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The hazy, border-crossing beats that set the soundtrack for Artbound's Date Farmers video come from the imagination of Ernest Gonzales, aka, Mexicans with Guns. By day, Gonzales is a San Antonio middle school technology teacher, a husband, and a father of two. But at night, he's dropping banging beats adorned with electronic atmospherics. For some, this may be a disastrous duality, but Gonzales has got a hyphenated state of mind. His electro outfit Mexicans with Guns sets forth dancefloor quakers paired with rappers, while his project under his own moniker, releases lurching rhythms interwoven with crystalline guitar notes. His debut album "Natural Traits," is out now on Los Angeles label and Artbound partner, Friends of Friends.
Artbound caught up with Gonzales to talk about the processes behind his music, tensions in Texas, and what happens when his students come to a show.
Mexicans with Guns. What's with that name?
The full name is "Mexicans with blackmarket weed to trade to Americans in exchange for American made Guns" but I thought that was too long. Once marijuana is legalized, I think my name will become irrelevant so I might have to use MWG instead like NWA!
How is it different than your other projects?
Do you find any similarities to making music and teaching? How are the processes alike or different?
As a teacher, I have to praise you on this question, we are going up the higher order thinking questioning. I have never compared teaching and music production before. Let's see, to be a successful teacher takes planning, organization, patience, social skills, and uses so many different parts of your brain. Often, I come home emotionally and physically drained and need to reset in order to do it all again. It's really challenging and something I NEVER saw myself ever doing in life. Even when I became a teacher I didn't think I would do it longer than five years. When I make music, it's more spontaneous and all my thoughts tend to drift away. I probably go into a weird dream like state with my brain waves when I make music. I'm sure I could find some coincidental similarities if I stretched it but for the most part they are vastly different.
Have you ever made beats with your students? What do you learn from them?
I very rarely bring up music with my students but every now and then a student "gets it" and I'll show them a remix I'm working on. A goal of mine in the near future is to create a non-profit after school program to teach kids how to produce and DJ, something that kids who were really interested in could apply for. A program like this would be amazing and I look forward to setting this up.
Have you ever seen one of your students at a show?
Yeah I've had a few out at my shows. Its surreal and awesome. First of all its odd to me that they are old enough to be in bars / clubs now but it's real fun to kick it with them in a peer to peer way instead of teacher / student.
Your music is really cinematic. When you're composing music, what images or scenes come to mind?
The visual part of my mind is really focused on the computer screen and arranging the recordings and audio snippets. When I produce music its already a very visual and abstract collage type of experience so I don't visualize anything other than that. I do find it rewarding though if the listener can experience that when listening to my music. The sounds and the feelings I create do come from an inner landscape and sometimes outer. And they are meant to be interpreted and visualized by the listener.
Lead us through the process of writing a song. Where does it start, how do you develop ideas and when do you know it's done?
There really is no set process to how I make a song. I enjoy letting things happen organically in the sense that I will create one element such as a bass line or a beat and then build from there. I do try to create different parts of a song similar to the traditional pop structure of music. I feel this is an important part of telling a story and creating variations for the listeners to keep them interested.
Who are some of your favorite artists right now? What interests you in visual art?
I have been digging LDFD, Salva, SBTRKT, Modeselektor, Gui Boratto, Scuba, Lapalux, Actress and some more minimal stuff too like Field and Pantha Du Prince. As far as visual art goes, I will always have respect for the great artists that were punk rockers and said "F-you" to the conventional styles of art, like Duchamp. Dali was a madman and if you ever see a painting of his in real life, you will trip. My favorite part of art is the concept that drives its creation, but I also value scale and the skill that goes into it. A few other artists that have blown my mind: Chuck Close, Duane Michals, Michel Gondry, Hieronymous Bosch, and Andy Goldsworthy.
What's San Antonio like artistically and culturally?
San Antonio is a big cow turd and occasionally a mushroom sprouts up here and there. People will probably read this and hate me for it, but its the truth and our city needs a wake up call. We live in one of the top ten biggest cities in America but our mentality is very small town minded. In some respects, I think that kind of attitude is cool but that same mentality can stifle creativity. Many touring acts skip San Antonio but will go to Austin instead; there's not many live venues here in S.A. with decent sound systems, and most of the city is very spread out and littered with strip mall fields of Wal-Marts, Targets, Starbucks, etc. Downtown is deep in history and culture but is reserved primarily for tourists and locals rarely venture into town. The art and music scene does have a lot of heart though and I think that's something we can pride ourselves on. Our city is filled with low income jobs and that causes many artists and musicians to work full time jobs to make ends meet. They pursue art and music on the side, late at night, or weekends. That being said, I think we could use that turd; it could easily become fertilizer that could cultivate new ideas. Until we as a city, push real education as a top priority, we will never be a next level city. Just to shed a little light though on the people within our community that are making things happen, to name a few, Diego Bernal - musician, civil rights lawyer, and city councilman; Alex Rubio and Vincent Valdez both next level, national recognized painters, and some producers coming up right now Sonora, LeDoom, Aaron Peña, Beautiful Lou, and Nick Ruiz.
How does being in a border state influence you?
Texas sometimes really does feel like a different world. When I think of Texas, the stereotypical music that comes to mind is Country music and Tejano, and these are the two types of music I am probably least interested in. Texas also makes me think of dirty south Houston rap music. I think this is a huge influence to my sound for sure.
To me it seems like there's a lot of tension in Texas, especially ethnically/racially. Am I wrong? Do you feel that at all?
In San Antonio I don't feel this at all because the minority is the majority. When I think of racially tense areas the first place that comes to mind is Arizona. I think San Antonio, like most places in America, tends to divide itself economically.