The Pistoleros illustrate a compelling irony: some of the most upbeat rock 'n' roll is inspired by tragedy and heartache. Led by brothers Lawrence and Mark Zubia, the group's bittersweet tales of yearning and desperation gradually unfold and bloom like cactus flowers.
"Our songs are full of turmoil and loss," admits 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 los Muertos is perceived by outsiders as 'wow, these people are really weird and preoccupied with death.' But it's not a mournful thing; it's a rockin' thing. It's about being able to acknowledge death, yet still celebrate life."
Aided and abetted by bandmates Gary Smith, Thomas Laufenberg, and longtime cohort Scott Andrews, the Zubia brothers explore the capricious shifting sands of human experience. "Hang on to Nothing," the Pistoleros' debut disk, effortlessly draws upon rock 'n' roll, country, and Chicano influences to fuel songs such as "Somehow Someway," "Funeral," and the album's title track. "Wasting My Time" interweaves all of the group's varying thematic threads -- strident rock, gritty soul, and a psychedelic nuance here and there -- into a single manifesto.
Vocal harmonies and guitar hooks (alternately jangling and snarling) act as a balm for bruised emotions, and even in the darkest moments of "Hang on to Nothing," an optimistic glow stretches over the horizon, bursting into full-blown radiance on "Wild Love Coast" and the anthemic "My Guardian Angel."
Co-written by the late Douglas Hopkins (of Gin Blossoms fame), "My Guardian Angel" exemplifies the Zubia brothers' cultural background. "The song was inspired by an image which has kind of been adopted by the Chicano culture," Mark explains. "It's a famous picture of two kids crossing a rickety bridge with an angel guarding over them, accompanied by a Spanish prayer. Doug Hopkins bought one of these pictures at a swap meet, and we developed it musically." The resulting song, replete with a mariachi-style horn arrangement, is filled with an innocence and hope which transcends cultural boundaries (the Spanish language chorus translates: "My guardian angel / My life companion / Don't leave me / Not at night / Not at day").
In addition to "My Guardian Angel," "Hang on to Nothing" features songwriting collaborations with Gary Louris and Marc Perlman of the Jayhawks ("Hang on to Nothing" and "Wasting My Time") and Pat DiNizio of the Smithereens ("Somehow Someway," "The Game," "Nothing Lasts Forever"). But ultimately "Hang on to Nothing" reflects The Pistoleros' creative core, Lawrence Zubia and his younger brother Mark, who share a musical vision bordering on the telepathic. "We try to get along," Mark smiles, "because no matter what happens, I'm going to have to see him at our parents' house later."
The Zubia brothers' family life -- rich in Chicano culture -- has been filled with music since their childhood in Phoenix, AZ. "Our dad taught us guitar, " says Lawrence, "and from the time we were young kids we played mariachi music with him -- at weddings, fiestas, church masses, funerals, open-casket wakes, parties, as well as at home."
"We were like little wind-up monkeys," Mark laughs. "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." "Our parents intentionally kept that dichotomy very fresh," Lawrence adds, "to keep us connected with our heritage. 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." "All these influences came trickling down to us through the familiy," says Mark, "and we sort of soaked 'em up."
Inevitably, the brothers began making rock 'n' roll together -- going through various band names (including Live Nudes and The Chimeras) before adopting The Pistoleros. "It's from a Marlon Brando line in 'On the Waterfront,' " explains Mark. "After a dockside brawl, Brando tells this mob boss, 'You're nothing without gunrunners, do-gooders, and pistoleros.' He spits it out with so much passion, it's great."
From the beginning, Detroit native Scott Andrews has provided the bass lines which buoy Lawrence's lead vocals and Mark's guitar and backing vocals. Drummer Gary Smith (who hails from Huntington Beach, CA) and Milwaukee-born guitarist Thomas Laufenberg bring a rhythmic and melodic framework to the group's distinctive sound.
The Pistoleros have honed a powerful onstage delivery, touring as a headlining act throughout the Western U.S., as well as sharing the bill with artists such as Los Lobos, Cake, Gin Blossoms, Smithereens, Dada, and Reverend Horton Heat.
Capturing their onstage passion in the recording studio, "Hang on to Nothing" reflects The Pistoleros' signature alchemy: confronting real-life turmoil, and making it an essential ingredient in the creation of uplifting rock 'n' roll.
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