La Conquista interview
words by Tamma Hicks
So as I am sitting on the couch looking over what I’m going to talk to La Conquista about something catches my eye out the window. It’s a sight I don’t think we see often here in Corpus Christi… an attention grabbing red Dodge Charger with four rock star dressed women getting out! Heels, nails, leggings, hair, and makeup – all stage perfect. All I could think was, is this really a Cumbia band?
STEAM I know you’re not all from Corpus Christi so how did you choose here? Did you spin a map, throw a dart, and poof “I’m going to Corpus Christi”?
MONY (De La Garza) Machy and I are sisters from Monterrey Mexico.
BERNIE (Rondon) We moved here when I was a child.
VANESSA (Guerrero) I’m from here.
MACHY (De La Garza) My sister and I made two albums in Monterrey and then we switched record labels. We were looking for another producer when we found AB Quintanilla III and were with him for about six years. Now that we are an independent label we decided not to uproot what we had and stayed.
STEAM How did you come up with La Conquistas?
MACHY It had to do with the music industry and that you don’t see a lot of girl bands. It’s a very masculine business so we came up with La Conquistas, which means female conquers, because that’s what we set out to do.
STEAM So you’ve been here for six years, you put out two albums before that in Monterrey, so you guys have been together for what 10 years?
BERNIE 15 years.
STEAM 15 years?! You all look so very young, so you were what, eight when you started the band?
MACHY Not quite that young.
STEAM How did you meet Bernie and Vanessa?
VANESSA Bernie was already in the group when I started. They had needed someone for an awards show, so I tried out, learned the choreography and they liked what I did. I’ve been in the shortest at 5 years, but I also took a break during that time.
BERNIE I’ve been with the group for almost 7 years. One of my friends was a choreographer that I had danced with before and he told me about a band looking for dancers, so I learned the choreography and went to the audition. Mony and Machy came in and said they really liked me for the video they were doing. At the time I was in nursing school, so I only saw the girls here and there. Later I was dancing for DJ Kane and that’s when Machy and Mony stole me away.
STEAM Machy is the lead singer and lead guitarist. Mony sings background vocals and plays accordion. Vanessa and Bernie are dancers and Bernie occasionally sings background vocals.
STEAM Mony, how did you choose accordion?
MONY Well, Machy always had rock bands while I was younger and I wanted to be the drummer for her, but she never invited me and she had other drummers. Growing up in Mexico, accordion was kind of a natural instrument to pick up. It took me three months to learn it and then I recorded my first CD.
MACHY I remember she would practice for 3 or 4 hours every day and she was taking lessons with Ramon Ayala’s accordion player. I remember listening to her and thinking “wow, she is good. I should do something with her”, so we started up La Conquistas. I just never really got into Tejano or Cumbia music at all; I was a super rocker – death meal, black nails, black lace, the dark and heavy stuff is what I wanted.
STEAM Machy, is that why you chose guitar?
MACHY Well, I didn’t want to ever have long fingernails so I chose guitar. No, seriously, I’ve been in music school since I was nine years old. I started singing when I was about two according to my parents and when I was five I started on drums, because I wanted to be a musician. I began with taking drum lessons in school and they allowed us to pick a second instrument, so I chose guitar. I played drums in a band and hauling all that equipment was awkward and I was in the back so I thought guitar would be the thing to change.
STEAM You also have four men in the group. Tell me about these guys.
MACHY Roro Gutierrez (keyboards) is my partner and we arrange all of the music together. Rick Varela (drums) and Roro came in about 4 or 5 years ago. Then we found Chris Santos (bass) and Andrew Ita (percussion) is our newest member. They all have other projects besides La Conquistas.
STEAM You ladies always look amazing. Every picture I’ve seen, every show. Quite honestly, I’m feeling a little underdressed sitting next to you. So how do you pick your style?
BERNIE Oh, that’s where Uptown Girl and Salon Palomo come in! They are Corpus Christi boutiques that sponsor our styles, clothes. But before a gig or an event Machy will call and set the theme and we dress accordingly.
VANESSA Today she told us rocker style, and this is what you have.
MACHY The only thing is that Bernie and I have the same taste in clothes, so we have to coordinate a little more than the other two.
STEAM Cool! Tell me about your other sponsorships.
MACHY I’ve been sponsored for over 14 years by Gibson Guitars. We have sponsorships though Baby Phat, Ed Hardy, Budweiser, Uptown Girl, Salon Palomo. Roxanne Carr for makeup and Vanessa’s mother, Freddie, does hair.
STEAM Wow, eight people in the band that must be insane setting up a stage, especially when you get stuck on a little one. You play to a wide variety of crowds from people who just love cumbia to the laid-back lifestyle of the island. How do people react to your shows?
VANESSA We get all types of reactions. Some will stand and just stare at us. Others will get into the music instantly and little kids love to dress up like us.
BERNIE We have a very wide range of people that come to see us and they range from the die-hard fan (who travels to see us) to first-timers. You can tell a first-timer because they just give you the “what the hell is this” look, but almost always everyone is into the music, into what we’re doing immediately. Then of course we have the die-hard fans that will travel wherever were going. Through Facebook and email we have friends from everywhere we have played and they keep an eye on us to see where they can go.
