Tijuana might be better known right now for its crooked cops and affordable prescription drugs, but Ceci Bastida has been sounding off for the border city's next generation since she was a feisty 15 year-old fronting politically-minded Mexican ska band Tijuana No! (famous for their cover of the Clash's “Spanish Bombs”). After dropping out of the scene to teach history at a TJ middle school, and then returning to music as keyboardist for friend and Tijuana No! co-founder Julieta Venegas, Bastida finally moved to L.A. and broke away from las bandas in 2008 in order to record her growing cache of electronic-infused Spanish-language post-punk songs (after her debut solo performance at SXSW in 2007, KCRW basically put “Ya Me Voy” on repeat).
Her first solo record, Veo La Marea (“I See The Tide,” released independently in the U.S. last week after previous release in Mexico on EMI) is an aggressive mix of emotional honesty and socio-political advocacy, entrenched in both Anglo and Mexican sounds without alienating either. The culture-straddling work features cameos from American artists such as Diplo and Tim Armstrong (on a bi-lingual Go-Go's cover, no less) as well as Mexican rapper Niña Dioz, proving that when worlds collide, it's not always chaos.
The spunky fireball of future music answers some questions via email after looking thankfully out-of-place on the red carpet at the Latin Grammy Awards ceremony in Las Vegas, where her track “Cuando Vuelvas A Caer” was nominated for Best Alternative Song.
This is your first solo album, yet it oozes with confidence. How did you find your own voice so quickly?
I had a decent idea of what I wanted for this album and since I worked on the record over a period of two years, I had time to listen to the songs many times and was able to change whatever I wasn't completely happy with. I do think that during that time I learned a lot about myself and allowed myself to make mistakes. That freedom helped me try out things that I would've probably not tried if I continued to be such a control freak. I think in the end that's exactly what you need to feel–you need to feel free.
Until a few years ago you had only performed as part of a band. How do you feel you have distanced yourself from past projects?
I think it helped when I left Mexico. It was a good thing for me to meet other people and see how we could work together. The people that I ended up working with had nothing to do with the bands I had played with in the past and knew nothing about them either. I also knew that I didn't wanna sound like I did when I was a teenager playing with Tijuana No!. So much time has passed since then that my musical interests have obviously changed. While playing in Julieta's band, I learned a lot–but I also knew that as much as I love her music, it was her music and I was ready to make my own.
You mix a lot of biographical songs with politically-charged songs. How do they connect?
They way I write politically-charged songs now is very different than how I did when I played with Tijuana No!. A lot of the times I try to tell a story sometimes in the first person. I write about things that affect me as a human being–it's hard for me to ignore what is happening in my country for example. I feel saddened by the increasing violence in Mexico and when I talk about it, I do it from my point of view. I also talk about immigrants and the struggles that I see them go through. This has been always important to me because I come from a city where the border is very present. I grew up watching people try to cross that border every single day and in a way it becomes part of who you are.
How was the process of writing for Veo La Marea different from writing for the Front EP three years ago?
I think back then I was trying to find my sound. I was experimenting a lot but wasn't 100% happy with the results. I knew the songs needed more work but at the time it was good to put those out. I always knew that I would go back and work on them again, hoping they would end up on the album. I kept two of those songs but did different arrangements and I let one of them go. I believe it's important not to force things. When I decided not to include that song in the album I felt fine with it.
I heard that you scrapped the entire first recording of the album and re-did it. What changed the second time around?
I used to be a control freak and was very hard on myself. If something didn't sound right in the first hour of working on it I would give up and go to something else. After understanding that I needed to allow myself to make mistakes and try out different things I decided to open myself to working with other people. The first people that I worked with didn't quite work out. I was convincing myself that I liked the results when deep down I knew I didn't. They are talented people but we didn't work well together so I decided to delete those and start over. In the end the most important thing I learned during that time was to go with your gut. During that process I had my doubts but kept thinking “give it a try.” Now I know that giving things a try is important–but it's also important to pay attention to your instincts.
The album was released in Mexico last summer. Why didn't it come out until last week in the U.S.?
The album was pretty much ready in the beginning of 2010 so we started talking about putting it out in Mexico. I had a cover that I wanted to include on the album but I really wanted Tim Armstrong to record on it. Tim and I had been trying to make it happen but sometimes he would be on tour or I was out of town and it took a long time to actually get together and record his parts. By then we had a release date for Mexico and we weren't gonna finish in time so I decided to take my time and thought of this song as something I could include in the U.S. version. After the album was released in Mexico I started thinking about Rye Rye and how her voice would sound amazing on one of the songs I had on the album. I finally got in touch with her and she said she was interested in doing it. It also took a bit of time to make that happen cause she too had a tour coming up so I waited for her to get back to the US and she finally was able to record. When I heard her on the track I was really glad we waited. Her voice is amazing and the lyrics that she added were perfect for the track. The album has been doing well in Mexico but I haven't been able to go down and perform. I have a couple of shows coming up in Mexico City and one in Tijuana–we'll see how it goes.
Though you live in L.A., it's obvious that you are still affected by the politics surrounding your hometown of Tijuana. How do you remain involved with what's going on there?
My parents live there and I also still have a lot of friends down there so I try to go as often as I can. Tijuana people are strong. They've gone through so much but the city is very much alive. There are amazing artists doing interesting things. There are great writers and musicians and they are very active–I think that gives everyone hope that things will get better. I miss seeing my family and friends. I also miss the fish tacos at the beach.
There are a lot of great cameos on Veo La Marea. How did you decide who to bring in and what was it like collaborating with artists like Tim Armstrong, Diplo and Rye Rye?
They all seemed perfect for the tracks they ended up in. Niña Dioz and I met through the internet exactly at the time that I was working on “Empieza a Amanecer.” I felt that it needed something so I asked her if she'd do something and I think she did a great job with it. Rye Rye felt perfect for “Have You Heard?” because the tone of her voice is so beautiful. I've never met Diplo–basically we got a beat from him and I wrote the song around it. And Tim for some reason made sense for this cover–once it actually happened I was happier than I thought I would be. He's so talented and easy to work with.
Your album defies all genre classifications.Is that a result of your cultural and musical upbringing?
Growing up at the border, I was exposed to so many different styles at once–from punk and rock to norteño and banda to hip hop and reggae. I never thought about how a song should sound before I actually worked on it. Once I finish I can decide if I like it or not or if it has a sound that I like, then I can make tweaks and all of that but approaching an album with a specific idea in your head seems like a lot of pressure to put on yourself.
As someone who has been a part of the alternative Latin music scene from such a young age, how did it feel to attend the Latin Grammys as a nominated artist?
I was totally surprised that I was nominated and the actual awards ceremony was definitely interesting. I was very flattered that they nominated my song but I think in the end the most important thing is to go on doing what you do. I realized I'm not much of a red carpet kind of girl. It's sort of a different world, so you can't think too much about it. Just be grateful, go back home afterwards and keep working.
BONUS — Five albums you have been listening to since summer ended:
Rita Indiana y Los Misterios, El Juidero
Fol Chen, Part II: The New December
Sufjan Stevens, The Age of Adz
Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti, Before Today
El Guincho, Piratas de Sudamerica vol. 1