of a Satellite Radio interview with Ozzy & Sharon Osbourne. They were totally raving about Brown Sabbath & how much they love what we’re doing. Ozzy went as far as to say that we are great musicians and that there aren’t a lot of singers who can do what he does. He said: (referring to me) “this fucking Mexican guy sounds just like me!” It was pretty hilarious and amazingly surreal. I think we were all kind of floating around in a kind of blissful disbelief that day.It’s amazing when an artist that you’ve dug your whole life suddenly refers to you and gives you high praise. Getting their endorsement (and an invitation to play OzzFiesta in Mexico along with Ozzy’s solo band and a few other bands) is a huge deal. Let’s face it, how many people have played their music in the 40+ years it’s existed and how many times have they made a public endorsement about it? I don’t know, but I would venture to say somewhere between not very often and never! This thing we do is an interpretation of Sabbath. We’re not a tribute band that’s trying to BE or sound just like them. The fact that they heard what we were doing, understood where we were coming from, liked it enough to praise us in the media and hire us to perform at their Festival is really pretty unreal.It’s also a mixed bag for me personally, because while being praised by Ozzy for doing his material justice is a definite highlight in my career as a vocalist, no one want’s to be known as the guy who sounds like another guy. So, it’s important to me that I continue doing my own thing as a singer and artist. I hope that people
know I’m not trying to be some kind of impersonator. I’ve never approached this gig with the intention of sounding like him. I feel like certain songs fit my range really well. Thus, sounding much like he did in those recordings. I’ve also been listening to these songs for about 25 years and he has been an influence on me as a singer. So, inevitably some Ozzy is bound to creep out!!! The theatrics I apply on stage are to give people a good show, something fun to watch as well as hear. It has allowed me to get creative with wardrobe and theatrics which has been super fun. I did want to give a nod to his abilities as a front man and entertainer. Those are big shoes to ‘step into’ and like I’ve said before about my approach to this: it’s go big or go home.
Daze: How did it feel to play ACL Live/Moody Theater the other night just a few blocks from where it all started?
|Daze: What was the first instrument you learned how to play? Was there any influence in your family to be a musician?|
Alex: The earliest memory I have is of singing. I’ve been singing since I was about two years old. That’s probably the first thing I ever did, musically speaking. I don’t really have any other full time musicians in the family, but my mom is a great singer and there was always Cuban music playing in the house. She never had a chance to pursue it, but she sings beautifully. When I was thirteen I asked my parents for a drum set and they gave me a classical guitar. So, it worked out well in the sense that I learned how to play guitar and was able to sing and write songs. Then I got into heavy metal and got into being a shredder guitar player (not that I succeeded, mind you) when I was about 15. Then when I was 22 or 24 I put the guitar aside for a few years to focus strictly on learning drums and percussion.
Daze: What kind of guitar did you start on?
Alex: It was a cheap nylon string guitar and I still have it. It’s at my friend Pablo’s house! I taught myself, I never had any lessons or anything. I started with acoustic guitar and then graduated to the electric a few years later when I started playing in bands and recording in Mexico City as a teenager.
Daze: I’ve known you a long time. Everybody tells me not to ask you about this, but I want to hear from you: what happened to Ghandaia (gahn-die-ah)
Alex: (Laughs) They’re right! It just kind of ended, man. I put everything I had into that project for a very long time, as you know. It’s just hard to maintain something like that for so long. Eventually folks make life choices and we went our separate ways. But by the time one specific person left the band, I didn’t want to continue the project in that particular way. I felt that what we had built was made together. Frankly, I was burnt out. I’d spent years running the band and all those months working on producing the second record—which is amazing. It’s kind of heartbreaking because it never came out (although it’s up on youtube, Ghandaia: Evolucion). I think it’s a great record, I’m very proud of it. The project just died, so I secluded. I was exhausted and heartbroken. So I dove head first into the drums, full time. That was my therapy, you know? Just traveling the country and playing the drums with Topaz/Mudphonic, playing with amazing musicians everywhere and growing a lot as a musician myself. That was an amazing experience. I have some regrets about the Ghandaia thing but I’m at peace with everything that happened. Everybody gets along now and it’s an interesting & very important part of my musical history.
Daze: It’s something to learn from.
Alex: Absolutely. I learned a great deal. Things happen for a reason and we don’t always see why they’re happening when they’re happening. We don’t understand. That’s why bad experiences are there; to make us better, to make us grow.
Daze: From those days, I knew you as a frontman. Over the past many years, I’ve seen you in the back playing drums. What does it feel like to be a frontman again and which do you like better?
