- Arts & Culture
In the recent episode of La Casa del Obrero Mundial we had a chat with transgender artist Valis Ortiz who writes and performs music under the pseudonym Manitas Nerviosas (meaning nothing else than Shaky Hands!) and has just released her new album A Love Supermeme. Listen up the full interview to get to know Valis’ music and thoughts in audioform or read the interview just here below.
Hello, here we are with Valis Ortiz, aka Manitas Nerviosas.
How are you? How are you feeling?
Very good. As you can see this is my new home and I have a really nice balcony where my plants are.
Yes, there’s a beautiful balcony with many beautiful plants.
I’m very close with my plants – and this is my music workstation… So yeah, also my new album came out and it felt like such a release – yes, finally!
We’ll get there a little later, but first of all, as I usually ask the artists I interview, because, as you know, La Casa del Obrero Mundial is a show to show our European and elsewhere listeners what’s going on in Mexico City… Tell us a little bit about yourself and your musical trajectory… Ever since I heard your music I thought you must be a trained musician – are you? And how did you began making music? How it all started?
I think my musical journey started when I was still in my mother’s womb because she played and was studying music, while she was pregnant. And she used to play classical music on the piano – she’s a pianist, but then growing up it was always listening to Bach, Beethoven, and then she did this with all of her four daughters. At a certain age, I don’t know, maybe at age five or six, she wanted to teach us to play music and piano – but it didn’t work – I liked hearing her play but I didn’t want to play, I found it really boring. I was more into rock and rock’n’roll and shit, but that didn’t work, but later like every teenager I wanted to play guitar and I got it and ever since – age eleven, I guess – I started playing with friends and making bands. The teenage years everything started getting a little more serious when I met people that wanted to found a collective, because yeah – it was cool to have bands, but you just you were alone against the world and the other bands in Monterrey in 2004, when I started meeting other musicians – punk and noise bands and we made our record label called Nene records.
Aha, okay, I didn’t know that one.
Yeah but that was 2004. Then I became the producer for the label, because nobody knew anything – even I didn’t.
So basically you were recording and producing other projects.
We bought equipment, before we knew anything – we bought shit and then it was like – what do we do with all these mixing boards and microphones, everything was sounding horrible so I said – okay, I can take care of this. I don’t know shit but I can do it – I’ll try, okay. So we were organising the label and I raised my hand and said I’ll learn.
Wow, that’s a very curious way to get into things (laughs).
Yeah, and the thing was that in Monterrey we were all broke, we had no money to go to studios, so there was a lot of cool bands, nobody had recordings, demos – nothing, because nobody had the money to do it. So we said okay – why don’t we come together, put money and buy equipment and then we record our own shit.
Alright, and that’s what I was gonna precisely ask next. I guess our readers know that Monterrey is another city in Mexico it’s more in the north… You come from there – how is the scene and cultural life there? You gave us some context but still I haven’t got a very clear idea.
Well, musically I think Monterrey is a more interesting place musically than Mexico City. Mexico City has all this media, money, artists and people from all over the world and there’s a lot of things happening. In Monterrey – it’s not the opposite – but not like that either. We are like… In a “cage”. But also that makes you do things a certain way. We didn’t have radio stations where you would go and oh, put your music, we didn’t care about that… I guess?
Like in a way being limited pulls out more from you.
Yeah and also it’s a very conservative right-wing place, but then again here it’s very difficult to find a place to play and make noise, a rehearsal space, or studio, you have to have money, back there maybe ten years ago – I don’t know about today – it was easier to get a space for that. So we had a lot of freedom to make like yeah, whatever we wanted to make, but also it was in a climate of violence. Narco violence, I mean.
There’s a lot of narco in Monterrey?
Yeah, like ten fifteen years ago it was at its peak. And the North of Mexico was the worst place to be, and that also I think for me it made me create my own world, because outside was terrible, so I think I retrieved into music in an act of escapism we tried to make the music as far out as we could – to escape from the terrible situation we were in.
So you were mentioning we’re talking around 2004 that you started engaging in all these musical things, right?
