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How Zoé Keep Their Musical Karma Evolving After 20 Years

Grammy-winning Mexican rock band’s frontman on fatherhood, quarantine life, and their proggy new album

Dana Trippe*

“It’s something we have in our soul,” says León Larregui, the frontman of Mexico’s celebrated alt-rock band Zoé. “We’re telepathically connected, even from far away and without speaking.” That uncanny bond between Larregui and his bandmates — one he calls a “karmic sonic identity” — informed the band’s seventh album, Sonidos de Karmática Resonancia (or Sounds of Karmic Resonance), out April 16th. “Our songs, some of which we wrote separately, would even have the same notes,” he continues. “It’s like we’re channeling from the same source.”

For two decades, Zoé — comprised of Larregui, Sergio Acosta, Jesús Báez, Ángel Mosqueda, and Rodrigo Guardiola — have spun fantastic tales of otherworldly love and lucid dream explorations, all against a luminous rock backdrop that could easily induce visions of travelling through time and space. Formed in the late Nineties in Mexico City, at the tail end of the rock en español explosion, the five-piece band began making music amid an era-defining movement that saw Spanish-speaking bands fusing Anglo rock and Latin folklore. 

Zoé independently released their self-titled debut in 2001, and two years later, with Rocanlover, they teamed up with Phil Vinall (Pulp, Placebo), who would produce most of the band’s material up to 2018’s Aztlán, which earned them their first Grammy award. For the new album, they teamed instead with producer Craig Silvey (who has mixed albums by Arcade Fire, Arctic Monkeys, and more). “Phil had become an unofficial member of the band and we never stopped learning from him,” Larregui said in a press release. “We thought we were ready for the adventure of working with someone new. Craig brought a different attitude to the table — a new kind of vision. He opened up new doors.” 

With Sonidos…, Zoé’s alt-rock enigma shows a proggier side, twisting and turning with rhythmic bursts and occasional twinkling keys like those heard on “SKR.” Then there’s the doomy-yet-alluring guitar-bass interplay on the more upbeat “Velur,” where the band dips into New Wave reverie. 

In January, a group of established acts and music icons got together and released a beautiful rendition of Zoé classics, entitled Zoé Reversiones, to celebrate the band’s formidable contributions to Latin rock, featuring the likes of Alejandro Fernández, Mon Laferte, Juanes, and Andrés Calamaro. “For me, the most exciting [covers] are the ones that explored other musical genres,” Larregui says.

Soft-spoken and thoughtful, the Mexican frontman, who was quarantining in Spain at the time, spoke with Rolling Stone about the new album and how karma helped shape it. 

First, a couple of icebreakers. Green or red chilaquiles?

Green. Always green and very picante. 

What’s the first concert you went to?

The first concert I went to was to see my uncle perform with his band in Cuernavaca. I went with Ángel, our bass player, and we were super excited. That’s when we decided that that’s what we wanted to do. We were 14 years old.

What’s the last dream you remember?

The last dream I remember was a few days ago. I was performing a concert, and I was really worried, because I was thinking to myself that it’s been so long since I have played a show, and I didn’t remember the lyrics. Like, “What am I going to do?! I’m not going to be able to do it. I don’t know my profession anymore!” [Laughs.] But I was really happy to be back onstage.

Besides performing live, what is something else you really miss before the pandemic?

Contact with people and the freedom we used to have — to travel, to move around, to see people’s faces. That’s the thing I miss the most. Just walking in the street and seeing people’s faces. Now you don’t know who’s who, if they’re smiling or looking angry, because you don’t see their expression on their face. The eyes are not enough to see and connect with people. It’s really hard isolating with this mask thing. 

Last year in June, I went to a classical music concert, because that was the only thing that was possible to go to, and it was amazing. Just to feel the music live, I was crying, very teary-eyed with the experience of feeling the music. Feeling the frequencies, the waves of sound in your body, it’s very unique. It doesn’t compare with anything else, much less listening to music in your house. The musicians are presenting you this piece, and the connection you get with everyone [in attendance], feeling united, all experiencing the same thing. It’s like a mass consciousness that appears when you’re in a massive concert. It’s very special.

