One-Man Band Series, #7: Puta Madre Brothers

One-Man Band Series, #7: Puta Madre Brothers

Australia's Puta Madre Brothers are what you get when you combine three gringo one-man bands with a collective penchant for primitive rock'n'roll and mariachi music and have them write and play songs as a single cohesive unit of artistic collaboration.

- James G. Carlson

posted August 26, 2010

For this particular installment of the One-Man Band Series we will move on to a one-man band that defies the very concept of the one-man band in nearly every conceivable way. Australia's Puta Madre Brothers are what you get when you combine three gringo one-man bands with a collective penchant for primitive rock'n'roll and mariachi music and have them write and play songs as a single cohesive unit of artistic collaboration. Each of the three are set up as a one-man band, with his guitar or bass slung over his shoulder, and with his own kick drum and other bits and pieces of percussion. It is a very unlikely sound that these three produce together, too, like some sort of trashy rock'n'roll burrito into which they have stuffed a handful of spicy mariachi ingredients, and then poured a generous helping of primitive overdrive and greasy queso noise to top it off. It's rice and beans music with a rock 'n' roll twist and a shot of tequila, created by three Aussie lads who look less like musicians and singer/songwriters than they do dirt farmers, criminal types, carny roustabouts, or survivalist revolutionaries camped out in the Outback wilds. But...in this case, if one were to judge a book by its cover, one would be terribly wrong.

Some months back, the Puta Madre Brothers self-produced their debut album on Baboso Records -- "Queso Y Cojones" (which literally translates into "Cheese and Balls"). All in all, it is a fourteen song album that has everything from scorching instrumentals to compositions with group vocals en Espanol, beginning with "Putananny Twist," reaching the halfway mark with "Toes of a Dead Man or A Hooker on the Highway" and "Never A Lady Named Louigi," and ending with "Miss My Mamma's Cooking." All of the songs are comprised of the trio's unique signature sound, which they have fondly referred to now and again as Meximotown and white bread Mexican.

Puta Madre Brothers are AJ Macaroni (vocals, guitar, and drums all at once), PJ Henning (vocals, bass guitar, and drums all at once), and RG Vacirca (vocals, guitar, and drums all at once). As such, they make up what they call "the biggest one-man band in the world," and that is very likely the case. In fact, Uruguay-based artist Amazing One Man Band commented on Puta Madre Brothers, saying, "The only thing better than a one-man band...a band of one-man bands!"

Years ago, when I was a younger man and utterly taken with Kerouac's words, I hit the road for months at a time, during which I eventually ended up in Mexico. Considering my lifestyle at the time the environment suited me rather well, and I found myself engaged in all kinds of depraved, overly indulgent and self-destructive activities. What struck me was the simple living that many of the people of Mexico embraced, for a part out of poverty, but mostly because it was their way. They seemed for the most part unburdened by the over-abundance, materialism, and irrational obsessions with which Americans tend to be plagued. Not only that, but I found them to be very musical people. And the music of Puta Mardre Brothers somewhat embodies that sound, although in an untraditional and experimental way.

Recently I interviewed Anto (Macaroni) of Puta Madre Brothers. And the content of that interview is provided here for your reading pleasure in its entirety (below).

Over the years it has become customary in my interviews to begin in an introductory fashion, so as to provide the readers with a better understanding of the artist or artists. In other words, who are the Puta Madre Brothers, not just as musicians and singer/songwriters but as individuals, as human beings of this mad, mad world in which we live?

I guess we are the children of the children of old convicts and idealistic folk who came to Australia for "the new glory land" and discovered it ain't really that fit for white men to live here. One of us is half Italian, one is part viking, one is part Welsh and Austrian, though all born and raised around Melbourne, the southeast of Australia. We all like cigarettes and coffee and collecting rubbish. We have all been in a million obscure bands, jazz bands, rock 'n' roll, noise bands, calypso, all sorts. I guess when we come together we take our favourite bits of all our individual histories and potato mash it together. Puta Madre Brothers is just about a good time and danger and getting some exercise. The world's biggest one man band; it's pretty much a joke that has gone too far, and people have started really digging watching us go through agony playing mexican disco rock 'n' roll for them to party to. We are into doing it all ourselves, learning how to do everything for ourselves. We are getting offers from notable record producers and big festivals and declining them. These people are pretty bemused that we can't be bothered following the formulaic career path, but we'd prefer to produce our own records on cassette in a busted house and go sell them to our fans at a cheap show in a festival environment that we've created out of cardboard and home-made fireworks.

Your setup is certainly an original one. I mean, most people have heard of one-man bands and know what one-man bands typically consist of, though I would venture a guess that not many have heard of three one-man bands playing together simultaneously as a single musical unit. After all, on one hand it seems to defeat the very purpose of the one-man band concept, while on the other hand it seems to enhance the sound and make the experience infinitely more interesting. How did this project of yours come about?

I always thought the King Khan & BBQ show was the two of them both with foot drums and a guitar. I saw them for the first time recently and realized it wasn't the case. I guess my imagination of them was some inspiration, thinking, "Let's do one better!" But really it was just a ridiculous idea that I asked these gringos to try out, and after a little while it started to come together. Musically it makes sense, with our more western mariachi music, the three kick drums makes a great kah-boom. It definitely defeats the purpose of a one-man-band as something simple to transport and tour and carry...we are a real ass to tour, we kinda have three times as much gear as your regular three-piece rock band, and we have to pay three times as much in baggage. But yeah, individually we are each a one man band. I did Made For Chickens By Robots (a one-man-band) for about six years, playing retarded blues. So it's partially a result of me getting sick of my own company but wanting to maintain the coordination and gymnastics that goes into that. I used to have a big band with these gringos -- I played guitar, Pikkle on bass, Renato on drums and five trumpet players. That was all mong versions of Mexican music and soul music. That was too difficult to coordinate and pay everybody properly. Horn players are often underpaid jazz musicians, so ya gotta treat 'em well, and they expect that too. So we wiped off the horns, pulled in the one-man-band idea, and google-translated some blasphemous lyrics into poor Spanish.

