Apart from the songs, which are quite good (more on that in a minute), the most notable thing about Making Movies' second LP, A La Deriva, is that Steve Berlin produced it. Berlin has played saxophone and keyboards for decades in East L.A. Chicano rock band Los Lobos, and he has produced records for Leo Kottke, Rickie Lee Jones, Chuck Prophet and John Lee Hooker. He also played on the Replacements' All Shook Down, R.E.M.'s Document, and Paul Simon's Graceland.
In other words, Berlin is a respected guy among people who make great records. After he caught Making Movies at Knuckleheads in September 2011, when it opened for Los Lobos, he asked the band members if they'd be interested in his producing their next record — a vaguely fairy-tale-like proposition for the Kansas City group.
"I mean, it was a game changer. It was a huge turning point for our band," says singer-guitarist Enrique Chi. "Things had been going fairly well. But to have him step up and decide he wanted to be involved changed everything for us."
Record-producing credits have become a little bit like movie-producing credits. Sometimes it's a hands-on effort on the part of the producer, but sometimes a big-name producer just lends his or her name as a promotional tool and collects the cash. Chi says Berlin was of the former camp.
"I have a handful of friends who have worked with big-name producers, where they literally don't even show up," he says. "Or at least they don't even step foot in the studio. They just send notes from afar. And there's a middle ground, too, which I think is the most common, where you have a producer who listens to a couple things, gives some suggestions, then leaves and comes back a few hours later. That's kind of what I expected Steve to do. As it turned out, he was there 12 hours a day with us for the 11 days we recorded with him in Portland [Oregon]."
"It wasn't just that he was physically in the studio," says Diego Chi, bassist. "He was mentally engaged in everything happening, always giving instruction. He was always pushing in one direction or another."
"Down to very small stuff," Enrique continues. "He would listen to an overdub that would last 15 seconds of a song, and he'd say, 'Change the tremolo settings,' or whatever. It was awesome. We couldn't have asked for a better experience. And it was inspiring to me because I sometimes wonder if you do anything for long enough, you get burned out on it. Like, I know I want to do music for the rest of my life. But will I be stoked in 30 years to make music? Will it still be fun? And from him, we learned it can be. You can stay fuckin' stoked about waking up and making music every day. That's his attitude."
One thing that Berlin possibly saw in Making Movies is that it's a Latino rock band with ambitions beyond the genre of Latino rock music — not unlike Los Lobos. Chi and the band, which is rounded out by percussionist-keyboardist Juan-Carlos Chaurand and drummer Brendan Culp, also recognize this. In addition to soaking up Berlin's musical knowledge, they looked to Los Lobos as a model for how to break out of the ghettoized world of Latino music.
"Here's the thing about Latino music and Latino venues," Enrique says. "On one hand, it's cool because there's a built-in draw. A lot of people will show up to a gig just because they want to see some entertainment in their own language. Even a buzzy Pitchfork band has a hard time drawing at RecordBar on a Tuesday, but you can usually get 40 people to come to a Latino music venue without even knowing who you are most nights of the week. The challenge is that the talent pool is usually pretty amateur."