Photos by Martin Quintero
If a cold night drive in a dark suburban neighborhood had a soundtrack, Mexican Slum Rats would be the composers. There aren’t many bands that encapsulate such a specific vibe consistently in their sound, but if you know what type of music is perfect for night drives, then the Slum Rats are for you.
Mexican Slum Rats are a four-piece alternative surf rock band hailing out of Granada Hills, CA. They began releasing their work in 2017, beginning with the “Slumrat EP.” The EP garnered them a great deal of recognition necessary for any band to gain legitimacy in the Los Angeles music scene. They began playing many local house shows, and quickly went on to play small venues. Needless to say, the Slum Rats have a very nice listener base that was well earned.
Their sound, aside from being the soundtrack to a night drive, has a tinge of surf rock influences that are very popular in the local music scene. Their overarching sound is a reverb-heavy, chorus-based guitar rock masterpiece. Their instrumentals tell as much of a love-struck story as their lyrics, and do not serve as a backing track to their vocals. Songs like “I Thought You Had The Lighter?” and “Reefer” are great examples of how a song can have many movements and separate themes to form one beautiful track. With their production featuring heavy drums and vocals distorted like hell, Mexican Slum Rats have a sound that can only be compared to Mexican Slum Rats.
The band consists of singer and guitarist Kevin Villalba, guitarist Emilio Mouriz, bassist Brock McHenry, and drummer Ben.
ALTANGELES: Tell me your story. How did the band come to be, when, and why?
Kevin: I would say this all began around April 2017 when the “Slumrat” EP came out, but I had been experimenting by myself for about a year to a year and a half prior. Until the EP, we began talks of release shows and had actual band practices.
Ben: I met Kevin in 6th grade because I liked his Iron Maiden shirt. After a while of seeing him on the guitar, I picked up the bass, but I ended up on the drums after all during high school. Once we began high school, we kind of knew we would be in a band since then. That’s when we became friends with Brock.
Emilio: It was funny because Kevin and Brock and Ben were in different death metal bands all throughout high school, so once Mexican Slum Rats formed they simply asked me if I would be their guitarist. It was easy, I just said “hell yeah” and I was in. We’ve been this way for 4 years now, it’s crazy!
Brock: When I began playing guitar in 9th grade, I joined the death metal band with Kevin and Ben and was a guitarist, but naturally I felt like I gravitated toward bass because it was a pretty sick instrument. So then we got Emilio and Mexican Slum Rats was formed.
So let’s talk about your two albums. Give me the history of the albums, how you went from the production of LARC to the changes in Magnum Opus.
Kevin: Yeah so I would say LARC (Life’s A Risk Carnal) is a very surf rock oriented LP. I would listen to a lot of happy music because I was a very happy little teen back then. LARC was the perfect foundation for what I wanted to be as a band, but that was back then. Now it is nothing at all like what we write. I feel like we have gravitated toward the alternative sound now.
But at the beginning I would say we had some faults due to the fact that LARC was mostly written by me. We felt like we needed to put more effort as a band to write because there were instances where the music as a band did not feel completely genuine. But our breaking point was when Magnum Opus came out, because we only knew how to play about half of the songs on the album together. There were excuses to why we could not, but we realized quickly that we needed to be able to learn our entire discography.
Overall I would say that the jump from LP 1 to LP 2 was a huge step backward in terms of how we organized ourselves as a band, but I am very proud of the actual music because it represents a huge time of my life. However, for this new album, it is completely flipped. It is very representative of all of us and we are all very happy with the work we have done.
Listening to your music, your guitars have a smooth, reverb heavy sound, and your voice is distorted. Whenever I listen to a song, I can say that this is a song by Mexican Slum Rats. How did you make this distinct sound for yourself?
Kevin: I want to be absorbed by the sound. A lot of times listening to bands, they’ll have a lot of echo and a lot of reverb, and while maybe I would have liked that years ago, I want to go for a much drier sound. As with Magnum Opus, my voice is distorted but not delayed as it is in LARC. For the new album, we are going for a much drier sound, where the writing and the guitar effects will do most of the work. I love our music having sections in songs where it’s clean, and then the next section is distorted. This is because I like people going into our music and not know what to expect in each song, I love changing their moods as the single song progresses. It shows just how powerful music can be.
Emilio: It’s funny that you asked that because I always feel like—especially with the second album—that the music is so enveloping when you listen to it. It feels almost like an embrace by the music and it feels so welcoming to listen to. I mean shoutout to Kevin for thinking of how to produce that type of mood into the music.
That is so awesome. Another awesome thing was that you guys opened for the Red Pears, how was that?
Brock: It was our first legit show that had a green room and free drinks and a legitimate sound check with audio engineers. There were a lot more people than I expected.
Emilio: It was crazy seeing that DM from them, because we were jamming and immediately we were like we’ve got to stop everything we’re doing and respond to this right now. It felt kind of rewarding for all the hard work we have done to be messaged by such a great band. It felt like a kind of a payoff. It was so humbling talking to the actual dudes from The Red Pears because beyond their crazy success, they were super chill and such nice guys.
Ben: The Glass House. I’m having complete horrible “I’m-About-To-Throw-Up” nausea. Brock calls me and is like “Hey we are going on in 10 minutes” meanwhile I’m trying to force myself to throw up in the green room. I don’t even know how I got that way.
Emilio: The Salad Bar!
Ben: Oh that’s right! I wanted to eat something light for the show. At the venue, I started to feel like crap. So we are about to play, and I think to myself that I’m just nervous, that’s all. We play an amazing show for The Red Pears, we get off stage, and my nausea comes right back. I get driven to CVS and eat nothing but Tums.