Not only is it unusual that you are three one-man bands working together to form a single band, your musical direction is also rather peculiar, with the whole primitive rock'n'roll and gringo mariachi fusion and all. What brought on this mad musical practice that only you three amigos seem to be tackling at this point?

We are pioneers of our trade. We are just teaching misguided history. People learn a few Spanish words, learn how to clap on the off beats real fast. Mariachi music is amazing. It's all festive, full of heartache and lunacy. If you had an old VHS copy of the film La Bamba copied from 1980s TV with bad reception, if you pulled it out now and tried to play it on your old video player that's been rusting in the garage for 10 years, that would maybe reproduce the same sound and vision we have. With ad break snippets and Lou Diamond Phillip's hair stretched all the way out of the TV, his guitar warping out of tune from the tape all loose. We don't think it's so strange, La Bamba is the same song as Wild Thing, after all.

Please explain what Mexi-Motown is exactly?

The crossroads. It's where the desert dust rolls over the car factories of soul city Detroit, where the Mexican farmer can get down on the floor with a pin stripe dudette and cut the rug. It's a brand new thing, the new genre of sonic energy. You know, Australia is at the bottom of the world, geographically it is so far from all the major cultural influences of history, and we people down here just take what we see on TV and hear on commercial radio and try to reproduce it. It ends up coming out as often as not as something deranged and deformed. We just make up stories and crap and think we know what we are on about. Must seem kinda odd to people outside.

Since I began my One-Man Band Series I have received numerous submissions from all over Europe and South America. I have even received a few from here in the States. But you are the first from Australia. What is the music scene like over there...and more specifically, what is the one-man band scene like?

There's about four or five one-man bands here in Australia, in terms of rock 'n' roll, guitar, kick drum, screaming one-man bands. Melbourne has a great music scene, apparently well known (mustn't be that well known obviously!) around the world as Australia's music capital. When I was doing Made For Chickens By Robots, I ended up on OMB compilations from all over the world as the Aussie contingent. I found that funny, like I was the only one people could find. There is no OMB scene here, but Bob Log now lives up the road...so we have some royalty. The hardest thing here is the distance to tour the country; it takes ten hours to drive from Melbourne to Sydney, which is like crossing Germany from North to South.

What other musical projects have you gents been involved in other than Puta Madre Brothers, one-man bands or otherwise?

Well, as I said, I did the one-man band thing, and a two-piece trash band called Gasoline Stew And The Dump. We sold canned food at our shows. Renato has been in ninety-one thousand bands, one Croque Monsieur, a kind of gypsy-inspired big band who were muddled with misfortune, their tour van would always explode, all of their instruments got burnt to ash once. He's played in surf bands, jazz groups, hardcore, latin, indie...a self taught man of anything. Pikkle hasn't played in a lot of bands but has done a lot of engineering and homemade instrument building and beer drinking. He played guitar with drumsticks in a band once and tuba at high school.

What are those fantastic uniforms you're wearing in your promo pictures...you know, the ones that look like something between formal military attire and marching band garb?

They are Spanish military jackets from an Army Disposals store here. Our wives put red epaulets on the shoulders and I covered 'em in gold plastic bling. We wear them always.

"Queso Y Cajones," your debut album, was decidedly a very daring first release. After all, it's always difficult to tell how people will react to a sound they've never encountered before, especially such an unlikely fusion as the one you've developed. What has been the general response to it so far? And to make this a two-part question, what are your plans for the next album, if you've thought that far ahead?

We've been really surprised. We recorded that in four days in a kitchen on cassette tape. Disc jockeys around the country are destroying radio studios with their uncontrollable hyperbolic dance reactions, so we're racking up some big debt from insurance companies wanting us to pay for the fixing of all these radio stations. Shops keep on selling out. It's been great. We're starting to think about the next album. We have the material coming together. We'll just do it again, a bit different. I think we'll stick to the cassette 8-track and the cigarette box amplifiers. We have some new boy-band songs, like Righteous Brothers go to Mexico kind of sweet rock 'n' roll. It's been nice that the album has had so much support amongst the barrage of generic sounding records spewing forth from every sulking whitey on the planet. We strongly recommend people stay a good distance from computers when they record, so much boring sound falls out of those plastic pieces of rubbish and they corrupt your soul music into ones and zeros! How the heck can ones and zeros reproduce human feelings?!

What bands and/or singer/songwriters have influenced you three the most over the years?

One we would all say would be Tom Waits. He is simply los besos del dios. Collectively other influences would range from Jelly Roll Morton to Nina Simone, Etta James, Johnny Cash, Arthur Lyman, Lightnin Hopkins and Son House, Run DMC, Jon Spencer...

Any upcoming plans or events for the Puta Madre Brothers that deserve mention?

We go to Europe in February 2011 for our first international tour to promote the album, which is coming out on Rookie Records. Finland is part of the tour, which is exciting. We'd like to do a show with Leningrad Cowboys. After that we are just going to relax and eat and scratch ourselves in the right places, then probably record the next album and not worry about a thing.