10 Questions with ... The Last Bandoleros
July 10, 2016
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
The Last Bandoleros mesh one part Tex-Mex, one part Brit-Pop, and two parts Country/Rock. This trio is comprised of San Antonio natives Diego Navaira on bass and vocals and Jerry Fuentes on guitar and vocals, and New York native Derek James on guitar and vocals. They have combined their unique individual experiences, influences, and sounds to create a compelling, contemporary American sound. The Last Bandoleros signed with Warner Bros./WAR in November, released their debut single, "Where Do You Go?" to radio, and recently embarked on a radio tour.
1. Tell us about yourselves! You've been on radio tour a little bit, but what would you like those in Country radio who haven't met you yet to know?
Derek: We're three fine human gentlemen [All laugh]. My name is Derek, and I'm from New York originally. Jerry and Diego are from San Antonio. Jerry moved to New York about 10 years ago, and that's how we met in the singer-songwriter scene. We became fast friends, and he's the bridge. They can describe in more detail how they came to know each other. I am a New Yorker, and it might be odd that a New Yorker ended up in a Tex-Mex Country band, and I can say that part of my journey to Country music was through a love of being a Cowboy. I was invited on a cattle drive years and years ago. I've been on multiple cattle drives since, and at night we'd gather around the campfire and sing all these Country tunes. I learned the genre and fell in love with cowboy life.
Jerry: So, like he said, when I left San Antonio, I would come back periodically in those 10 years. Derek and I became fast friends and we started working together. When I would come back, I'd go back to the studio that I grew up working in. And when I went back there, the producers that worked at that studio said, "You've got to meet this kid Diego. He reminds us of you!" And Diego started working at the studio kind of when I left. I was an associate producer, a studio musician, and then Diego kind of came in and did the same thing. He was playing guitar and all this stuff. I'd come back and visit and play shows and connected with Diego. We kind of just started jamming in San Antonio. Well then I would go back [to New York], and I was like, "Derek, dude I met these kids in San Antonio. We should start writing together and do this Country thing." And we started kicking around tunes. Really shortly thereafter - the minute we kind of got in the room- we immediately were like, this is special.
So how long have you all been together the three of you?
Diego: Two years, but we've known each other for longer than that.
Derek: We all fronted our own bands before this project.
Diego: We all had a mutual respect for each other in what we did before The Last Bandoleros, in what we did separately.
2. When was it that you decided you wanted to pursue music?
Diego: My father [Emilio Navaira] was a musician. He's a Tejano star; down south we have a genre of music called Tejano music. From birth I was just surrounded by music, and I would be on stage at four or five years old in front of thousands of people, so I don't think I had a choice. I started my first band when I was eight years old, and so I've never had a real job, or what most people would consider a real job.
Jerry: For me, I started playing guitar when I was eight or nine years old. I used to play on the San Antonio River Walk from the time I was like 10 years old until I was about 16. I played with my dad as a father-son duo. I would go, and all the money I'd make my dad would save. Once I had enough, I'd buy more guitars or an amp or whatever. I just kind of did that until the minute I did my first album when I was 16. I was not quite as entrenched as Diego was, because my dad wasn't a professional musician, but he would play with me. And then I kind of outgrew him rather quickly. I never stopped. I kept going.
Derek: I came to music later than these guys. My mom played show tunes around the house, and I grew up and was force-fed piano lessons, which I liked, but I kind of gave up. But then I picked up the guitar when I was 13. I didn't consider being a performer until college, when I played my first open mic night. Before that I was so shy to sing, I used to sing like an Adam Sandler voice.
Diego: That's why you love those comedies!
Derek: And then I played my first open mic night and kind of got some courage to do it and I've been doing it ever since.
3. You have a very unique and different sound. What influenced that sound? What were your musical influences growing up?
Diego: Well, for me Tejano music was actually a huge influence on me. I was surrounded by it and also my father was a Tejano star. Then the second band that I really fell in love with was The Beatles. I was about 11 years old and I just learned the catalog. I went through every record and learned it on guitar with my brother, and yeah, that's when I was like, I need to be playing in a band. And then, after my father had success in Tejano, he actually crossed over into Country. He toured with George Strait and Alan Jackson - these amazing Country artists - and so through my father I also was exposed to Country. I remember growing up and loving and watching "Pure Country" all the time, so that was my introduction to Country.
