Self described as “partly Mejía Godoy, and partly Foxygen” and “freak folk”, Honduran-American musician, Monty Cime, had a very specific vision in mind for their debut album, The Independence of Central America Remains an Unfinished Experiment. By the sounds of it, that vision got realized in a completely uninterrupted way.
The Independence of Central America Remains an Unfinished Experiment is not exactly an easy listen. It requires you to pay attention and it rewards you for the effort. It’s a very calm chaos. Something of an anti-pop album.
If an album ever made you feel like you were in the creator’s mind, then this is it. ‘Welcome to Monty’s brain’ it could be called. There is a circus-y type of sound that runs through the album, something that helps bring you into Monty’s universe and experience their storytelling.
Monty creates music that they say is partially “inspired by 60s and 70s mod and beat music” while other parts are more psychedelic:
“Some of the album is characterized by a strong cumbia/salsa rhythmic backbone, other parts are maximalist, noisy, and chaotic–and, yet others, still, are soft, intimate acoustic tracks–dedications to the people whom I owe the most.”
On ‘By The Bunches (Banana Dictatorships)’ Monty starts off by singing about market prices and genocide and ends with their personal doubts about the reach of their art: I keep writing these songs/because i know I could never work an office job/I think i’m running out of time/I don’t even know if there’s an audience/Like, does anyone even care to hear me whine?. From historical to deeply personal in a few seconds. That is how this album flows and it makes for a fascinating ride.
Being a writer first, and a musician second, Monty has created somewhat of a history lesson about Central America, with special focus on Honduras. The music is a call to action, a message of hope for their motherland and an incredibly personal tale of identity and spiritual struggles. Monty told me that this debut solo album of theirs was incredibly scary to put out into the world but also a dream come true. For me, the one who gets to experience the music, it is such a treat to listen to an album like this knowing its personal backstory.
I hope that the interview and Monty’s answers can give you, the Shouts audience, a similar experience while listening.
The Independence of Central America Remains an Unfinished Experiment releases on the 1st of July 2022 and will be available on all streaming platforms, with CD and cassette tape editions releasing on Widecast Records. The album is produced by DJ Rozwell.
Monty will tour the US coinciding with the release of their album. Find out more about the tour and everything Monty-world-related via their webpage.
– EXCLUSIVE PREMIERE-
Compay by Monty Cyme
For those not familiar with your work, who is Monty Cime?
Hello, I am Monty Cime, and I am a Honduran-American musician (currently) based out of Southern California, specifically Orange County (sorry). I used to be in a local post-punk band called Costco Boyfriend, and I am releasing an album titled The Independence of Central America Remains an Unfinished Experiment which is set to come out on July 1, 2022.
Your upcoming debut album as a solo artist seems incredibly theme specific. Can you tell us a bit about what motivated you to cover this subject?
Yes, The Independence of Central America Remains an Unfinished Experiment is my debut album! I’ve had more than just a few EPs and singles released over the years, but this is my first full-length, bonafide album so to speak. Ok! So, inspiration-wise, my four biggest influences going into the project—holistically—were Quilapayun’s Santa Maria de Iquique, an album which is heavily based off of the structure and instrumentation of 20th century South American operas, alternating between instrumental numbers and spoken word interludes, and it tells the story of a miners’ strike in Chile which resulted in the deaths of about 3,000 people, Ruben Blades’ Maestra Vida, a double album which is also based on 20th century South American operas, albeit much more abstractly, with spoken word interludes that are more akin to pieces of sound collage, set in a bar where you can hear beer glasses clinking and people in the background talking, and it tells an insular story about the life and death of two lovers as well as some of the political upheaval which takes place as the story progresses. Third is the Foxygen album Hang, a satirical baroque pop album, largely influenced by 40s Hollywood soundtracks, which warns of the dangers of American cultural imperialism and the self-destructive nature of those who seek fame and fortune by moving to Hollywood, with messages largely shrouded in extended metaphors and allusions to the Bible. It is structured as a musical, with side A and side B representing two acts, respectively. Lastly is Guillermo Anderson, who, as a person—especially as a compatriot—just as much as an artist was a big inspiration, but for this album in particular, his posthumous album Ese Mortal Llamado Morazán, a musical score for a theatre play of the same name which was inspired by the life of Francisco Morazán, an international hero and fellow Honduran who is celebrated as the liberator of Central America, was probably the single largest influence on the album, particularly regarding the use of leitmotifs & the metaphorical approach to writing about historical events. Maybe you can see a theme throughout all of them! I should clarify at this point, I’m not a theatre kid. Plays have never really been my thing like music has. Nevertheless, these albums played a huge role in developing the structure and the writing style of my album.
