Rey Pila Became Mexico's Alternative Voice by Channeling Frustration Into Music
Rey Pila tightens its grip on American ears.
Photo by Abby Ross
UPDATE: Brandon Flowers has cancelled his show at the Fillmore Miami Beach, citing unforeseen "unforeseen circumstances."
Rey Pila is of a different era. It seems the group hitched a ride with Doc and Marty in 1989 but forgot to hop back into the DeLorean. The nostalgic synth-rock band's music, mood, and even name owe credit to the '80s — to one artist in particular.
The name "Rey Pila" is Spanish for "King Battery," a phrase sketched on a painting by iconic '80s artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. "Nothing particular was fitting about the name," founder and frontman Diego Solórzano admits with a pause. "It just made sense because I really like Basquiat. It represents a moment in the art world that I really admire." It's typically trivial to explain why you like a piece of art. Sometimes you just do, and any explanation is insufficient. Though it might be difficult to pin down the why, Solórzano has little issue identifying what exactly it is he likes.
"I'm very specific about what I like. That's something I've learned from the passage of time — that you start to find your own voice. You discard the things you don't like easier." In reference to his own music and his hypercritical analysis of other artists, Solórzano takes no breaks. But he acknowledges all the benefits and complications that accompany an editorial gaze. "I'm very specific and very intense about every detail being in its place. That has its positive and its negative sides."
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In many ways, Solórzano and Rey Pila seem to channel Basquiat.
The painter was a perpetual editor who preferred constant stimulation. He'd often flip through academic texts with the radio or TV set on blast while he scrawled phrases and graphics onto massive canvases. Once done scribbling, he'd cross out and even paint over portions of what seemed to be a finished piece.
"I'm very into this way of writing in which one person writes a song, then other people come in and give their creative input to the song," Solórzano says of why he decided to turn Rey Pila, initially a solo project, into a quartet. "The other guys are more open to other types of music. They bring a nice creative and conceptual input to the whole project." The various creative identities and conceptual interests involved in Rey Pila challenge, edit, and refine the music they create.
Much like Basquiat, Rey Pila is consumed with ideas of power structure and temporality and takes inspiration from personal and historical wrongdoings. Whereas Basquiat's paintings confront classism through primitive lenses, Solórzano's lyrics confront control by nodding at the clock: "Time is a scary thing. It passes and passes and won't stop for anyone. It goes for days, then months and years, and for me, that's nerve-racking."
Solórzano's contempt for and struggle with power structures isn't as readily apparent in his songs, "but most of the lyrics are about being angry," he explains. "I'm angry about a lot of shit."
Many of the folks he met when he began his musical career as a teenager were such exploitative pricks that their actions still affect his music all these years later. "I've had to deal with older people who stepped on me, who treated me very bad. I always kept it to myself, but this is one of the ways I can talk about it," he reveals. "Money was the only thing they cared about. It sounds like a teenager's speech, but it's true. People never stop talking about money... and that's one of the things I really hate.
"But that's the way the world works, especially in Mexico. That's one of the things that's frustrating about Mexico — lots of people dying, hungry kids in the streets. Every day there are fewer rich people and more poor people."
Still, Solórzano feels privileged to live in Mexico and has no intention of moving. The band members split time between New York and Mexico City because they feel a visceral tie to their home country. "The ambiance here inspires me musically," he says of Mexico. "It's abstract. I can't describe it."
Despite the undercurrent of contempt, Rey Pila's latest album, The Future Sugar, is alive and alert. Its tracks are brisk if a bit fleeting. Perhaps the songs not only confront woes — struggles with power structures and time — but also help recontextualize them in effervescent synth. After all, Solórzano says the band's music is meant to help people "forget about the shit that's going on in their day. Give them three minutes to have a good time — that's mission accomplished."
Brandon Flowers with Rey Pila. 8 p.m. Wednesday, August 19, at the Fillmore Miami Beach, 1700 Washington Ave., Miami Beach; 305-673-7300; fillmoremb.com. Tickets cost $40 to $60 plus fees via livenation.com.
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