’t in that kind of anxious state of mind.”
“A La Deriva”
The result of their 11 days in Portland sessions is entitled “A La Deriva,” or “Adrift.” The songs are influenced by everything from Radiohead and My Morning Jacket to the Beatles and Led Zeppelin, while the rhythms draw from Latin beats like cumbia, salsa and merengue.
The sound of Making Movies may move a lot of audiences to dance, but the lyrics aren’t always so upbeat. “A La Deriva” is a concept album telling the story of a family falling apart. Its lyrics explore an abusive relationship and how it effects multiple generations. Enrique explains one song, entitled “Te Estaba Buscando.”
“It tells the story of a young girl that – it’s written from the perspective of a father, and it’s telling the story of him saying ‘I was looking for you and I can’t anymore,’ you know, ‘I can’t find you anymore.’ And kind of disconnected touch with his daughter. And it tells the story of her growing up in a not-so- desirable part of town and leaving home at 14. Getting pregnant. Becoming a single mother. And falling through kind of a similar cycle that his family had. And him feeling like, like unfortunately that’s a cycle that doesn’t seem to end. And that’s the concept of the record is that there’s these cycles that exist in our society. And I don’t think we pose an answer to the question, but it just poses the question: What do you do? How do you break that cycle? How do you grab a 14-year-old girl that’s already gotten pregnant and has already set those courses in her life, sometime due to things that were out of her control when she was two or three years old, set those things in motion. What’s next? You know, how do you amend that?”
Making Movies has already inspired a few spin off projects. Juan Carlos’s father Enrique was the drummer for the Spiders. They were a ‘60s/’70s garage rock band from Guadalajara, Mexico which still has a cult following. He and the Chi brothers’ father met through their sons and ended up starting their own band. That group has broken up, but both fathers are now involved with a Making Movie side project called the Making Movies Social Club. The Social Club is an expanded, acoustic version of the band focusing on Latin folk music.
“The Making Movies Social Club,” explains Diego Chi, “is us taking the folkloric side of it and only doing that. So, Enrique plays on this Puerto Rican cuatro. The percussion is all traditional. And then I play on an acoustic ukulele bass. And then our father sits in out nylon-string guitar. And then Juan Carlo’s father plays percussion too. And so, it makes it a really fun time for all of us cause it’s kind of like a family band.”
Beyond the U.S.
Making Movies has already developed a following in lots of Midwest cities, but lately, they’re spending more and more time touring on the coasts. The band is also reaching out for audiences beyond the US. Making Movies has a couple of dates scheduled in Puerto Rico this spring, they’ve already played in Mexico, and Enrique plans to promote the band on an upcoming trip back to Panama. He says that working outside of the U.S. has opened up a new world for the band.
“It’s actually very exciting because the United States music scene is already really established, and there’s established ways to go about things,” says Enrique. “That also leads to people being kind of burned out. Anybody in the music business is just so over the music business cause they are getting hounded by everyone, you know, from every angle. But we’re hopping on the phone and talking to promoters in Puerto Rico, and the attitude is just different. They’re just like, ‘Oh, we’re so excited to have you!’ and ‘When can you perform?’”
Now that the new record is out, Making Movies is returning to a busy touring schedule. But after working with music veteran Steve Berlin, they’re hitting the road and looking at the future with a new enthusiasm.
“I’ve been saying for a while –before I met Steve – like, for better or worse, I’m a lifer. I’m just gonna make music till I pass away someday. But seeing him and seeing how much energy he still has for it – that fired me up. I’m ready to go do this for 30 years. That’s the way I felt, and that’s gonna stay with me.”