Interview: Mariachi Entertainment System
Hailing from San Antonio, Texas. This live group brings in classic chiptunes just like a lime on your beer, by giving it a refreshing traditional Mexican twist. I first came across MES while scouring the gaming reddit forums and their flashy charro suits caught my eye. There’s just something about the suit that’s so fluid in terms of class and culture. It’s almost as if you were to don the suit, you’d be sitting at a loteria table asking for a margarita-- blended not stirred-- followed by the line, “My name Bond, Jaime Bond.” It was then that I reached out to David Ortiz to find out more about their adventures in music.
First off, you guys recently celebrated your 1st year anniversary in April, congratulations! What got you started on this project and how many members of the group do you currently have? I’ve only recently discovered your music on YouTube through Reddit and I’ve got to say, you guys one the best cover groups I’ve seen.
Well, I started with some friends I met through the mariachi circuit. Guys who I knew could read music well and were somewhat open minded. Amy Rabago, I knew from college and I was able to secure her husband Alfredo's help through her.
I have gotten help from other people who I consider to still be a part of the MES family even if they haven't appeared in every video. Robert Casillas is a good example. He played Guitarron and Vihuela on Duck Tales and didn't return until Millennial Fair when he played accordion. He's a beast, we met through the traditional mariachi circuit here in SA.
Captain Mandi (@mariachimandi) was one I also met through the circuit and shared a love of video games and had also been wanting to play mariachi video game music. Gilberto Martinez (@dragonprodigy88), I reached out to through Facebook because I knew he was kinda nerdy and also an arranger but he and I had never really played together.
D00MSDAY (@d00msday_mes) was one I reached out to through Facebook when I needed a flute. It helped that I knew she played Vihuela here in San Antonio with various mariachi groups. Through her, I got the help of her boyfriend The Viking. He came in in a pinch and read the part down.
Amy suggested Lotus Blossom (@lotusstrquarter) and she's enjoyed it way more than I thought she was. Originally, she was just a hired hand paid to get the work done on one song. But she has enjoyed it so much, she decided to stay for the fun. My wife Carla of course is integral in all this. I doubted myself every step of the way. From the inception of wanting to play duck tales to this day, she continues to curb my self doubt. MES wouldn't exist if not for her.
It’s as my dad would sometimes say, without women to inspire the arts it cannot exist. It’s the sole reason why I picked the keytar as my first instrument. Haha. What would you say is the inspiration or the dream, behind Mariachi Entertainment System?
I think all mariachis dream of giving mariachi flavor to their favorite genres of music. Other mariachis have covered everything from Mario brothers to Stevie wonder.
I initially wanted to cover a video game tune for the sake of trying to tear down some stereotypes; the word "mariachi" doesn't always conjure up the kind of imagery that I think is an accurate portrayal of what it is and what it could be. I don't mean to say that I know better, but I thought it would be fun to try to put together something that I felt was representative of what "mariachi"means: class, showmanship, musical integrity, things like that. But it was only ever meant to be one video game tune and then maybe jump to movie soundtracks or pop music. I didn't really know back then. Just wanted to try to reach new people and try to hint that mariachi is pretty badass.
What does mariachi music mean to the members of MES? At first glance, it's pretty easy to say that what you guys are doing isn't mariachi music, of course I'd be wrong, I’ve been to my fair share of weddings which is where I would typically see them. But this is the first time the thought of video game music and mariachi music had even crossed my mind. Can you describe what mariachi music is to people who might not know?
That's a great question! I think our music can definitely be described as a hybrid. We use mariachi instrumentation and we use a lot of stylistic cues. Our live performance will incorporate mariachi showmanship. But we have some elements in our music that are definitely not specific to the style, specifically as it pertains to the rhythm section. The Vihuela and the Guitarron are exclusive to the mariachi, and are instruments that are built to be played with mariachi. But we push those limits just a little at a time as we invent new ways of getting ideas across the genres.
For example, Guitarron is played in octaves. Because of that it can't be played like an electric bass. That's a barrier. The Vihuela is meant to be played in first position no matter how uncomfortable a chord might be; bar chords aren't really an option. That's another barrier. As we continue to figure out how to bridge 8 bit chiptunes and indigenous mariachi instruments, the music takes on its own flavor.
So that goes hand in hand with what we feel what mariachi is. Mariachi is the music of the common Mexican person. It's the heartbeat and soul of Mexico. To be a mariachi means to be a steward of their culture, to hold yourself to a high level of integrity both musically and as a person. I could go on, it's the highest kind of romanticism. That being said, being so steeped in tradition it's difficult to make certain changes musically, because Mariachi is a 100 year old tradition. Luckily I think we execute at a high enough level that we haven't faced too much backlash.
Yea, most definitely! Everyone is recording separately, the timing is on point and best of all, you are all using sheet music! My music professor in college was known for getting angry if you tried to perform without your music, you’re the first group that I’ve seen play with sheet music in their videos. Who writes the arrangements and how long does it usually take it from thought to paper to video?
I usually write the arrangements. I give myself a month just in case I hate the arrangement and I have time to write something else. That has actually happened a couple of times. I wrote something and the recording just wasn't what I wanted it to be. So we scrapped it and I started over. I listen to a tune about 5 million times, then I get to writing. Putting it on paper takes around a day or two. Then recording takes about 4 days. That goes along with video. Mixing/mastering is another 2 days. And editing video usually takes one day.
You guys have this ritual that I've noticed, that in every video, every member takes a shot of tequila. Honestly, when I used to perform I would have terrible stage fright, I was always tempted to take a shot beforehand but I also didn’t want it to affect my performance. Looking at you guys shoot one back with gusto kinda makes me regret that I never did.
To quote Camille Collins: "The only thing more Mexican than mariachi is tequila. And it seems a shame to have one without the other."
If you're a mariachi that doesn't drink tequila, you're not a mariachi. Moderation always applies, but like I said before. Mariachi is the music of the common Mexican: meant to be played in backyards, kitchens, living rooms and outside bedroom windows. The atmosphere is meant to be fun. Tequila goes with that. It also goes with the occasions that require a shoulder to cry on for unrequited love.
What are the some of the members favorite covers?
They all have different favorites. They have their tastes in what they like to listen to and what they like to play. Personally, I like metroid. That was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life.
Any way you can tell me what videos you plan on making next?
I don't even tell the MESticles what we are doing next Jajajaja like I said I like to give myself the freedom to change my mind. Right now I'm trying to finish up our first album so that's the priority.
You've recently announced that you're working hard on forming Super MES, a touring group for video game covers, where are you planning on making your first stops and any plans on making it over to California?
We are trying to set up our first live show in San Antonio. Where we go from there, who knows. One step at a time, for us. We all have a ton of experience playing on stage. For that reason I think Super MES Will be a BLAST...But if we are wanted somewhere we will do everything we can to get there.
I’d have to say that MES is definitely a VGM cover group that you should definitely keep an eye and ear out for. And who knows, if they get enough of our famous California love, they might find their way over here to a Con near you.