Morrissey, England's most dapper downer, isn't quite as depressed as he used to be. In fact, these days the ex-Smiths vocalist almost seems to be enjoying what he does. Nevertheless, on the verge of his May 17th appearance at the State Theatre, Morrissey is still as press-shy as ever and just can't be bothered to pick up a phone and chat with nosy journalists about his continued success and ever-increasing (thanks, in no small part, to a growing legion of Latino fans here in the States) popularity. So what's the next best thing? The Sweet & Tender Hooligans, a hugely successful Morrissey tribute band based in Los Angeles and fronted by one José Maldonado, a true expert on this Latino/El Moz phenomenon.
Can you talk about Morrissey's popularity within the Latino community?
If you come to Southern California and you come to these Morrissey shows and you look out at the audience, you'll see they're 90 percent Latino. And they're not just there. They are passionate. They know the lyrics to every song.
Why is that?
Because we're a passionate people, and Morrissey is a passionate guy; that's why we gravitate toward him. His lyrics are so melodramatic and over the top about the feeling you're experiencing at that very moment. A lot of Spanish-speaking music is the same way. You could cry a million tears, and I would swim through them to get to you -- that kind of thing. Then there's the loneliness and isolation feeling that we, as Latinos growing up in Southern California, can kind of identify with. There's that feeling of being an outsider in a place that really wasn't for you. It was somebody else's place, and then suddenly we all moved in. Morrissey's experience growing up Irish in Northern England was probably not unlike what Latinos experience growing up in Southern California. From my understanding, I know Irish immigrants in Northern England grow up Catholic and working-class. Their families are closer and larger. They're as big fans of soccer as we are.
Sweet & Tender Hooligans formed in 1992, but when did you discover the Smiths and Morrissey?
That must be [the Smiths'] The Queen is Dead. I was in a record store . . . It was something I had never, ever heard before in my entire life. It was this unique voice and this amazing guitar, coupled together, playing these amazing songs with these crazy lyrics. Immediately, I had to know what it was. From then on, I was a fan. I didn't just have to have that album. I had to have every album, every single, and every B-side.
Why call yourselves Sweet & Tender Hooligans?
I thought, "Hey, we should name ourselves after a Smiths song, so everyone knows what school we come from." In retrospect, I wish I had picked a shorter name than that, because it never fits on the marquee.
How did you first meet Morrissey?
I always thought when I finally got to meet Morrissey, it would be at a quick autograph-signing session. But the band, immediately following rehearsal every Thursday, [used to go to this bar in Pasadena]. And this one Thursday, there he was. We were totally surprised. He wasn't being mobbed or asked for autographs either, so it was the perfect opportunity. Holding back as much emotion as I could, [I said], "I always thought of what I would say to you if I got to meet you. And now that I've met you, I just want you to know that every single day of my life is just that much better because your songs are part of it." He looked back at me and said, "The feeling is mutual. Every day of my life is that much better because there are people listening to my songs."
When did you realize Morrissey knew who the Sweet & Tender Hooligans were?
In 1999, he opened his tour by saying, "Hello, we're the Sweet & Tender Hooligans." That's when I realized, Oh my God, he knows who we are. Later, as it turns out, at an autograph session, I was like the 127th person in line, and as soon as he made eye contact with me, he was like, "Oh, there you are." I gave him a look and said something to the effect of "Oh, you know who I am?" And he said, very jokingly, "Of course I know you. It's as if I was looking in the mirror." Right after that, his words were "How was the show last week?", meaning he knew about a show we just did at the House of Blues. He asked what songs we played, and I mentioned "Lost," and he said, "You've done that song before, and you know how I know? I have a copy of one of your shows on VHS."
Has he ever seen you play live?
We think, twice. We're certain of one, but the second show has yet to be confirmed.
Very few musical artists have ever acknowledged their tribute bands like Morrissey has. That's pretty impressive for something you consider just a hobby.
It sure beats bowling.