El Paso guitar legend Cesar Soto's entire career has led him to this point. To the 40th anniversary of the legendary Al Jourgensen fronted Ministry, a band he grew up idolizing before joining in 2015. At the same time – amidst the uncertainty of the worldwide pandemic – Soto channeled all his energies into his passion project, the eclectic Man The Mute, an outlet Soto calls a strip of his mind, body and soul.
Soto caught up with Metal Injection to talk all things Man The Mute and his stranger-than-fiction true story behind the latest single "Willow", the 40th anniversary and upcoming album of Ministry and partying alongside the legendary Pantera.
On Solo Project Man The Mute
OK, so the idea of Man The Mute, I really didn't have a name for any of this whatsoever. I basically had just a shit ton of ideas. Not even completed songs, just a shit ton of ideas. I always struggled with how am I going to put this together? What kind of singer do I want in this project or what do I really want to do with all these ideas? When all this stuff happened, it just gave me more time to focus. I wasn't doing anything else because the world was shut down, like literally shut down. So I just had that much more time to think about what I really wanted to do. And I was like, you know what man? I can sing.
I remember last year when we were recording the new Ministry, I remember specifically we had finished a recording session. And when we closed out that night, the last thing that Al told me before that night ended, he goes, dude! You have to sing. Like you have to sing in a band. And my response to that – and I remember I was like eating like pita chips and hummus when he told me that – was like well, we'll see. So that was always embedded in the back of my head. And I said you know what, I'm just going to do it.
So I sat down and I recorded the first tune, which was a song called "Give Em Hell". And I just went for it. It just kind of came to me at that point. I put things into perspective and I said this is it. This is what I want it to sound like. So I kind of just started molding it together and I said the only way I'm going to be able to get this to sound the way I want it to sound, and one hundred percent honest is if I just take the wheel and do everything.
So luckily enough I have my own home studio. So I sat down and I started getting to work. From there every song started falling into place. It's like I would sit down with no ideas whatsoever, record an idea, and it would just spawn into the next song. I would finish that song, go to the next and to the next. And I'm still doing that. Now what turned out to be my goal of accomplishing just a three four song EP has now turned into like yesterday starting what is going to be a second like full-length.
So I've already finished a full-length and just out of nowhere I started on two songs yesterday. I have a shit ton of material that I am going to be able to push for next year as well. So that's how it started. There's so much pandemic music that was released and that's still being released. So this is just my take on my honesty. Every song is one hundred percent me and every song tells a story about my life, either the past or current. It's pretty much me wearing my heart on my sleeve, so to speak, and that's what it is. That's what Man The Mute is.
On the Story Behind Emotional New Single 'Willow'
There is a pink bench that's on the cover of "Willow". And there's a lot of significance behind that pink bench. As I mentioned before, I'm very connected. I'm very universally connected, very spiritually connected, without sounding too hippie. I'm not saying I'm a psychic, but I do have a spiritual connection that I've had since I was a kid. But this one actually tore my heart out for a couple of days.
On the drive to Hueco Tanks – and as long as I've been going to Hueco Tanks through my life – there's always been this pink bench, this concrete bench on the side of the road in the middle of the desert. A pink concrete bench. Like this thing must weigh a couple of hundred pounds. I don't know how that bench got there, but it's just the strangest bench. A while back, for whatever reason, I've been drawn to this bench, right? I don't know why. To the point where it's been bugging me big time. So last year during all this pandemic stuff I started picking up cycling, like getting on a bicycle. So I worked up to a distance and I said, you know what? My first long distance ride – which turned out to be about a 40 mile ride – is going to be to the bench, because it's a perfect distance. And that was the first thing that I thought. I'm going to this pink bench. That's where I need to go, right?
Over half my life I've also been a bartender by trade. A lot of musicians are able to do that. It's awesome. It's perfect because you can leave and come back whenever. A couple of months ago I had this foot injury and I was in this boot still showing up to work. And I was limping my way over to the front door about to go into work. And I open the door and there's a young couple that walked up. And just remember this bench, for whatever reason, has a significance to me. And I don't know what the meaning of this pink bench is.
So I'm walking into work … I'm opening the door, there's a young couple that's walking up. And I open the door for them. I've never seen them before. They walk in and I tell them what can I get you guys? Like, I'm just walking in and they thought I was just some random dude wanting to buy them a drink. And they're like, whatever you're drinking. And I'm like no, I'm actually here to serve you your drinks. And so they sat down and there was an automatic connection. We started talking and then at one point it was like a light just turned on and my focus was zero. I had no focus for anything else and my only focus was them. And it was a lot of anxiety and I couldn't focus. Inside my head something just kept telling me motorcycles. You need to tell them motorcycles. I was like fucking motorcycles?!
So they end up moving to a different part of the bar and they're sitting at a table … I tried to make my way to them for like 15 minutes, but every time I try and make my way to them something was stopping me. I finally made my way to them, and the first thing I asked them was – not to sound dumb or anything – but do you guys believe in the spirit realm and messages! They said yeah!
And at that point it was like another light switch turned on in my head turned and I looked at her and I said I need to tell you something and I have a message for you. And I just said motorcycles. I need to tell you about motorcycles. And dude, she stopped and broke down in tears. She was crying. And at that point it fucking freaked me out because that was the first time I really felt guilty, because I don't want to bring anybody back to a situation in their life. And I told her man, I'm sorry. And I started to walk away and she stopped and she said, no no. At that point I was tearing up because I was like man, what did I do? I feel like an asshole. And she looked at her man and he said do you want to tell him? So she's like, my father passed away in a motorcycle accident a few months ago. And I was like holy shit! So that hit me hard. We started talking and started getting into an in-depth conversation.
