Psychotropical Orchestra
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Psychotropical Orchestra

Band Rock Latin


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""Shamanic Jamming and Molecular Manipulation""

Shamanic jamming and molecular manipulation
>>Rooted in rock and Latino rhythms, Montreal’s Psychotropical Orchestra are branching out tobigger ideas and a brighter future. Deathmakes them laugh, their apparel makes them powerful and—watch out—the Invasion Psychotropical is just beginning
by Rupert Bottenberg
This past Saturday, le Divan Orange, a showbar on St-Laurent, caught fire. No, not literally—with all due respect to the clubs at St-Denis and Rachel that went up this past Monday. The fire at Divan Orange was metaphorical, but hot-hot-hot nonetheless.
Flanked by shimmering palm trees and supplemented by a Carmen Miranda-style dancer complete with fruit-basket headgear, the slick and sassy septet Psychotropical Orchestra, decked out in duds that could have come from a Martian version of Las Vegas, let loose a frenzy of snaky cumbia rhythms and Cubano bongo-poppin’, loping reggae grooves and grungy guitar riffs, Afro brass blasts and dubbed-out howls and whoops. The band was launching their new CD, Invasion Psychotropical, from which they drew most of their set list. One notable exception was a new tune, “Pacheco” (a playful pothead variant on pachuco), showing a stronger electro leaning—and boasting an unapologetic Eurodisco breakdown.
You may recall a local act called La Internacional Sonora Calavera (not a hard name to remember, but damn time-consuming to say). Psychotropical Orchestra essentially is that band, with tweaks to the line-up but the same musical trajectory. The core of the band remains singer/electronic doohickey operator Mariano Franco, who hails from Mexico; Panamanian transplant Fernando Pinzón on guitar; drummer Jose Domínguez, from El Salvador; and Chileno bassist Rodrigo Olguín. The quartet share not only common backgrounds in rock music, but also, with each passing day, a greater sense of being Montrealers as much as Latinos.
The new kids are the brass section (Quebecoise Justine Fortin on trumpet and New York’s Nadav Nirenberg on trombone, for whom Karine Borden filled in last Saturday) and French percussionist Julien Pujol, who Pinzón calls “the most Cuban French person I know.” Together, the group are creating a hybrid sound on a Latino foundation, one perfectly primed for fans of Manu Chao or Me Mom & Morgentaler, never to mention the summer festival stages that have begun welcoming them (FrancoFolies and Divers/Cité this week, for starters). The Mirror sat down with Franco and Pinzón to talk about melancholy cowboys, magical T-shirts and mystical moments.
Mirror: Why the name change ?
Mariano Franco: I was concerned about the fact that people didn’t understand our name. La Internacional Sonora Calavera sounded exotic and nice, but it was too long and very culturally narrow, just for Mexicans. It wasn’t just that it was a name in Spanish, because anyone could go and check it out and try to understand what it is, but it was also the meaning of the thing—calavera is not even Latin American but Mexican. Calavera is skeleton, and it has to do with the Day of the Dead in Mexico. At some point, I thought most people wouldn’t understand that.
Fernando Pinzón: We found ourselves explaining it too many times. We even had other Latin Americans saying, “Calavera—that’s, like, death!”
MF: The idea of the Day of the Dead is to celebrate life. People go to the cemetery, where they eat, drink and dance, so they’re celebrating the cycle of life. We wanted to bring that idea into the band, the concept of celebrating life and death, but it was hard. Our drummer, who’s from El Salvador, came in one day and told us that some Latinos thought we were a death metal band!
M: Ironically, you two started on the Montreal music scene with your metal band, Mi Santa Sangre.
MF: We had this thing, ‘We are Latino, we speak Spanish, check out what we can do also!’ But we don’t need to do that anymore, at least not myself—I think I’ve grown up into something else, a Montrealer, and I need people to feel closer to me, and to feel closer to them.
A matter of laughs and death
M: You’ve kept a bit of dark edge, though. Psychotropical Orchestra’s music is cheerful and bright, but you have songs with titles like “Cumbia del Dolor,” “Antes de Morir” and “El Son de la Muerte.”
MF: We were very dramatic, but not anymore. We’re talking about music that we’ve been playing for three years, so now we have to go into something else. At the same time, death is part of our lives, but we don’t talk about it as something dramatic. We actually make fun of it, sometimes. The lyrics for “El Son de la Muerte” are really kind of celebrating it—“I’m gonna be dead and away from you!”
FP: The interesting thing for us, when were writing the songs, was that they’re all upbeat. People are dancing and moving to them, and yet we’re singing about, y’know, all we want to do before we die. It’s a dark theme, but it’s in contrast to the music, which is all about joy. It’s an irony.
MF: “Antes de Morir” isn’t a sad song, really. It’s essentially a psychedelic song. It’s basically the feeling of, y’know, I’m missing so many things by believing that there’s only one reality outside, and by taking mushrooms or meditating or having a mystical moment, or whatever you want to do to get that, you realize that there is something else inside.
FP: The thing with the album is, it’s an exorcism, or more like a catharsis if you wish, but we’re passing on to something else—maybe not totally different, but in a different light.
Soft machismo
M: “Acuérdate” is the most downtempo tune. It has this great Tom Waits vibe, part carnival, part funeral.
MF: That’s actually the most folkloric song we do. It was the first song we wrote, and it’s a folk song, just arranged in another way. It talks about—not dying, but being free again. I guess that’s my theme, being able to be complete, to be yourself and be happy overall. The song says, ‘I always want to cry, but I’d rather cry out of happiness, not sadness.’ It’s inspired by the Mexican movies of the ’50s, the cowboy, or charro, movies. They were sad, but they were getting drunk and picking up girls and singing songs. It’s just that macho thing, but I wanted to take that and give it a little twist—soft macho. We’re like that. We’re always mocking sadness. We shouldn’t be completely just dancing and forgetting all our problems, no, but maybe we should try to see life from another perspective, and maybe we’ll see that a lot of our problems aren’t problems in reality, but more mental obsessions.
FP: It has to have humour in it. It’s how you cope in Latin America. But as we’ve become Montrealers, we’ve had to go through this struggle, and I think, in our cases, this is how we cope.
Wardrobe wizardry
M: One other thing is the outfits. You’re not wearing costumes, but you do dress up, almost outlandishly.
FP: It’s not that we’re trying to dress up like clowns, and going on stage to look funny, but that we’re assuming different characters, different personalities. Because the music is more than just standing there and playing a few notes on the guitar, and people like it or don’t like it. It’s the true experience if we can project a different type of energy. It’s become a very enjoyable thing to look totally normal until you get on stage, where people don’t know it’s you, and when you come down, you can go back to your everyday life. Thinking that we can have this double life is something I really enjoy a lot.
MF: It’s shamanistic, y’know. I’m a shamanistic man, and I really believe that the way you dress gives you power. It has an impact on people, and it gives you power. I guess that’s why soldiers and cops feel so fucking powerful, walking on the streets—because they have the outfits. Shamans used to do that a long time ago—I was really into shamanism at one point—and they had power suits, power T-shirts, anything became a tool of power. It’s magical. So when we come out and have all this stuff, I want people to feel that I’m a magician. The idea of dressing up like that, I feel like that. Remember those shows from ’80s, with the magicians doing crazy stuff on the TV? I feel like that. I feel it’s an act of magic when we’re playing. We’re moving not just the soundwaves but the waves of people, the energy, every atom in the place.
- Aug 01.2007 Vol. 23 No. 6