Alex: The drums are my favorite. Every instrument has its own vibe; the voice is a very unique thing that comes right out of your body and allows you to connect with people right away. People respond immediately to the voice. With rhythm, people respond in a more visceral way. It’s more instinctual, more primal. When I’m playing music I aim to be in that zen moment, completely away from everything. It’s about getting to a place where I’m in between consciousness, that place where I’m here but I’m not here— for me, that happens on the drums quicker than on any other instrument. So I cherish it. I mean, the guitar is a great instrument too and a great tool for songwriting, especially if you sing also. It’s just a fantastic way to express emotion in a way people can relate to. But with drumming I don’t have to be in the front. I don’t have to be trying to engage an audience. I can just play and I’m still in control. The drummer is a fundamental part of the band, the heartbeat. If I stop, the music’s gonna stop (for the most part). Yeah, I’m kind of a control freak. So, to answer your question, the frontman thing is definitely amazing as well, just in a different way. This whole experience [with Brown Sabbath] has been incredibly fun because I get to be this larger than life persona. I get lost in the character. But where it’s at for me musically is still mostly on the drums.
Daze: Do you ever get to that level of subconsciousness when you’re singing?
Alex: Yeah, but in a different way. Those moments are a lot shorter and fewer in between, because everyone is kind of looking at you. For example, in Brown Sabbath, I’m trying to rile everybody up and it’s all about an immediate energy exchange, rock n roll style. There are times when I can block that all that out and just be in the moment singing and experimenting with my instrument. I’ll reach some of those vocal/musical peaks and people will connect with me and that’s amazing. But there’s just something about being in the back, closing my eyes and being in that place for extended amounts of time. When you open your eyes and you’ve forgotten where you are because you’ve been lost in the music and in the moment. You express yourself without thinking, and that’s beautiful. It’s spiritual.
Daze: Are you going to bite the head off of a bat?
Alex: No, never. Ozzy didn’t intend to, either! He thought it was a toy. He bit into it and found out it was real, then had to get a bunch of rabies shots into his gut for weeks after that incident! It ended up being a great PR move but he didn’t plan it.
Daze: We read the bit about Brownout/Brown Sabbath on NPR, so we know how you all came together to do Brownout/Brown Sabbath. But can you tell us how you got involved?
Alex: It’s pretty funny, because I’ve known those guys forever. Ghandaia and Grupo Fantasma started at the Empanada Parlor at the same time. I still play with those guys in other situations. I heard about the gig at Frank when they said they were having a different theme each week and the last one was going to be “Brown” Sabbath. So I called them and said, “Hey, I’d love to sing War Pigs.” And the answer was, “Ooh. I don’t know, man. There are so many singers who have come forth. I don’t know if we’ll be able to fit you in.” I said: “It’s all good. Just throw my name in the hat, if I can sing a song, great. If not, no big deal.” That was that. Then a week before the show, I ran into those guys and they said: “Hey, uh… so… do you still want to sing War Pigs?” I told them I would. Then they said, “Can you sing Sweet Leaf and the Wizard too?!” I asked what happened to all the singers and they said everybody fell through. It was pretty funny. Worked out well, I think!
Daze: Is Brown Sabbath planning to write original material?
Alex: Brown Sabbath is just this kind of alter-ego project. Brownout is the main band and it has existed as an entity for about ten years. Brown Sabbath just kind of happened and people reacted to it. There was interest from Ubiquity Records to put out a record, so we’re in this fun ride of a project right now. The main focus for the guys is still Brownout and Grupo Fantasma. I think there’s a window before we overstay our welcome, so it’s important to be mindful of that. Brownout will continue and I may do some guest vocals with them in the future, but this is just a fun side thing.
Daze: It’s awesome and weird how popular Brown Sabbath is all over the country right now. How do you feel about that?
Alex: Everybody knows Black Sabbath. It’s hard to go wrong. Black Sabbath is funky. It’s always been funky. What we do is just put a different kind of spin on it and people react because they know these songs and they dig the approach we took. That’s why it’s so easy for me to be up there and be this kind of big persona, because I know everybody knows the music. It’s great to be playing in this project.
Daze: What are you going to move onto next?
Alex: I’ve always got something going on. I’m always playing with a whole bunch of different people, whether it’s percussion, guitar or drums. This new project, “Clandestino All Stars” with Michael Ramos, Greg Gonzalez & Brian Ramos started as a fun way for us to re-interpret Manu Chao’s classic record “Clandestino”. But it’s been so fun that we’re starting to collaborate and want to turn it into an original project. We love playing with each other and it’s nice to have a small format of musicians who can do multiple things and play very dynamically. So, I think we’re going to explore that further. I’m also hoping to have some music of my own to put out by next year. I haven’t done that in a while.
Daze: You’ve been on highs and lows. What advice do you have for someone just starting out?
Alex: If you’re in it for the money, don’t do it! If you want money, get a real estate license, I heard somebody said that once. It’s absolutely true. You have to play for the right reasons: because you love it, because you don’t have a choice, because you need to express yourself. It’s a difficult life, especially with the state of the music industry right now. Nobody knows where it’s going to go. Making money from creating music has become next to impossible. My advice is to be passionate about what you do, to work hard on becoming a better person, musician and artist. That’s really what the endgame should be. If you want to be an instant pop superstar for 15 minutes, then get on American Idol. If you want to be a full-time musician, you have to realize that it’s not glamorous and it’s like anything else you do that’s worthwhile, it requires a lot of hard work.