Juan Son makes quirky Mexican pop

Mexican pop star Juan Son has a vision for his new music video, but the fish markets in Guadalajara aren't cooperating. "We're trying to find lobsters that are alive, but they're all dead," he laments.

Lifeless crustaceans are just the beginning of Son's troubles. He's two days away from shooting the video for the title track of his new CD, Mermaid Sashimi, and his hometown is as bereft of lobsters as it is of Japanese actors — who he'd hoped would play the deranged sushi chefs determined to make nigiri out of the video's leading lady.

Son had dreamed up a bloody, action-packed parody of The Little Mermaid to accompany his song. It was meant to be funny, but now he worries the clip will take a turn for the "depressing."

Juan Son: Seriously silly.
Juan Son: Seriously silly.

"I'm a very frustrated comedian," he admits. "I was expecting people to laugh a lot about the name of the CD, but it hasn't had a good response.

"Do you like sashimi?" he asks.

If you're the kind of person who can see the comedy in Ariel being hacked up by sushi knives, Juan Son's music might be up your alley. But since "sea-nymph butchery" is a rather obscure genre, here's a more conventional description of the sound: Son combines the ethereal pop of Björk and Sigur Rós with the impassioned vocals of Muse, then peppers in some classic Disney soundtracks and a hefty dose of quirky humor. It's not every day you run across a song called "Unicorn's Puberty."

With smeared black eyeliner and theatrical costumes, Son doesn't look the part of a typical Mexican pop star — he's more Panic! at the Disco than Ricky Martin. He doesn't sound the part, either, which makes him a good fit for this week's Convergence MMIX at the Mission Creek Music Festival. The eclectic bill, with genres including electro-pop, surf, and ska, shows a side of Latin American music most estadounidenses aren't used to hearing. "There's a good phase of music going on," he says of contemporary Mexican acts, citing Café Tacuba, Julieta Venegas, and experimental electronica artist Murcof among his favorites.

Before releasing Mermaid Sashimi, Son performed with popular Mexican indie band Porter, but he wanted the limelight as a solo artist after covering Cheap Trick's "I Want You to Want Me" on the soundtrack to the recent Gael García Bernal movie Rudo y Cursi. Though he wasn't a huge Trick fan, he took the gig anyway — mainly in hopes of pitching Bernal on his movie idea.

Son says he approached Rudo director Carlos Cuarón about his film concept, a curious and macabre-sounding story about a machine that captures souls escaping from recently deceased bodies. "He said, 'Oh, you don't know anything about cinema,'" Son recalls. "It was kind of humiliating. I took my story and just ran."

Son may not know cinema, but he knows how to put on a show, and he cites notorious performers David Bowie, Björk, and Smashing Pumpkins as influences, along with Broadway musicals like The Phantom of the Opera and The Lion King. "I always get dressed up," he says of his stage garb, which has ranged from capes to get-ups more suited for a fast-food sidewalk pitchman. He's shown up to gigs dressed as a pizza and an ice cream cone, and he once even performed in the buff — sort of.

"I designed a naked costume, which is like my skin color, and the part where — what's an elegant word to say it? I put some hair in there, and it looked really funny," he explains with a giggle. "I just like it to be funny."

 
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