The idea of creating a Latin music band came to Shantal Arroyo during a trip to Mexico in 2011. “One night in a Puerto Vallarta bar,” the hardcore punk band Overbass member remembers, “I complained about the American music that was always playing, and my friends said, ‘If you’re not happy with it, then set up your own band and come back here to play!’
“It was an interesting thought, but the people I was hanging out with at the time were not Latinos – they were all punks and metal-heads! But I knew that many of them were in the process of adopting second instruments, so I started recruiting for the new project. We ended up being 17 in the band, and it went on from there,” says the voluble Mexican-born musician.
Made up of musicians from Montreal’s alternative scene (including Grimskunk’s Joe Evil), the band initially hoped to expand both their repertoire and their appeal. “We felt like making a different kind of music,” says Arroyo. “All of us were very experienced and secretly pined for a taste of big venues. With this project, the whole Mexican market was opening up to us. We’d seen our Mano Negra chums go from bar gigs to big stadium concerts, and we were hoping that this would happen to us, too. Mind you, we knew this would be quite a challenge musically – singing is one thing, but screaming is quite another,” the 40-year-old artist muses.
As Collectivo’s early concerts included many Latin music covers, band members had some time to get used to the musicality of Spanish lyrics. “With this in place,” Arroyo recalls, “we thought it was time we released an album. But our first experience in the recording studio wasn’t easy. The room was so packed we couldn’t move when we recorded Hasta la fiesta… siempre! And this happened while the recording technology was moving from reels to digital. So making that album was quite a challenge!”
The band’s second opus, Especial, a more mature and diversified song collection, was released in 2005 and followed in 2011 with Tropical Trash, a more sonically mature offering partly recorded in a Montreal theatre. The clan’s latest effort, Jaune Électrik, came out this summer in a burst exotic rhythms and sunny, festive melodies typical of Colectivo’s energetic style, but with a significant change – French lyrics.
“Our first three albums were largely exploratory,” Arroyo explains, “but we felt the need to sing in French on the next one. That was to be our next thing. We had the album produced by Vander. We chose this ex-Colocs member for his energy and also because he is used to large, multi-ethnic groups, and can deal with people who don’t use technical words. Many of us are self-taught musicians, and we needed someone who could understand us.”
Does Colectivo use a special method to create its red-hot tunes? “There are three principal composers – Denis Lepage, Joe Evil and Joël Tremblay,” says Arroyo. “They bring in a rough outline for every song, and then we make the arrangements one section at a time, moving from brass to drums to percussions to strings. Working this way requires great humility, as all players work on their own small section of a larger whole. But we’re like family and aren’t afraid of criticizing one another. With time, we’ve learned to talk about what really matters. We just have to be careful not to take it badly. Our modus operandi could be described as well-structured chaos.”
Besides her mother (also a guitarist and singer) and her partner Joël (also a member of Overbas), Arroyo’s musical heroes include the Basque artist Fermin Muguruza, who co-produced the collective’s second album. “In my mind, he has a practically perfect track record,” she says. “Although he has been approached by major recording companies, he has remained true to his own values and creative vision. That’s remarkable.
“I value authenticity. We tried new things as a way to get more people interested and create a more commercial sound, but we felt terribly awkward doing it – like elephants in a china shop! We are punk artists first and foremost. We can’t forget that.”
Now boasting 11 band members (including eight original ones), Colectivo marches on, although at a somewhat reduced pace at the moment, as a few band members have recently become parents. Although music is her life, Arroyo has realistic expectations when it comes to the prospect of making a living as a musician.
“Everyone in the group has a day job,” she admits. “Nobody is making a living with their art. I have long since decided that music was the thing that was keeping me alive. But I also chose not to starve to death. Music remains my main occupation, but I refuse to compromise. I prefer holding two jobs and worrying about how to get it all together. This is what Colectivo means to me – a vital energy.”