First and foremost, I wanted to work on a project that uses the history of Central America as a pretext for two reasons. I love Central American history, and I think music is a great excuse to talk about what you are already into. Second, I know at least a couple of other albums do something similar—use the history of a region as a pretext for social commentary or to talk about their own problems—but I think Honduras & Central America deserve to have something like that of their own! So it was both my own interests as well as my belief that I should morally do this that dictated the decision to have the historical angle. But of course, it’s not just about the history of the region, right? It’s about me, and it’s about my people. I had this image of a three-branch system which guided me throughout the entire writing process, which is that every single theme, every single symbol, every single motif, every single metaphor, and so on, connects in some way to at least one of these three core concepts for the album as a whole—the past: presenting the history of Central America, which I qualify as “reflection,” the present: my own personal experiences as a young adult: coming to grips with who I am as a person, whether that be my gender identity, my religious identity, or my ethnic identity, as well as the turmoil I have had to face over the past year or so, including a car wreck I was in, which preceded the lowest point in my life and the closest to suicide I’ve ever been, which led to me having to quit my job of two-and-a-half years, as well as having to face intolerance, possessiveness, and, quite honestly, torment, which continues to this day, from my former bandmates, people who I thought were my friends, due to my choices in romantic partners and gender identification, which I qualify as “introspection,” and the future: a “guide” of sorts, if not a set of hopes and desires, for Central America to build a better tomorrow for ourselves—to “finish” the “experiment,” if you will. I qualify this as the “call to action.” Most of these aforementioned symbols and themes connect to more than just one of these concepts, in fact, many of them connect to all three! This is something I have wanted to do for years—a high-concept piece where I play around extensively with genres and have these super elaborate themes that compound upon themselves throughout the project, but, to be quite blunt, I wasn’t good enough as a musician and as a writer before I started this project to do that.
This album represents something of a dream come true for me, where, after hundreds if not thousands of hours of being stuck in the trenches of writing and recording and mixing this whole thing, it came out not as an approximation of what I thought it could be, but practically just as I envisioned it, if not better.
Has your music always been political?
No, actually! I’ve been working on projects under different names fairly consistently for about five years now, and, for the most part, I would say that up until maybe 2020, I wrote mainly about myself and my life experiences, whether it be directly or through metaphor, which I did for a good while as kind of a crutch! For maybe three or four years, I couldn’t really express myself directly without feeling embarrassed. Then, in late 2019, I started that band I mentioned before, which a couple of high school friends then joined, and I started playing with politics more. We had a guiding principle, which was to “find humor in tragedy,” like the vapidity of post-9/11 American neoliberalism and the suburbs as ideological and cultural graveyards, as a means of pointing them out for what they are to make fun of them—usually in subversive ways! We had this song that was a pastiche of 80s hardcore punk which protested conservative political and social figures and their regressive views, but we wrote it about the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana and 2020 presidential candidate, Pete Buttigieg, who, at the time, had a fair shot at becoming the Democratic candidate for the general election. We had a line in this song that went, “So you hate the rich / But you hate the poor / A talking head, you’re nothing more.” It is biting social criticism, sure, but it’s about one of the most sterile political figures to emerge from US politics in the past two decades. So, it has this subtextual weight behind it, which is that politics have become so superficially buttoned-up in some aspects that, you know, this is who we have to protest, and, really, he’s just a stand-in for the dozens of moderates that are just like him. Or, we had another song, which took after heartbreak-centric pop ballads, which had lyrics told from the perspective of a strawberry which felt dejected after falling under a couch and being “forgotten” for three weeks, only to rot, be found, and promptly thrown out. It’s an inscrutable pretext that invites a kind of overly-analytical approach… one in which the strawberry is actually a person who had experienced a breakup or something to that effect. It’s a satire of the melodrama endemic to that style of music, with the tongue-in-cheek lyrics and the effect they have on the audience outlining a pervasive sentiment in music, which is that anything worth getting emotional over—music that makes you feel anything—is sad, that sadness is directly tied to profundity, and that, therefore, this song that makes you feel sad must have some deeper meaning to it. This is a sentiment, in my opinion, that is rooted in ethnocentric conceptions and values regarding artistic expression. I noticed how people tend to applaud white artists for having “super deep” music, when what they mean is sad and slow. These same audiences oftentimes will deride upbeat, danceable Latin music, which I think they view as “simple” in comparison.
