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Morrissey Goes South 

Sergio Mendoza leads a band of all star Mexican musicians in a Morrissey cover project

You might hear the words "cover band" and automatically lose a little interest. After all, rehashing classics often yields worse copies of your favorite songs. Make no mistake, though, Sergio Mendoza's ambitious collaborative project called Mexrissey is a lot more than a direct replica of Smiths tunes like "How Soon Is Now?" or "Ask."

"A lot of times people cover songs and don't really try to change it," Mendoza says. "It's never as good as the original."

Joined by Camilo Lara of the Mexican Institute of Sound, Ceci Bastida formerly of Tijuana No!, Chetes of Zurdok, and more, Mendoza describes the line-up as an "all star" blend of some of his favorite artists playing music in Mexico today. Rather than simply translating Smiths and Morrissey songs to Spanish, Mendoza says he and the other band members are really focusing on getting the feeling of The Smiths' music in there.

Mendoza says he's already begun translating "The Boy with the Thorn in His Side" for the project and has realized that it's more than getting the words right because of Morrissey's unique crooning vocal style—an element Mendoza says is vital to retaining the draw of Smiths and Morrissey music. Like translating poetry, tone, rhythm, and syntax play a large role in translating lyrics into another language, so being careful that the message fits within the music itself is key.

Mendoza was invited to join in on the project by Lara, a well-known DJ that has already remixed a Morrissey song for the artist. Mendoza will spend time in Mexico City over the next few months to put together the project's musical arrangement and practice with the full band in person.

Using those iconic modern Mexican musicians, the new project cleverly taps into Morrissey's large Latino following. Mendoza feels the Latino community, especially in Mexico, relates to Morrissey's passionate, lovelorn words so much because of its similarity to traditional Mexican music.

"It has to do with the lyrics," Mendoza explains. "They're a lot like Mexican love songs to me. They sometimes remind me of corridos."

To that extent, Mendoza says he even blended a popular Juan Gabriel song with a Smiths song and the two fit together surprisingly well. However, it isn't all about the words. Mendoza assures that he will be bringing a lot of the "sounds of Mexico" and cumbia to classic Smith's songs. With all of the changes to the original songs, Mendoza says it's kind of a gamble to present the music to Morrissey devotees—the kind of super fans who dress up like Morrissey to go to his shows.

"People are either going to love it or hate it," Mendoza says. "We're doing our own thing."

However, adding some Latin flare to The Smiths is likely not going to be a bad thing—especially with the combined talent of Mendoza and Lara leading the project. Mexrissey's first show will be at Barbican Centre in London, kicking off a two-week U.K. mini tour. Unfortunately, Mendoza won't join the band for those shows, as he already is booked for a tour with Calexico at that time. However, he says he will get to join the band for the limited number of shows they currently have scheduled in New York City and Mexico.

Although the group doesn't have any Arizona performances slotted yet, he is working to get Mexrissey some live gigs in Tucson and around the state to feature the project here.

More by Heather Hoch

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