Musical Chemistry, with CNVS

Though the diversity of music coming from Mexico is astounding, a unifying concept is the interactions present between band members – a synergy that gives the already vibrant music an even bigger punch.

Enter CNVS, a five-piece indie band that has been making waves in Mexico’s El Bajío music scene with their emotive, melodic brand of rock music that has been praised by critics and audience members alike.

We first caught wind of CNVS when we heard their incredible cover of Juan Gabriel’s “Yo No Nací Para Amar”, a song they released as a tribute to the late Mexican pop superstar.

Recently, Musical U had the chance to talk to the band’s lead guitarist Isaac about their upcoming record, the music scene they hail from (and what makes it special), and of course, the driving force behind the group’s striking musical chemistry.

Q: Greetings, Isaac! Thank you so much for joining us here at Musical U. We’ve been following you and your music for a little over a year now. How did it all start? How did you guys get together as a band?

We all know each other from at least a decade of playing within the same music scene in our hometown of Querétaro. After everyone in the band went into a definitive hiatus with their other projects, CNVS started rehearsing and composing songs, and recorded our first EP in 2016.

Q: Here at Musical U, we focus specifically on working on the inner musical skills gained through ear training and other core musical skills. What was your and your bandmates’ musical training like?

Pastas, our bass player, has been a recognized producer since 1999, making his mark in around 60 productions so far. Our vocalist Santi got his degree in sound engineering in SAE London, before building his own studios here in Querétaro. Vidal was a self-taught punk who picked up the drums out of teenage angst, and has been developing his style ever since. I play lead guitar and I received classical education in a local academy. I had a very good teacher that taught me a lot of the harmonic theory, major and minor scales through jamming with each other – something that we use a lot in our writing process.

Q: That’s such an impactful way to learn music theory! In our Musical U improvisation module, we’ve emphasized improv as a tool for exploring theoretical concepts. I love how you adapted this approach to your creative interaction with your bandmates.

Much of what we’ve been reading and hearing about CNVS emphasizes the synergy that evolves from your group musical interaction. Please tell us more about your group songwriting process.

CNVS band photo95% of all of our writing comes on the spot in rehearsals – what starts as a warm-up jam ends up being the core of a new song. Everybody lends their talent. That is what we love about playing together: it just comes easy and is usually emotionally charged.

The second part of the work comes in production, where we try to get the sounds right that fulfill the purpose of each element in the song.

Q: That’s where having two producers in a band comes in handy! I love your fresh, clean production approach. How do lyrics fit into this improvise-to-compose approach?

Well, what is also interesting is how Santi (our vocalist) comes up with most of the lyrics right on the spot. We start jamming with each other as he starts mumbling words with the melody and between breaks. He often has all the lyrics in his phone before the day is over.

Q: So, from start to finish your approach is quite in-the-moment and collaborative. How do your collective musical influences come into play?

Every member of the band has their own influences, but as a unit we can name a few alternative rock from the 2000’s, 1940’s blues, hip-hop beats, reggae, and some strange figures such as Bowie and Moondog.

Personally, as a guitar player, I tried to bring some of the elements of the 1950’s trios or boleros that my grandfather used to listen to as I was growing up (Los Panchos and Los Tres Ases to name a few).

Q: That’s a wide range of inspirations! While your music is informed by so many different styles, you have developed a distinct identity, a CNVS sound. To me, it’s the danceable beats, rock-meets-electronica, and especially a careful focus on the sheer beauty of your sound. How would you describe the hallmarks of this sound?

I would describe it as an ever-changing experiment. We are not attached to any particular genre or style, so we pretty much do what we want – just five friends jamming until we hit the right notes and develop something interesting to play.

Sometimes, what is interesting to play as a band is not as interesting to hear as an outsider, so I believe we are blessed to have a growing audience that feels the way we do and enjoys our tracks.

Q: I know I enjoy them! That connection to fans is incredibly important – a chemistry between the audience and the performer.

Speaking of which, “chemistry” is a word that is often used to describe your musical relationship. You come from a culture that prizes the alchemy that transpires when people come together to make music. Mariachi, banda, norteño, marimba bands… how do you fit into this tradition?

Chemistry is what keeps this band together. Sometimes I feel every member in the band is in a different place in their personal life. Some of us have kids, so we don’t hang out so much, but when we are in the rehearsal space or playing live in front of an audience, we have just one identity –  something that unites us as brothers in arms.

