I’ve known of Mexican deathgrind metal band, Brujeria since I was a kid. Their debut record – Matando Güeros – came out in 1993, 12-year-old me found it in my local shopping centre record store on the shelf in the metal section, the cover was totally blacked out, it just had the band name written on it, on a little sticker. I knew what ‘Brujeria’ meant ’cause my mum had told me stories of shamans, witches and witchcraft as a kid; I was curious to know what this CD was, so I opened the cover to find the real cover photo… so brutal, I couldn’t comprehend it as even being real… as a kid, I read a lot of true crime mags with my mum so I was used to seeing grizzly death photos, but this one blew my mind! I showed my mum, who was with me, and I remember her being as fascinated as I was… she had a stomach of steel, not much phased her ever, the strongest woman I’ve ever known, bless her soul.
Fast-forward to 2016 and Brujeria have just released their first full-length album in 16 years, Pocho Aztlán. I recently called frontman, Juan Brujo, to chat about it.
When did you first hear the word ‘brujeria’?
JUAN BRUJO: Oh god, it was probably when my parents would yell it out when I was a kid, like ‘oh this is because of brujeria!’ you know when something goes wrong, you have to blame it on something! [laughs]. They would always blame brujeria or something like that; it’s like a curse word.
The title of your new record is, Pocho Aztlán. I know that it translate to “wasted promise land” and that Aztlán is a fabled ancestral home of the Aztecs, while ‘pocho’ is a term used by some Mexicans to describe Mexican-Americans.
JB: Right! Right, you got it. If you’re Mexican and you’re born in the United States, right away the Americans hate you, like Donald Trump, they’re like, ‘go back to Mexico you don’t belong here!’ Then we go to Mexico and because we’re born over here, the Mexican people start going ‘you’re pocho, you’re wasted, you’re trash! Go back to where you were born!’ They don’t want us in Mexico so they call us that bad word. To me, it’s like, us pochos here in the States, are looking for our promised land ‘cause we don’t have any land to call our own; they don’t want us here, they don’t want us in Mexico—we’re looking for our own promised land and we’ll see where we will find it.
I’ve been a long-time fan of your band, since high school. I remember reading in an old interview, you commented that playing music helps you to break down those barriers…
JB: The music helps make me feel better first of all, getting into the studio and yelling out these things. This guy called Pete Wilson came along, which was the governor of California, I met him face-to-face, that really inspired me to get into the studio and talk about how he is and who he is. That one [song], was the first time I felt like I had some kind of political thing to put out there and to express it in a political way. That was important to get out, because he really was a bad guy. Now it’s Donald Trump, he’s a hundred times worse than Pete Wilson was. I think I might be more inspired to go the more political route again soon if he wins.
So, you’re inspired to write by real things that happen?
JB: All songs are about things that do happen or that will be. All our songs are telling stories, of crossing the border, of drug deals, immigration—these are things we see or hear about every day. A lot of them are true stories. It’s always like a little history lesson or predicting the future kind of thing.
This is the first time that Brujeria have recorded digitally, previously you’ve recorded on an 8-track. You once mentioned that your previous releases sounded really primitive and said it worked to your advantage because it was like “a really crazy-sounding bunch of Mexican guys on a farm somewhere”; how do you think digital makes you sound?
JB: It makes us sound like a band [laughs] because before we’d get together – it’s hard to get everybody together because everyone has different bands, they got popular and really busy – when we got together for the old records we’d have six days to write and record, and finish it in about 6-7 days while everyone’s there. That’s why you hear the old record as dirty sounding with mistakes, they’re not cleaned up, they were just as is and went out like that—that worked. It did sound like it was done on a ranch last minute, but that sounded all right. That old equipment and old studios really hit it on the head. Now that we had a lot of time to do the new record, the old way didn’t work. If you try to record it dirty like our old records, it doesn’t work; it just has to come out that way, if you try for it, it doesn’t work. We had to do it over a few times, because we couldn’t get together, it was, I’ll email you tracks, I’ll email you vocals, back and forth like that. It was like putting a puzzle together. On digital I guess it’s easier to do, you couldn’t do that before; with digital, you can add all the pieces together. I think it ended up sounding good, it’s a nice clean version of Brujeria.
I really love Shane [Embury]’s programmed drums and Gaby [Dominguez]’s vocals in the mix. When I listen to it, especially the intro, it sounds cinematic and I feel like I am being taken on a journey.
JB: [Laughs] Yes! It’s a bunch of stories put together. The intro of the album is in an Indian language called, Nahuatl. It’s the old Aztec Indian language, it’s not even Spanish. People will have a hard time translating that one [laughs].
Could you translate a little for me please?
JB: It’s talking about the pochos not having their own land, like ‘we don’t have our land, we don’t have our land’. You’ll have to find an Indian to translate the rest of it for you though [laughs]. With Google now it’s like, oh I can translate something, so we were like, all right then let’s try this one [laughs]. So it starts like that and it tells the whole story of how it started with immigration, it ends with the religion prophecy voices at the end of the album.
What’s your favourite story on the record?
