A year that began so dark and uncertain for the Kansas City band Making Movies is ending bright and full of promise.
In January, the future looked dim for the Latin-rock quartet that comprises brothers Enrique and Diego Chi and Juan-Carlos and Andres Chaurand.
“We were kind of demoralized at the beginning of the year,” said Enrique Chi, the band’s lead singer and guitarist. “We were cutting ties with our record label and management team. We’d realized it wasn’t the right fit. And they realized it, too.
“We had a record that had been finished for six months, we had a label that said it didn’t want to release it, and we had a bunch of debt. We’d put all this money into a project and no game plan and no team to help us release it. We were bummed. Really bummed.”
Ten months later, they have many promising tales to tell. Among them: an encounter with British folk star Billy Bragg that re-energized the band, a tour with Hurray for the Riff Raff that shed some national spotlight on the band and its music, Making Movies’ first appearance on the Billboard charts, and, by the way, an endorsement from Latin music legend Ruben Blades.
Saturday night at Knuckleheads, Making Movies is will throw what Chi called “the most ambitious show we’ve ever done.” It will include a theatrical presentation of “I Am Another You,” the full-length they released early this year.
It will also include songs from an EP to be released on Friday, plus a set of protest songs featuring some of Kansas City’s and Lawrence’s best-known musicians, including the Elders, Jim Suptic of the Get Up Kids, the Nace Brothers and Bob Walkenhorst.
The day after the Latin Grammys, in which Blades told a reporter that Making Movies was an excellent band, Chi talked to The Star about Making Movies’ year, one that showed the band how to pursue the light at the end of the tunnel.
You said the Folk Alliance was the first turning point of the year. Why?
Angus (Finnan, conference director) gave us a beautiful opportunity at the Folk Alliance Conference. Had we let the sense of defeatism get to us, we’d have said, “Eh. We’ve done our thing there.” We’d have just loaded in and loaded out, taken our honorarium and called it a day. But since we had nothing else going for us, we decided to work that opportunity the best we can.
For one thing, we met our new manager. We also connected with Billy Bragg, who gave me this amazing advice.
He said, “It’s your turn. You’ve got to write songs for your people.” I’d already written and we’d already recorded the album but what he said changed its perspective and how we treated the album’s messaging. And we decided we could do it all on our own, that we could release the album ourselves.
Before that, Juan-Carlos and I were like, “What if we just put it out, throw it up on the internet and let the music speak for itself? It’s great music. Let’s just not even bother with the music industry.” Obviously that would have been a mistake. You have to play ball to get your music heard. We’d spent a lot of time creating the album and (it) almost didn’t see the light of day.
Then another opportunity arose: to tour with Hurray for the Riff Raff, which gave you another level of exposure.
Her (Alynda Segarra) stamp of approval has elevated our band tremendously. Everybody from Rolling Stone to Spin is praising that album, calling it the voice of a generation, representing a new America.
We used that tour to release this music, which helped the band finally take the step into the national arena. We saw the Billboard charts after submitting our tour sales and our pre-order sales — and Kansas City was a huge part of that — and we entered the Billboard chart at No. 18. And then the second week we jumped up to No. 3 on the Latin pop album chart, which was crazy. We also peaked at No. 8 on the world music chart.
We’re still slugging it out, playing clubs, but that moment felt like a step into the national attention.
Your show at Knuckleheads on Saturday is more than just a regular rock show. It has a few facets and features lots of guests. Talk about that.
We are creating this amazing theatrical set that interweaves the narratives on the album. We are collaborating with Quixotic; their dancers and lighting team will help take the music into a more theatrical rendition. We will also have guest musicians — strings, horns.
You are also celebrating another release, an EP.
After we get through the presentation of “I Am Another You,” we will celebrate the release of an EP … called “You Are Another Me.” It’s an evolving work. We are collaborating with different artists to record music with a political message. It’s not necessarily political in opposition to the current administration as much as it is pro-people. I mean, I think it’s a disgrace to have a leader who is so divisive and there is so much to be said about that.
And you said the inspiration for that goes back to Billy Bragg.
I learned something from him. He said: “As a musician you have a tool, you have a song, and a song can create empathy like no other art form. Nothing is as immediate. A novel can put you into another person’s shoes; so can a documentary film; a fictional film and a play can, too. But nothing can get there in three minutes the way a really well-crafted song can. And that’s your responsibility. If you can arouse empathy and that empathy turns into action, that’s solidarity. And that’s what we need.”
That stuck with me. So we are recording songs that tell those kinds of stories, hoping it creates empathy in people who have not been in those shoes, people who have never been a migrant worker, someone who left a country because it’s war-torn or because the poverty is overwhelming, someone who’s not necessarily in the United States out of the desire to be here, but out of necessity, to survive.
When you look at other human beings with empathy, with this idea of “you are another me, I am another you,” it comes down to how do we make this work together? And then maybe that will circle into politics and legislation and the way we live.
There will also be a set of protest songs with a variety of musicians from Kansas City and Lawrence. Talk about that.
We’ve got some of the best from the Kansas City scene doing songs with a message. We will do “Guns of Brixton” by the Clash with Jim Suptic of Get Up Kids.
That song is about Jamaican immigrants fearful of police brutality in the UK in the early 1980s. These days, it’s African-Americans fearing police brutality and immigrants fearing deportation.
The Elders will join us and perform a song about being an Irish immigrant. The Irish story is a lot like the Mexican-American story. They were really mistreated. And so were the Germans.
So that set will carry this “we are all in this together’” theme and remind us that these stories aren’t unique to brown people in America. It’s a universal issue with the human race, but it’s one we can all look at and decide needs more empathy.
Making Movies presents the “I Am Another You Experience” at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Garage at Knuckleheads, 2715 Rochester. Tickets are $20 in advance, $25 at the door. The show will include performances by Quixotic dancers and guest performances by the Elders, the Nace Brothers, Bob Walkenhorst and Jim Suptic.