Some people argue that music and activism or music and politics should be separated. What is your take on the subject?
So, I don’t think music and activism necessarily have to coincide with one another. I think a lot of important ideas can be expressed in music that has very little do with social movements and activism, and I don’t think people have to sing about the working class’ struggles or raise awareness of a social issue or anything of that nature. However, in my opinion, there are two very important things to consider! First of all, music is an incredibly potent and succinct way of promulgating a political message; for example, not everyone is able or willing to engage with expansive texts like Marx’s Capital, especially if they are hostile or generally unfavorable to Communism as an ideology. They might, however, be more receptive to an artist like Woody Guthrie or Phil Ochs, who can, in three minutes—that’s 180 seconds—serve as proponents and publicize palatable political principles for a population which has been propagandized to form a predisposition in which they protest any proposition of Communism as pure evil; what music does, and I think this especially goes for Latin America, is that it makes the promotion of a political agenda much more accessible. The 26 de Julio Movement (and Cuba post-Revolution), Allende’s Chile, and, most prominently, the Sandinistas, all knew and adopted this mindset. In comparison to acts like Bob Dylan, who had little interest in the social movements he spearheaded, folk music in Latin America was not only a facet of these movements, the music, and the artists themselves, were the reason for the widespread promulgation of the movement, the reason it gained a following, and the reason it would ultimately succeed. Oral tradition is a core aspect of Latin America—one of the few things I would go so far as to say is an aspect of a mythological, unified “Latin” culture. As a few examples, from Pre-Columbian legends as well as historical accounts being passed down for generations by the Mayans and Mexica tribes (including the Aztecs) in Meso/Aridoamerica as a means of tying their civilizations to that of the Olmecs and the Toltecs and/or outlining creation myths (a la Popol Vuh) to the introduction of corridos in the early 1800s during the Mexican War of Independence as a means of transmitting important news, Latin America has always been a land which responds much more attentively to the voice than text. The second consideration, which is a sort of extension of the first, is that music is always rooted in the conditions under which it is produced. While artists have a superficial agency in the kinds of themes we write about, we may not underestimate the complexity of our relationship with, and our role in, society. Musicians, as cultural producers, have the ability to influence swathes of the population to feel a certain way or believe a certain thing, but we are in a far more tenuous position than we may want to believe—we may not understand the full implication of our work, or how its meaning and function can end up changing considerably by institutions with influence that far exceeds our own as individuals. This isn’t to say that every song about being in love or having your heart broken is going to be misapplied as propaganda for some evil political organization that uses it as a way to promote their platform, but, as a short anecdote, the Jazz Ambassadors, a group of Black American jazz musicians in the 50s, were sent abroad to promote the freedoms supposedly offered by the United States in the wake of the spread of the USSR’s political influence. The name “Jazz Ambassadors” says it all, yes, but more telling is how, despite their warm welcome in other countries, they would come back to the US after spreading the good word of American democracy & liberty and so on to segregation.
No, I don’t think they should be separated, because, on a fundamental level (that is, the basis of music as an art form and musicians’ roles as cultural producers) they can’t be, and anyone who argues otherwise is unaware of this. At the same, however, while musicians tend to be used as tools for institutional machinations, they shouldn’t feel pressured to write about political themes in their music—just educated about the role they play (willing or otherwise!) in society.
What do you hope to achieve with your music and especially your new album?
To be as direct as possible and go out from there, I want to be able to support my mother and I. She’s a single mom, and I’m the only child. We are both California transplants—I was born in Texas, and she, of course, is from Honduras—and this place is expensive, especially if you don’t have generations of financial stability behind you; I would go so far as to say that having that or not is a pretty strong indicator of class in some parts of the state. Plus, regardless of where we live, I feel responsible for taking care of her, and I would never be able to live with the shame of failing her. That being said, I don’t see myself doing anything but music. So, this is me putting my best work out there, working my butt off (for a good amount of time during and after recording and mastering the album, I was sleeping every other day to keep up with school while still being able to put as much time and energy into this as possible), throwing practically every resource I have behind this (which, let me tell you, really isn’t much), and praying that it all works out, that it reaches the right people, and that I can later iterate on top of this with something approaching a fan base and something approaching economic stability. I don’t think this is some sort of bombshell, I talk about this quite a few times in the album, and I hope this isn’t some kind of taboo thing to say, but it’s just the truth.