MACHY For our 10th anniversary we had a look-alike contest. It was so much fun seeing little mini us’ running around! There was one little girl in a blonde wig with a bow in her hair carrying a fake guitar. That was a lot of fun! For our 15th anniversary were having a quinceañera and we’ll have our new single out, Mi Quince.
MONY It will be a true fiesta de quinceañera! We’ll have the dresses, cake, and of course, we’re the music. This will also be a benefit and we’re still deciding on a date and location but will let you.
STEAM I didn’t realize it was a single I was thinking it was a new album.
MACHY We came up with this idea because we place so many quinceañeras and we can play this song at that those. It’s a cool, fun song.
STEAM Who does the song writing?
MACHY That would be me. I do all of the writing.
STEAM I understand that you were up for Latin Grammys. Can you tell me about that?
MACHY This is before we moved to Corpus Christi. It was for our second album, Con Sabor a Band. We were nominated for 4 awards, but we did not win. It was a great experience and it would have been more fun if we had won. We have won other awards such as Female Entertainers of the Year, Best Show Band, and Album of the Year. This year we will be performing at the Tejano Music Awards in October in San Antonio. We played at the Tejano Fanfare and since then we’ve played more in that area. Our current single Ya Me Voy is in the top 10 on the top on the Tejano Music Charts.
STEAM Where have you guys performed?
MACHY Everywhere. We have performed all over Mexico, Texas, and throughout the US including Las Vegas, LA, Miami, New York, South Carolina, Colorado, and Oregon.
STEAM Machy, how did you make that transition from heavy rock to cumbia?
MACHY I think that while growing up cumbia and tejano were the types of music that was expected and I rebelled going in my own direction. Now that I’m a music teacher, when my kids act this way I explain to them that I had been like that too. Of course I’ll teach them the music they want to learn, but to keep them well rounded they learn other genres too.
MONY I think if you’re a musician, you have a tendency to like all music and it’s easy to go from one genre to another.
STEAM Now that you’ve brought up Musical Minds Academy, please tell me about it.
MACHY Musical Minds Academy is a music program for kids in elementary through high school to learn and grow through music. We are contracted with school districts and after school programs. The high school program is different in that we teach them how to use different software programs so that they can make their own music on the computer.
MONY I teach vocals and accordion to the kids in Alice as part of our program. Roro teaches keyboards, Saul Padron (Returned to Sender) teaches guitar and JV (The Bad Chords) teaches drums.
STEAM So you are tech savvy as well?
MACHY Yes, we have to be if we want to make music and teach kids about the music business. Just as we do, the kids have to be able to use the computer and software to develop their own styles. Bernie teaches dance and stage presence. Every 6-month’s the kids do a performance to show-off what they’ve learned. The next one will be in October at the Alice Revo.
STEAM Any fun or interesting stories you’d like to share from the road?
BERNIE What happens on the road, stays on the road.
MACHY Actually, Bernie saved a man’s life while we were flying back from Atlanta.
BERNIE We were flying back from a gig. I was paying attention to my surroundings (not as a registered nurse, but as a paranoid person) when I heard someone announce a “code red”. Well in a hospital that means there’s a fire and I’m looking everywhere for an exit door so I can jump out because I’m not burning up in a plane! So I calmly turned around and recognized that a man was having problems. I gave him CPR and he was either having a seizure or stroke. We flew into the nearest airport to take him to the hospital and then we continued on home.
STEAM Wow, that’s a great. Ok, I don’t see how you can you top that, but what has been the strangest job you’ve had?
IN UNISON Falls city, Oregon!
MACHY We were headlining a Reggae Festival and we played with Bob Marley’s son. It was very strange. The contract for the job said that they would provide a shuttle and put us up in hotel rooms. They picked us up in a van with no windows, no AC, and it was kind of creepy. Then we drive into the mountains and they take is to a house on the river that has no cell phone service, no internet, and no shower!
BERNIE, Really! There was no internet, no cell phone service, we were in the mountains and the house they put us in didn’t have a shower. I was dying… no phone! Then we did the show… At first no one got it all! The adults just stood there and stared at us while the kids thought it was the coolest thing and ran around, danced, and goofed off. The show ends and we come off stage to a group of kids that want their pictures with us, which is great! Machy picks up one, this little girl is probably three, and puts the girl on her hip and they smile for the pictures. Then Machy realizes that this little girl had just peed all down her side. It was just terrible. Funny, but terrible
MONY It turned out to be one of the funniest jobs with the nicest people. We have some good friends there.
BERNIE Yes, we’ve actually been back to Oregon and some of those people came to see us.
STEAM How often do you guys play? When you your upcoming shows?
BERNIE Our schedules vary. There’s no seasonal trend so we can go every weekend to once a month to gigs during the week and not on the weekend; it just really depends on what’s happening.
MONY Our next job is on September 7 at the Pan de Campo Festival in San Diego, Texas.
STEAM Where can people get your CDs or songs.
MACHY You can pick up our CDs and DVDs at our shows and order through our websites. Downloads are available on iTunes and CD baby.
FaceBook & ReverbNation: LaConquistaMusica
Get more info on Musical Minds Academy: 361/980-6310, 361/779-7469