A band like Metalachi could only come from Hollywood, where immigrants from Mexico would eventually collide with the rock ‘n roll scene on the Sunset Strip. Metalachi stands as one of the most unusual band at this year’s Heavy Montreal, where they’ll offer attendees classic metal songs played in traditional mariachi style. “This will be our first time playing in Canada,” says singer Vega De La Rockha, “and we’re looking forward to rocking out at Heavy Montreal and seeing all the bands that are on the bill.”
Genre-swapping artists are nothing new, but they often feel like they’re taking the piss, or doing a parody. Not so with Metalachi. At one point in our conversation, De La Rockha drops a seemingly innocuous line that is the key to Metalachi’s musical sincerity: “We don’t do covers; (the songs) are not the same”. What he means is that they’re not blindly trying to reproduce the original songs: they’re taking the melodies and chord progressions and re-arranging them within the traditional mariachi musical vocabulary. They often rely on violins and trumpet to carry the melodic elements, while the traditional guitarrón will cover the rhythmic aspects. The result is a completely unique take on familiar material and can even serve as a gateway into the world of traditional Mexican music.
Metalachi was born about 10 years ago, when the musicians were strictly a mariachi band. They played a gig at a quinceañera, the Mexican traditional 15th birthday celebration for girls. “One of the parents was a metalhead,” recalls De La Rockha.” They wanted us to play a metal song, and we decided to try to combine the song with mariachi music. We played the famous Mexican Hat Dance that went into the main riff of ‘Iron Man’ by Black Sabbath” he explains, as he’s singing both melodies over the phone.
This unusual marriage of musical genres caught on immediately. “It got a very good response,” he remembers with a laugh. “Even the grandmas were going ‘I want more!’” So the band added the costumes, adopted stage names, and Metalachi was born.
On record, the arrangements sound effortless, but there’s a lot of work to make them appear natural. “We’ve tried a couple like ‘Youth Gone Wild’ by Skid Row, or ‘Round and Round’ by Ratt that didn’t work,” admits the singer. “Sometimes it’s easy to transpose them, sometimes it doesn’t work. If something doesn’t feel right, we’ll do a different arrangement or just drop it.”
With three albums under their belts (‘Uno’, ‘Dos’ and ‘Tres’), I asked Vega if they were already thinking about ‘Quatro’. “I think we’re going to leave it at 3,” he readily admits. “It’s going to be the trifecta. We’re thinking about doing some other stuff; maybe a holiday album, for Christmas or Valentine’s Day. A funny take on it but make it heavy and fun.”
I suggest to him that they could also do a traditional mariachi album. “We play traditional mariachi songs in our set,” he points out. “We do a little bit of Vicente Fernandez and Jose Alfredo Jimenez (two singers famous in Mexico for their mariachi songs); we also play the song that was in the movie ‘Desperado’.”
“We can’t wait to play in Montreal, and try some traditional poutine,” he adds as our conversation comes to an end. “It’s going to be a metal fiesta!”
Metalachi will hit the Brasseur de Montréal Garden Stage on Sunday at 4:40PM. Don’t miss these guys!