How Sectas Scraped Its Way From Mexico to the U.S. and Is Ready to Rock
Many legends have spawned from Arizona's hard rock and heavy metal scene — Chester Bennington, Maynard James Keenan, Alice Cooper, David Ellefson, Dave Mustaine, and Jason Newsted, as well as bands like Job for a Cowboy and Flotsam and Jetsam — just to name a few. There's a common denominator behind the success of many of these artists, and that's the dedication to deliver music worldwide.
Most recently, we've seen the model work for alt-rock band Kongos, and now there's a metal band you might not have heard of, coming in hot on Kongos' heels. The three-piece act Sectas has soaring, raw melodic vocals, fiery guitar riffs, and double kick drum to kill.
Oh, and they follow a unique code — fitting, given that sectas is the Spanish word for "doctrine": They practice a strict no-egos-allowed, insanely positive attitude. If you didn't know any better, you might think you're hearing about an indie hippie group.
But this is no jam band. Sectas is a power rock/metal trio that has played hundreds of shows all over the United States and Latin America, even sharing the stage with Queensrÿche last December at Tempe's Marquee Theatre. In the early 2000s, the group played at beloved, long-defunct Phoenix venue the Mason Jar with then-rising bands Papa Roach and Incubus.
Consisting of guitarist/singer Christian Lee, bassist "Runaway," and drummer Johnny Collier, Sectas combines an array of influences: from George Lynch, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Cliff Burton to Alice in Chains, Rush, and Megadeth. Two of the things that set the group apart is the influence of flamenco and progressive Spanish guitar and Sectas' forgoing metal's screams and growls for melodic singing.
"When we moved here, one thing that I noticed was that everybody screams," Lee says. "I mean, I like Fear Factory and Slipknot, but I almost didn't feel like we were metal anymore. Like, are we Poison or something? People were telling us to get another singer that screams. But we like our singing style."
In Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico, Lee first played guitar at 5 years old, inspired by watching his father play the instrument. He learned to play to Dokken records, discovering old-school methods of distortion on his own (with no guitar amp, he cracked his home speaker system when he pushed the volume). His friend, who used to run away from home to Lee's house, garnered the nickname because Soul Asylum's "Runaway Train" was so popular at the time. Lee suggested that he learn bass, and 15 days later, Runaway already knew seven heavy metal songs. The two scraped together enough money to purchase a few Guitar World magazines and taught themselves more tunes.
The band continued to play local gigs and send demo tapes to record labels. A label out of Mexico City took notice and signed it, allowing the group to slowly build a Latin American fan base that remains strong today. For about five years, the band, without having jobs, played hundreds of shows, living in a small room with sleeping bags and a black-and-white TV.
"We starved and had no money at all, but we learned a lot about life and played music a lot," says Lee. "They say there are no blues without suffering. We learned to project our emotions through music."
In 2000, the band members moved to Arizona. But shortly after settling, drummer Juan Francisco Martinez returned to Mexico. Lee and Runaway found a new drummer, Brian Regalado, who eventually left in 2013. And after auditioning 15 drummers, Sectas hired Johnny Collier to hit the skins for the band.
"Although we originated in Latin America, we were reborn here in Phoenix. The music scene sort of adopted us," Lee says.
There are a few things very important to Sectas that you won't usually find in a metal band. First, it's important that the group projects a positive message to society. Second, two-thirds of the band doesn't eat meat. Third, they are extremely humble and don't tolerate egotistical behavior.
"We try to make music that's well-done for musicians while keeping it heavy for the metalheads. For example, if you go to a Dream Theater concert, you're going to see 90 percent of the crowd is musicians. Same with a Megadeth concert; the music is well-done and catchy," says Lee. "And in order to have harmony, you have to put your ego down. The people are what's going to take us. We depend on them. So we don't believe in being egotistical."
That attitude pairs with another one of Sectas' other goals: to bring attention to the local scene via their international fan base.
"The Phoenix scene is just amazing," Lee says. "There are a lot of bands that deserve to be huge and have been working so hard. The world needs to know what Phoenix is doing."
And in Phoenix, Sectas is busy playing music. The band has three albums and one EP, and its newest album is paired with an even larger accomplishment — being signed to a large record label, Premier Records, which has solid Arizona ties and a strong belief in its own sectas of changing the music industry and the way it treats bands.
Premier was founded by Arizona musician Wes Powell, who endured a terrible record deal experience when he was 20. He believed artists were getting the short end of the stick. So he created an entirely new model, one in which musicians could make a living doing music and not give up their rights and earnings just by signing with a label.
The band's newest album, Back Into the Light, officially will be released in July but already is available on iTunes and Spotify.
"One of the reasons we did sign with them [Premier] is that they have this view of what the future is. You gotta face it and accept it: Things are way different in the music industry now," says Lee. "Everything is changing, and I think Premier has that view of what the future is becoming."
And the future of music includes breaking down other barriers. Sectas is one of those bands that appeal to fans of numerous genres, opening up the floodgates for other bands to garner new local fans. For example, on May 17, Sectas is bringing its brand of heavy metal to Crabby Don's, alongside a diverse lineup. Twelve Gates is pure thrash; Hursepower is into macabre storytelling and classic heavy metal; Universal Apocalypse is all about the groove-inspired metal.
"We want musicians, non-musicians, and metalheads at our shows. The metalheads are the best crowds ever," says Lee. "[Soulfly's] Max Cavalera said that once, and I completely agree with that. But if you go to a Sectas show, you're going to see a variety of people. People come to me and say, 'I'm not into metal music but I like your voice and the way you sing that song.' So that means what we're doing is working."
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