By Zach Schepis
Photo courtesy of Porter.
It’s December in New York City. Invisible frosts hug the coattails of bustling streetwalkers. Faces are tight and crumpled with unpleasantries and numerous urgencies.
But in Guadalajara, Mexico, the sky is a clear blue. Mariachi music drifts under the solar rays, and the daytime clothing is far more scant.
I can almost hear the sunshine in Victor Valverde’s voice as he answers my question with a laugh.
“How does it feel to be considered one of the greatest Mexican rock groups of all time?” I inquire.
“We try not to think too much about that,” he mimes with a certain appropriateness. “It’s about making what we love. It’s a lot of responsibility, but at the same time I enjoy using it to access people’s emotions, hearts, and lives.”
Valverde is talking about his band, Porter. As far as Mexican popular rock is concerned, these sun-baked cats are in many ways their country’s epicenter. Not many other local musical groups can boast opening up for the Strokes at arena-sized shows, or getting asked to play a main stage at Coachella 2012 for their first international gig.
Very few bands from Latin America were present at the California festival at that time, he assures me. It was a major surprise for Valverde to get the call. However, the real epiphanic moment for the musician came when he was watching Portishead’s set. Though he wasn’t a fan at the time, he was instantly allured. A realization suddenly dawned on him that the bands he follows and appreciates weren’t all that apart from the stage he was at himself.
To be fair, Porter does diverge a bit from the standard-fare success story of “work really, really hard for many years and maybe you’ll get lucky.” The band members all met through attending school together in Guadalajara at the ages of 18 and 19, and they attained their first serious breakthrough in less than a year.
Still in the early rumblings of musical chemistry (and adolescence), Porter decided to throw caution to the wind and submit their name and songs among some 1,000 other Mexican bands into a competition. Though young, they were almost immediately ushered into the finals. Valverde cites the contest as the beginning of the group.
Despite rapidly mounting success and burgeoning worldwide exposure, it seemed as though the band members were destined for failure. Singer and principal songwriter Juan Son grew disenchanted with the music to the point where he could no longer fake it anymore. He was out.
Son’s decision followed on the heels of Porter’s performance at Coachella, and the departure immediately felt much more damaging. All of the members were young (at this point in their early 20s), and Valverde acknowledges a notable amount of casual inexperience as a result.
“One day you’re standing in front of 70,000 people and everyone is singing your songs,” he tells BTR, “and the next thing you know it’s gone. It’s a little bit like breaking it off with your wife or a serious girlfriend. You get through a lot of different moments in a relationship, and then it’s over.”
Fortunately for Porter nothing was quite over yet. Valverde took the time to revisit his love for architecture, which inevitably led him to some provocative insights into new methods of songwriting. He began to look towards understanding sonic structures, as the mind “works with melody” and harmony “with the spirit.”
While Son and Valverde still remain good friends, the latter understood that he must push forward with his group and apply his newfound wisdom to the music. He recruited a new vocalist and set out to make a new record. The album, which was released earlier this year, is titled Moctezuma.
Listeners familiar with the band will be satisfied to know that Son’s role has been filled quite capably by David Velasco–who harkens to the signature sounds of his predecessor while simultaneously injecting enough of his own soul into the mix.
Moctezuma is also tinged with references to ancient Aztec cultures, amongst other cultural aspects of the band members’ deep Mexican roots. Much of the material blurs the lines between different languages, where lyrics sometimes switch tongues in the course of a single song.
“Music is universal,” says Valverde. “Language is just an extra connection to people. You can hear music in any country and identify with it; with the people.”
Bands like Porter represent the democracy of music.
To hear the rest of the interview, tune into this week’s episode of the Discovery Corner.
Or discover Porter for yourself here.