METRO MOTEL – Music with the double M

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words | Elena Scialtiel

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Released this month, ‘Un día más’ is Metro Motel’s new musical video about everyday life struggles, titled after the slogan for brothers-in-music Corey Alman and Mark Brooks’s twenty-year long resilience on the Iberian rock and pop scene, which they have weathered as core members of iconic bands like Glow, Milbajac, No Man’s Land, before forming their present band in 2009.

Members may come and go, with different musicians joining and sharing part of their journey, but Corey and Mark are the band’s Pillars of Hercules: “We treat Metro Motel as if it was a brand name and we were its managing directors. There may be staff turnover for various reasons, but our quality product is here to stay.” And music is their priority: “A true musician must be prepared to make sacrifices to the call of music. We have a day job to make our ends meet and subsidise our vocation, but our life purpose is composing and performing.”

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With the induction of guitarist Olly Heywood, and the new lead singer José Correro’s deeper, darker and soulful vocals, Metro Motel is eventually shedding the sugar-coated sound and the boy-next-door image of their previous rom-pop hit ‘Sin Ti’, in favour of a rockier sound that soars in the steely skies of awareness campaigns with their harrowing video ‘El Sonido de la Vida’, and its eye-opener storyline about the plight of a successful fashion model hooked on cocaine.

This video isn’t about ‘pretty boys strumming guitars at the top of the Rock with the sunset in the background’, the band explains. It is about hard-hitting reality: images of the black-clad band in the sun, facial expressions unreadable behind the shades and body language falling into pace with the energy of the artistic delivery, alternate with clips from the female protagonist’s glamour shots and her dramatic night-time lapse at the club, ending in a flurry of her professional photography goddess poses strobing with perfect strangers’ merciless mobile phone clicks of her lying passed out on a bar’s floor like a carnival freak.

Because the easy-listening melody isn’t meant to overwhelm the message contained in the passionately delivered lyrics, this song demands your full attention when blasted out on Radio Gibraltar’s speakers when it enjoys playtime on television right before Newswatch, with most Gibraltarians expectantly tuned in. “The TV version is slightly different from the official video, to make it suitable to dinner-time audiences,” the band says, “but it still hints at the issue and aims to raise it sensitively with young people as well as less young. In Gibraltar, we tend to be in denial about substance abuse, but unfortunately, it happens nearer than you may imagine, and head-in-the-sand complacency won’t help anyone face the problem maturely and satisfactorily.”

Metro Motel’s popularity is steadily growing, and they can boast to be the first band to grace the National Day concert with a complete set of originals only, no covers. “We do like playing covers, don’t get us wrong, but our own songs are what we are, and we want the audience to hear them, recognise them and sing along.”

With the best part of their repertoire in Spanish, their turf is across the border, having rocked Seville, Malaga and Madrid. They also work closely with cutting-edge Spanish production teams for their videos and arrangements, and being an independent band, they are always in control of the concept for their videos, which they design and realise with professional consultancy. Metro Motel signature language is Spanish, because their current lyricist happens to be a poet from Los Barrios, but they have dabbled again in English lyrics with the recent ‘Darker Days’.

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The band name sprouts from their experience in Florida as Milbajac: born from the ashes of Glow, this band enjoyed its fair fifteen minutes of fame in the States thirteen years ago, when it became the ‘something else’ of the early Noughties with its album ‘Shades of Grey’. Milbajac was offered a deal with a strong record label of the day, and the boys expected to be housed in a glitzy hotel, but ended up crashing at the more realistic accommodation of an attic, which they dubbed Metro Motel. Disappointed at first, they realised there was a nice ring to it, and how it could be easily pronounced and understood not only in English and Spanish, but many other languages. And so the name stuck, with the alliteration as a bonus, and a four-star logo to go with.

Veterans in the business, Corey and Mark have witnessed many changes in the local music scene. They appreciate how social media and technological advances afford more and more teenagers the opportunity to get a band together and go fine-tuning their talent around the pub circuit, playing covers for ecstatic audiences of their peers and mustering the experience to compose and record their own tracks, performing proper gigs at least once or twice in their lives. Unfortunately, too many young bands can’t help but lull when individual members leave for university or pursue professional careers.

If in Gibraltar it’s easy for every band to get known, the real test comes when they try to make it abroad: “There, reality hits you hard,” says Mark, the man who’s been there, done that and got the T-shirt. He also observes how local crowds can be biased in judging and dismissing you by capricious criteria that have nothing to do with talent, and how the Music Festival’s attendees were raving about international acts last September, but didn’t show enough support to the local musicians filling the sweltering afternoon with their fresh performances.

Yet, covers-only sets remain a big no-no at any of Metro Motel’s concerts:  “We don’t copy the music of others, we make our own,” they proudly profess.