I had the idea you had more projects before Manitas Nerviosas.
Yeah, I had a lot of bands.
Were they your bands or you were playing as a session musician?
No, mostly I was the (makes a whipping sound).
The leading dominantrix?
Yeah, the dominantrix in my bands. When there were a lot of people I had to take control over everything, but then there was a band where there was only me and my friend Anelo where we were just the two and had 50/50 responsibility. But in the other bands yeah I guess I had to…
What are these bands called?
Bam Bam was one of them… XYX was the other… Penetracion Cosmica…
And so these projects were more along the lines of rock?
Yeah I mean there was a point when I had five bands.
Every project was very very different. And the only thing was the time to do the bands, record and produce their shit and my shit, having the label and trying to have a life outside the studio…
Yeah I guess it should have taken a lot of time because at some point I remember I was having three very different projects – one was some sort of metal, the other was a wave covers of synth-pop music.
You make music?
Didn’t know that, that’s new to me.
And so there was this another project which was this kind of avant-pop… And at some point I just started getting…
Splitting, split personality.
Yeah, I’d go to one rehearsal and then didn’t get in the mood and I just said to myself maybe for a while it’s okay, but I’ll probably have to stick to one, because I can’t divide my energy like that, that’s why I was asking – if you had so many projects and especially if they were different, how did you manage with that?
I think I couldn’t do it anymore, it’s over… It was a while ago. Then you start getting older and things start to slow down… And you also say – I don’t need to do ALL this shit to feel happy. And now I’m just here by myself making all the music.
Aha, so how in the end you crystalised all of that and became Manitas Nerviosas?
I guess the first thing began with Bam Bam – a lot of people started to leave Monterrey at some point. So the only ones still living there was Bam Bam. For a while it was my main project, then we got a contract with a label and we had responsibilities like we had to rehearse cos we have to play and everything was more like you had to do it because of this commitment. And then that crushed me totally and I was so sick and fed up with this… I was sick of being in rock and punk bands. Having to deal with all this – I mean, they were all my friends – but having to deal with them and trying to push them – I felt like I was the mommy – so that broke me. And then also all this thing with the music industry in Mexico. I was just sick.
What was the label you got signed in?
Arts and Crafts. They have an office here. So yeah, I was sick of the music business and being in bands and doing a certain kind of music, so I just said – fuck it. And I sold my guitar…
Smashed it… (laughs)
No, I needed the money to buy synthesizers. So I started to buy synths and I said fuck it, I’m gonna learn and write music, because I could do it by myself. And that was the choice I made.
What year was this?
But you were still in Monterrey?
Yeah. I was still in Monterrey.
When and why did you come to Mexico?
Because being a trans woman, this city is a little bit easier – you have a little bit more freedom, because Monterrey I call it Heteroland.
As you said before if it’s right-wing…
Every little, tiny variation on the gender binary it’s like attention grabbing… So I cannot be there just on the streets and that’s it. When I go there and I go walking, you know, outside, everybody is like ‘what the fuck is this’?
It happens here, but not as much. There is like everyone is – what the fuck is this, ugh, ugh.
It’s crazy how still… A couple of weeks ago we were in Guatemala with my boyfriend and staying with this gay couple – well, friends, and they were telling us these horror stories of how all these things still happen, because living in Mexico City you can get an idea that it’s pretty advanced in that sense and that there’s quite a lot of liberty compared to other places, no?
A little bit.
But then you go outside and… Even stuff coming from my homeland, Lithuania… I guess trans is not even a topic there. But it’s terrible how people… Just, why, you know. Wouldn’t let be people.
Yeah and there’s these places like Monterrey where five six years ago that I had to hide. And here I had to distance myself from Monterrey, family and people who knew me since forever to start living my own life as I wanted to. And I’ve been good.
Yeah and probably the next question in that vein would be – what themes do you mostly explore with this project? What does it mean to be a trans artist both generally and in Mexico?
The themes… I don’t know. I mean, now I know, but when I just started Manitas Nerviosas it all started with wanting to sing properly.
