At any given Morrissey or Smiths party, it's likely that you'll spot dudes sporting pompadours and gals bedecked in retro-swing gear, drunkards in a haze and lovers entwined—all standard fixtures of a gathering of sorts. But in, say, Southern California, it's also unavoidable to find a sea of brown faces in the crowd, hordes of Latinxs and Mexicans channeling their die-hard crush for Moz.
Since the mid-aughts, it's been well documented that Mexicans, particularly Mexican-Americans, have a supposedly strange obsession for The Smiths and the band's bequiffed frontman. Anglo media treated the fandom like an offbeat peculiarity, and numerous outlets gawked at the idea—as if teenage angst and indie pop were exclusively a white thing.
"Most reporters are not either Latinos or Smiths fans. I guess you need to be both to understand and try to explain the phenomenon," muses M.I.S. member Camilo Lara, who cofounded Mexrrissey and serves as the band's DJ and producer.
"There's a connection that is hard to explain. You just feel it," explains Ceci Bastida on the Mexican/Morrissey anomaly. Bastida, an alum of the acclaimed punk band Tijuana No!, shares keyboard and vocal duties for Mexrrissey, the indie charro-clad supergroup that formed in 2015 and penned a charming love letter for Moz on last year's mariachi-inflected No Manchester. The album became a breakout hit, sweeping the blogosphere, landing on several year-end lists, and even earning praise from the man himself. "These songs were the soundtrack of my teenage years," she adds. Bastida, who is originally from Tijuana and is now based in LA, speaks for many of her Mexican and Chicano comrades.
Commonalities between Mexicans (native, first-, second-, third gen) and the Manchester icon aren't too difficult to unravel. For one, Chicano culture has been steeped in a quiff-sporting rockabilly aesthetic since the time of the Zoot Suits, a look on par with Morrissey swagger. Then there's our infatuation, which Lara points to, for all things melodrama, extending far beyond the cliché of the telenovela; it's a kind of sensationalism that shares qualities with Britain's affinity for bleak humor. And when it comes to homegrown sounds, look no further than the ardorous rancheras of Vicente Fernandez or the hypersensitive agony of Juan Gabriel's love ballads, and yes, the sorrowful jangle-pop of The Smiths and their wistful crooner. All sounds we heartedly seek for our self-pitying rampages.
"Moz songs are universal," Lara says, describing them as "pop tunes that can be reinvented in any genre." Beyond stylistic grounds, the similarities are culturally deeply rooted. Steven Patrick Morrissey was born to a family of Irish immigrants, and he teetered between the polarities of UK and Ireland, which led him to grow up feeling like an outsider. He channeled his loner inhibitions through melancholy pop. That's quite a familiar scenario for Mexicans, immigrants, and Chicanos encountering the dynamic between the two cultures of Mexico and the US. Emerging from all over Mexico and heavily Mexican US cities, the members of Mexrrissey were unified on their appreciation of these cultural dichotomies.
It all started when Lara's creative wanderlust from childhood ("I grew up listening to Viva Hate. It was the very first and only CD I owned, and I listened over and over," he says) started kicking into action well into adulthood. Somewhere in the mid 10s, he recruited bandleader, co-founder Sergio Mendoza (Calexico, Orkesta Mendoza) to work out the arrangements of what would become their debut. Between them both, they wrote out the Spanish translations of the lyrics.
"Camilo wanted [the lyrics] to be more hip and I was being more of a purist, saying, 'No, we have to respect the vocal patterns.' That's why I love Morrissey because the vocal patterns are in beautiful waves. I think we balanced it out right," says Mendoza, a Sonora, Mexico-bred, Tucson, Arizona-based melomaniac. "Camilo asked, 'who do you want to work with?' I said Chetes. He's one of my favorites and I love his voice so I asked Camilo to bring him on."
With Monterrey powerhouse Chetes of Zurdok fame onboard as snarling vocalist—on top of Lara, Bastida, and Mendoza—they enlisted bassist/crooner Jay de la Cueva of Moderatto and Titán, veteran violinist Alejandro Flores (frequent Café Tacvba collaborator), trumpet player Alex González of Twin Tones, Chilean-Mexican multi-hyphenate Adanowsky as growler/guitarist, Los De Abajo's Líber Terán as wailer/guitarist, and drummer Ricardo Nájera of Furland—all underground heroes who are continually redefining the global Latin alternative sound in their own right.
"I don't see this as a tribute band," Lara says. "All the band members have very solid projects, and we just get together from time to time to reimagine Moz songs." He and Bastida both pointed to "How Soon Is Now?" as their favorite Moz song. "Whenever I listen to it, I'm still surprised by the arrangements and lyrics," Bastida says.
On their fey renditions, Mexrrissey make the aforementioned cultural connections clearer. They boast their prowess of wordplay, juggling clever puns and Mexican slang with Morrissey's rapier wit and wickedly dismal viewpoints. Then there's the regional Mexican music integration, which is surprisingly seamless, proving that mariachi-style brass can do wonders for the jangle pop of the set's patron saint. The power of the combination can be seen on songs like "Entre Más Me Ignoras, Más Cerca Estaré" ("The More You Ignore Me, the Closer I Get"), which Noisey is premiering the video for below.
"The music is fun but it's also done with incredible love and respect,"" says Bastida. "We've pulled these songs apart and put them back together in what felt organic to us." That hasn't always gone over perfectly with die-hard Smiths fans—"Mexicans in Mexico think we are the Antichrist since we mess with Mexico and with Moz," Lara says—but neither did Morrissey himself. These charming men and woman are building solidarity with sad girls, immigrants, loners, and outsiders everywhere.
"The reaction has been crazy," Lara adds. "There was no way we could have expected that. We wrote a love letter for the Moz in Spanish, with Mexican flava." Órale, Mexrrissey, Órale.
If you're in New York, Mexrrissey plays Brooklyn Bowl tonight, May 5. Find more info here.
Isabela Raygoza is a freelance writer. Follow her on Twitter.