I said, have you ever heard about the pink bench going to Hueco Tanks? And again she started sobbing. She was in tears and she broke down again. And at that point I had to step away and I told my coworker dude I'm going to sit down for a little bit in the office because it was kind of like I pulled someone's sorrow that they've been carrying and I took it over at that point. I could feel the way it feels to lose someone.
Before I walked away she pulled the phone out and she shows me a picture of that fucking pink bench. Her Dad took a picture of this pink bench. That freaked me out man. It really freaked me out. And I ended up pulling my phone out and I showed her the pictures that I took a few months before that and I said now I know the significance of this bench. And she proceeded to tell me the story behind everything. Her father worked at Hueco Tanks and he passed away in a motorcycle accident on that very road. That road is the exact road that I took on my first long cycling ride. "Willow" is about that.
"Willow" was what, and I didn't know, was going to be something to help someone heal.
There's many more stories that made me more connected to the spiritual realm and to the universe than I ever thought I was. And one of them is sobriety. Sobriety has connected me. It's like I remove the layer of ice between my feet and the layer of ice and steel between my feet and the earth that was stopping my connection. So now that those layers are gone I feel connected.
On Bringing Man The Mute Live
I always trust my gut instinct. Not to sound too hippie, but I'm a super spiritual dude and I'm a super universal dude and since I was a kid I've learned to trust my gut instinct because that tells me the truth. That's the universe speaking to me and telling me the truth about what to do and what not to do.
I envisioned what Man The Mute was supposed to sound like and I have thoughts and a vision about playing this stuff live. And my intention is to bring this live. Why wouldn't anyone want to? I mean, I feel very strong and very confident about the music and the meaning behind the music. I've already started putting the puzzle pieces in place for a live situation. I know of two people that I will already be working with to actually start rehearsing to bring this live.
So I have every intention to bring it live, hopefully within a year or so. We'll see how that pans out. But I do already see this happening live and it's in my gut feeling and my instinct is telling me you have to bring this live. Because for me every song is a message. Like there is a message behind everything. It's not just music or it's not ego driven or it's not just another set for me. For me it's a message. Like I am being told with this music by this universe to deliver a message to people.
On New Ministry Album & 40th Anniversary
When you mention yin and yang, I think of both worlds. And first off I'm super fortunate to be able to have a life where I can (play in Ministry) and then do what I'm doing with Man The Mute. I learned a lot ever since I joined Ministry back in 2015. And keep in mind, I listened to him a lot and I listen to everything that he has to say because there's a reason why he's been doing it for so long. I've learned a lot from him and I've seen him work in the studio and working in the studio with Al is actually pretty amazing.
One thing he told me is that when I joined the band, he's like being in this band, you're going to become a way better musician. And you know, approaching seven years, I feel like I have progressed in everything. I learned what it means to have a precision tight set, like a live set. Rehearsals? Ministry rehearsals are actually pretty amazing. And that teaches me so much more that I can bring to the Man The Mute table and not cut myself short.
If I'm not happy with something and the Man The Mute stuff while I'm recording it, I'll make sure that I record it until I'm happy. And I don't want to fall short on the songwriting for sure. So yeah, that's taught me a lot.
In terms of what does it mean? It means everything to me. It means everything to me to be part of such an influential band that has put a stamp in music history. I mean, not just a specific genre, but music history. That's a big thing and that's a big accomplishment for Al to make Ministry a part of music history. That's huge to say he's put his stamp on music history. So for me to be able to be part of that and the backup and support of what he wants to bring to life with John Bechdel, with Roy Mayorga, with Monte Pittman, with Paul D'Amour of course, it's going to be a killer line up.
And now in terms of this year, I mean, it just means a lot because it's the anniversary tour for the Mind (30th anniversary of The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste) album, which is very, very special. That's a special album for me. Even way before when I was growing up that was special for me. And just to be able to be an element to bring that is pretty amazing.
So in terms of the new album? … My mind is still floating out there because I was able to bring a lot of stuff to the table and play guitar through the entire album. If you look at all the people that are involved in all Ministry albums, I think the way I put it to someone is it's like a musician salad. It's pretty awesome the way Al brings people to work together from their relationships built with other people. And it's just really cool to see that happen. It means everything to me to be part of that band and this year means everything to me, because this is a year where we can finally escape a little bit, escape a little bit mentally.
On Partying with Pantera
Pantera changed the whole face of heavy metal music. And to top it off, those dudes were just amazing people to begin with. I mean, I remember playing a club in Deep Ellum probably about 21 years ago. And our bass player at the time with the band that I was with gave me an elbow nudge … And I look up and it's Dimebag, Vinnie Paul, it's Sterling Winfield, who ended up producing a record for a band that I was in back then. At the time we didn't have any guitar techs or drum techs, so we're putting all our shit away on our own. So here I am super stoked because Dimebag is right in front of me.
And so I'm putting my gear away and I have my head down and I can see someone walking up and I recognize it's Dimebag. I'm on stage by myself wrapping cables up and then he goes, Hey Cesar! I'm like oh shit! You know my name? That's awesome, right?! So he goes, Hey when you're done here, I know you're doing what you got to do, but when you're done here walk over to the bar so we chat and hang out and stuff. Needless to say we were in this RV, this old shitty Winnebago pulling a trailer, and we ended up following him.
He ended up taking us to the clubhouse. They took care of us, like totally took care of us. And it didn't end there. We ended up at Vinnie Paul's house. We didn't leave until 7:00 a.m. the next morning. Everyone was totally shitfaced. We had the time of our lives. They had a hot dog machine inside Vinnie Paul's house. They gave us a tour of the house. And we ended up jamming in this little tiny room Vinnie Paul had.