""Psychotropical Rhythms""

Daniel Côté, Friday August 8, 2008

”You can’t judge a book by its cover”, sang the late Bo Diddley. This principle was illustrated once more yesterday evening in Chicoutimi, at the Psychotropical Orchestra’s show on Racine street as part of the Festival international des Rythmes du monde.

In fact, nobody could imagine that a guy with such an unlikely physique, such as singer and keyboardist Mariano Franco, could exert such an attraction as displayed on the stage adjacent to the Cathedral. Not very tall, bearded and head unintentionally bald, this artist looks more like your usual accountant.

Along with his six accomplices, he delivered a tour de force performance. Even if it was still daylight when the curtains went up, the band didn’t need more than a few minutes, - the duration of a song - to show that it wouldn’t take prisoners. The scene was set with hot beats, incisive guitar strokes and some dance moves that would make you think Franco was possessed by a demon. In an intense kind of genre, it makes you think of Joe Pesci in a Scorcese film, but more sympathetic. This bizarre front man sings hanging from the microphone, spitting out his lyrics and takes the crowd through inexplicable emotions and forfeit. He then twirls, squats and finally jumps like flea. Whether we want or not, we end up surrendering to such solicitude.

On the music side, the band’s name doesn’t deceive. It sounds often Latin, but still makes room for psychedelic Rock, Funk and Electronica. This is all kneaded and delivered to the power of 10 by musicians of undeniable talent. On “Cumbia del Dolor”, for example, the guitar sets the tone, relayed by the horns and an a wicked organ. This song is the one that elicits most of the crowd to move, almost despite themselves. For an hour, Mariano Franco did not let them go.

The party was on, as eloquently demonstrated by trumpet player Justine V-Fortin and trombonist Karine Gordon. They also danced with zest, multiplying their comic choreographies and back to back playing. When we remember that last year the group had to play in a small venue rather than a big stage, due to a violent storm, we are pleased that justice was made. This time it was the good one.

- Le Quotidien, Chicoutimi, Québec


Album: Invasion Psychotropical (Indie, 2007)



2008 Quebec Indie Awards nominees for World Album of the Year, Montreal's Electro-Latin-Rock outfit the Psychotropical Orchestra the Psychotropical Orchestra have been described as a Manu Chao on acid. Their Tropical Rock Groove is a true ecstatic experience where Cumbia, Cha Cha and Mambo are perfectly mixed with Rock, Dance and Elctronica.

Since their beginnings in 2005, the Psychotropical Orchestra have cut their teeth on the road with hundreds of shows in Eastern Canada and Mexico. More recently the band has spread their fire around some prestigious festivals such as the Montreal Jazz Fest 2008, Young & Dundas Square 2008 (Toronto), Festival des Rythmes du Monde 2008 (Saguenay, Quebec), Francofolies 2007 (Montreal) and many more. Their boundless and charismatic on-stage energy has put them at the forefront of the modern Latin Rock scene in Canada.

In 2007 they released their independently produced debut album Invasion Psychotropical, earning them a World Album of the Year nomination at the Quebec Indie Music Awards 2008. The album was lunched along with their first music video for the single Me Quedo Bailando. In 2009 the band will release their sophomore album.