Stoner/Prog Band MOTHS Reflect on Tenacity of Puerto Rico’s Metal Scene – Living Here Is ‘Like Extreme Sports’
MOTHS’ Jonathan Miranda and Weslie Negrón discuss their first LP, Space Force, and how the Puerto Rican metal scene has survived in the face of several recent setbacks.
On this debut, the Puerto Rican progressive/stoner metal quintet MOTHS merge Latin flavors with shades of influences such as Baroness, Mastodon and King Crimson. As a result, it’s a very diverse and rewarding introduction.
That’s particularly impressive given how much adversity they faced along the way. Naturally, the COVID-19 pandemic halted the creation of the album; however, several other events – Hurricane Maria, the 2019 resignation of Gov. Ricardo Rosselló Nevares and various earthquakes and power outages – affected not only the band but the entire island. Thus, their story is one of immense endurance and optimism.
We recently spoke with bassist Weslie Negrón and lead guitarist Jonathan Miranda about how those events impacted Space Force, how the Puerto Rican metal scene is prospering despite those difficulties and much more.
Has there always been a strong progressive metal scene in Puerto Rico?
Weslie Negrón: Yeah, it’s been going since the late ‘80s. You could say that the first band was Cardinal Sin, who were a mix of early Metallica and Pantera.
Jonathan Miranda: They were early thrash, yeah.
WN: Then, you have Puya, who basically became the biggest metal group from the island. They toured with Iron Maiden in 1999, and they mixed nu-metal with salsa and other things. Since the ‘80s, a lot of bands have come up from the underground, and Latin rock was booming. So, our metal, punk and hardcore scenes took a little from that.
I started playing in 2010 when there was another big boom of bands. It’s like a rollercoaster in that the movement could be dormant for a time and then a handful of bands blow up and it reignites.
How has the scene changed or evolved since you started playing?
WN: Between, maybe, 2011 and 2017, plenty of stuff was going on, but then Hurricane Maria happened and everything kind of went back to zero.
JM: The scene got hit hard, for sure. By the 2000s, there was a fair amount of post-hardcore and death metal, but now it’s mainly just a mixed bag of everything. You know, from hyper-technical to death to black metal to mathcore. It’s very diverse, and the music began coming back after Hurricane Maria, but then the pandemic knocked it down. We’re finally getting shows up and running again, though, and I’ve seen about 10 new bands in the last six months.
It seems like Puerto Rican artists and fans have incredible resilience.
Which of those styles have influenced MOTHS the most?
WN: Well, we have vastly different tastes. I guess a common interest would be prog.
JM: And each of us has a different musical background. Omar [González, rhythm guitar] came from crossover thrash metal, whereas I was more of a “Big 4” person. Weslie was more death/thrash but also hardcore, Damaris [Rodríguez, vocals] likes prog and power metal and Danny [Figueroa, drums] plays everything [laughs]. Some of us studied jazz and classical, too.
Ah, so that explains your varied sound. Moving on, there’ve been a few recent incidents in Puerto Rico that may’ve obstructed the creation of Space Force. Not only Hurricane Maria, but also earthquakes, power outages and even the 2019 resignation of Gov. Ricardo Rosselló Nevares.
WN: It seemed like every time we went into the studio, something disrupted us. When we were finishing our first EP [2018’s MOTHS], Hurricane Maria came and messed up the electrical system of the whole island. I didn’t have electricity for three months afterward. Then, the earthquakes and pandemic occurred as we were working out the final details for Space Force. We’re still suffering from those 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 stress out about completing the album and touring.
JM: Plus, we couldn’t risk getting each other sick, so we needed to take a full break and keep in contact. It wasn’t until 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 Argentina’s Heresy Fest Online. I was anxious about getting Space Force ready ASAP, though. Luckily, now seems to be the right time for it.
Absolutely. You’ve gotten a lot of positive reception so far, and you’ve shown a lot of perseverance.
WN: Thanks. We must be able to play it live, too, and promote it.
JM: You also asked about the situation with Ricardo Rosselló Nevares, right? That didn’t directly impact the album, other than it allowed us to make some merch about it [laughs], which sold like hotcakes. That said, there are governmental issues that are limiting a lot of bands, like a lack of programs that could help local talent [or provide them with] platforms to perform in local festivals and stuff like that.
That’s a big problem.
WN: It really is, and in general, if these issues continue, we might have trouble finding enough venues for artists, too. A lot of them closed during the pandemic. That said, the overarching mood down here is one of tenacity. A few weeks ago, two local shows had about 800 people in-between them.
JM: They were packed. People are hungry for concerts and quality bands. It’s finally bustling again.
WN: Even with all these obstacles, there are so many new groups emerging. They just refuse to quit, you know, even if they need to work super hard for exposure. It’s very impressive.
JM: Right, and artists from all walks of life will support each other, no matter if they’re punk or rock or extreme metal. You get a taste of everything and it’s very tight knit.
It sounds like a truly inclusive community.
WN: That’s a good way to put it. I mean, the pandemic provided a good reset process for artists to reconsider what they’re doing well vs. what they could be doing better for themselves and their audience.
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 ensure that we can be successful doing everything from here.
JM: And if we make it big, labels might try signing other groups, so the idea of elevating Puerto Rican metal is a big inspiration.
WN: Beyond MOTHS, we want people to know that there’s good music coming from the island.