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Their records have gone platinum, they are currently nominated for three Latin Grammys, and have played sold out shows for years. Yet Mexico's Zoé have somehow stayed out of the limelight in the United States—partially because only one of their three albums has been released in the U.S. and it is nearly impossible to find. If you're fortunate, Amoeba might have a single copy on hand. Luckily, they do tour California, Texas, New York and a few other areas rather frequently. Ground Control managed to catch the band on their latest tour through California to interview drummer Rodrigo Guardiola and vocalist León Larregui.
Ground Control: Can you describe to our readers what Zoé is like musically?
Zoé: Another journalist interviewing us gave us his ideas on the sound of the band and he described it as, “a rock n' roll and pop mix with members who are never afraid to experiment.” I think that definition sounds right. We are always mixing old sounds and new styles of music such as electronic. Our influences are also a mix of old and new, like Zeppelin, Radiohead, 80s music, Chemical Brothers. Even our equipment is varied so we can experiment with different sounds. We use computers and even older analog machines, and then, of course, the standard rock instruments.
GC: Tell us about your latest album, Memo Rex Commander y El Corazón Atómico de La Vía Láctea.
Zoé: It's our first album that has been released in the U.S. We have three other releases in Mexico. The album was actually recorded in Texas at the Sonic Ranch. It was our first experience using a really hi-tech recording studio, so I think we were able to present our best work. It took us about one-and-half years to write the album and then three months for preproduction, recording and mixing. Our album doesn't necessarily have a spiritual message, but the subject matter definitely is spiritual. Maybe about the search for God—not in a religious way though. There is this character on the cover of the album, and I guess we kind of discuss his journey through his own universe of the heart and mind. The universe can be as big or small as you want it—this really sounds like bullshit, but if you analyze it that's what you get, I guess. Anyway, the album is divided into two parts, A and B. A is the beginning of the journey so it is happier, and lighter. Part B switches to a more morose sound until the final song, "Paz," which is Spanish for peace, where the end of the journey has been reached so it is once again calm and lighter.
GC: What is the songwriting process like?
Zoé: We all work together. Sometimes we first come up with a melody, other times lyrics come first. On all of our albums we have songs in both English and Spanish. We don't purposefully write the songs in English to try and appeal to a larger audience, Some of the songs just sound better that way. Maybe the next single we release in the U.S. will be in English though just because that will be more accessible to the people here. But we're not just going to switch to English and forget all about songwriting in Spanish. As for the subject matter, a lot of our songs are about the good and bad sides of love, and there are also a lot of science fiction elements to the lyrics. I [Leon] read Scientific American so maybe I get some inspiration from there. I just find it really interesting, you know, stars, space, the universe...
GC: Do you think that because your lyrics are in Spanish you have a much harder time reaching the audience in the US?
Zoé: Well, yeah. It's hard to completely appreciate a song when you don't understand what is being said. A lot of major radio stations only play songs in English so people don't find out about us. There are still bands from other countries that have managed to have success in the U.S. such as Sigur Ros. We would like to reach more people and we mainly do that by playing shows. We don't have a lot of publicity campaigns to commercialize our album. That's how we started out in Mexico and it worked for us, so we are comfortable with that.