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Those able to picture Axl Rose adorned in an ornate, oversize sombrero or a bandanna-wearing Bret Michaels strumming a fat guitarrón or Mötley Crüe wearing rivet-edged chaps, vests, and pointy boots and eyeliner possibly can envision the spectacle that is Metalachi.
Made up of five brothers and half-brothers, Metalachi combines the force and, at times, over-the-top exuberance of heavy metal with the stoic, storied history and tradition of Mexican mariachi music.
And somehow, it works — really (well, in kind of a tongue-in-cheek manner). But in the beginning, there were many skeptics, including the band members themselves.
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"I laughed — and at the same time I got really excited. I saw the potential right away. I was almost mad at myself for not coming up with the idea first," says violinist Maximilian "Dirty" Sanchez with a laugh during a recent phone interview. "At our first show, I think we all thought, 'Wow, we're part of something big. We can step outside our everyday mundane lives as mariachi musicians.' Mariachi is very limited creatively, and as far as song choice . . . we wanted to do something new for mariachi and represent it in a new light."
That first gig was about "four or five" years ago — Sanchez can't remember exactly — but does remember the face of "one vato" in the crowd during the band's gestation period. Like many others in the audience, curiosity for the concept probably drew him to the venue. Rodrigo y Gabriela doing flamenco-style Metallica covers is one thing, but an entire band of acoustic-playing mariachis throwing down classic cuts by Guns N' Roses, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Black Sabbath, and other hard rock fixtures — and dressed outrageously in a cross-pollination of both genres — is another.
"A lot of people came to our shows expecting it to be terrible, to be ridiculous. And it is ridiculous, but all of us have been studying our instruments since we were young. We're professionals and try to do our best to represent metal and its virtuosity and imagery," Sanchez states. "But I never forget this guy. At first, he had the face of like horror, then confusion, then ecstasy, and then amazingly, like, all at the same time. That's what happens all the time."
In order to convert songs from searing metal send-ups to thumping mariachi romps, Sanchez says, the band looks for songs that typically have straight-ahead rock 'n' roll rhythms, then shifts them into more traditional mariachi-style beats, which move at a gallop rather than a stomp. Power ballads get a buoyant cumbia treatment.
"We're always looking at how we can re-create a song to be very mariachi but still retain its original nature and also capture that energy with acoustic instruments," he says. "It's a challenge. When we first started, we were struggling a little bit with that idea and dealing with that concept . . . When we listen to a metal song now, we automatically know if that can be a badass mariachi version."
Eventually, Sanchez hopes, the band can move away from covering other musicians and create original music that continues to strike a balance between metal and the mariachi music they were raised on. At that point, Metalachi, he says, it will be "our own genre." (In case Sanchez failed to notice, Metalachi is already the only band in the genre.)
"We're trailblazers," he says. "It's kinda like a lot of pressure, but it's where we have to go . . . It's no longer going to be Metalachi the cover band, but Metalachi this is us."
Sounds like a Spinal Tap moment in the making. The only thing missing is an Aztec temple.