As native sons of the bustling, bursting megalopolis of Mexico City, the four members of Rey Pila know a thing or two about striking a balance between order and chaos and dark and light. The band have spent the last several years perfecting their unique blend of dark synth pop and gloomy dance rock from the busy streets and sequestered creative spaces of their hometown to their beloved New York City’ s legendary studios and hallowed halls, plus countless other stages around the world. With two full-length albums and multiple other releases as well as tours supporting luminaries like Interpol, Brandon Flowers, and The Rentals under their belt, and having had their work produced, promoted, and put out by A-list flag-wavers Julian Casablancas (The Strokes, Cult Records) and Chris Coady (Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Beach House), Rey Pila—which means “ King Battery” in Spanish—are fully charged to release a new EP of four brand new tracks this spring and take 2017 by storm.
Rey Pila’ s frontman and driving force, Diego Solórzano, started the band as a solo project in2009 following the breakup of his previous act, Los Dynamite. Writing and producing songs in his home studio, he eventually hired the trio of musicians Andrés Velasco, Rodrigo Blanco, and Miguel “Mikey” Hernández (the latter with whom he had played in his former band) to play the songs live with him on a tour. Recognizing their organic fit, similar attitudes and influences, and easy, cohesive groove, it wasn’t long before Rey Pila became a proper four-piece. Citing inspiration from the fusion of synthesizers and guitars embraced by acts like The Cars, Depeche Mode, Aphex Twin, and Boards of Canada, the band began to find their sound by filtering that style through their own musical worldview—which could only come from a melting pot like Mexico City—and embellishing that with their knack for writing catchy, danceable tunes.
“I like to say we play rock music, but in the end we are a pop band and proud to be one, just as we are proud to be from Mexico City,” Solórzano says.
“Culturally, Mexico City is very rich, and there’ s a very cool scene happening now,” Velasco adds. “But it’ s also cool when we play in other countries, as people react very well to Mexico City outside of Mexico for a reason.”
Inversely, the widespread influence of darker, goth-rock bands on Mexican rock culture is undeniable and Rey Pila acknowledge that the ethos has crept into their musical blueprint, though they have learned to put their own stamp on the sound. Further embracing that cultural exchange, Rey Pila have adopted New York City and its brand of monochrome midnight cool as a second home ever since being invited to record their sophomore album, The Future Sugar, there with Chris Coady in 2012. Having worked in Manhattan previously with producer Paul Mahajans (TV on the Radio, The National), Solórzano recognized the city’ s charm and the benefit of working away from home with someone like Coady. “ That’ s when the love for New York came into our lives,” he says. “ We were isolated there in a way. If you’ re not in your hometown, it’ s easier to work. It can be hard working with an outside producer; it’ s almost like getting a girlfriend from a one-night stand. You must get along and have the same taste and vision for the future of the band. We had that experience with Coady.”
Attracted to Rey Pila by their well-crafted and high-quality demo recordings as well as their dark vibe, Coady suggested they record at DFA Studios to implement the use of the studio’ s famous synth collection. “He heard the synth in our demos and suggested we work there,” Velasco says. “For us it was like walking into James Murphy’ s basement, like exploring a bit of New York musical history. It was amazing to be there for a whole month, recording and then going outontequila breaks. Coady always called our situation ‘chill apocalypse’ because of the way our decisions were easily made; it flowed easily and there wasn’t much friction between us or in the direction we wanted the music to go.”
The band acknowledge that this lack of tension comes from the simple, familiar way they’ve always worked and the trust they have with each other. The process is as such: Solórzano writes musical and lyrical sketches constantly—in his home studio in Mexico City oron a guitar if he’ s traveling—searching for what he calls “ a loop” that is strong enough to become a song. Once created, the other band members join him in the simple space, with its small mixer, guitars, synths, and stripped-down environment, and there they have learned to fully embrace the journey with what they have at their disposal.