Jerry: I grew up listening to my dad...it was '70s. The Doobie Brothers. Steely Dan. It's weird that I'm playing Country right now. I was a Stevie Ray Vaughan fanatic as a young kid, learning how to play Fender Stratocaster and play Blues. It was Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton... A lot of it was I was learning how to play these records I had never even heard of, because it was my dad's music. When I was doing a father-son duet with him on the River Walk, those are the songs we were playing. I didn't know how they really went, because he showed them to me.
Derek: My dad had a Neil Young live cassette tape that I used to beat the crap out of rewinding "Rockin' In The Free World" harmonica solo. And then Eric Clapton and Genesis. I found my dad's early records - The Rolling Stones and The Beatles. All of us love The Beatles.
4. Where do you think your music fits sonically in the Country landscape?
Diego: I think Country music is in a unique position right now. It's exploding. There's so much variety of Country right now. I really don't know how to answer that question.
Derek: There are so many interesting flavors flying around the Country airwaves right now. I mean, in our music, there are little bits of George Strait, Texas Tornados, some Beatles, and some Dwight Yoakam. I mean, you put all this in a blender and that's kind of what we taste like. I think that it's got a lot of flavors that people in the Country world can appreciate.
I think it's a good time to be different and authentic, because it is so wide right now. I feel like there are a lot of people that are filling all of these different lanes. Like you have the very Poppy - like Kelsea Ballerini, and she filled that lane. And then you have more Rock, more R&B, but I think as long as you're authentic and can fill your own lane, that's what matters. Not like, oh well you know Kelsea is really Poppy and it's working, so I should do that. I think it's great that you guys are like, this is us, and we have all these cool different influences. We'll fit somewhere.
Derek: I like your answer. We'll use your answer. We just want to be authentic.
Jerry: Yeah, ideally we'd like to create a lane. That's the goal.
5. Your first single, "Where Do You Go?" is impacting Country radio now. Can you tell us about the background behind the song and what made you decide this is the single you wanted to go with?
Diego: This is the first song that we actually wrote together, the four of us in a room. My brother actually wrote all of the songs with us. He's on the recordings and he tours with us when he can. But we were all in a room and this is the first song we wrote together. We wrote this song, and it was sort of like, okay, we should be in a band and write some more. And you know when we were writing it what we did... we literally took all of our influences and poured them into one song, all the way back to our traditional roots to our Tex-Mex and Tejano music. And if you hear the record, you will definitely hear the Tex-Mex flare with the accordion. And yeah, after we wrote it that became the blue print for our sound. I think it deserves to be the first single, because without "Where Do You Go?" we wouldn't be in a band.
6. Do you guys have a writing process?
Jerry: As it comes. There's some stuff where Derek will have a line or a hook and then he'll say what about this, and it will be a catch phrase with a melody attached to it, so that kind of comes at the same time. Then we might finish the rest of the song all melodically and just take the one catch phrase and fill in lyrics based on that. Sometimes it will be all music and then we're just kind of like, well what does this make us feel like? Let's try to write lyrics to that. I mean, I would say more often than not it's probably the music first. Not always.
Diego: Songs can come in many ways.
Derek: Yeah, we try to stay open to receiving them. From every direction.
I'm guessing the single is part of a larger project? An EP or an LP?
Jerry: We don't really know, because it's not entirely up to us anymore. We do have an entire album written. Pretty much all recorded. It's still got to get mixed and hopefully before the end of the year.
7. You signed with Warner Music Nashville in November. What made Warner feel like the right fit for you?
Jerry: Well, [EVP/A&R] Scott Hendricks told us he was not going to have it any other way unless we signed with Warner. And from what I'm told, you do what Scott Hendricks says. I guess to me it felt like family right away. This is a family here, and I don't think - even outside of the people that work here or know the Warner employees - when we all have been, whether it's Nashville, LA, or New York, in different markets talking to different musicians, every time we tell them we're with Warner Music Nashville they're all like, "Oh my God you guys are so lucky!" Like every single response with no added benefit. They all talk great about this label, this team, and Espo [Pres./CEO John Esposito.] So it was just great to hear the affirmation.
