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Mexico invades Nashville — or vice versa, or… (Chetes)

2 January 2007

Chetes: Mexican sound, Nashville Accent

(elUniversal, 2 de enero de 2007) 

Last October a quiet and unassuming 26-year-old musician from Mexico arrived at Nashville International Airport to meet a U.S. record producer he had known only through a few e-mail messages and a phone conversation. Neither had any idea what the other looked like.

The musician was Gerardo Garza, the floppy-haired, dirty-blond It Boy of the alternative rock scene in Monterrey, Nuevo León, who goes by his lifelong nickname, Chetes. (It´s Spanish shorthand for “cheeks”; Garza´s are noticeably pale and round.) The producer was Ken Coomer, a Nashville studio whiz who played drums for the new-school Americanists Wilco and Uncle Tupelo, two bands Garza had only recently heard.

The plan for the next month was simple, if not somewhat comical: the two would hole up in a studio with local musicians and technicians, none of whom spoke a word of Spanish, and create the new sound of Mexican pop music.

Both men come from the fringes of their respective music scenes. Garza has little to do with the sugary commercial formulas that dominate Mexican pop radio, and Coomer´s taste for rootsy indie rock and alt-country have kept him a world away from the pop country polish of Nashville hit machines.

“When I first heard him I was like, does he know how good he is?” Coomer said in a beaming and breathless Southern drawl. “I thought his music was timeless. Producers typically look for the flavor of the month, but he had something that was classic without being superficially retro. He clearly knew the history of good music.”

Friends at the Nashville alt-country label Lost Highway and Garza´s label, EMI Mexico, had sent along Garza´s demos. After hearing them, Coomer was hooked and sent back a package of albums featuring his own work.

“Once I listened to Wilco,” Garza said in Spanish. “I heard the style I was looking for: acoustic, live and natural. It was simple but not boring. Plus, as soon as I talked to Ken, I knew he was a good person. He had Elvis´ accent, and for me that was a very good sign.”


Garza stayed in Nashville for a month, recording and writing songs with Coomer and his engineer, Charlie Brocco, himself a veteran studio aid to Anglo pop-rock legends like Fleetwood Mac and George Harrison.

“There was no culture clash at all,” Coomer said. “We went out drinking, hit all the good local bars. He just has this aura about him. You want to put him in your pocket.”

The album-length result of their experiment is Garza´s sparkling solo debut, “Blanco Fácil.” Coomer´s organic, analog touch is everywhere (the album was recorded live to tape, on vintage microphones and amplifiers, before it was loaded onto Pro Tools).

The songs are classic 1960s and 70s sunshine folk-pop, the Brian Wilson and James Taylor kind, full of sweet and warm melodies, dreamy harmonies and perfectly placed jingle-jangle bridges that mend the hearts the verses have just finished breaking.


Since its Mexican release earlier this year, the album has sold nearly 50,000 copies, the benchmark for being certified gold in Mexico. That´s not a small accomplishment in a national pop market with little patience for anything other than teen sensations like RBD and Belinda. The first single on “Blanco Fácil,” “Completamente,” has an intense melancholic charm, which led to a 2006 Latin Grammy nomination for best rock song, some heavy iTunes Latino promotion, and a much-played video that features a bundled-up Garza singing his way down the wintry streets of Beijing.

The album was just released in the United States on Dec. 26, and will no doubt face similar challenges in an equally rigid stateside Latin music market that has not typically been kind to artists who are not wholly pop, rock, tropical or traditional.

“My goal was to create a new kind of pop-rock in Spanish,” Garza said by telephone from his new apartment in Mexico City, where he, his wife and their dog have just moved from Monterrey. “Many people believe that pop is something dirty or something that doesn´t deserve artistic respect. I wanted to change that and show pop´s other faces.”

Garza didn´t have to look very far for inspiration. In industrial Monterrey, three hours south of the Texas-Mexico border, he grew up on a strict Beatles and Beach Boys diet.

“There´s always been a lot of American influence in Monterrey,” Garza said. “Everybody speaks English. We could always go to Texas to buy new albums and see shows. We could always turn on the TV and know what was in fashion in the U.S. and England. It´s a pretty Americanized place.”


Blanco Facil, courtesy B&G Booking and Graphics, Culiacán, Sinaloa

One Comment leave one →
  1. 5 June 2007 9:16 pm

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