“It makes grown men cry, right?” Diego Solórzano asks rhetorically with a gentle laugh. He’s talking about the Chris de Burgh song “Lady in Red,” a polarizing number that has most music fans either loathing or loving the 1986 hit. There are those who dismiss the song as sentimental schlock and those — like American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman, who listens to it intently on his Walkman in the film, seemingly blissed out, Solórzano reminds — who applaud de Burgh’s songwriting and performance.
For Solórzano, who fronts the Mexico City–based synthpop band Rey Pila, there is some middle ground. Initially, on hearing the song on the radio, the band fell for it and recorded a cover. When it came to singing the words, though, that was a different story.
“The radio station in Mexico City, it only plays Eighties music, really nostalgic music — from Chris de Burgh to Van Halen,” Solórzano says, calling in from the Mexican capital. “The Eighties are big here.” The connection to the decade goes beyond local radio picks: Earlier, he translated the name of the band from Spanish to English — “king battery,” a phrase he saw in a painting by the late graffiti artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, whose work is synonymous with the Eighties arts scene here in New York.
“Nostalgic and weird, but we grew up listening to that station,” he continues. “When we heard ‘Lady in Red,’ we thought it was so cool. I never realized the lyrics are so ridiculous. When we worked on that [cover] with Julian, we had to change them out. There was no way I was going to sing ‘cheek to cheek.’ ”
Julian is Julian Casablancas, who heard an early version of the band’s second album, The Future Sugar, out July 17, and signed Rey Pila to his label, Cult Records. The Strokes frontman produced the band’s 2013 single “Alexander” and also their “Lady in Red” cover, which was used as the B side. He also hooked them up with Weezer producer Shawn Everett, who had worked with Casablancas’s band the Voidz, so that he could mix the record. Then, earlier this year, after hearing some new demos, Casablancas urged the band to add three new songs to the album, which he produced himself. The lengthy process delayed and delayed the record’s release, but Solórzano thinks it was worth the wait.
“When we heard the new album and heard it with the new songs, it was a better album: It was there,” says the 31-year-old, whose day job is making music for ads. “It’s been four years since we recorded the first version of the album, and we’ve been working on songs constantly since then. You change and become better at what you do. Those new demos sound more like we sound now.”
That’s not to say the delay wasn’t annoying and frustrating. “If this had happened when I was in my teens I probably would have been a brat about it and cried like a baby, because it was taking such a long time,” Solórzano concedes. “But now, age has made me more patient. Age makes you accept shit more, right?”
He laughs again softly and in such a way that he seems to be considering his use of those words, as if he’s wondering if they’re quite correct. Much is often lost in translation, especially when it comes to fitting words with music. Sometimes the intent and feeling of the song gets lost in the shuffle when a switch between languages takes place, and the musicality diminishes: We consider how the Clash’s staccato “We’re a garage band” does not translate to the American accent, where the softer elongated second syllable — “we’re a ga-raaahzh band” — tosses the punky punch of the original straight out the window. Solórzano laughs: The Clash were hugely influential during his formative years. “It’s totally different,” he says of the two English pronunciations. Solórzano writes and sings in English, not in his native tongue. Maybe it’s because his ears were tuned by that local radio station’s constant flow of American and British Eighties hits, but Solórzano thinks Rey Pila’s songs can only be sung in English.
“To me, it doesn’t feel comfortable for the music,” he continues. “Spanish is a very romantic language that is nice to speak. But it can feel very mellow. The Rolling Stones, the Who, Depeche Mode — English works perfectly. The language, the words match perfectly to that music. But I don’t think about it that much,” he adds. “It comes out as it comes out. For me, it’s about being myself and letting things grow.”
Rey Pila will celebrate the release of The Future Sugar July 16 at Pianos and July 17 at Baby’s All Right in Brooklyn.