I believe that is the core of that tradition you are talking about. Mariachi and Banda music ensembles try very hard to achieve a single identity by dressing the same and even have choreographed dancing. We just try to feel it each night we perform as we did when we write the songs, and hopefully our audience can feel it too.

Q: We first discovered you through your rockin’ cover of Juan Gabriel’s “Yo No Nací Para Amar”. What can bands learn from doing covers?

I believe it is a good exercise for any musician. I once read in one of David Byrne’s books that he often wrote songs by starting with someone else’s vocal melody, changing the words, and at last changing the core melody to one of his own.

For us, it was a challenge we did just for fun. Juan Gabriel was one of Mexico’s most beloved singer-songwriters, and we did the cover just months before his departure – so by releasing the song into social media, it felt like a tribute. I don’t see us doing any covers anytime soon, but I can tell you that doing this cover did give us some elements and material for our next album that is coming out soon.

Q: You come from El Bajío, a region with an abundance of arts and culture. Is there a new sound, a regional style emerging from El Bajío? Tell us about it.

It’s interesting, because though I don’t think there is any specific style I can point out as “the Bajío sound”. There are a lot of genres that are getting carried to another level such as post-rock (check out Ex Replica), punk (check out Druk), and jazz – check out Filulas Juz:

It’s just refreshing to show up to a gig and see all these diverse styles reaching new audiences.

Q: Sounds like a great scene – a melting pot of styles and genres.

Let’s talk about the visual aspects of CNVS. Your videos are extremely well done, with powerful imagery that meshes perfectly with your emotionally charged music. Your websites are also full of beautiful evocative photographs. How do videos and images fit into the CNVS creative universe? How important are images in today’s music scene?

CNVS - Gran CopilotoFor us, it’s about working with the right people. We are blessed that in our hometown we can find such talented people that also happen to be our friends and like the stuff we do. We often let them have creative direction in that department, because we know we are in good hands.

Art in all of its forms is very important in today’s music scene, as it has been for decades. However, today it feels more important than ever, as you only get one chance to make an impact. We are fed with constant stimuli via social media, so I believe that bands are always concerned (with good reason) with making the most impact they can and not just get scrolled past. It can lead to some beautiful art, but it can also lead a band to be more focused on their social media than creating music or playing live. For us, the key is to work with the right people and keep CNVS true to itself.

Q: That’s an excellent philosophy for keeping your music in harmony with your image. We hear that you have a new album release coming up. Please tell us more about it!

Yes! It is going to be called Gran Copiloto, which refers to the best sidekick you can possibly have in an adventure – this could be the guy that plays the best music on road trips, or the love of your life that took you on a trip to Iceland. We are currently in the final stages of mastering, and it will see the light at the beginning of February. It will feature tracks in English as well, and you can already check out our first single, “Memoria”:

It is our first full-length production, and took around two years of writing and production. It was recorded and produced by ourselves in the two studios owned by members of the band (NOMO and ANTIGUA), and mixed and mastered by David Parra (the live engineer for Café Tacvba) in Mexico City.

Q: What advice do you have for the world of aspiring musicians who follow Musical U? What is the most important thing for musicians to keep in mind?

When playing live, I would say to try to keep things interesting by adding other elements to the mix in your shows. For example, we are working on some stage plots, animation, and lighting elements to make our live shows even more special.

Even more importantly, just keep practicing and have fun. Always stay true to the music – if you feel proud of the art that you have created, let go of whatever endorsement you think you might need. 

Q: I’m glad you brought that up! Internal validation and sense of accomplishment is so important in musicmaking.

Isaac, thank you so much for talking to us about CNVS and your upcoming release. We look forward to hearing it, and are excited to see how your project continues to evolve and captivate!

A Musical Alliance

There’s so much to take away from this interview, but what was particularly apparent was CNVS’s emphasis on rapport, both within the band and with the people they work with to achieve their strong sound and aesthetic.

Though synergy can be a hard thing to pin down, you’ll immediately feel it when it’s there.

It occurs through a shared love of making music, good communication between band members, and of course – a shared goal to work towards.

Think about how you can bring CNVS’s philosophy to your own musicmaking – whether it’s solo or collaborative – to make something you’re really proud of.

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