The band's new album 'A Century of Abuse' puts a Mexicali punk spin on classic postpunk.
Silent, Mexicali's great goth hope, are as musically compelling and improbably handsome as their band name is difficult to google. Raven-maned, tall as shit, with a sound that's sensually mean, Silent ushers back to a time when postpunk was the soundtrack to breaking up with people for being too nice and being stoked that you didn't wake up in the morning dead. Frontman Jung Sing yowls like the cursed banshee of 80s LA death rock, over a driving, taut-cable-gone-spasmodic, post-hardcore racket provided by the rest of the band (Andrea Varela on drums, Rodo Ibarra on bass, and Alejandro Lara on guitar). Live, all four members strike imposing figures, alternating between normal postpunk stoic glaring and full on legs-spread, instrument-punching melodrama. Live music as soundtrack to one's internal monologue is swell, but it's always nice to see a band that one actually wants to, you know, watch.
"Nothing is new," Sing tells me, but he'll be damned if that's stopping them from messing with postpunk's hallowed formulas. "People know about music so they always say ' this is like this' but we tried to give it some new attitude, throw some Mexicali on it. I mean, we live in a fucked up country, dude. The weather sucks. The minimum wage sucks. Everything sucks."
The band was formed in Baja California, the northernmost state in Mexico, where the interplay between Mexican musicians and those in San Diego is common, with some bands sharing multinational-by-just-a-few-miles members. Jung Sing himself has been the drummer for All Leather, Locust/RETOX singer Justin Pearson's agit-noise synth band, and it was shortly after Sing's tenure with that band that Silent was formed. Sing and Lara had played together for years but wanted a project that was punk and organic. They "know all these bands, like fucking Bauhaus, like fucking Killing Joke," so they were determined to make an ostensibly postpunk band with the aggression of punk.
The whole formation of the band was seemingly driven by Sing's force of will. He didn't think of himself as a good singer, but they needed one, so he filled in. Luckily, he's very good. The label compares him to Nick Cave and, with a healthy dose of Jeffery Lee Pierce, the comparison is apt. He thought Lara would make a good guitarist, so Lara, a former bass player, became guitarist (his bass player sensibilities serve the band well, giving a heft to his playing that focuses on rhythm above all else). Even the addition of Varela, an excellently primal drummer, was a prophesy that Sing made come true.
"I met Andrea in Mexicali," he says. "I said, 'Oh you play drums, right?' And she wasn't that cool with the idea of playing in the band, but I was like 'Let's try it. Come on.' We started doing it and that's it." The band themselves are as big of nerds about their chosen genre of music and its history as any other members of postpunk's notoriously rabid and learned fan base.
"Sometimes it's hard to write music, " Sing admits, "because me and the bass player, we like a lot of different music. Sometimes we're so intense with the writing because we'll be like 'no! That sounds like this thing! That sounds like that thing!' and you fucking throw away a lot of good songs. So we try to, while still doing that, not do it as much. We're like 'if you like it, let's just fucking play it.' Because at the end of the day you're going to sound like The Beatles. And I'm not a fan of the Beatles but… at some point you're going to sound like something."
Silent, while deeply rooted in the dark sounds of UK Thatcher malaise, is inexorably steeped in their own country's painful influences, too. It's understandably impossible not to be. The name of their debut album (on Pearson's Three One G label, and streaming early below), A Century of Abuse, is derived from how, growing up, Sing would hear family and the TV talk about the multi-year dominance of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional, which ran the country uninterrupted from 1929 to 2000. In 2012, the PRI returned to power with the election of Enrique Peña Nieto, of whom Sing is not wildly fond. He says, "Those years [of PRI dominance] were fucked. I remember hearing as a kid, 'a hundred years of bullshit.' So my idea for the album title was just 'A Century' and the rest would be implied. But our bass player was like 'A Century Of Abuse.' And I was like, "that's a good name." He explains later that, "People always need to compare this band to that band but I think it's the things around you that make you to…be the thing."
Whether it's the industrial decline that informed the initial postpunk bands, or the adolescent and eternal rage that fueled and fuels hardcore and Big Black-esque squalling, or the very real economic/psychic realities of 21st century Mexico, a human person has got to exorcise their pain as best they can just to keep breathing. The day-to-day hassles and the existential despair intertwine real nice in the better bands of gothic inclination. And Silent is definitely a better band. Sing, near the end of our talk, says, "We talk about politics and fucked up love. We don't have happy or positive songs. We ain't gonna be all sad and shit, but I can't sing a happy song. I have seven dogs to feed and bills to pay."
A Century of Abuse is out October 28 on Three One G.
Photos courtesy of Silent
Zachary Lipez is a writer based in New York. Follow him on Twitter.