A Different Dynamic

Ozomatli's six cut EP features its first English-language song

By Barry A. Jeckell
Published on LatinoLA: September 24, 2003

A Different Dynamic

"We really had to get something out there for the fans, because we had intended for our new record to come out this year," Ozomatli bassist Wil-Dog Abers says of "Coming Up," the band's new five-song EP. "But a number of things got in the way of that happening, which actually turned out to be a good thing."

Due Sept. 23 from Concord Records, the six-song set mixes newly recorded studio material with a pair of live songs. It will serve as a precursor to the band's third full-length album, "Street Signs," due in February, and its stint on the upcoming Nokia Unwired tour.

One song on the EP, "Mi Gente," finds the band collaborating with lauded Latin act A.B. Quintanilla Kumbia Kings. "Those guys are really, really cool," Abers says.

"It's funny, because we sing mostly Spanish, but most of our audience is English-speaking and that's something that we've been wanting to change," he says. "A lot of is that we're Latino Yanks and I think it's a different dynamic going on when you're not from those countries. This is one of those steps in that direction."

"Coming Up" is also the first Ozomatli release to feature an English-language song, "Let Me Dream."

"It's the first English-language song that you've heard," notes Abers, who says the band has several that haven't made it to its releases. "That song is about three years old now, and it's been going through changes. We kind of put it away and then bring it out again. I think we have a distinct sound and getting that one to mend with our sound was definitely a challenge.

"Even though all of us speak English much more than we do Spanish, for some reason songwriting is not something that we do particularly well in English. Or, I think in some ways, we've been scared to. This is one of those challenges for us, and I think it turned out really good."

Although well known for its boisterous live shows, Ozomatli has been concentrating hard on new material, some of which the band produced itself.

"We definitely have more experience with the live show," Abers says. "But I would say that we are definitely getting better at recording, and it's showing at our new stuff."

Several of the songs on the EP are expected to appear on "Street Signs," which reunites the band with Jurassic 5's Chali 2na and producer T-Ray, who contributed to the band's self-titled 1998 Almo Sounds debut.

"We're really getting into Middle Eastern music and Moroccan music and it just keeps growing," Abers says, attributing the influence to percussionists Jiro Yamaguchi and Justin Poree and saxophonist Ulises Bella.

"Those percussion guys, their knowledge of rhythms is just growing and growing and growing and they put a lot of the style into what we do," he says. "[And] Ulises, you put him in a record store and he's not gonna come out unless he spends 200 bucks, whether he has it or not. The guy has the biggest music collection of anybody I know, and he's just always listening."

The band is also growing with its contribution to the forthcoming independent feature "Tortilla Heaven," for which it scored several scenes. "It's totally way out from what you would think," Abers says, noting that the band's festive music has been heard in a number of movies and television shows. "Now we're doing this really moody scene and I think it's cool that people are really learning what we can do. It's really exciting."

Ozomatli earned a Grammy and two ALMA Awards for its last album, 2001's "Embrace the Chaos" (Interscope), and while such honors are exciting, Abers insists it's not what drives the band. "That's not why we started doing this," he says. "But recognition feels great from anywhere -- most of all, from our fans. There's kids [we see at shows] that when we first started were 14 years old and now they're like 22 years old. They're adults now and they're still fans!

"Kids that see us come up all the time and say, 'You made me want to play an instrument.' I think that's the biggest thing to me."

The Nokia Unwired Tour kicks off Oct. 2 in Toronto with Hoobastank, Ozomatli, the All-American Rejects and Diffuser.

About Barry A. Jeckell:
Originally published at: http://www.billboard.com/bb/cp/nokia/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1983520

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