Café Tacvba is a four-member band composed of Rubén Albarran, Emmanuel del Real, José Rangel and Enrique Rangel. The alternative rock band originated in Naucalpan, located northwest of Mexico City; they released their latest project, El Objeto Antes Llamado Disco (The Object Previously Called A Record) in late October.
Directly from Mexico through a phone interview, José Rangel handed an exclusive interview to Campus Circle. Rangel, who studied industrial design at Metropolitan Autonomous University in Mexico City, plays electric guitar, acoustic guitar and provides vocals. Subjects touched featured his initial exposure to music as a kid, how the group became an act, performing covers, and their new album - El Objeto Antes Llamado Disco - among other things.
Campus Circle: Talk about your youth. How you were first exposed to music? How was it you found your passion for music and decide to pursue it as a career?
José Rangel: Even though my parents were not musicians, they always liked to sing and play music. My siblings and I were always surrounded by music at home. None of us played instruments but we were always singing. Eventually, I started playing the guitar. I was about 15 or 16 years old. Everything came from rock. One day, I saw a magazine at the market, and I asked my mom to buy it for me. Blondie was on the cover. Inside, there were a lot of articles about the new wave music of that time. I think it was a combination of the visual and the musical about it that appealed to me and made me curious about what those groups sounded like. My sisters listened to disco at the time, so I was in a way isolated from rock. However, I started listening to rock at school, and with friends. I was too young at the time to go to concerts, but I somehow managed to get few records of Mexican groups. That’s how I started to become interested. I began playing guitar not to become a virtuoso, but to compose songs. That was always what pushed me forward, and still does to this day. I’ve always been intrigued by the combination of lyric and song. I’ve always liked to read and have always been a fan of narrative. In song, I find a way to tell stories, and I think that’s how it got started, as a hobby. I studied industrial design throughout my youth, but I never stopped playing guitar and forming bands. Then I met Rubén, and we formed what is now Café Tacvba.
CC: You met Rubén Albarrán as a college student in Mexico. How did you meet him and decided to form this group?
JR: I had met Rubén at a concert, he was the singer of a group my friends had. I really liked the way he sang and what he projected. About a month or two later, I saw him at university, and I approached him and we became friends. Also, a lot of professors were artists as well, and they always taught us to look beyond what we were taught. They eventually gave us the idea to create a design that was more ‘Mexican’ - something that had more to do with our culture and our roots, and that concept resonated well with Rubén and I. We began to realize that in music, this was also very important to do and fun as well - most other artists were not doing it at that time; most tried to copy. There was a lot of imitation in the Mexican music scene, with the exception of groups like Botellita De Jerez, La Maldita Vecindad, or Ritmo Peligroso, who were also searching for a more Mexican identity. So, with this influence from our professors, we began to develop what would eventually become Café Tacvba. A lot of these concepts, or way of thinking, we acquired from university. And all of this was not serious; it was just for fun. Gladly, we’ve kept it up for 20 years: doing what we want, because we want to do it. We’ve never taken ourselves too seriously, despite it becoming a serious thing, or people wanting to make it into a serious thing.
CC: Over the years, Café Tacvba has portrayed covers and it seems something the group is keen on doing.
JR: Whenever we design covers, we give it its own special place, you know? We did it for our third album; it has eight songs, and all eight are covers. We also did it for an album that paid homage to a group called Los Tres, a group of Chile. We’ve also done covers for movies, but as far as our musical work, we don’t tend to combine covers with original compositions. Each of us compose songs that we want to use. In reality, covers are a sort of therapy for us that allow us to escape when we’re stuck, and give us a sort of freedom that sometimes our own songs don’t give us. Sometimes when things aren’t going well or we’re going through a tough patch, we’ll say, ‘let’s do a cover.’ That’s usually what prompts us to do a cover. We’ve done many, a lot of which have never been recorded. We’ll do them for a special tour, or when we’re playing with someone. For example, we toured with Gustavo Cerati about 10 years ago, and we would always play “Juegos de Seduccion” by Soda Stereo. We were in Argentina recently and decided to play it again, as a sort of homage and good vibe for Gustavo. So that’s how we are steered towards covers although lately I’ve been thinking about how the first Mexican rock-n-rollers – all they did were covers. So I’m sure there’s something in our culture that steers us towards covers in a natural manner.
CC: El Objeto Antes Llamado Disco is your seventh album. How did the concept for this album come about? Can you tell us a bit about the process of putting it together?