What you described makes me think of your new album title, Sonidos de Karmática Resonancia. What’s the main inspiration behind the album?

The inspiration has to do with the demos. When we completed the demos, they all sounded chilling, [with] what I call “karmic resonance.” Even if us band members are far away from each other, when we get together, we’ll all have a very similar song idea. For example, when Sergio, Ángel, Chucho, Rodrigo and I were choosing songs, some of which we wrote separately, we would even have the same notes. We’re telepathically connected, even from far away and without speaking. It’s something we have in our soul, like a karmic sonic identity. Karma! Of course, we all have to listen to it. Even though we’re a band, we all have different tastes. But when we get together, it’s like we’re channeling from the same source. That’s where Sounds of Karmic Resonance came from. 

A band is like a marriage. What is the secret element that has not only kept you guys together, but thriving, for more than two decades?

It’s a band that has always been a group of friends. After years and years of working and traveling together, it becomes like family. We’ve known each other since we were very young, most of us since age 16 or 17, working and thriving like friends who love each other. That seems like the secret. We are like a group of brothers. It’s not like people you hire to work with you. Like any other family, there are problems and rough times. But it’s not so bad. If you’re just working with hired musicians, maybe you don’t get to the hard moments. But because it’s a family, we’re there to take care of each other, with love and care. We always find the solution to do things and keep going. If you don’t water the garden, it withers. 

Just a few years ago, you released two acclaimed solo albums under your name. Then you reunited with your band to release Aztlán in 2018. What motivated you to create another album with Zoé and not as a solo artist?

We [had] momentum as a band, traveling to new countries, and it was starting to work — Zoé in Paris, Zoé in London! To keep the fire burning, you need up to a two-year break for Zoé to do another album, or else the fire goes out. To seize the moment, we said, “Let’s do another album and keep the hype going and keep performing.” So we decided to do another album right away. And now with the pandemic, it all went to shit [laughs]. The new album is coming out in April, and I’m also working on my third [solo] album, because I have time, and I don’t have anything else to do! I’m going to record this summer. I’m trying to use this time to create things, otherwise I go crazy. 

Let’s talk about Zoé’s single “Karmadame.” This lyric resonated with me: “Todo cambiará, no te resistas a crecer/Ríndete al amor y solo déjate llevar” (“Everything will change, don’t resist growth/Surrender to love and just let yourself go”). What does it mean to you? 

It’s something that I’m telling myself, to heal, but I’m also telling it to those who are listening. It’s like a healing monologue — like, “León, you have to learn!” I believe it’s going to resonate with others, because the lyrics are very positive. What I write might be something that resonates with somebody, because someone has felt that way at some point. I think that’s very spiritual. They’re human songs. 

I believe it’s important to be aligned spiritually, physically, and mentally to elevate creative results, whether that’s exercising, taking vitamins, meditating, or anything that promotes wellness. Do you have a specific routine or ritual you follow?

[Wellness] is something that has always been present in my life. But in the last couple of years, it has become more serious. I’ve matured. A lot of things can make you more accelerated, but having a kid, being a father, [helped me] become a better person. You need to be fit to be a father — centered, stable, and responsible. You have to be up to the task. When you don’t have a kid, you don’t care about those things, or may not take good care of yourself. You change a lot of things.

You are a rock star, and stereotypically, rock stars are notoriously known for their party-driven lifestyles. How do you manage to stay centered?

Since my kid was born, I’ve almost become a different person — very homebody, I love to be home. I don’t party anymore. Well, I party sometimes when I’m on tour with my friends because I’m away from home. But when I’m with my family, I’m just home. Sometimes I see friends, but it’s nothing crazy, that life is kind of over [laughs].

From Rolling Stone US