By now, it is no secret that Mexicans love
"Moz," as the former Smiths frontman is known by the devout, has inspired legions of Mexican and Mexican American fans with his immigrant story (he is the British son of Irish Catholic parents), his righteous 1950s greaser look and his moody lyrics about love and death and the moral perils of eating animals.
Around Los Angeles, this has inspired Morrissey karaoke nights (a.k.a. "Morriseyoke") in Boyle Heights, an entire theater festival inspired by the British singer's life and lyrics ("Teatro MOZ") and even a Yelp discussion group. There is also an annual convention in Hollywood, the latest of which was held at the Avalon in Hollywood late last month — events that probably wouldn't exist were it not for the ardent support of Moz's Mex fans.
A group of Mexican musicians, however, is out-Moz-ing even the most diehard adherents. Mexrrissey, as the band is called, has translated Morrissey's most venerable songs into Spanish and laced them with Latin beats. Think: a thumping samba drum line at the opening of the Smiths' acerbic flirtation song "Ask." (For the record: it totally works.)
Led by Camilo Lara, the DJ behind the respected electronica outfit Mexican Institute of Sound, the band is bringing its seriously remixed Moz to the Regent in downtown L.A. on Monday for an evening that will marry Manchester melancholia with Mexican charro pants.
"My first record was the first Smiths record," says the Mexico City-based Lara. "I had it when I was 6 years old. I would listen to Sesame Street and Burbujas, a children's album, and then I would listen to Morrissey and Bauhaus. It's part of what I grew up with."
But let's be clear: Mexrrissey is no two-bit cover band.
Lara has teamed up with a shifting lineup of influential Mexican musicians from both sides of the border for the project. This includes Arizona composer and bandleader Sergio Mendoza, of Calexico and Orkesta Mendoza, who helped translate lyrics and compose the new arrangements. (Mendoza is the sort of talent who plays just about every instrument he lays his hands on, from keyboards to percussion to horns.)
The group has also drawn the participation of figures such as singer and producer Jay de la Cueva, Café Tacvba violinist Alejandro Flores, alterna-rocker Chetes and drummer Ricardo Nájera. Also participating is L.A.-based singer-songwriter Ceci Bastida, who last year received wide critical acclaim for her solo album, "La edad de la violencia" ("The Age of Violence").
Together, they are re-imagining some of Morrissey and the Smiths' most iconic tunes. "The Boy With the Thorn in His Side" is infused with a cumbia feel while "Panic" gets a dose of oompa norteño sounds. "International Playboy" — rebranded "International Playgirl," because it is sung by Bastida — has a Herb Alpert/Ray Barreto feel, with a dash of punk in the chorus.
To be sure, the music is an all-over fusion — of pop, rock, New Wave and various Latin styles — not just traditional beats.
"I didn't want to do a postcard of Mexico, like the Mexican government would do a show about Mexico," Lara says. "I just want to give the flavor, so people will understand Mexican-ness in a different way."
Bastida says the project has given her a renewed respect for the lyrical quality of Morrissey's work, as well as its complex musical nature.
"There are some songs that can be quite tricky," she says. "There will be a chord and then a change and when it comes back it comes back to a different chord. There were some songs where we were like, 'Wait, what happened? Doesn't he come back to this?'"
"There is pressure, too," she adds. "We want to be respectful of Morrissey's work. When people are really attached to somebody's work, they love it or hate it when someone does a tribute."
But so far, it seems that #MexMoz (as the band has hashtagged itself) has gotten nothing but love.
The band recently completed a two-week tour through England, during which time they played to rapturous audiences. They completely sold out their show at the 2,000-seat Barbican Theatre in London. And their gig in Manchester also drew the crowds.
"It was incredible," says Andy Wood, founder of Como No, the promotional company that organized the tour. "The Manchester show sold out a week in advance. And you had a great mix: there were some Mexicans from Manchester as well as Morrissey fans from back in the day. You had people singing along in English while the band sang in Spanish. It's kind of been beyond everyone's wildest dreams."
"You had older people, you had younger people," says Bastida of the shows. "And you could tell that people were enjoying it. It felt like a party vibe."
Lara says he is really looking forward to the L.A. performance.
"It was a big challenge for us to play in the U.K. because there is no connection with the language," he explains. "But in California, we're playing with locals. Culturally, the jokes and all these tiny details that make this project very Mexican, the audience will get it. So I think it will be very exciting."
Lara says that he hasn't heard from Morrissey directly about the project, but he's been told that the singer is aware of it.
Playing in Manchester, however, offered an opportunity for a communion of sorts. I happened to reach Lara on the telephone in Manchester, just an hour after Mexrrissey had concluded it's sold-out show.
"I am totally high," he said. "It was magical. Amazing. Like visiting the motherland."
"Mexrrissey: Mexico Goes Morrissey" will take place on Monday at 7:30 p.m. at the Regent; doors open 7 p.m. The lineup will include Camilo Lara, Ceci Bastida, Jay del a Cueva, Ricard Nájera, Sergio Mendoza, Jacob Valenzuela, with a special appearance by Adanovsky. 448 S. Main St., downtown Los Angeles, theregenttheater.com and Facebook.com.
To listen to a couple of Mexrrissey samples, check out the band's Soundcloud page.