Monte Negro shrugs off its forerunner status

For any new band, getting pegged early on as being at the forefront of an important underground movement can quickly overshadow the music itself.

For a couple of immigrant brothers living in Los Angeles, the idea that their bilingual, multicultural rock band, Monte Negro, has become the angst-as-art soundtrack for the social unrest brewing among first-generation Mexican Americans is both a blessing and a curse.

“These things happen organically, but if you get attached to a quote-unquote movement it becomes very dangerous, because people start putting you in that mould and, before you know it, you are the poster boy for this or that,” explains Monte Negro lead singer Jesus Joaquin Rodriguez, who prefers the stage moniker Kinski, on a cellphone from San Francisco.

“If you position yourself as a freethinker and an unconventional artist from the beginning, then people just assume that what you’re doing is cool, you know? That’s why I don’t like movements, because suddenly there can be a code, a uniform, a haircut, when it should be about music, not a movement or a look.”

With a loyal following built up in Los Angeles over the past decade thanks to a handful of independent releases, the boys in Monte Negro—including bassist and Kinski’s brother Rodax Rodriguez, guitarist Jason Li Shing, and drummer Xavier Lopez—are set to release their first major-label disc, Cicatrix, next month.

The songs on the disc hum with the sounds of the band’s faves (which range from Bob Marley to Bob Dylan, the Cure to the Sex Pistols, Jane’s Addiction to the Clash) as Kinski switches effortlessly between English and Spanish. For Kinski, the idea that the band is getting so much hype simply for singing in more than one language is absurd.

“I understand that the bilingual comments are necessary because people need a reference, but there’s so much multicultural bullshit surrounding us—I’m like, ”˜Give me a break.’ I mean, fuck, my university studies were in Islamic and Chinese, so that’s how Latino I am,” says the singer, who has a master’s degree in art history from UCLA.

“Hopefully, people coming to see us play live will realize that it is more than just this Latino bilingual thing. It was never planned that way—it was born out of necessity. It’s like you’re a woman, you have a different organ—we are different, but we’re similar. People need to stop trying to explain the difference. It’s good to be introspective, but please just sit down and listen to the music.”

Monte Negro plays Pemberton Festival on Friday (July 25).