Get to know Beto Martinez with us. I have Known Beto for a long Ole Time. Too long to even pinpoint. I think it was around the early Fantasma daze at the Empanada Parlor or through mutual friends. I got the Grupo Fantasma fever early on and dîd not miss many gigs or parties. Beto alwaze looks cooler on stage than the rest of us. Dark shades while playing are his thing. He shreds through things in many of my favorite acts. The brotherhood that he performs with has helped me make things happen with AUSTIN DAZE so many times by performing. I will add on to this conversation; I want him to tell us the story behind the guitar strap he wears. Thanks Beto for sharing words again. Our team this time was Belinda, Rockslide and me (Transcribed by CC Bonney). Thank you for reading…
AustinDaze: One of the coolest things about your life as a musician is that you seem to be in a brotherhood with the people that you play with, meaning that the core members of Grupo have really stuck together and evolved into bands. Can you talk a little bit about this and tell us how you and Greg and Adrian met and why you have always stayed together. Holmes and Speice came later, but they also seem to be in this brotherhood now.
Beto: Yeah, definitely. Greg and I go way back. Greg and I met in 8th grade. And I was just starting to play guitar and it turned out that he had a bass. So it was perfect. So we started jamming. His parents house had a garage with A/C which was rare but really awesome for Laredo because it’s like a hundred thousand degrees all the time. So we were able to sit in the garage and play all the time and they never bothered us for it. We started our first real band there, and moved up with that band. So we definitely are probably as close as any blood brothers might be. We met Adrian actually in Austin, I think. He’s from Laredo as well and we were aware of each other because he was already playing. But it wasn’t until we moved to Austin in ’96 that we actually crossed paths, and his band, The Blue Noise Band, played with our band at the time, which was The Blimp. And we just all became really good friends really quickly, it was a really simple thing…for the love of music and a real stylistic and aesthetic overlap in what we like to do and the type of music we like. We just hit it off. For 15 years now, pretty much since Fantasma started, we’ve been pretty much on the same page. We’ve branched off to do a couple other things here and there, but I think the three of us, especially, you know Adrian’s not with Fantasma any more, but with Brownout, it’s still Adrian Greg and I are the guys that write most of the songs and push a lot of the stuff forward. And 15 years later, I think it’s still going strong. We never had to work at it that hard, we just came together and musically it just worked out.
AustinDaze: I’ve definitely been in the audience and watching you guys for 15 years!!!
Beto: We appreciate that support too, man. You’ve always pushed us whenever you could. It’s great to play for you man, and I’m glad you’ve been able to be there for that. As for John and Lou, we met more recently. I guess we’ve known John for a little while but started playing with him really in 2010. In 2009 he started playing with Brownout, and in 2010 or 2011 he took over the drum chair in Fantasma. Lou’s been in Fantasma for a little longer than that. But those guys, and the other guys we play with as well, the horn section, Josh and Gil and everybody like that, Jose, Kino, we come from a similar place, we just kinda hit it off man, and carry ourselves well with each other. We kinda have a way of getting along where we make fun of each other really hard. And that’s just funny that we do it, but it’s never been awkward or anything. Anyone that’s ended up playing with us, it’s been someone that’s come in and just right away we hit it off. We’re good. It is like a brotherhood.
AustinDaze: In all the different forms that you play in, do they feel different to you? If so, which is the most fun for you to do?
Beto: They do feel different. I think it just depends. I love playing whenever I get a chance to play. Sometimes I have more fun with one than the other. And definitely when you get into a grind and when you are playing a whole lot and touring really hard, you’re doing a similar set every night, it can kind of become a little grind and maybe it’s not as fun. But we’re lucky that we have these multiple bands, so if we’re hitting one really hard, when you get the chance to do the other one, it does feel like this total departure and its like fresh air and suddenly you’re like “Ahh!” And that’s kind of what Money Chicha has become right now, it’s really the only band at this point where we don’t have management or a booking agent or anything like that, it’s just us playing music, whenever we want, whenever we can fit in a gig. It feels like it has the least amount of pressure on it. We just go out there, we play, we have a good time. We don’t worry about how many people showed up, how many people paid, who thought what about it. We just go out there and do it. So I’m having a lot of fun with that right now. But like I said, I love playing with all the bands I play with. I just love being able to make music.
