Exclusive Download: Ernest Gonzales “When Synchronicity Prevails" (right click, save as)
The first time I thought, ‘Whoa, I can make music,’ I was watching MTV and there was a cheesy commercial for a program called Magix, straight up As Seen On TV shit, and I ordered it right there…
“Mexicans with Guns” (like “Fire!”) is not something you should yell in a crowded room–unless you're at a gig featuring San Antonio’s coolest teacher, Ernest Gonzales. In that case, you'll be yelling all kinds of crazy shit anyway, so let it rip.
Packing an arsenal of aliases, gear, and ambitions, Gonzales is an electronic polyglot, fluent in everything from blunted hip-hop to electro-rock. As MWG, Gonzales handcrafts low-fi head-nodding beats; as part of Chico Mann (with rapper Freddie Gibbs), he fires off Afro-tech missives; as half of Gun Selectah (with Mexican techno Jefe, Toy Selectah), he bangs out arena-ready cross-genre mashups. In his own skin as Ernest Gonzales, he works avant pop’s rich middle, rounding hard-edged rhythms with textured harmonic rushes, as eloquently displayed on his newest album Natural Traits.
In response to reaching in so many directions over the last few years as artist, label founder, teacher, activist, and family man, Ernest's imagination seems to have snapped back, retracting his expansive influences towards a compact core. Given his hyperactivity, it should not be surprising to find yet another longing, or two, stirring in Ernest's multifaceted heart. "I really want to direct," Gonzales says, sounding like an actor/waiter in Los Angeles. He recently helped with the sound for a commercial directed by a friend and the movie bug bit him anew. “I really like being behind the camera and filming and I like editing. It's very similar to making music. I also like the process of trying to figure the motivation of what the actors are expressing. As I was helping my friend with the sound, I kept looking at the actors and thinking, ‘You need to say it this way.’ But I kept my mouth shut.
He is not wasting any time, however. He already has a couple of projects to his credit. “I recently did a video of me and my wife and my kids grocery shopping,” he deadpans. “And then I did a photo collage, the music was 120 beats per minute and the photos were 120 per minute.” Considering he was a photo major in college and he’s inspired by Michel Gondry fantastic realism, the photo and music combination is understandable. Its natural conclusion, as Ernest sees it, may be a bit more unexpected. “My one big goal is to write some children's poetry, along the lines of Shel Silverstein. I want to illustrate it myself. It would be cool to come up with music to go with that.”
Listening to really fun music I realized that music could be simple. It doesn’t have to be overly thought out or complex. It made sense to minimize the music a little bit, keep the beats simple, slow it down and bringing it back...
Where Ernest will find the time and energy for all these projects is a mystery, but when it comes to the roots of his restlessness, he quickly points to his early life as a "latch-key kid." The only child of two working parents, Ernest often spent a lot of time alone after school, indulging a variety of curiosities including video games, music and illustration. “The first time I thought, ‘Whoa, I can make music,’ I was watching MTV and there was a cheesy commercial for a program called Magix, straight up “As Seen On TV” shit, and I ordered it right there. I didn't know what I was doing. I would make a beat and I wouldn't know how to get it on CD so I would hold up the mic to the computer speakers to record it. It sounded super shitty. And then a friend introduced me to a program called Trackers. Now we have keyboards that you press a button and it sends info the computer. This was a screen and you would type in the code on a regular keyboard. ‘The carrot symbol is going to make the sound stop. This key is going to make the volume louder or softer.’ Horrible. This is about 1998 or 1999.” Originally intent on becoming an engineer, Ernest switched his major to Fine Arts and spent part of his scholarship money on his first drum machine.
Making electronic music deep in the heart of Texas was uncommon then. “With electronic music you really put yourself out there. Now people love electronic music. Back in 2002, when I put out my first tunes for friends, I felt it was the more nerdy music, not going along with San Antonio. There's a lot of military here, so ‘70s rock, hardcore that was big, and then there's this huge Mexican-American Goth scene…” At this point we ask in unison, "What's up with that?" I mumble something about Patsy Cline, Elvis, Morrissey, Mariachis, JFK and the Pope. “You think?” Ernest asks before adding, “I don't know what it is, but I like it. Makes for a good night out. You can go out to the new wave club and then grab some tacos.” Circling back to being the odd man out on the local scene, Ernest says, “I think I found my niche with the hip-hop community here. It's a good scene and I felt like I fit in there.” It was through his early hip-hop work that Ernest first drew comparisons to “next-coast” pioneers like Prefuse 73 and Flying Lotus. Instead of just soaking in the spotlight of the day, Ernest pushed his music in more experimental directions. His last album Been Meaning To Tell You was inspired by time spent on the road, away from his wife.
I just got tired of all these new DJs coming up, diminishing what a DJ was. It was just weird…just buying some software and pushing a few buttons.
Referring to the mutant disco flavor on this album, he says, “It honestly came from listening to too much Daft Punk this past year. I had this huge resurgence after everybody had theirs—like a post-post-Kanye resurgence. I just wanted to listen to fun music. Maybe it was a reaction to all my Mexican with Guns stuff. To me that stuff is really dark. Listening to really fun music I realized that music could be simple. It doesn't have to be overly thought out or complex. It made sense to minimize the music a little bit, keep the beats simple, slow it down and bringing it back to120 BPM.”
Slowing down his music to make time for his family, kids and teaching, Ernest walked away from the decks after years of doing weekly parties. “I just got tired of all these new DJs coming up, diminishing what a DJ was. It was just weird. If you're an old school DJ, it's partly snobbery, but partly putting in the work and going through the whole mentoring process and what you get from that compared to just buying some software and pushing a few buttons.” There are a couple of upstarts he is totally down for, however: his kids, a boy and a girl ages five and six. “They're into music already. They have a band called Princess Thunder Sword. They made a mix tape and everything. They love the keyboards.”
Lianne La Havas "Lost and Found" (Ernest Gonzales Remix)
Hopefully that dedication is a lesson that his students are also picking up from him. It’s definitely been a learning process for Ernest. “I've gone through these cycles of feeling like I can change the world, to nothing that I do matters, to now just feeling really good about the fact that every day I'm teaching. I've been at this school for a couple years. This year I have 7th and 8th graders. I taught 6th grade as well. They're in that just out of being a tiny kid stage and they're testing you and their hormones are going. They're chaotic years.” But they are not without reward. “I DJd at a school talent show once. It was the only time I’ve ever been nervous playing a show, really. They freaked out, they loved it.” Regarding his other life as an indie music celebrity he says, “I tell the ones who can understand what I’m doing. For the most part, I’m just Mr. G.”