That being said, of course there’s more to it. I love music as a medium to tell stories, it’s probably my favorite part of it all. I’m a writer first and a musician second; I want to tell stories that stick with people, politically-oriented or otherwise. I want to challenge people’s beliefs in implicit and evergreen ways that encourage critical thought; maybe I want to have people ask themselves about what they value in music and why they value it, or trying to alter the negative perception of the Christian faith, if not religion as a whole, off the back of American, Anglo-Saxon Evangelism! I think protest music as it was written in the 50s and 60s is no longer viable. By that I mean I literally do not think Vietnam War protest songs apply very much to the current-day anymore, and I think trying to write a direct protest of a specific event, as many protest songs of the era did, is a lost cause. Not to sound defeatist, but, to use my old band’s song about Pete Buttigieg as an example, by the time we released a single of it, he had already lost the candidacy; it was, at least superficially, no longer relevant. Now, we released it because it was satirical and he was just representative of a larger issue of politics in the United States, and also because releasing it after it was no longer relevant was a really funny concept to us, furthering the satirical nature of its conceptual basis in 80s punk as a seminal counter cultural force, but the point is that without nuance, even if your music is still relevant when it comes out, who’s to say it will resonate ideologically in a couple of months, let alone a couple of years? I love Vietnam War protest music, but a lot of it, especially if it’s just about the War, and not trying to connect it in some way to anything else, is just pretty music with a political pretext that I know has little to do with me. That being said, for those that do connect it to other concepts, like Victor Jara in his song “El Derecho de Vivir en Paz,” where he compares the Vietnam War to the ongoing fights for liberation in Latin America, going so far as to call the two struggles a “chain that will overcome” and the Vietnam War as “an olive in an olive grove” and “a dove in a dovecote,” there is an added historical importance and function to its messaging, I believe, that can be extrapolated not only as an understanding of the implications and interpretation of the War for those outside of the United States (where songs mainly stuck to condemning the United States’ egregious conduct) and Vietnam, but also as a bearer of essence—a nugget of ideology. As a musician, I want to take these metaphorical nuggets and give them new life while paying respect to those who nurtured them before. Maybe, along the way, I can create a few of my own.
For this album in particular, the most direct thing I want to accomplish, or have people take away from it, is that we, as Central America, need to finish the experiment and create a better future for ourselves, completely independent of foreign influence. In line with that is to have people understand the effects of foreign influence, particularly the United States and its opportunistic and exploitative history in the region, as well as how regional unity being broken due to politicians putting greed and individual interests over cooperation and communal growth on a centralized level was a huge factor in allowing for an opening for the United States to first attempt a military takeover (even though it was not direct, it still had popular support from the American people and politicians), and, later, an economic “partnership” which would then be exploited to allow for complete political control of the region, and that both Francisco Morazán and Simon Bolivar believed that preserving the unity of the Central American and South American regions, respectively, was paramount to ensuring the liberation of Latin America would not be undone, and, finally, that the Sandinistas offered a vision of how to rekindle this dream. Lastly, while a huge part of the narrative is clearly about me, and I do not try to make it vague as a means of facilitating relatability, I do want people to take away what I believe to be the two most important qualities any person can have, which are conviction—have a baseline moral code that cannot be broken—and earnestness—which is the act of living out that conviction; be yourself. I, again, use this for myself in regards to my identity, right? My gender identity, my religious identity, and my ethnic identity. I have a conviction in who I am as a person, and while that idea might change, I don’t let people who disagree or try to make these core aspects of me seem irrational be the ones to make that change, as was the case with my former bandmates. I want other people to take this away, whether it be regarding identity or otherwise. There’s a lot more to it, and these three core concepts, which are just extensions of the three-branch concept I outlined earlier, all kind of intersect with each other in some way, but those are how I think I would like them to be understood as a kind of summarization of their position in the album as a whole.
Can you describe the music scene where you live? Are many artists using their artistic voice to fight for justice?
