The Space Cowboys Return to Aztlán: A Q&A with Porter
When vocalist Juan Son left Porter in 2013, most people assumed it was a death sentence for the Guadalajara-based rock outfit, which had just reunited after a four-year hiatus. After all, the clear star of the band was Juan Son, whose high-pitched, meandering vocals and stage presence made him a fan favorite. Son (real name: Juan Carlos Pereda) was largely seen as the creative force behind the band’s first two releases, 2005’s Donde Los Ponys Pastan and 2007’s Atemahawke. With Son gone, Porter had a few choices: disband once more or look for a new singer.
Enter David Velasco. A soft-spoken singer with a voice similar to Son’s, Velasco filled in as Porter’s lead vocalist after Son quit the band. Velasco eventually became a permanent member of the group. The similarity between the two singers’ breathy vocals wasn’t lost on fans, and Velasco spent a month enduring insults on the Internet from disgruntled fans who lamented that Porter had gone from “Juan Son to panzón (from Juan Son to a fat guy).”
Late last year, Porter released Moctezuma, its first album with Velasco. Unlike countless bands who have tried and failed to replace an “irreplaceable” lead singer, Porter have created their arguably most focused and polished album. Inspired by Mexico’s pre-Hispanic era, Moctezuma is packed with indigenous Mexican rhythms, history and mythology that may remind listeners of Caifanes and early Cafe Tacvba. On tracks like “Murciélago,” “Huitzil” and “Palapa,” the whole band – not just its singer – displays a confidence that shows Porter was never a one man band.
We caught up with lead singer David Velasco to talk about Moctezuma, Mexican pride and his bumpy transition to Porter’s lead singer.
Your start with the band was rocky, but it seems like you’ve won over the fans.
Yeah, I think we’ve become more solid because now I really feel like I’m a part of the band. At the beginning, I was a bit scared. So as I became more confident, the fans felt that confidence. We also have this advantage now where there’s fans who are 14, 15 years old, who never really experienced the first iteration of the band. So… the train keeps rolling.
Do you think you were trying too hard to emulate Juan Son?
A little bit. I put a lot of consideration into what the fans were used to hearing. If we would have made too drastic of a change, the fans probably would have responded differently. So my idea was to maintain that style, to continue to speak that language they were used to and, little by little, let my voice ring out a bit more and be myself a bit more.
Photo Credit: Porter / Facebook
Moctezuma is a tight, polished album. How’d you pull it off?
We’ve all matured as people, and that’s been a big part of the more mature sound of the band. The other projects we worked on while the band was on hiatus also had a part in making us, and the album, much stronger. We also worked closely with the producers of Moctezuma… so all those things add up.
The album is packed pre-Hispanic rhythms, history and mythology. Was it planned from the start or did it happen organically?
The first thing we came up with was the name of the album, Moctezuma. From there, we tapped into these strong emotions we had about writing about Mexico. During our rehearsals, Fer would say “Imagine an indigenous person finding the instruments we have here. How would that person play them?” So it was definitely intentional from the start.
Credit: Porter Oficial / YouTube
The album has earned you comparisons to early Caifanes and Cafe Tacvba. Was there a concerted effort to bring back a sort of “Mexican pride” to Mexico’s rock scene?
Yes. I think [Mexicans] are bombarded with so much American culture that it sort of results in a lack of identification with our roots, who we really are. If you look at things on a social level… we’ve gotten to the point where a Mexican family’s dream vacation is going to Disneyland. I feel like this era of globalization… it sort of disconnects people from their humanity. So the idea behind the album was to look back and examine our humanity… and our roots.
Watching some of your live performances, it seems like fans are really connecting with the album.
Yeah, it’s funny you say that. I think there’s still some pain, a small seed there, a small part in all Mexicans… we haven’t had a chance to express our grief, or rage, over our colonization. So it’s interesting to me… take the song “Murciélago”… the first two people who I played that song for before the album was released, they both cried. So, to see how that song affects our audiences and how it manifests itself in the way they sing – there’s a sense of rage, a sense of sadness – it’s incredible that people are supporting this project in that way.
Credit: Porter Oficial / YouTube
I think your idea of not “expressing grief or rage over colonization,” also applies to Mexican-Americans–that sense of not being sure of where you belong or where you came from.
I think it’s important as a people, as a country, as a community, to recognize the seeds that have been sown in order to change or reprogram the situation we find ourselves in. And I don’t mean we should feel sorry for ourselves, like “Oh, poor Mexicans.” It’s just that the seeds of violence, hatred and apathy were planted a long time ago. So the rapes that people experienced 500 years ago… the violence continues. So there was something there that prompted the band write about something deeper. At the same time, it’s not a subject that we “own” per se. Life just places you on a certain path and it tells you what to express in your art.
Porter are currently on tour through Mexico and plan on working on a new album next year.