Sons of Texas have taken their brand of southern metal to greater levels of sonic potential. Armed with a five-man lineup (vocalist Mark Morales, guitarists Jes De Hoyos and Jon Olivares, bassist Nick Villarreal and brother Mike on drums), the McAllen outfit implements newly seasoned live dynamics onto an already engaging foundation. The result is Forged By Fortitude, their latest and most refined album to date, which has been backed by the praise of such prestigious publications as Revolver, Loudwire and Kerrang.
I caught up with Jes to discuss the band’s current tour, formative success, and the creation of Forged By Fortitude.
ME: Thanks for making this happen. I know that recently you guys were touring in the UK. How was that experience?
Jes: It was incredible – our second time out in Europe and the UK! We were with Seether this time, and Seether was awesome, as were the shows. The people were incredible, the food was good, and the beer was great. I mean, there’s not much to complain about aside from missing the family. We’d spent five weeks away.
ME: I can see how it is on both sides, because when you’re on tour, you miss the family, and when you’re with family, you miss the touring.
Jes: Oh, absolutely!
ME: Do you have any favorite moments from the tour?
Jes: I think being on stage with Seether using Clint Lowery from Sevendust’s guitar. He was out with them for this run, and I think he did a couple of US tours with them, too. I’m real big into Sevendust, man. I like them a lot; they’re one of my favorite bands. He was over where we were at, gave me his guitar, and we just messed around on stage. Then we all hung out with him after the show. It was good run, man. Probably the best tour we’ve ever been on so far!
ME: Right now, you’re supporting All That Remains, plus, Alter Bridge coming up after that. You excited?
Jes: Absolutely, man! I’m a fan of both bands. I love what they’ve done in their careers and how far they’ve expanded. I’ve been following Mark Tremonti since he was in Creed. I love Creed, and I’ve liked what he’s doing. He’s a talented musician and a phenomenal songwriter. Everything he’s done with Miles Kennedy is incredible, and Miles himself is also a phenomenal musician. For those who haven’t experienced Alter Bridge yet, he’s actually a damn good guitar player!
ME: Take me back a bit. You guys formed in 2011 in McAllen, Texas. What were those initial days like?
Jes: It wasn’t hard, man. It was more of a pick-and-choose of the members you know and who would work well with the style. Mark and I had already been in a band, Machete, a very traditional metal kind of thing. Then Nick, Mike, Jon, and I were from a technical death metal project called Lay In Ruins. I was on bass and Nick was on guitar, so we’d all worked together, man. It was just a matter of choosing who would be good for which part, and we got the ball rolling.
ME: Your sound is described as Texas-sized, and I was wondering which of your influences helped develop that sound?
Jes: For me personally, Pantera is one of my favorite bands. Dimebag is someone I look up to in terms of guitar playing. He was also a great dude from what I heard as well, and just awesome all around. Everything he did had a groove to it that I’d incorporate into my playing – something you could nod your head to at least, you know? Other artists include Stevie Ray Vaughan, who is, as far as I’m concerned, the king of blues, and Metallica. I also like the combination of Zakk [Wylde] with Ozzy [Osbourne], and Zakk is another influence on my playing. Actually, Zakk’s older stuff that he did with Pride And Glory and Black Label Society, Mark [Morales] introduced me to. He’s greatly influenced by Zakk as well. It’s a diverse palette amongst the five of us in the band, but I think that’s what helps mold us into sounding the way we do.
ME: In 2015, the album that broke you out was Baptized In The Rio Grande. You were discovered by Josh Wilbur, and it only took him 20 seconds of a YouTube clip to recognize your talent. What was the clip that started it all?
Jes: You know what? I don’t really know, but he told us it was just a few seconds, actually. He heard a snippet – maybe four or five seconds probably – and was like, “Yeah, let’s do it!“ I think it was “Pull It And Fire” which, back then, was called “Piss In The Wind.” But we were actually discovered by our attorney, who then introduced us to the people at Razor & Tie.
