Stoner/Prog Band MOTHS on the Tenacity of Puerto Rico’s Metal Scene
Jonathan Miranda and Weslie Negrón of MOTHS discuss their debut album, space forceand how the Puerto Rican metal scene has survived several recent setbacks.
On this debut album, Puerto Rican progressive/stoner metal quintet MOTHS fuse Latin flavors with undertones of influences such as Baroness, Mastodon and King Crimson. As a result, it is a very diverse and rewarding introduction.
It’s especially impressive considering the adversity they’ve encountered along the way. Naturally, the COVID-19 pandemic halted the creation of the album; however, several other events—Hurricane Maria, the 2019 resignation of Governor Ricardo Rosselló Nevares, and various earthquakes and power outages—affected not only the group but the entire island. So their story is one of immense endurance and optimism.
We recently spoke with bassist Weslie Negrón and lead guitarist Jonathan Miranda about the impact of these events. space forcehow the Puerto Rican metal scene thrives despite these hardships and more.
Has there always been a strong progressive metal scene in Puerto Rico?
Weslie Negrón: Yeah, it’s been going on since the late 80s. You could say the first band was Cardinal Sin, which was a mix of early Metallica and Pantera.
Jonathan Miranda: It was thrash in the beginning, yes.
WN: Then you have Puya, which became the biggest metal band on the island. They toured with Iron Maiden in 1999, and they mixed nu-metal with salsa and stuff. Since the 80s, a lot of bands came out of the underground and Latin rock was booming. So our metal, punk and hardcore scenes took advantage of that a bit.
I started playing in 2010 when there was another big band boom. It’s like a roller coaster in the sense that the movement can be idle for a while, then a handful of groups explode and it turns back on.
How has the scene changed or evolved since you started playing?
WN: Between, maybe, 2011 and 2017, a lot happened, but then Hurricane Maria happened and everything went back to zero.
JM: The scene was hit hard, that’s for sure. In the 2000s there was a lot of post-hardcore and death metal, but now it’s mostly a mix of everything. You know, from hyper-technical to death to black metal and mathcore. It’s very diverse and the music started coming back after Hurricane Maria, but the pandemic knocked it down. However, we are finally resuming our shows and I have seen about 10 new bands in the past six months.
It seems Puerto Rican artists and fans have incredible resilience.
Which of these styles influenced MOTHS the most?
WN: Well, we have very different tastes. I guess a common interest would be prog.
JM: And each of us has a different musical background. Omar [González, rhythm guitar] I came from the thrash metal crossover, whereas I was more of a “Big 4” type. Weslie was more death/thrash but also hardcore, Damaris [Rodríguez, vocals] loves prog and power metal and Danny [Figueroa, drums] play everything [laughs]. Some of us also studied jazz and classical.
Ah, so that explains your varied sound. Then there have been some recent incidents in Puerto Rico that may have hindered the creation of space force. Not only Hurricane Maria, but also earthquakes, power outages, and even the 2019 resignation of Governor Ricardo Rosselló Nevares.
WN: It seemed that every time we walked into the studio, something disturbed us. When we were finishing our first EP [2018’s MOTHS], Hurricane Maria came and destroyed the electrical system of the whole island. I had no electricity for three months afterwards. Then the earthquakes and the pandemic happened as we worked out the final details for space force. We still suffer from these things.
WN: I was very patient, but I was also losing my mind a bit [laughs]. In a way, though, the pandemic was a blessing because we didn’t have to worry about finishing the album and touring.
JM: Also, we couldn’t risk getting sick, so we had to take a complete break and stay in touch. It was only at the end of 2020 that we decided to get back to recording space force.
WN: We were also able to release a split EP with The Stone Eye in August 2020, just to stay active, and we did a livestream for Heresy Fest Online in Argentina. I was anxious to get space force ready as soon as possible, however. Luckily, now seems like a good time for it.
Absolutely. You’ve had a lot of positive reception so far and you’ve shown a lot of perseverance.
WN: Thank you. We also need to be able to play it live and promote it.
JM: You also asked about the situation with Ricardo Rosselló Nevares, didn’t you? It didn’t have a direct impact on the album, except that it allowed us to merchandise it. [laughs], which are selling like hotcakes. That said, there are government issues that limit a lot of groups, like the lack of programs that could help local talent. [or provide them with] platforms to perform at local festivals and stuff like that.
It’s a big problem.
WN: It definitely is, and in general, if these issues persist, we may also struggle to find enough venues for artists. Many of them closed during the pandemic. That said, the general vibe here is one of tenacity. A few weeks ago, two local shows had about 800 people between them.
JM: They were thrilled. People are hungry for quality gigs and bands. It’s finally animated again.
WN: Even with all these hurdles, there are so many new bands emerging. They just refuse to quit, you know, even though they have to work really hard to be exposed. It is very impressive.
JM: It’s true, and artists from all walks of life will support each other, whether it’s punk, rock or extreme metal. We have a taste of everything and it’s very tight.
It feels like a really inclusive community.
WN: That’s a good way to put it. I mean, the pandemic has provided a good reset process for artists to reconsider what they’re doing well versus what they could be doing better for themselves and their audiences.
It’s an exciting time, but also, living in Puerto Rico now is like extreme sports. Every day brings new challenges and adventures. I love it here, though, and one of my biggest goals is to make sure we can successfully do it all from here.
JM: And if we succeed, labels could try to sign other bands, so the idea of elevating Puerto Rican metal is a big inspiration.
WN: Beyond MOTHS, we want people to know that there is great music coming from the island.
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