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Cover 05/22/2013

Is Piñata Protest Ready for Bigger Things?

Photo: Josh Huskin, License: N/A

Josh Huskin

“Our best lineup ever… and probably the last:” Matt Cazares, Álvaro del Norte, Marcus Cazares, and J. J. Martínez


The band’s ready and confident, alright, but they’re not stupid; as crazy as they may seem onstage, off of it they’re careful and disciplined — they know they can’t blow this one and won’t jump in the pool unless they know there’s water in it.

“We’re not just going to give up everything and expose ourselves to coming back to nothing,” said Martínez. “But at the same time we don’t want to one day say, ‘What if we had taken that chance?’ So we’re just waiting. We’ll see.”

While all members of the band grew up with Mexican norteñas and SA conjunto, everyone credits del Norte with having the idea for Piñata’s sound. Paradoxically, he was the last one to fully embrace his Mexican/Tex-Mex roots. He studied accordion with Juan Tejeda and Eva Ybarra, but then left for Austin “to find myself” while working as a meat clerk at Fiesta. His co-workers were blasting norteñas all day long (the really hardcore ones from south of the border), and del Norte realized he kind of liked it. Then it clicked.

“I was playing in a lot of bands that sounded like everybody else and I wanted to try something different,” said del Norte. “The only thing I could think of is combining my newfound appreciation of norteño with Tex-Mex and punk rock.”

All throughout El Valiente you hear that punk rock/roots music existential tension, both musically and in the lyrics. But, this time, the band sounds proud and convinced: they’re conjunto punketos, and chinga tu madre if you don’t like it (the “chinga tu madre” is uttered with a smile, though).

“We matured as a band and are getting closer and closer to finding our own sound,” said del Norte.

But El Valiente isn’t just a blend of styles: it’s an organic two-world hybrid that even surprises in crowd-pleasing “Volver, Volver” (a Westside blues that may very well be the quintessential punk cover of the classic Mexican song); when the song explodes, Martínez isn’t just doing the usual oompah-oompah polka snare. It’s wild, but precise.

“One of the biggest joys of the album and this band is how they transform everyone’s favorite ranchera song into an over-the-top punk rave-up that makes me want to stage-dive into a pit of cowboy hats and big belt buckles,” wrote Félix Contreras in the NPR First Listen feature of El Valiente.

Even popular classic “La Cucaracha” gets the Piñata treatment.

The album starts with a short, irresistibly corny intro a la XEG La Ranchera de Monterrey (Mexico’s top norteña station), where the band is announced as “los más chingones” (“the baddest motherfuckers”), and ends with “Qué pedo,” a sort of fierce declaration of principles in rudimentary Spanish that could be translated as “WTF?!”

No quiero/qué pedo/cambiarme/no puedo/mi vida/perdida/destino/deseo” (“I can’t/qué pedo/change/my life/lost/destiny/I wish”). It is a fast-driving cry for help that reflects del Norte’s (and the band’s) personal struggle to do what they want while accepting (and at times, rejecting) the way they were brought up. As he sings on “Life on the Border”:

Vivo dos vidas [I live two lives], my life’s a duet/dissonate melodies blasting all inside of my head/saying ‘you can’t stay, you should go/Your words are deceiving/your cover is blown.’”

“It’s all about finding who you are,” del Norte said. “Personally, I’ve always been searching, and I’m not going to stop now.”

Piñata Protest CD release party for El Valiente feat. Los Diferentes del Norte, Nada Más Basura

$5-$10
Doors at 7pm Fri, May 24
White Rabbit
2410 N St. Mary’s
(210) 737-1743
sawhiterabbit.com

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