Yeah, to sing. There was one time I was making this weird techno shit with my synths live and I ended. And somebody started to shout – now sing, sing something! And I was like fuck okay, I have this song that’s not finished, but okay, I’m gonna sing it. I just pushed play and began singing, and felt this connection I never felt before, because there was always a band, or I was behind the drum set, or behind the guitar. I was never all alone by myself with a microphone singing in front of an audience. And I felt something I had never felt before and I said wow. Like, the connection. It was a ballad, this cover of Colour My World by Chicago, this band from the seventies. And yeah, then I said okay. Because Manitas Nerviosas started like that – techno sets.
Yeah, with synths and shit. This has to change.
Yeah, because what you do now is far, far away from being a techno jam.
Yeah. And then – because with the other bands I sang – but the themes were all these escapism themes. This psychedelic, drug induced blablabla… I never sang about myself.
Like, about what you feel.
Yeah. If I wanted to sing – at first I didn’t know what to sing – I don’t wanna sing about that psychedelic bullshit anymore, and then I thought – why don’t you sing about yourself? Yeah, I think it started like that. But then as the transition went on and I everything started to change, and I started to change, it dominated the themes on the songs, like my last album A Love Supermeme is about… Because I started that album I don’t know – maybe five years ago? Some tracks are very old, but then I finished them very recently. It’s my transition album – the before and after.
A Love Supermeme came out the 25th of May. What did influence this album and what were the inspirations behind it? Because it’s also interesting how you’re saying that those rock bands and old stuff, but then to me this new album sounded pretty rocky.
Yeah, as I said, I said fuck rock and I sold my guitar, sold my pedals, amplifiers… I sold all the rock shit I had. And then I started this electronic journey and I said – what am I doing? I wasn’t enjoying it. It was very stressful with the synths and drum machines – all so stressing.
That’s why ‘Shaky Hands’? (laughs)
Yeah (laughs). No, ‘Shaky Hands’ was an incident we had at the USA border officials. They made a not on a car that said ‘Driver has shaky hands’ and they put it on my car and said go there – they’ll check you. So yeah, I think I had the note somewhere and it said ‘shaky hands’ and when we read that it was hilarious. After all this stress of crossing the border and the troubles we saw this. Oh my god. But then yeah, I realised, that the thing I enjoy the most is making songs.
Songs as such.
Three minute songs.
Yeah, I noticed that most of the songs on the album are really short. No long jams, whatever, everything very precise.
Yeah, for me, the kind of music I aspire to do has everything to do with the song format. You can put so many shit into three minutes. Because if you’re a prog-rock band you can extend it, but I’m not interested in that. And then I don’t know how I got my acoustic guitar – it was always there in the closet, I took her out of the closet and I started making songs with a guitar. And yeah, this album is a rock album.
Back to the roots.
Yeah! I really enjoy it, why am I pushing myself to be this UGH deconstructed artist at the edge of music, fuck that shit. I just wanna make songs. So, that’s how I did the album.
One of the last videos you made is called ‘Terfs Son Nazis’.
Yeah, actually the song is called ‘Terfs Are Nazis’ because it looks better like this, but I sing it in Spanish.
That’s true. What’s the story behind this video and track?
I was already had all the tracks for A Love Supermeme and I was not gonna add any more to it. The album was finished, mastered and all… And it was a stupid thing. I always wanted to make this clear statement about terfs. But, I mean, I never tried it, I knew I wanted to someday do a track to piss off these bitches. And it was like tan-tan-tan (sings rhythmically) and – wow, that’s it! Finally! I think I was trying to play a Frank Zappa song. What was it called… Can You Get it On Yet. It has the same (sings). It all fit together. Now I have to make a song. And the video is important – it’s more like a personal joke. For some reason, I wanted to impersonate this Siouxsie and the Banshees character, because I knew that the song is directed towards a person – a terf. And if that person saw me having this Siouxsie and the Banshees make up, she was gonna go mad as fuck. So I tried, but in the end it turned out as something else, because I did the make-up, I put the dress on… It was like I felt like Vampira, I felt like Frankenforther. I just needed the rubber gloves, but didn’t get them. And I was doing it all by myself in my room with my greenscreen and it was fantastic, because I could just do ridiculous things without no one watching. People have told me that it has an anthem quality. A punk anthem. You can imagine a lot of people chanting that hypnotic loop on and on. So, terfs are Nazis.
