In 2015, hip-hop-flavored Latin rock band Molotov will celebrate its 20th anniversary as one of Mexico’s least-likely international stars.
With potty-mouthed raps, politically slanted anthems and irresistibly catchy funk n’ punk, Mexico’s answer to the Beastie Boys has managed to court controversy while collecting five Latin Grammys – its latest for 2014’s “Agua Maldita.”
The quartet’s only U.S.-born member, drummer Randy Ebright, spoke to the Observer Wednesday about bonding with his bandmates early on, what they choose to write about and the Spanglish group’s international appeal.
Q. You have an unusual backstory in that you moved to Mexico City in your teens because your dad was a DEA agent. Did you bond over music with the other band members?
A. Hip-hop was the common denominator. … I came up rapping as well as drumming. I get to Mexico and hip-hop is just starting to take off. (The other members) taught me a lot about more traditional Mexican music that their parents listened to – lyrically brilliant music. I passed along what my parents listened to: the Motown and early hip-hop.
Q. There was nothing like Molotov coming out of Mexico at the time.
A. No. There still isn’t. In Mexico a lot of people are hesitant to take on hip-hop and rock. We’re bilingual and we do it effortlessly. There are bands that sing in English, but we do it naturally.
Q. Your lyrics touch on politics, but the music is very much party-starting, uplifting music. Is the idea to offer some kind of escape from what we hear about – the violence, the crime, the corruption?
A. No. Lyrically we try to analyze our own day-to-day lives. People are quick to judge us as a protest band. What’s going on in the news is what they want Molotov to sing about. To tell you the truth, we never wrote many lyrics that aren’t about our daily lives or how it affects us.
Q. Your audience isn’t just Spanish-speaking. Why do you think Molotov transcends language barriers?
A. I don’t know because it doesn’t happen just in the States. The bigger countries we tour are Germany, Austria and Switzerland. I don’t know if it’s because they took a whole bunch of Spanish in high school or understand the energy with which we sing. You don’t have to know what the words are to get the energy behind them. That even happens with the English stuff. I can’t always understand the crap people say in English in songs.
Q. When did you first notice that wider appeal?
A. Even with the first record we started touring the biggest festivals in Europe. The band played and Metallica was on stage. We’d see all these people standing on the sidelines of our stage when we were playing. It was kind of surreal, but also funny. All these huge bands from the States or Europe mingling backstage and we’re this Mexican band. Most of the band doesn’t speak English that well. We’d get shout-outs. I think it gave people permission in Germany to say, “It’s in Spanish, but it’s a cool band.” They can pick out the Spanglish.