“There has to be something in the loop to get us going, a special moment where you think, ‘ This is the best thing I’ ve ever written!’” Solórzano says. “ Sometimes that only lasts for two days or even two hours. But once I have the loop, the guys come into the studio and we figure out the sequence and parts and we start building the song with what we have. That’ s the cool thing about nowadays, you can find interesting sounds just fucking around with the computer that are strong enough to inspire you to start writing lyrics or the song in its own world—it adds a lot of personality. I like working with an engineer when it’ s all of us together and close to the end of the song, but before that it’ s a very private moment. It’ s very cool to sit down with your pedals and the things you have around you and really study them in full to try to get the best sound out of what you have. That’ s basically the process that’ s given us our sound.”
Another producer who recognized the unique personality of Rey Pila’ s sound was The Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas. Coming across the band’s song “Alexander” and encouraging a mutual friend to film one of their live shows at New York’ s Mercury Lounge for him while he was out of town, Casablancas was quick to woo the band to his own Cult Records label and offered to produce some of their tracks himself. As the band had wrapped recording for The Future Sugar, Casablancas offered to release the album as well as the Coady-produced “Alexander” as a single with their cover of the soft-rock classic “ Lady in Red” as a B-side.
“It was a very awesome experience, and indescribable to get to meet one of your musical heroes and for him to like your band,” Solórzano says.
“We love his music so much that he wasn’t even on our radar,” Velasco admits. “We didn’t know he had a label, it was so out of the blue. It sounds a bit like a fairy tale tobe honest.”
The “Alexander” single was released via Cult in the fall of 2013, and as the band waited for the deal to be sorted for the release of The Future Sugar, which eventually came in 2015 and included three songs re-recorded and produced by Casablancas, they spent time honing their live show on tours with Interpol, The Rentals, and Brandon Flowers. They recognize that the process helped increase their profile as well as their prowess, and that their time on the road enabled them to learn more about what makes them tick while focusing on both sharpening and evolving their sound.
“I don’t think we have ever stopped writing songs,” Velasco says. “Every time we’ rein Mexico, Diego is always in his home studio working and we can’ t wait to join him. Some of the demos for the songs on the new EP came from that time. We always have an arsenal in the back of our heads waiting for the future.”
The four songs collected on the new EP were recorded with Casablancas and co-producer Shawn Everett on the board at New York’ s Red Bull Studios at the end of 2016, and signal a bigger, more focused sound for Rey Pila while rallying around the synth-and-guitar dance pop for which they have become known. Opener “ How Do You Know,” an exhilarating track about making amends with the conscience’ s uncertainties, is readymade for sweaty crowds at festival stages, and “ Ninjas” found its influence from both the beatbox-style sound effects ofan old Nintendo video game as well as Judas Priest. Meanwhile, “ Sunday Games” highlights Diego’ s vocal abilities on top of the band’s ever-tighter riffs, and the EP-ending “ No Man’ s Land” is a song for Solórzano’ s wife replete with a romantic refrain.
“What we’ve learned so far is that less is more,” Solórzano says, equating the smaller number of tracks recorded for each song to the band’ s growing confidence and sense of identity. “I think one of the most important changes on this EP is that we’ re a lot more secure about certain things. We didn’t need to make thousands of tracks; you edit yourself and pick the sound and stick to that with confidence.”
“I feel there is some sort of evolution in this one,” Velasco says. “We’ve really economized; it hits harder and it’s more specialized. The sound is bigger, and Diego’ s vocal range explores new areas in these four songs. We’ re excited; it’ s definitely a step up from The Future Sugar. We already have a nice batch of fresh songs for a new album after this EP. Hopefully we can take this sound to the whole world.”
For Rey Pila, the future is sweet indeed as the band strike a balance in their art and culture to head for the bright lights.
Part Time Punks
PART TIME PUNKS is a club that takes over noted Echo Park live music venue, The Echo on 1822 Sunset, every Sunday night. The night focuses heavily on DIY and Indie vinyl coming out of the U.S., UK and Europe from 1977 to the present: Punk, Post-Punk, Synth-Punk, Synthpop, Minimal Synth, Dark/Cold/Minimal Wave, NDW, Industrial, New Wave, No Wave, C86, Indiepop, Twee, Shoegaze, Baggy and even Krautrock…