Musicians from Guadalajara and Seattle have struck up a relationship that has resulted in bands in each city traveling to the other to perform.
Seattle and Guadalajara’s musical connection started through the admiration of a standard issue piece of rock ’n’ roll clothing.
“We were at a mescal bar in Guadalajara and there was this guy in this leather jacket,” Guadalajaran musician Vicco Gonzalez said about the meeting in 2013. “It was so cool — like aesthetically, it was just buttons and a nice dark color — so my friend started talking to the guy who was wearing it. The guy was named Lars [Swenson], he was from Seattle and played in the band Bread & Butter.”
The two became fast friends, but the connection was somewhat lost until about a year later, when Gonzalez and his bandmate Benjamin Zarate headed north from Mexico and needed a gig in Seattle with their band at the time, Dorotheo.
“We were invited to tour with our old band to California and Portland by some other [American] friends,” said Gonzalez. “So, we thought, why don’t we go up to Seattle to see Lars, too?”
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With Swenson’s help, the group got booked at Northwest Psych Fest, the annual music festival held at Ballard’s Sunset Tavern. There, they met festival organizer Nick Arthur and heard from some of Seattle’s biggest talent in “creative,” boundary-pushing music, bands like Cabana, Corespondents and Diminished Men.
“My mind was blown. We loved the seek of originality and how they were pushing for new sounds,” said Zarate, “it was different than what we’d heard in L.A. and the Bay Area. There are master musicians here in Seattle.”
The relationship between the colorful city in central Mexico and Seattle makes sense. Both cities are the cultural centers of their states. Both are teeming with soccer fans and both have thriving underground rock-music scenes.
During the past month, Olie Eshleman of Corespondents and other hosts like Kieran Harrison, Annie Ford and Gabe Seaver have booked Gonzalez and Zarate’s band, Arango, to play all over the region, including Port Townsend, Olympia and Salem, Oregon. They’ve also downed ample drink and shared the best South American food in town: La Cabaña and Mendoza’s Mexican Mercada that Zarate says, “tastes like home.”
The couches of musicians across Seattle this summer were occupied by three Guadalajaran bands, 12 people total. Aside from Arango, there are the ambient surf-rockers of Kulkulkan, and the all-woman band Neptuna, defined by Carolina Tene’s space-age, angular guitar playing.
Gonzalez and Zarate, who returned home Tuesday, have stayed with Eshleman multiple times, using his engineering expertise and basement recording equipment to make records for free with their new project, Arango.
Most recently, they recorded an experimental Latin album called “El Desvanecido,” a poignant blend of traditional rhythmic bossa and effected, spacey melodies that prominently features Seattle musicians like the Corespondents’ guitarist Doug Arney and drummer Dave Abrahamson of Diminished Men. “El Desvanecido” captures a side of Guadalajara, and for that matter Seattle, one couldn’t get from a postcard.
“I feel like in Guadalajara, if we didn’t know these guys, I wouldn’t have seen a way in,” said Eshleman. “But these guys are like the heart of the scene that I liked there. There’s a lot of really good psych and space rock, but then, some stuff … is completely different and embraces more traditional Latin styles of music like Cumbia.”
Eshleman first visited Guadalajara in 2015 and describes a place not unlike Seattle — with temperate weather, vibrant plants and street art, and a mix of dive-y and upscale venues that service a supportive, varietal D.I.Y. music community. Immediately, he felt a connection and made plans to bring Corespondents through. They made it happen in 2016.
“I remember a gig [Corespondents] had during the Feria San Marcos in Aguascalientes [near Guadalajara], where we were walking through narrow streets and there were bands all around us. There were stages everywhere. We walked into ‘Uma Guma Pub’ for our gig and found out the owner used to live in Seattle, he had ’90s grunge posters up all over and was super happy to have us. We played, and just when we thought the night is over, we walked out and found easily 20,000 people in the street. It’s 1 a.m. and there are bands on every corner. We just partied until dawn,” said Eshleman, who plans to return to Mexico with Corespondents in the spring.
Despite the Trump administration’s stance on immigration and tough talk toward Mexico, Gonzalez says they aren’t afraid as long as they know their Seattle friends are waiting for them across the border. Eshleman is similarly undeterred. In fact, he has been looking into grant programs that would allow them to continue their exchange for some time.
“The political climate just reinforced what I already thought about all this. That rather than a wall, there really shouldn’t even be a border at all,” said Eshleman. This sort of cross-cultural kinship and musical appreciation, they assert, is more essential now, than ever.