Interview: The creative genius that is Mexican Institute of Sound

Camilo Lara, also known as Mexican Institute of Sound (M.I.S.), does not like taking things slowly. Very much like his music, Lara is a mix of many worlds. The Mexico City-based producer and DJ has joined the Nacional Records family, has three full-length albums and two EP’s to call his own, plus outside projects like working with producer Money Mark and even—how does he do it?—found time to write a novel. He’s been featured in the video game FIFA 2008 and Showtime favorite, Californication. The man is busy. Busy with work and busy with his art. Most importantly, he’s busy creating, which he says is his biggest passion. I sat down with M.I.S. during South By Southwest to talk business.

Talk to me about the work you did as VP for EMI and being Mexican Institute of Sound.

Lara: Well, I’ve always been working in the music business. What I do, they’re two totally different things. One is about selling music, and the other one is creating music. Basically those two things live together and don’t compete. I love both. I’ve been working with artists for a long time, since I was, like, seventeen. I enjoy working with people I respect, and I also enjoy making my own music. So I’m happy and really thankful to be able to do both.

How do you choose the sounds you use? From where do you draw your inspiration?

Lara: What I do is basically try to put all the things that inspire me in one place. I don’t judge. I’m not racist with music. I don’t discriminate any rhythm. So, I think it’s possible to put cumbia in the same place as ska or punk rock or electronica, and I think I don’t even do it consciously. I just do it, and at the end of the day if you listen to the music, you might think, “Oh, he put hip hop with rock,” but I don’t do it consciously.

Do you have outside influences?

Lara: Each record I have done has been inspired by something else. The first record was inspired by Juan Rulfo, a Mexican poet and writer. The second one was inspired by Roberto Bolaño, a Chilean writer and the third by Julio Cortazar’s Rayuela, which in English is “Hopscotch.” It’s about the random idea of connections with the elements. So, I get an obsession with these kinds of writers, and after that I start building whatever I want. I released an EP called Suave Patria not so long ago, and that was inspired by the Mexican Bicentennial. There was a parade and I did the music. I worked on the idea of the reconception of independence and revolution in México through music and through art.

How do you think the reception of your music differs in México and other places?

Lara: I think in México, my music is finally happening. It took me a while to finally find a place where I belong, because the thing with my music is that a lot of people tell me I do cumbia, but when I try to work with the cumbia players, they tell me I’m all about rock. Then with rock players, they say I do electronic music when I don’t do electronic music. So I’ve been somewhere in the middle, and after a while I guess they got tired of rejecting me, and now they just admit that I exist. That’s totally different from other countries. For example, in Spain and in France, they just accept I do something that’s not exactly pure, not one element. They accept it and they just take it.

What’s the purpose of your music? Are you sending a message with your songs, or is it just party music?

Lara: What I do with my music is basically for myself. I never expected to release my own music, and suddenly a label in Spain really pushed me to release it. So after that, I decided to do it. I found a band to make it happen, and I guess now I realize I’ve been doing the process backwards. Because I never, you know, started with a band in my garage, then did a demo and then did a record. Instead, I did my record first, then put my band in my garage. I did everything backwards. So I never had any expectations. I just released the record, and thought, “Well, if it happens, it happens.” I had this bunch of music that was just for myself, and I never expected to release it. So now that it’s grown so much and I have done things that I never expected, I keep on with the same philosophy. If it gets released outside, if I go play somewhere else, it’s amazing and I have the most fun doing it, but I keep my expectations really low and I think it’s fun and I do music—not for the fun of it—but because I need to keep on creating. I’m obsessed with creating stuff. I wrote a novel, and I hope I can release it in the next year.

What’s the title of the novel?

Lara: It’s called E-mails to Myself. It’s about a guy that’s writing an autobiographical novel. So I have this novel, an art project I’m doing with Money Mark from The Beastie Boys, so I like to create. My mission in life is to keep building stuff, it doesn’t matter if it works or it doesn’t work, I like to sign bands, to work on a label, to release records, to put out music. So I guess some people are gifted with doing connections, and my gift, I guess, is to push things. To make them happen.

Tell me about your new music coming out. What made this different from your past work?

Lara: I think it’s coming out in September, and it’s a record that is based on intellectuality and what that word can mean to different people. Funnily enough, it’s more of a punk record, it has more of a claw to it, it’s more wild. Less singing, more instrumental. I will release a single from it in the next month or so.

Have you decided on a name?

Lara: No, not yet.

Tell me about your record collection. Why does everyone talk about your record collection? I wanna know.

Lara: I don’t know! But I wanna get rid of it, I have so much. I needed surgery on my back because I’m always carrying around so much vinyl. I probably have around 45,000 vinyls. It’s insane and I always think of giving them away to a public institution or something. But I haven’t found a place, so I still have this huge collection. I’m obsessed with listening to music, but I’m not a collector. I don’t really mind keeping it, I just want to listen to it all the time. So it’s funny, because I have so many objects which take up so much space in my house, and I already listened to them. Now they’re just objects.

How do you see the musical scene in México?

Lara: Super exciting. There is a big scene, especially, and always, in Monterrey and in Mexico City. But in Monterrey, they just give birth to the projects, and then in Mexico City they get recognition and credibility. So Mexico City is a big selector of that kind of music. There’s a lot of people doing amazing things. I think it’s the most exciting time for music in a while. I see a lot of artists that I love, who are really innovative. I hope that translates outside of México, because at the moment I think México’s in a kind of capsule, and it will eventually break.

What do you think the Mexican personality or identity is in the music world?

Lara: I think what people see are only a few things like Kinky, or Nortec or Silverio, or Los De Abajo. And that’s it, and I guess there’s way more than that.

What was your goal in coming to South By Southwest this year?

Lara: The first time I came to Southby was with Plastilina Mosh and Control Machete, back in the ‘90s, when life was easier. And I guess it hasn’t changed that much in the way that you come here to find someone who believes. If you find someone who believes in your music, or by touring, you connect with people. And it’s a chain of believers that makes your music travel. So I’m in a mission to find those believers.

What’s your favorite Latin band to watch right now?

Lara: She’s A Tease, from Monterrey, México. They’re this bunch of geeky guys that dress funny and they rock. They have beautiful songs, and both videos [they’ve released] are amazing. I guess they have a little bit of what México is right now, it’s pretty unique and good, and I hope these guys have a lot of success in other countries.

What are your plans for 2011?

Lara: I’m going to tour a lot. A lot of Europe, which I haven’t done much before. I’m releasing the record, with a side project called “Un Segundo” with a bunch of featured artists, and I guess that’s more than enough.

Eugenia Vela

Writer РEugenia Vela was born and raised in Monterrey, M̩xico, with the frustrated ambition of becoming a writer. Now in her 20s, she is finishing her degree in journalism at the University of Texas at Austin and looking for new adventures around the Live Music Capital of the World. She is in love with words, fashion, Steven Tyler, early Dylan, late Beatles and anything Jack Nicholson-, Johnny Depp- and Cameron Crowe-related.

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