A really unfortunate part about where I live is that there is not much of a unified music scene, if any! It’s situated right between San Diego, which has a lot of important history in the development of post-hardcore and punk—they had some really great scenes—and Los Angeles, which always has something going on. You would think that would translate well, right? Except, it doesn’t! There are a few punk acts, sure, but only a handful of good venues, and even those have high barriers to entry. More than just a few of the acts here, the most prominent I can think of being The Garden, tend to just ship off to LA instead of starting with local shows because of that. Alongside that, a lot of the local acts I know of are bedroom pop-inspired “indie,” sounding very much like Cage the Elephant or Tame Impala, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s not really distinctive, and I think, above all, it does a poor representing the diversity of voices and experiences in the area. I can’t say that many of the acts I know of are using their voice to fight for justice beyond performative acts of “posting ethically” to social media or something to that effect; it makes me pretty sad.
What bands or musicians are inspiring you these days? What should we check out?
Regarding contemporary acts: Glass Beach! I love their production style, it’s very raw! A big problem I have with so much music that calls itself “indie” coming out nowadays is how sterile it all sounds; it’s good to have good mixing, don’t get me wrong, but it gets to a point where they seem like they have the budget of a multi-million dollar label for their headshots and their mastering, but they have maybe 20 listeners on Spotify, and it just feels weird! Glass Beach really subvert that. Their writing style, shrouded in metaphor and allegory, yet direct when needed, with intrapersonal themes of self-acceptance regarding gender identity, and their stylistic basis in which they take the more abrasive aspects of punk regarding performance and soften that with a sonic palette from Brazilian & Japanese syncretic jazz stylings as well as video game soundtracks appealed to me a lot going into the project. Alongside that, Foxygen has probably been my biggest inspiration compositionally for years now! They do this thing where they completely switch the style of the song midway through the runtime, they’ll go from sounding like The Who to The Unicorns to David Bowie to The Rolling Stones in a single three-minute track! It’s insane! They only have two good albums, funnily enough, but they are really good albums, those being the aforementioned Hang and Take the Kids Off Broadway. Beyond that, a lot of my inspiration comes from older stuff, particularly Latin American in origin. Guillermo Anderson, who I also mentioned, and the brothers Carlos and Luis Enrique Mejia Godoy, are all really big inspirations to my music and this album is dedicated to them. Currently, I’m listening to a lot of Arco Iris, you should definitely check out their album Sudamerica o El Regreso a la Aurora, it’s kind of like this album in that it uses South American history as a pretext, but it’s a lot more… magical? I mean that, like, literally. It’s superstitious (In a really cool way!) and I think it does a really good job capturing the essence of, like, reading a Latin American novel? It’s 100 minutes long, no more, no less, 100:00, and it has this very, very strong Argentinian instrumentation to it all that is mixed with Canterbury. I could probably gush about it all day. I know a lot of people also like Agitor Lucens V, and that project is also really good, but I personally like the former more! They’re both worth your time, though, and I imagine their stuff is going to pour a lot into whatever comes next from me.
Anything else you’d like to shout from the rooftops?
I want to thank all of my collaborators, because it simply would not have been possible without them—Aron Farkas of Composition Booklet, Zach of Las Vegas math rock band Crochet, Frank AKA El Café Atomico, the Venezuelan legend himself, and, of course, DJ Rozwell, who has worked with me very closely to make sure this thing sounds phenomenal. I also want to extend my gratitude to Skylar Luna of post-rock/ambient project Walking on Glass, she has been with me all the way throughout this journey, we go back for years at this point, and she has always believed in me. She put out a wonderful album called Portfolio just a few months ago, and if you have the time and the desire, I would absolutely recommend you give it a listen. Same can be said for Vinny of Armpit Termites, who put out a really interesting plunderphonics mixtape last year that has garnered them a lot of fanfare. I’ve been with him since he started music, and it makes me so happy to see him get to this point.
Lastly, because I know everyone has to have a cause nowadays, with more and more bad press coming out about Spotify and the general unsustainability of streaming platforms, I, as a musician, want to say that you have a moral obligation to not only pirate everything, but also to support artists. So take that as you will, but what I will do, when this album comes out, is make the digital version free on Bandcamp and have a download link available if, for some reason, you really do not want to download it from Bandcamp. Alongside that, if you want a physical copy but can’t afford it (please, only if you can’t afford it, I’m taking your word here—honor system!), reach out to me and I’ll see what I can do. Also, treat service workers nicely! I worked as a cashier in a restaurant for two and a half years and that can really make our day better. I’m serious! It makes a world of difference. So, do it! Please! That’s all.
Halldór is the managing editor of Shouts - Music from the Rooftops!, an investigative journalist, audio engineer, and animal rights activist. Currently based in Cuernavaca, Mexico.