By Tina Alvarez
The Pistoleros, a Tempe-based band, takes the best elements of rock music, weaves in parts of their Hispanic musical culture and ends up with a unique style that blends mainsteam rock with airy, poignant Southwestern accents.
"Our dad taught us guitar,î said vocalist Lawrence Zubia, "and from the time we were young kids we played mariachi music with him -- at weddings, fiestas, funerals, open-casket wakes, parties, as well as at home."
"We were like little wind-up monkeys," his guitarist brother Mark continued. "On the weekends we would leave our suburban home and go with our father to play music in the projects and barrios, the low income neighborhoods and parishes."
Lawrence credited his parents as being key players in keeping them in tune with their rich cultural background.
"Our parents intentionally kept that dichotomy very fresh to keep us connected with our heritage,î he explained. "Our first musical exposure was mariachi music, but our dad also listened to country music like Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash. Then we started listening to the radio, and our older brother Raoul also turned us on to his music -- Beatles, Elton John, The Doors."
The Pistoleros also include bassist Scott Andrews who hails from Detroit, drummer Gary Smith, whose hometown is Huntington Beach, CA, and Milwaukee-born guitarist/vocalist Thomas Laufenberg.
The Pistoleros recently played Club Congress opening for The Refreshments, another group who also hails from Tempe. In the past, The Pistoleros has shared bills with the likes of Los Lobos, Gin Blossoms, Smithereens, Dada, Cake, Reverend Horton Heat and Smithereens.
The Zubia brothers did not pick the groupís name based on their "wild west" geographical location. Instead, a classic movie provided the inspiration.
"It's from a Marlon Brando line in "On the Waterfront," Mark said. "After a dockside brawl, Brando tells this mob boss, "You're nothing without gun runners, do gooders, and pistoleros." He spits it out with so much passion, it's great."
Inking a deal with Hollywood Records, the Pistoleros' newly-released debut is entitled "Hang on to Nothing." The group utilized the talents of several of their friends. The late Doug Hopkins (Gin Blossoms) co-wrote "Guardian Angelî during the time he was in the Chimeras, the Pistolerosí former band that included the Zubia brothers, Doug, and Scott.
"We were on a camping trip and started working on the song and Doug brought a picture of two kids crossing a rickety bridge with an angel guarding over them," remembered Mark. "Doug bought one of these pictures at a swap meet and we developed it musically."
The chorus of this song is sung in Spanish and features sprightly splashes of lively mariachi horn arrangements.
Other contributors involve the Jayhawks' Gary Louris and Marc Perlman on "Hang On To Nothing" and "Wasting My Time" the Smithereens Pat DiNizio on "Somehow, Someway," "The Game," and "Nothing Lasts Forever;" and country singer/songwriter Radney Foster on "Just To Hold On To You."
The lyrical content often deals with difficulty in relationships ("Somehow, Someway"), the loss of a loved one ("Funeral") or memories of past flings ("Wild Love Coast").
"Our songs are full of turmoil and loss," noted Lawrence, "and tragedy has affected a lot of the people closest to us. But despite all the pain, there's still hope -- a recognition that bad times will someday lead to good times.
"It's kind of like how the Mexican holiday El Dia de las Muertes (Day of the Dead) is perceived by outsiders as 'Wow, the people are really weird and preoccupied with death,' he proceeded. ìBut it's not a mournful thing, it's a rockiní thing. Itís about being able to acknowledge death, yet still celebrate life."
And it seems the Pistoleros are well-versed in their encouraging attitude which reflects in their music. Currently the band is in the process of organizing a promotional tour. The LP, "Hang On To Nothing," is available at all Zia, Tower, Wherehouse and Virgen Records, as well at Borders.
"We hope everybody enjoys the record," Lawrence concluded, "share it with other people."