Interview: Get to Know the Last Bandoleros, Sting’s New Favorite Group
When you talk to Tex-Mex country rockers the Last Bandoleros, within the first five minutes, you'll learn three things: They love music, they love each other, and they love to party! Whether they're rattling off musical influences or their first impressions of one another, you'd be heard-pressed to find a group of guys who enjoy performing (or drinking!) together more. Following the Sept. 20 release of their self-titled debut EP, and as they gear up to unveil their first full-length album in early 2017, the Last Bandoleros spoke with The Boot about the unique appeal of their music, their distinctive sound -- and, oh yeah, what it's like to sing with Sting.
The Last Bandoleros began their career as a band in San Antonio, Texas, as sort of a "happy accident." After performing solo early in their careers, brothers Diego and Emilio Navaira teamed up with fellow Texan Jerry Fuentes and New York native Derek James for a single writing session in 2013, only to discover that joining forces might equal more long-term success.
"When we first started writing together, two and a half years ago, we didn't intend to be a band," Diego, the younger Navaira and TLB's bass player, tells The Boot. "We just wanted to write songs together because we all admired what each other was doing musically."
At the time, each Bandolero was doing his own thing, but as they began sharing ideas and co-writing, the guys quickly found that four heads were better than one.
"I think after we wrote a few songs together, we'd look around the room, and we were all so excited about them, and we were having fun and wanted to continue," adds James, who plays guitar and sings. "It made sense. It was a happy accident."
Although their collaboration as a band is fairly recent, the men of the Last Bandoleros have actually know each other for a long time, which has a great effect on their ability to play together, on and off the stage. Throughout their interview, they trade jokes, calling each other "happy Tasmanian Devils" and "handsome cowboys," always being sure to add "who drink too much" to each signifier. And that lightheartedness and desire to have fun doesn't just come across over the phone; it's clear in their music as well.
With their unique mix of British pop, country-rock and Tejano, plus a healthy dose of Latin flair, you could argue that the Last Bandoleros are creating a genre of their own. Each of six tracks on the The Last Bandoleros EP seamlessly combines a host of genres: Crisp vocal harmonies reign supreme in the modern pop-rock song "Maria." "I Don't Want to Know" pairs classic Spanish guitars with twangy country-Western with perfect results. And then there's the EP's first single, "Where Do You Go?" a wild hoedown of a song with a rocking ... accordion solo?
With dozens of musical influences vying for attention, listeners might wonder how the heck it all comes together. The Last Bandoleros are quick to add that their collaborative writing and recording process is actually what makes them work so well. In fact, they don't even have one lead singer; rather, the band members say that they want everyone to have an equal part in the writing, recording and performing of their music.
"On each song, it's four people playing," says Diego Navaira. "That isn't always the case on certain records, especially in this genre. You have an artist [surrounded by] a ton of songwriters that no one really knows and a ton of studio musicians that no one really knows; everybody just knows that one artist ...
"In our case, here's us four -- soup to nuts -- doing everything," he continues. "We're playing on the album, we're recording the album, we're writing all the songs, we're playing all our instruments."
If the last year is any indication, the Last Bandoleros must be doing something right: Sting, the legendary frontman of the Police, tapped the band to collaborate on his forthcoming studio album, 57th & 9th. In July, TLB joined him on Jimmy Kimmel Live for a rocking cover of the Police's 1978 hit "Next to You," and they've spent time with Sting on the road.
"I got asked to do a studio session with him, playing guitar ... and then it developed into Sting liking some of the stuff that we were doing," Fuentes explains of the band's connection to the rockstar, adding that a lot of it has to do with their shared manager, Martin Kierszenbaum. "The next thing you know, Last Bandoleros got invited to sing with him in the studio, to play with him in the studio, to be in his music video. And at the time, we were obviously floored. But we had no idea it was going to develop into this."
The "this" that Fuentes is referring to is the success of 57th & 9th's first single, "I Can't Stop Thinking About You," on which the band sings backup, both for the studio version and in the song's music video. Since its release in late August, the track has soared up the AAA charts, leaving the Last Bandoleros completely stunned.
"I mean, we're knocking on wood as we're talking to you right now because it's unreal," Fuentes adds. "It's sort of surreal still, to this day."
Their growing relationship with Sting has served to strengthen the Last Bandoleros' commitment to one another as a band as well. As they've traveled with a musician who's seen massive success both as part of a band and as a solo artist, the guys have learned a lot. Some of the best advice? If you have a good song, let it stand for itself.
"We just did a few radio shows promoting his new single and kind of got to be flies on the wall in the room while he's interviewing," recalls James. "One of the things that stuck out to me, and I think all of us, was him talking about how when you're performing, you don't really need to over-perform. If you've done your job writing the song, you can let the song do the work."
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