AustinDaze: You’ve been in Austin a long time and seen many things come and go and change. Do you feel that life is easier or harder now on musicians than it was when you started out, and why?
Beto: Yeah, a lot of stuff has changed. A lot of stuff has changed with me personally as well, like I’m married and I have kids and I own a house now. But back when we started playing, we all used to live together in a house on Manor Road, which Brian (Ramos) still lives in. But definitely rent was cheaper, getting around was a lot easier. And it seems like things were just less expensive. It was easier to just kind of be a bohemian musician, spend your days jamming, going and playing a couple of gigs, and get by on very little. I think now, although I don’t live with roommates and I’m not working it in that same way, I could imagine that for someone doing that, it’s probably a little more difficult. The cost of living has definitely gone up here in Austin. And just the logistics of doing anything has changed as well. Like today, when I left my house I didn’t expect intense traffic on Sunday afternoon. But it is what it is, it’s kind of the reality of it now. So I think it has changed a lot. It may be a little more difficult. We’re in a position now where we don’t really play in town that much, so I don’t know that I’m the authority to speak on that. There are a lot of people that are still hustling really hard here in Austin. But it has changed, I can definitely agree with that.
AustinDaze: Tell us about your new studio, and what are you doing there?
Beto: So I’ve lived in Buda now for the past year. And the house that I found there had a little building that we turned into a studio. I call it Lechehouse Studios, which doesn’t really mean anything, it’s just a random word association. I had to come up with a name for my publishing company on the spot awhile back and I knew that name couldn’t possibly be taken. So its kind of a silly name, but it’s called Lechehouse. And I spent the last year putting it together, buying gear, doing work on the room, setting up the room, doing sound treatment, stuff like that. Some of the first recordings I did in there were actually for the Brown Sabbath project. I recorded some vocals with Alex Marrero, and a bunch of percussion and some guitar stuff there. I was really happy with how that turned out. Lately I’ve been doing mostly small scale stuff like horn sessions, percussion sessions, overdubs, things like that. A couple of months ago, Adrian Quesada brought in Como Las Movies, which was the first full band that I had in there. And I was really happy with how that turned out. And I’m going to have El Tule do a couple tunes in there in November. So it’s coming along. I’m happy with it, but the studio thing is kind of like a crazy black-hole-of-gear obsession. Because once you start you can’t stop, and you are always looking for more stuff and adding more stuff to the studio. So I’m sure it’s going to be an ongoing thing. I’m already looking to how I can expand it. But I’m really enjoying it and its awesome to have a place like that right outside of my back door. I feel really lucky to be able to have that.
AustinDaze: So you’re not going to give up being a musician to run the studio?
Beto: No I definitely love playing live. I think I’ll probably be doing that until I can’t do it anymore. Because there’s just nothing like it. That’s what drew me to music. I wanted to stand in front of a bunch of people and play and make them move and get that reaction out of them. I still love doing that. Really the biggest aspect of my career in music is the live performance. So I think I’ll be doing that for as long as I can. I do love being in the studio and it’s great to have that as well. You know it’s such a competitive environment here in Austin because there are so many amazing multi-million dollar studios, even the small studios are just amazing. So I don’t expect that I’ll be running a super busy commercial facility there at any point. But it’s a nice place to get done little things I want to get done and get to work with other people every now and then. But I will continue to play live as long as I can.
AustinDaze: Tell us why you started to play music, was there any influence from your family to play the guitar?