Is there territories you’re planning to explore in the future? Maybe it’s a bit silly of a question since you just released an album and I’m already asking about what you’re doing next.
No, I have another coming. It’s going to come out in August. I have a whole album. I could record a double album right now, if I had the means, but it’s gonna happen until August. With a new label from here in Mexico.
How is it called?
I don’t know, it doesn’t have a name yet! But the people behind it approached me and they listened to the demos and they loved it and they said okay, we have a studio, which is in Veracruz and you can come here and record it. It’s perfect, because it’s not just gonna be recorded and produced by me, here, alone in my room. There’s gonna be more people involved, like producers, and it’s going to be great. But yeah, the territories – trying to learn music – to play jazz.
We’re sitting here in this studio room – room-studio, bedroom place where I see the keyboards and sheet-music.
Yeah and you asked if I was a trained musician. I think I’m not. I had some training when I was very young – I wanted to play guitar, but as I said my mom was a pianist and she said – oh, you wanna learn play guitar – you have to go and take lessons. I did some years of that. But all I really wanted was to break shit and do feedback with my guitar. I reached a point when I was like what the fuck am I gonna do? Like, musically. And I felt trapped in my own musical bubble with the things I wanted and the things I can do, and as I said, I tried to take this path of synthesizers and all this shit.
I didn’t know you had this phase of ‘surrounded by synthesizers’.
Yeah, but as I said it was stressful, but I did learn a lot. And the people who are into electronic music producing… That’s amazing. Now that I came back – me, alone, here with my guitar, I explored it and then – what? And I always had this fear of jazz. Because I always loved it and I always wanted to play it and understand it, but for me it was too advanced. All my life it was there, okay, I enjoy it, but that’s too hard for me. But two years ago I said fuck it, I’m gonna do it. If I’m not gonna do it, what else I’m gonna do. I mean, I’m 38 years old – If you wanna learn to play jazz, you have to be very young and start very young and be surrounded by people who play it. And in this particular time and moment it’s very difficult to hang out with other musicians.
And how is it going so far?
Cool. I wanted to play saxophone – I was that close to trading that synthesizer for a saxophone, five months ago. Thank god it didn’t happen, because I used that thing A LOT.
Which is it?
A Micro-Freak from Arturia. It looks like a toy. A toyish thing, but it’s actually very fun to play.
You were previously mentioning Chicago and that you’ve always been into rock music and now getting into jazz, in the end to be more precise, what are your musical influences?
I don’t know, because the things that left a mark on you really deep… For me there’s not a lot of people or music that has done that. Because if you like music, you gonna listen to everything you can. And, I mean, you can appreciate it. And love music, but there’s certain things that go deep into you. And I think it’s a constant thing in all the music I’ve done it’s been The Beach Boys. Since forever. Even now, I’m doing something and (sings rhythmically) oh, here it goes again.
Here comes Brian Wilson.
Yeah. And also how Brian Wilson produced. Pet Sounds or Smile… Smile is where I want to get, it’s my golden standard for music. I wanna get there. All these things I’m doing it’s like yes, I’m trying to get there.
Are you more interested in climbing and taking the steps to becoming more mainstream and to be able to have a wider reach with your music, or you’d prefer consciously staying in the underground? Because I, for example, I don’t wanna be famous. If it happens it’s okay, but…
Yeah, I do want fame and money. But I think it’s impossible for me to do it. I had a chance once… Remember I said we had a contract and shit. I blew it up, because I cannot deal with that shit.
What was it exactly you couldn’t deal with as such?
I don’t know, starting with being polite with everyone.
(Laughs) Yeah, that’s a hard one.
You cannot be this messy person with opinions on shit, and others music and the industry, because they gonna say (does a shushing move). Yeah, they used to erase Tweets from me. They called me and said please, take that down. We’re trying to help you.
