Those able to picture Axl Rose adorned in an ornate, oversized sombrero, or a bandanna-wearing Bret Michaels strumming a fat guitarrón, or Motley Crue wearing rivet-edged chaps, vests and pointy toed boots among the eyeliner, then it's also possible envision the spectacle that is Metalachi.
Made up of five half-brothers, Metalachi combines the force and at times over-the-top exuberance of heavy metal with the stoic and storied history and tradition of Mexican mariachi music.
Somehow, it works, really well -- in kind of a tongue-in-cheek manner -- though in the beginning there were many skeptics, including the band members themselves. Up on the Sun caught up with Metalachi violinist Maximilian "Dirty" Sanchez a day after missing a scheduled interview due to a "rock star" hangover. Feeling more fit, Sanchez discussed the unusual band's evolution, his mariachi roots and the outrageousness that makes it all work so well.
Metalachi's Maximilian "Dirty" Sanchez: Hey, sorry about yesterday. I passed out and was really hung over. I spaced it out.
Up On the Sun: No worries; it happens. That's the life of a musician, especially in a band that has as much fun as Metalachi.
For sure, it's definitely like rock star status.
So, I read the bio on the website, and it's fun and all, but how did the band really come together?
You know, we're all like professional mariachi musicians for a long time. We're all half brothers. We all have the same mom, but different dads. We had been playing mariachi for a long time with different bands in different clubs and this gringo, uh, Eric (Travis) our manager came to us and said, "I want to put you guys together as a group and develop Metalachi."
All of us were in rock and metal bands beforehand, so it came to us naturally. He did the packaging and marketing to give us that extra to stand out. Obviously, the story on the website is very hokey and over the top, but I think that plays into our whole presentation, our whole show and everything we do. It's all over the top. It's exaggerated, it's fun and silly and entertaining.
When Eric came to you with this idea, were you skeptical? What did you think when he suggested doing mariachi-style heavy metal songs? Did you laugh him off, or think it was brilliant?
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, you know what I'm saying? [Laughs]. When he approached us and talked to us about this idea and started grooming us for this I understood it on a musical level, but I didn't really anticipate it on the artistic performance level that it (has become).
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 as far as song choice. We're just regurgitating songs. We wanted to do something new for mariachi and represent it in a new light. It's very very exciting. For me it's been a huge career experience and has helped me to discover a lot of myself that I had not had the opportunity to explore. I think it's been a fun and amazing experience.
When you guys are figuring out what songs to perform, are there certain characteristics you look for in relation to the mariachi music and traditions? Do certain song elements make it easier to transpose that metal song into a mariachi song?
Obviously, we don't want to do the song exactly how it was composed. We want to change it and put in our own mariachi touch. We'll take a 4/4 time signature and change it to a 3/4 traditional Mexican mariachi rhythm that's syncopated and different. If it's a slow tempo hard rock, we'll turn it into a cumbia, which is like a very well-known style. We're always looking at how we can recreate a song to be very mariachi but still retain its original nature and also capture that energy with acoustic instruments. It's a challenge.
When we first started we were struggling a little bit with that idea and dealing with that concept. But after touring and seeing crowd reaction and testing it out, we were really able to get a grasp on it. When we listen to a metal song now, we automatically know if that can be a badass mariachi version, or if it we'd have to do a lot of work to make it mariachi. Over the years we've developed that style to transpose that song into our song.
Sounds like it's a lot more fun than doing traditional songs.
Since we're all half-brothers we've been working together for years. We all do different gigs. We never had a group together because we played with different groups. The mariachi circuit is like call-for-hire. They call you when they need you and you go and join them.
We played together, but being brothers some times we can't stand each other. We had our moments as mariachis coming up and finding our own way. We weren't untied until we found something fun and exciting to do for all of us. Doing mariachi was kind of whatever. It was something to do for money, something to pay the bills, you know.
You indicated you we're really sure how it was going to go until you got up on stage. How was that initial crowd reaction?
I'll never forget the face of this one vato, this guy watching our show for the first time. When we first started playing a lot of people were coming out of curiosity. They heard about the concept and needed to see what it was. 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. It comes off well. 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. When people first see the show they're confused, then amazed, then entertained and also disturbed a little bit.
It looks like you've had some real fun with the costumes. Mariachi costumes are rather stoic and bold, and then there's the outrageousness of hair metals bands. You seem to have found a middle ground.
It's always fun. We have a lot of fun switching it up and being as ridiculous as possible. My shorts every year get shorter and shorter. I think we see how the crowd reacts. It's a spectacle and the costumes are part of what were bringing. It's part of what Metalachi is. It's one thing to do the music, but it's another to embrace the '80s and '70s.
We really embrace that cocaine insane egotistical over-the-top drugs and alcohol and sex image that was embraced by the metal community. We go for it and try to figure out what we can do represent both eras well. Our guitarist will wear leopard skin tights with mariachi boots and jacket, or I'll wear leather chaps with the mariachi metal rivets down the side so it's like both elements being represented. We think outside the box to bring these things to the audience so they see we're representing both elements.
The band has a done a variety of songs, from Led Zeppelin to Guns N' Roses. Is there any one song for you that you think best represents the concept of Metalachi the best--the idea of a heavy metal song, and the idea of a mariachi song coming together?
For me there's one song that I feel matches both styles best. It's (Ronnie James) Dio's "Rainbow in the Dark." That's an example of a 4/4 tempo song that we changed to a 3/4 huapango rhythm and added mariachi elements to the melodic lines. The arrangement is very much like a mariachi song, but instinctively hard like a metal song.
We also just learned "Holy Diver." I like Dio. I think his voice and his power is very reflective in the power in the voice of mariachi singers. Mariachi singers sing very long notes with a lot of passion, and so do metal singers. On the vocal elements there are a lot of similarities that we tie together.
Do you write any of your own material, or is it all versions of other's songs?
We are developing our own stuff. I'm always pushing the band to do original stuff because our audience is ready for that. It's that balance between what makes up happy and what makes us who we are. We're always wondering how we can take that next step to establish ourselves as true songwriters. We're trailblazers. Once we make that step, it will be our own genre completely. We will no longer be a cover band, so we have to be strategic with how we present it. It's kinda like a lot of pressure, but it's where we have to go. Our next album will be a combination of covers and some original numbers and hopefully our fanbase will latch on to that and it will become our genre. It's no going to be Metalachi the cover band, but Metalachi, this is us.
You can call the album This is Metalachi. It would be like This is Spinal Tap.
I think something a little more colorful, like Enter the Pink Taco or Chi-Chi's Christ, or something like that. But, yeah, we could do that.
Metalachi is scheduled to perform on Sunday, April 6, at Rhythm Room
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