JR: We started with the songs; it is how we usually begin. We’ll meet up, and we each bring the songs we composed and present them to the rest of the group. We then decide amongst ourselves matters of arrangement, and we all pitch in ideas and suggestions. Rubén, the lead singer, will often take the lead, and he would make the most suggestions and decisions; things like who should sing what song, what should be done with them, and so on. So again, the first thing is writing songs, and then deciding which songs to use and what to do with them. Then the idea came up of not recording them behind closed doors at a studio. We wanted to bring this experience to the eyes and ears of an audience. We did this to first experiment and try something new but also to see what happens, to see the difference between recording in a room and recording in front of an audience. So, in collaboration with Gustavo Santaolalla (who loved the idea), we agreed where we would do it. We wanted a place with a good audience, but also a place where we would feel comfortable. So that’s how the opportunity arose to record in Buenos Aires, Santiago, Mexico City, and finally in Los Angeles. Each of these cities provided a very different setting. One was at a bar, another was at a restaurant, another at a concert hall, and finally in Los Angeles it was at a studio, which we felt brought the whole ‘experiment’ full-circle. We recorded the same 10 songs in each city, and then chose the best takes of each song. I feel that this album has a bit of ‘freshness’…something that Gustavo agreed with. I feel that with this process, our songs were able to keep that ‘freshness.’ Demos often have it, but it doesn’t always move over to the finalized song. This is an album that all four of us are very happy with. To know that an album by a group that’s been together for 20 years is ‘fresh’ is something that we value greatly.
CC: Describe the chemistry with Gustavo. Is he a person who has a lot of energy and passion when he’s involved in music?
JR: He’s very passionate. We’ve known him since before our first album. He was the one who approached us and said that whenever we wanted to record an album he would like to be our producer. He was working with Maldita Vecindad at the moment. He was one of many Argentine producers working in Mexico at that time. He was the one we related to the most. Our relationship has changed over time. At first, he was the producer, and dictated what needed to be done. Then we learned a few things about producing and began collaborating a lot more. Gustavo is a person we love dearly. He’s become family, along with his associate, Anibal Kerpel; they’re close to each of our families and us. So every time we see them, it’s like seeing a father figure, or a close uncle, or someone we can share things with that we can’t with other people. I’ve often found myself talking to Gustavo about things that I wouldn’t talk to my father or uncle about. So, I’ve perceived that he’s become family more than anything else. And musically, he’s that external vision that Café Tacvba needs.
CC: The lyrics from the song “De Este Lado Del Camino”…what do they mean?
JR: This is a song that Emmanuel [del Real] brought along; he’s the keyboard player. The song had a small but radical change in the lyrics. When Rubén began to sing, he said, ‘You know what?, I don’t want to sing another love song towards another person. Pop music is plagued with love songs, so I would like to change they lyric, ‘I love you’ to ‘I love me.’ I want to sing this song to myself.’ So, this was a very small but radical change and we all loved it. We realized it was necessary to sing to yourself sometimes. Even from rehearsals, we realized something was happening. We also liked that Gustavo proposed it should be the first single form the album. He felt what we were doing with the song was something important and that we should share it. He felt it was the ideal single to represent what we’re doing and what we’re going through at the moment. There are a lot of love songs in music, but not many that talk about loving yourself. We feel that’s something we should all have. First, love for yourself, so that you can then give love to others.
CC: What has the city of Los Angeles meant to the group?
JR: Well, personally, it’s the place I’ve spent the most time in other than the place I live at. We’ve recorded albums there; we’ve seen many sites and met many people. It was a city that at first, was difficult to understand, but then I loved; so much so that my partner and I are thinking of moving there. She lived there for about eight years, but when we met she was already living here in Mexico. I don’t know why we always feel at home there. I think besides the large Latin population, it’s a city we understand. Whenever we play there, we’re received well; I feel that the audience is never the same. It’s a place I like to work at, and I can’t say that about many other places.
CC: Is there anything you would like to say to the youth who would like to follow in Café Tacvba’s footsteps? What advice can you give them?
JR: Just do it. The first thing is to go beyond your surroundings. Sometimes people tell me things like, ‘my family doesn’t let me.’ And although it sounds like a cliché, rock is full of clichés, and I feel there’s a reason why they’re clichés. So you have to defy everything. You must defy your family, even yourself. One has to find a way to learn an instrument, write songs, and find people with similar interests to your own. You can’t doubt yourself. The moment you begin to question yourself you’re done. So, just do it. Time won’t wait for you.
For more information on Café Tacvba, click here.