And what were you saying?
I don’t know. Shit, about music and the industry, other people’s music. And not exactly mean things but just opinions. You cannot be like that. I can take it now…
Also I think it was a little bit the time, since around 2005 till the recent years, it was all the ‘polit-correct’ thing, but it was getting too…
Yeah. One thing is allowing people be what they are because they’re of a different race, or different sexuality or whatever, but another thing is just like liking everything and being so nice to everybody. People are so black and white in that sense.
But not just the music industry, even if you wanna make it in an industry, you have to be very smart about public relations. The music I make I believe is not the music that the young people listens to – the people who buy it, the ones who do the tik-tok dances with your music. It’s another world and I think I’m not part of it anymore.
Also you seem like such a young soul, as you said before that you’re 38 I would have never thought of it. So you probably feel like you don’t belong in neither of the worlds.
I mean, for me music has always been something very, very personal. I have always done the music I wanted, without any external “what about… you collaborate with this producer to make it more…” Yeah. If you wanna make it, you have to be very smart and to be a good musician or producer, but to follow certain rules, that are established – even though they’re always changing – the aesthetics and the styles. Like Bowie – he knew which people to bring in and which producers to work it, and I guess that’s the secret – not a secret, they just know who to work with.
Yeah and not lose themselves. Even though Bowie did loose himself a bit in the end… Well, not in the end, but more in the middle time, with Tin Machine and all that. What was going on there?
Yeah, those were weird times, but yeah, he did music for 40 years or how much?
Aha, quite a lot, and then in the end he was just doing whatever he wanted.
But yeah you ask – you want fame and money – yes, I want fame and money. Because that will make my life easier, but at the same time more miserable, because, I don’t know. I just want the money.
Well that’s beautiful – that’s honest.
But I know, that doing the shit I do – I’m not going to ever have money. And I know I’m not gonna get it – doing this. I have to do other things to have money. But music is sacred for me. I think it’s the only thing in the world… I’m not religious.. The only thing that… Just that pleasure of hearing frequencies combining… In your brain (laughs).
That’s a beautiful way to put it. Probably the last question I’ll make: what contemporaries, out of locals and non-locals do you admire the most? And maybe there’s people with whom you’d like to collaborate. Or maybe not.
The people I admire the most is the people closest to me. Talking about music. When I got here to the City suddenly I was surrounded by all these beautiful producers and musicians, and then we founded a label. That’s the label A Love Supermeme came out and it’s called Oris. In Oris we’re a lot of people but it’s mostly women and non-binary people involved. There’s such artists as Leslie Garcia aka Microhm, Todas Las Anteriores, Itzel Noyze, Badmoiselle. Musically the people most close to me and they helped me a lot in the process of this album. The support… I have a musical support group. And to collaborate… Well in this album I did a collaboration with Itzel Noyze, and I want to work with her again. Make music from scratch, because she has a beautiful voice. And I want to play piano with her. She can do things I could never do with my voice. I don’t know who else. Possibly a collaboration for the next album with Camille Mandoki and Matias Aguayo. I just want to have the money to pay musicians to play with me. Have a band.
I guess we’re going towards the end. If there’s one last thing you’d like to tell the listeners before the end.
To go and listen to my music… And the music we’re doing in Oris label on bandcamp. Yeah, and help us keep the dream alive.
Yeah, the Mexican dream. So here we were with Manitas Nerviosas, who’s Valis Ortiz, was a nice vortex conversation because time just flew. See you around.
Yeah! Thank you.
You can find and follow Manitas Nerviosas on:
Playlist1. Manitas Nerviosas - Iluminame
2. Manitas Nerviosas - Antenae
3. Manitas Nerviosas - 4th Space
4. Manitas Nerviosas - A Love Supermeme
5. Manitas Nerviosas - Dlirio
6. Manitas Nerviosas - Metamorphosis Sexualis Paranoia
7. Manitas Nerviosas - El Sol y sus Flagelos
8. Manitas Nerviosas - Terfs Are Nazis
9. Manitas Nerviosas - Devocion pt.II