Derek: And the way that we signed with them was so organic. It just felt good.
Diego: Everything inside of us was just saying, "Yes. This is where you belong." I mean, the Brett Eldredge story is amazing. How I think it was 53 weeks they worked his first single 'til it broke, and look at him now! That's a great testament there.
8. How familiar were you with how radio works before this promo tour - and what is the one thing you've learned about radio that you never knew before this experience?
Jerry: I think we had an idea...we heard "radio tour" and we were like, oh we're going to visit a bunch of radio stations. I don't think we realized just how much work it is. And traveling. Especially in this format, getting to know the programmers. That is something I think we all were kind of like a little bit surprised in a good way to learn. We actually get to have real relationships with all of these programmers; we get to hang out with them, we get to know them, and we get to have drinks with them. Everything we've heard about coming from Pop and Rock and Top 40 and stuff, I don't think that's necessarily the case. But for this format, it's really cool. You get to form personal relationships with these people. And I think we all were kind of learning that. It's kind of a treat, because you get to know a lot of people doing that. All of us, we're all getting to know these guys and girls on a personal level.
Where have you guys seen the coolest response so far on your radio tour?
Derek: You know one visit comes to mind. It was in Rochester. Most of these visits on your radio tour, you're not put on the radio. My friends think, oh you're going on radio tour, so you're going to be on the radio every day. They don't realize that it's kind of a presentation to program directors. But when the program directors are really excited about us, sometimes they've invited us, "Hey, you guys, let's do that on the air right now!" and that happened in Rochester. They played the single. It was unreal.
Where was the first time you heard yourselves on the radio?
Jerry: We flew into Denver, but we were driving up and down, so I don't actually know where we were.
Diego: We stopped in a parking lot and cranked it.
Jerry: Yeah, we stopped in a parking lot and rolled the windows down and just cranked it really loud! We stuck our heads out the SUV and were just like, yes!
9. You've played a bunch of music festivals, but in terms of playing in Nashville - you recently had your first "Pickin' On The Patio" and a couple of weeks ago you performed at your first CMA Music Festival. Do you feel that the Nashville community has embraced you?
Jerry: I do! We have been really lucky. Not only from this label, but even from CMA Fest was a great example. People wanting to meet us, people that heard about us, looked us up on YouTube, saw some of our stuff, came by with printed out photos just for us to sign. In all intents and purposes, we're a baby band breaking into the Nashville scene. It's awesome that people care about music here and they want to go see it and they like it! Yeah we've been really blessed, I feel like people are receiving us well!
Derek: One other thing about CMA Fest that was fun we got to escort our label mate - a tall handsome man named Blake Shelton - down Broadway. It was fun to see the excitement from people. People were losing their minds. He did an impromptu set on the stage acoustic and we were there hanging.
10. "The Last Bandoleros" translates to... "The last highwaymen." How did you decide on the band name?
Diego: It actually translates to "The Last Outlaws" or "Bandits." It depends on what dictionary you use.
Derek: Highwaymen works too. I kind of like highwaymen. That's kind of cool.
Diego: You know, Jerry says all the time that choosing a name is so difficult. It's so hard. It's almost silly. It's just a name.
Jerry: I mean let's come up with some band names right now! Screw this interview! You'll see how hard it is.
How long did it take you guys?
Jerry: Forever because everything is taken! The minute you do it, you're like, that's a good one. That's a great one!
Derek: Then you Google it, like oh, there's five of them...
Diego: We were the Federales for some time, and there's a bunch of demo files that probably have that name. We sort of wanted something with a Spanish flare to it. We came to "The Bandoleros," but there was a band I think in Chicago that had "The Bandoleros" trademarked or something. So we said, well, we're not the first; then we'll be the last.
Jerry: And "The Last Bandoleros" is cooler, anyway!