JB: My favourite is a real one, ‘Isla De La Fantasia’ which means Fantasy Island, it was an old television program here in the States. Fantasy Island was about how you go to some island and a guy in a fancy suit grants your wish for $50,000 or whatever; our story, a bunch of my friends that are lawyers were fishing in a boat off the coast, all of a sudden a small plane flew over, they were like, what is it doing? It turned around come back and dumps a big package into the water. They pulled the package up into the boat and it was 100 pounds of cocaine! They’re all looking at it going, oh my god what is this?! What are we going to do with this, they’re going to come back and kill us! One guy was like, oh it’s my dream, let’s keep it! [laughs]. All the other lawyers looked at him and were like, what?! They ended up throwing it overboard and running away as fast as they could. In our song though they end up getting killed, they came back and killed them, just to add a little drama to the song. It’s a true story though that the plane dumped off the coke. It’s funny that one guy said it was his dream come true, our song has an unhappy ending though. It’s my favourite storytelling on this record. You have to have some fun songs in there.
It’s like, ze plane! Ze plane!
JB: [Laughs] Yes! That’s it, you exactly get it, ze plane! Ze plane! The guy’s wish was to have a bunch of cocaine and it landed right there!
Pocho Aztlán is being released on Mexican Independence Day.
JB: Yes, that’s right, that’s today!
Why did you choose this date? How is it significant to you?
JB: It just adds a little flavour to it, because Independence Day at midnight everyone gets together and yells ‘Viva! Mexico!’ They’re all yelling, ‘long live Mexico!’ It would be good to be listening to Brujeria music at the same time.
What’s your favourite thing about Mexican culture?
JB: It’s a party time! When you get Mexicans partying, they party! Anything goes, it’s non-stop, anything goes—it’s all good. That’s the best thing, there’s no rules when it comes to party time in Mexico. It might make me look like a bad guy but, it’s my favourite part of the culture. Plus, people are nice to you, they’re more laid back than over here in the States where you’ve got like Donald Trump type guys making everybody hate you. It’s a lot easier to live over there.
I’ve found that to be true when I go to Mexico, I love the celebration of everything, of life, death, everything is celebrate.
JB: Yes! I thought celebrating in Mexico was full on, but celebrating in Brazil they celebrate like every other day [laughs]. I thought Mexico was bad, but compared to other South American countries they’re average. It’s a good thing though, like, celebrate this, YEAH! Also, to add to that, in the Unites States there’s Cinco de Mayo day – a battle that the Mexican’s won against Spain on the 5th of May – in Mexico no one cares but over here in the States, it’s a big thing, it’s like a U.S. holiday now [laughs]. They put beer on sale, people have days off and it’s like the equivalent of St. Patrick’s Day [laughs].
On the new record you do your take on the Dead Kennedys song ‘California Über Alles’ your version is ‘California Über Aztlan’; what inspired that?
JB: It was our governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. In the Dead Kennedys song it was the governor back then, Jerry Brown; they wrote the song about the government being Nazis in California. So here comes Schwarzenegger with Pete Wilson as his campaign manager, Pete Wilson is not a friend of ours, Arnold started pushing the big Pete thing and then he ends up getting his Mexican maid pregnant and having a kid with her. It was pretty funny to us, so we did that song. We did it in Spanish because we thought Spanish speaking people would understand it better and that we were talking about the governor and his problems. I hope Jello likes it! [laughs].
You guys put out releases on his label, Alternative Tentacles. Didn’t he ask you how you wanted to be paid for the releases and you said something like, just pay me in DK records and shirts?
JB: Yeah, I did, that’s totally true! He asked me what I want for it and at first I said, nothing, just put it out! Just give me a t-shirt and a couple of CDs. He didn’t want to put it out, he goes, ‘there’s something wrong with a band that doesn’t want money’. I was like, it’s in Spanish, nobody else is going to want it, so just put it out and see what happens. Finally I convinced him it was a good idea to put it out and I think that single sold more than everything else he had for the past two years. It went nuts! The t-shirts were selling too as fast as they could put them up. I guess he needed the money at the time, he had a lawsuit going and I think it pretty much helped him a lot in that lawsuit because he was really getting killed; it helped the label a lot, it was a good deal for both of us. I’m glad he put it out. He didn’t want to put out our next single either [laughs] but he did.
The El Patron (1994) one! The first one was ¡Machetazos! (1992). I have both of those and a ¡Machetazos! long-sleeve shirt.
JB: That’s the shirt! That’s the one I was talking about. It was like a $30 shirt that was available at Tower Records. There’d be 10 of them there and I’d come back the next day and they’d be all sold! I’d go like, damn! $30 was expensive back then. I think it’s the best Brujeria shirt ever made. Damn girl, I can’t believe you’ve got that shirt!
And I’ve also got the limited edition green vinyl Marijuana 7” that came with the matches in a ziplock plastic bag. The matches have never been used and it’s still in the original ziplock bag.
JB: Wow! That’s amazing, you really are a fan.
I love that you guys sing in Spanish. Though I may not totally understand everything you’re singing about, I still find I get a sense of what you’re saying by the mood and emotion conveyed in the music.
JB: Right! That’s it, exactly! You can tell if it’s a really angry song, you can feel what it’s about. If you know Spanish though it’s a really big bonus and you really get it. If you ever see us live, you’ll really get it! There’s a lot of emotion when we do the songs live.
I really hope I do!
JB: After talking to you, now I really wanna get down there just so you can see us. I am so impressed by how much of our stuff you have and how much you know. For you I’m going to push it really hard so you can see us. I feel like we’d have to open for another band and play a half hour set down there. Now I’m going to make it my mission and make sure it happens—just for you, Bianca! Just for you.
Awww that’s amazing! Thank you Juan. I can’t wait. Now I’m really excited!
JB: See you someday soon! You’re great Bianca, thank you.
Have a nice day!
*Photos courtesy of Metropolis Touring & Brujeria’s FB. Juan mixed media college by me.