Beto: There were no musicians in my family, but my mom loved to dance, so we always had music on. I was turned onto music early on. Mostly pop music, whatever was on the radio. I remember getting into rock n’ roll with Quiet Riot, Cum on Feel the Noise, like in ’83, whenever that song came out. That song drove me crazy as a little kid, the drum intro was awesome. After that it was Dire Straits. And then Metallica was the first band that became an obsession for me. And that was really when I thought man, I want to play guitar. Because I wanted to do that, I wanted to have long hair and headbang and rip some solos, you know what I mean? I was kind of a nerdy kid, kind of introverted. So it was also appealing in that sense, that I wanted to be a cool guy that could rock out on the guitar. But I took to it quickly and I loved it right away. I got my first guitar when I was like 12 or 13 and just spent every hour that I could just practicing. And then, like I said earlier, when I met Greg, it just so happened that he had a bass, and I was like, man this is so perfect. So we started practicing together every day, as often as we could. My parents were supportive, in that they were happy that I was doing something I liked, but they definitely did not want me to become a professional musician. That kind of freaked them out. But I still went to college, so they were happy with that. But they told me constantly that it is a hard life as a musician. They were also scared that I would descend into the world of hard drugs and all this stuff. But they’re very supportive now, and they’ve seen the success that we’ve had and they enjoy it. But it really did start with a love of music, a love of rock n’ roll.
AustinDaze: Are there any new recordings coming along from any of the outfits you are involved in? And are they all in your studio, or at other studios?
Beto: So far, nothing new from my studio with these projects. We actually have a new Grupo Fantasma album and this is kind of an interesting thing. We’ve had it done since January 2013, produced by Steve Berlin from Los Lobos. We recorded at Jim Eno’s Studio, Public Hi Fi, and it was supposed to come out then. We had a record label at that point, Nat Geo Records, and they suddenly decided to shut down the label, which caught us off guard. So we scrambled to find a partner to help us put it out. But that didn’t materialize in the timeframe we were looking for. So we’ve actually been sitting on the record because we want to do it justice by giving it a proper release. And we are playing with the idea of crowdfunding , but we just want to do it right if we do end up taking that route. But in the interim, it’s been released in Japan. So that album is out in Japan, not here. But we are really hoping that in 2015 we are going to get it out and we are going to push to do that however we need to do it, we will explore options. It’s kind of a weird world out there for trying to put out records. People are real hesitant to put money into records because they are just not making money off them. But it is a huge promotional tool and for us, we love making albums. The collection of music, I think, is more important than just the one song. So we’ve always put our heart and soul into putting together this whole package. But to answer the question, there is a Fantasma album. We actually just recently completed three more songs for a forthcoming Money Chicha record, which will be 8 or nine songs. No release date for that, but we’ve completed recording, we need to do some mixing. And Brownout has new material. We are planning to get into my studio to start laying down some of those tracks and see where we are going to go with that. So hopefully 2015 will see a few releases.
AustinDaze: So give us some advice of what you have learned in the music scene over the years for other musicians that are giving the scene a try?
Beto: The biggest advice is just to love what you do and to be the best you can be at it. I don’t think there are any sort of shortcuts to “make it” – and I say that with air quotes– because what does that mean nowadays? I think there’s so many bands right now, the live music market is saturated. Because the tools to make and record music have been made so readily available that everybody is making music in their bedroom, or whatever. You got a lot of people who just make some music and they’re like, “Now we’re a band, let’s go play live.” Which is great, I love that the whole world can make music now. But a lot of those groups should really make sure that they are making the best music they can. They are putting out there the best they can put out there and doing it the best that they can. Don’t half-ass it basically. If you are out there really giving it your all, and doing your best, eventually someone will notice. People will start to notice, these guys are good. You will hit a nerve with somebody and hopefully you start to build an audience. It really depends on what your goal is, if it’s like superstardom or if you just want to make a living off of doing it. Keep at it and do it out for the love. And don’t start out thinking that you are doing it to make a million dollars, because that’s very rare, it almost never happens. But if you are doing it because you love it and you build an audience in the process, it’s perfect.
AustinDaze: Tell us a cool story about your recent tour with Brown Sabbath.
