Monte Negro rocks out

In Arts & Entertainment, Music
Photo by William Camargo / Daily Titan

Rocks catapulted through the air striking those onstage as a bloodthirsty crowd shouted, rejecting the first three bands that made unsuccessful attempts at a music festival in Texcoco, Mexico. As a band in a new territory, Monte Negro was poised to perform as fear coursed through their veins. This time, however, the crowd listened.

It has been two years since Monte Negro’s (black mountain in Spanish) formidable encounter in Mexico. Hailing from Los Angeles, the bilingual alternative rock band has been together for 10 years, forming in high school with its key members: Kinski Gallo, 28, vocals; Jason Li-Shing, 28, guitar; and Rodax Rodriguez, 30, bass.

Monte Negro has enjoyed success, becoming known to the local press as the “Latin Red Hot Chili Peppers.” The band has traveled around the world, touring with Argentine rock trio, Enanitos Verdes, pioneering rock en Español band, Café Tacuba and Gwen Stefani. They released three albums, signed to Sony and left the major label to form their own, Feed the Hungry Records.

“Everyone who’s successful has to follow their own path, at least for music,” said Rodriguez, whose shy demeanor is thinly veiled, revealing a much brighter spirit with a constant smile.

The band has gone through several transformations as punk bands Anima and Madrepore with a revolving door of drummers, but the band today draws influence from salsa, cumbia, reggae, ska, bachata and electronica.

“It’s rock ‘n’ roll with a splash of eclecticism. I would say that’s pretty on the money. In fact, I hardly ever listen to rock ‘n’ roll anymore. Rock ‘n’ roll is dead, girlfriend,” said Gallo.

Underneath the dense foliage surrounding the quaint Bricks and Scones café on Larchmont Boulevard in Los Angeles, Gallo sat sipping his soy latte. A mop of brown, scruffy hair, heavily tattooed arms, sunglasses, skinny jeans and colorful Asics, Gallo looks the part of any musician. With a name like Kinski Gallo, it was inevitable he would be a rock star.

“He’s very talented, very quirky. I almost feel like he’s in a different world. He really challenges me to write things I wouldn’t normally write,” said the shaggy-haired Li-Shing.

“He’s very musical even though he never went to school for music. He’s better than me,” Rodriguez said with a laugh.

Gallo remarked that as a musician he tries to explore things people would not normally want to talk about, which are reflective in the electronic/new wave-tinged album Cosmic Twins, their third from the studio.

“A lot of inspiration comes from books because half of the time you can only read or write so much. I always try to read about other lives and sort of live vicariously through them. You end up kind of inventing stories in your head to have enough material to write. How many love songs can you write?” Gallo asked.

Cosmic Twins is a double album centering on the inner balance present within everyone and the universe.

“I think you can find it in different elements of your life. But you’re always intertwined to certain things. It also comes from embracing both elements of masculinity and femininity within you,” Gallo said.

The dichotomy of masculinity and femininity is something that is taboo in their culture, according to Gallo. A man can’t be seen as feminine, otherwise he’s seen as weak or gay. The same goes for women, which is ironic as Gallo believes women are the strongest because they give birth.

“I think if you encounter the balance then you’ll be OK, and maybe a cosmic twin is someone who comes to a balance— a balanced person who accepts everything and sort of takes it as it is,” Gallo said.

Gallo’s own rapt perceptions come from his extensive travels, which influence his daily life and writing. Gallo wrote Monte Negro’s first album, Cicatrix, while living in Paris for six months. Gallo has also lived in Mexico and Barcelona.

“I like to go places where I don’t speak the language because to me the language becomes music,” Gallo said.

Language plays a key role in Monte Negro, taking care not to compromise their music to mainstream trends. Instead, Monte Negro carves their own niche as Gallo, who serves as the band’s songwriter, blends English and Spanish into his lyrics.

“In my case, I made a very profound, conscious effort to not be the typical Latino who comes to the U.S. and tends to forget its roots, its culture. I made a very conscious effort to continue writing and reading in Spanish, because once you go to a university you read so much in English and you adapt so easily that it’s very easy to forget. You end up being one of those people who doesn’t speak Spanish well or English well. It’s kind of sad. It’s a conscious choice, but I also think it’s an evolution of humanity,” Gallo said.

Growing up Mexican-American, it was inevitable for both cultures to collide and irrevocably play a role in everything Gallo does.

“I think it’s very innovative how he makes his sounds to include a Latin style but also to have a indie pop-rock sound. He’s very creative, sweet and caring. His thoughts are very intense. It’s very cerebral to have a conversation with him,” said Efren Delgado, 31, a business marketing alumnus who does the band’s hair and makeup.

Gallo’s need to be creative is evident in other aspects of his life. Gallo graduated from UCLA with a master’s degree in art history. Besides writing, Gallo has a passion for film, having directed a few things, and enjoys making sculptures, mixed media art and painting.

Of course, Gallo’s artistry is best reflected in Monte Negro. When the band performed at the TSU Underground Pub Thursday, Gallo’s magnetic presence captured the audience and even attracted passers-by.

Li-Shing meticulously strummed as Rodriguez provided groovy bass lines to songs from Cosmic Twins, as well as their well-known staple, “Give Me Love,” and covers of MGMT’s “Kids” and the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army.” Gallo ambled about the stage, eyes closed, often dancing frenetically and singing with earnest need.

“I believe he has the most important aspect of being the frontman of a band, which is being charismatic,” said Isamu Sonoyama, 24, a radio-TV-film alumnus who will be their sound engineer on their upcoming tour.

Monte Negro will tour for the next three weeks around the U.S. and Mexico and will continue another extensive tour with Mexican alternative psychedelic band Zoe.

Monte Negro knows it’s not easy being musicians, but they would rather be on the road doing what they love.

“If I died today, it’d be okay. You got to live your life doing what you love, otherwise it will eat you away … so go ahead, shoot me,” Gallo said jokingly.

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