Kevin: That was a very under-detailed take of what really happened! It sounded like he was going to freaking die! He was throwing up all of the Tums and everything until the next morning.
Ben: I went to Chino urgent care and was told that it was some kind of stomach virus. It was horrible. I did not get to see any of the rest of the show.
Brock: If we learned anything, never eat salad before a show.
Sweet, so, why the name “Mexican Slum Rats”?
Brock: Don’t look at the white guys. Hahaha!
Kevin: I feel like I always struggled with that name. Growing up in a rough neighborhood and being not leveled with “other” people has made me feel like having the name of being a “Mexican slum rat” is something I will always want to rise above. Due to the fact that I was a dirty little brown kid with silver teeth, they’d call me a rat and shit. So thinking back to those days I want to own the name and make it my own by rising above what that name originally meant.
However, I really try to not offend anyone with that name and it makes me nervous at times. Being Mexican I feel like we have a lot of eyes on us under this presidency and I try my best to only put out content that we 100% stand for to rise above the connotation behind the name of “Mexican Slum Rats.”
Emilio: Back then I would think about the name a lot more. It was a little embarrassing at first to tell people the name of the band, but as we grew up I realized how important it is to make sure people know who we are, and what we stand for. Brock or Ben, what do you guys think?
Ben: Yeah man, it’s cool. I never even really thought about what it meant until right now. I just love how it rolls off of the tongue. “MSR”!
Mexican Slum Rats is such a legendary name. Are you guys aware of your doubled listener base from the last six months, what has happened, given that you haven’t released new music?
Kevin: Yes, I’m very aware! We released B-Sides on Bandcamp for people who wanted them, so maybe that contributed to it. But I really think it has to do with the shows that we have been playing. We just got blessed, I think. Out of nowhere, the audiences were getting bigger and bigger every show. We set out to make the shows something that they can only experience live and nowhere else. The shows got so crazy. So when combining the chill songs and the crazy shows, the audience gets a very unique experience listening to us.
Emilio: I feel like the fact that we had a show very far from and in between each other has helped our audiences digest the music well and then catch their opportunity to watch us play. With that happening, it’s led to a more legitimate demand for us to play.
Kevin: It was really scary seeing our number go from 3,000 to 6,500 listeners.
Ben: I think bands burn themselves out by doing every show they possibly can. They think doing every show possible will do damage for them, but I think people get tired of the same thing all of the time.
Brock: Yeah I also think people just think that people will say “I’ll just see them another time,” whereas for us people are more inclined to take the opportunity since it is not known when the next time we play will be.
Emilio: I like to think that playing shows in very different locations helps us also spread MSR into new regions, and that helps grow the listener base, too.
Brock: I feel like the number one reason why our listener base has grown is because of Kevin’s lyrics. They are so deep and I understand why people love it.
Kevin: Well thank you. I try my best to be vague enough so that people can relate to it. I treat it as relatable poetry. I usually spend so many months figuring out what the hell to say. Maybe that is the number one reason why our listener base has grown.
Stepping away from the music for a second, give me a fun fact about yourselves not related to music!
Emilio: Well I know this easily thanks to the ice breakers at school, but I love ASMR videos! I love the ear eating videos. I genuinely enjoy the chewing sound. I also love history.
Kevin: Same with me, since I was 12, I was like holy shit, I love people whispering to us.
Ben: Kevin, Brock, and I, are cooks for the Bellwether Restaurant. It’s new Americana, meaning its the type of food that you can get away with everything. Curry, Patty Melts, Octopus, all of that. We all started as dishwashers, but now we are line cooks.
Brock: Shoutout to the Bellwether crew!
Kevin: For my fact, though, I’m a lefty!
Brock: I love to cook. I am a baker. I really love making bread from scratch! The guys love it! I made brioche cinnamon rolls with cream cheese frosting for Christmas.
All: Damn that was so amazing!
Twins! Now tell me, what is your overall goal?
Emilio: I would love to make a living doing this music thing. I want to provide the world with beautiful music and experiences. If not, I got my in-progress degree from CSUN on the way.
Brock: I really want to live a long and fulfilling life. If the band is a part of that, I will be even happier. No matter what, I want to be fulfilled by either cooking or music. I want to give something to the world, whether it be food or music. Money does not have a role in this whatsoever.
Ben: I feel like we have been working so hard at the band. I want to see how far this can go! Doing the live show is something that cannot be described. The joy it brings is so addictive, and if I can keep doing that for the rest of my life, I want to. The goal is to be fulfilled, all while trying to do bigger and better things.
Kevin: I want to have a very happy life. I feel like when it comes down to music, I cannot see my future without it. If one thing does not work out, I will keep trying. I want to achieve the most perfect creativity we can possibly create. I always want to chase that treasure in your head when you cannot believe that you wrote something so amazing. I will always be going after that feeling.
What is in the future for Mexican Slum Rats?
All: New music, an album, new videos, fashion aesthetics, live visuals, new merch, bigger shows, and more happiness to everyone!
That’s amazing. Any last message to ALTANGELES readers?
Kevin: Anyone can do it! Anyone can pick up a guitar and get to work and do what they want. Do not let others expectations define you. You do have the power to change whatever you want. I guess, chase your dreams!
Emilio: Yes, please be inspired to do whatever art you feel like doing. Foster it, and make yourself happy doing something that makes you feel fulfilled. Once you hear the new music though, it’s over!
Check out Mexican Slum Rats on your favorite streaming platform, and follow them on Instagram to stay up to date on upcoming shows and releases!