Beto: Cool story? Let’s see. It wasn’t boring. It was definitely fun. We traversed the entire country in three different legs. We are actually taking off on Tuesday for the Southeast leg. There was some interesting stuff that happened. We went to this town, Hayfork, California, it’s up in the mountains. It’s a little weed town, they basically grow weed there, that’s what they do. Now our band can hold their own when it comes to the green stuff, everybody’s kinda proud of that, but we have never been quite as overwhelmed as in Hayfork, California. We showed up, and we had little old ladies at this coffee shop randomly coming up to us and giving us joints. And then once people found out we were with the band, people were like, “Hey let’s smoke.” And they are busting out all this weed. And after we smoke all that, the security guard comes out and said, “Hey, you can’t stand out here…unless you are smoking weed,” and like hands us joints. And it basically got to where we were like, “What the hell is going on here? Stop. It’s enough.” But that was a funny thing that happened, we actually got overwhelmed by weed, in Hayfork, California. But that’s what they do there.
AustinDaze: So tell us the best on the road story from any outfit.
Beto: We’ve been touring for a long time, so there’s a lot of stories out there. One incredible high point was when we got to open up for Prince at the O2 Arena in London. That was Grupo Fantasma. That was really the only time that most of us have been able to play in an arena like that, like a real arena where there’s 20,000 people surrounding you. That was one of those where, as we were about to step out there, we all just kinda looked at each other like, “Holy shit,” this is what we always wanted in our wildest dreams, like when we were kids, one day we’ll be in the arena. And we were like, “Oh shit, we’re at the arena now.” So that was definitely one of those that stays in my mind.
AustinDaze: I know being on the road is grueling. The life of the musician is very hectic. How do you stay healthy on the road?
Beto: You know, it’s difficult. I’m not particularly a health conscious person. I mean I don’t eat fast food, and I try to eat good food whenever I can. It’s difficult on the road. But just making conscious choices like not getting to every gas station and walk around and buying crap just because you don’t know what else to do. So stop doing that. Just drink water all the time, stay hydrated. You know, you are in a club every night. When you show up, regardless of what day it is, it’s somebody’s Friday night. It’s the night they want to go out and party and you gotta bring that energy to them. There’s a lot of drinking going on and stuff like that, so definitely staying hydrated is very important. Drinking tons of water, avoiding fast food, trying to get home cooked meals whenever you can. If you know of people, that’s great. Friends that you remember when you are out on the road that will cook for you, that’s just like invaluable. So really just that, looking for good food, drinking lots of water, and trying to be a little active. Taking walks when you get to the club. Because you’ve been in the van for 15 hours. Get out, go find a park and go for a walk. That’s really some of the easy things to do.
AustinDaze: What two guitar pedals can you not live without?
Beto: Number One: my wah pedal. Because that was one of the first pedals I got. I have a distinct connection to it. I love using the wah, it’s very expressive for me, and I don’t think I could do without it. I’ve had a couple of times where my pedal board didn’t work and it was like a panic, because I need it. I guess the wah, and maybe my delay pedal that I use too which is nice for little touches. But everything else I could lose at one point or another, but I need that wah.
AustinDaze: What music/artist taught you “less is more”?
Beto: You know Prince actually told me something during a rehearsal when we were trying to figure out what to play on a tune that we were putting together with him for the ALMA Awards. I said, “Maybe I should lay back on this.” And he just looked and me and said, “Yeah, always lay back. It’s funkier.” And I was like, “Yes, sir. Yes, sir, Prince.” So I just always try to keep that in mind because sometimes you can overdo it. Silence is sometimes more valuable than a million notes. It’s definitely funkier.
AustinDaze: Do you have anything you want to talk about?
Beto: Not in particular besides saying thanks for having me, Russ. It means a lot man. Like I said, for 15 years you’ve been coming out to shows. We love the Daze, and I love seeing you out there and all the support you’ve given us. It’s crazy. Time flies.