ME: From there, you’d toured with a lot of big names, like Hellyeah and Buckcherry. Must have been quite the experience to have met some of these people who inspired your music, right?
Jes: Absolutely! You know, it’s funny you mention that. Buckcherry is one of those bands that kind of took me out of left field. I knew what their singles were, and that they were a great band, but you don’t really know who they are until you see them live. I can really feel now that they’re a phenomenal band. And the band itself is full of great people. They’re talented, down to earth and humble, and they put on an awesome rock n’ roll show, man. Everything is authentic. There’s no artificial sounds or anything like that behind it – it’s just straight up rock n’ roll. And you know what? I’ve learned a lot from that. We went out with them a few times, and all they did was take really good care of us. It was quite the experience, like you said, learning from the veterans.
ME: Going back to the essence of your sound, how did Josh help to bring it out on both Baptized and your new album, Forged By Fortitude?
Jes: For us, our sound comes naturally. The main thing Josh does is help mediate during certain challenges we run into. He’s also like a magnifying glass who helps us to focus in on what we want, and brings out the best of us in the studio. Then, when we go out and perform live, it translates. It helps us evolve as musicians, and we’ve been fortunate enough to work with him.
ME: Would you consider this a natural progression toward the sound you’ve aimed for?
Jes: Absolutely! With the first album, we never toured a day in our lives aside from some local gigs here and there. Our songs were from a writer’s aspect, with very little touring experience. But after doing international tours, we started getting more of a feel for what we wanted in our music, and what we’d expect from a show, being a fan of music, watching the veterans, and really taking the time to observe and absorb.
So, when we came into this album, we incorporated a lot of the experiences we learned from touring, our personal lives, and that kind of thing. I think the main difference between the first and second album is that now we’re a little bit more knowledgeable of what we want from a live set. We’ve incorporated that into the writing so that when it translates to live performance, it carries over smoothly, and it’s something you can really nod your head and groove to.
ME: I agree. It’s a bit more cleaned up, yet still retains much of the heaviness, and I can appreciate that.
Jes: Oh, for sure, man! I appreciate that, too. If you notice on the first album, we have two ballads. But on this one, we left the ballads out because we thought, “Okay, we’ve already explored that section of our talent. Let’s go a bit deeper with the heavier stuff, and give a little bit more of that side of us.” Maybe on the next album, we’ll do something a bit more groovy – who knows? We’ll just continue to evolve and learn as much as we can.
ME: Let’s talk about the album’s tracks, starting with the song “Buy In To Sell Out.” What inspired you guys to make that the lead track?
Jes: I think we did that because it’s the heaviest track on the record. I felt like people are going to hear the singles first, which are usually the softer tunes. The last track, “Slam With The Lights On,“ is one of the oldest tracks on the album. It’s essentially from our first of two demos we made when we got together a long time ago. I figured people who already knew that song would prefer to hear it at the end of the album, since it’s really nothing new. If “Buy In To Sell Out” was at the end, I felt like it wouldn’t see the light of day. What people do is they go on the Internet to sample music, and off the bat, all the singles are on YouTube. You type in “Sons of Texas” and you see “Baptized In The Rio Grande,” “Blameshift,” “September,” and “Beneath The Riverbed.” Those only show certain parts of the band, so I felt like if we’re putting out the album and we’ve gotten heavier, we put our heaviest song at the front of the album. That way, everyone hears not only what’s on YouTube, but what the band is really about. There’s several dimensions to what we can do, you know?
ME: I get a sense that the album is very well put together conceptually, whether you could recognize that while making the album or after you’ve completed it. There’s all these contrasts of heaven and hell, slumps and rising again. Then “Slam With The Lights On” is like the exclamation point of the album.
Jes: Wow, that’s a hell of way to put it, man (laughs)! I like that. I don’t think it’s something we intended to do, like you’d said. For us, the lyrics come from Mark 99 percent of the time. So, as the musicians who write stringed instrumental parts, we aim to create a groove – something you could nod your head to – that the lyrics can be on top of. This way, it becomes this nice big working flow of what we’re feeling at the time. I don’t want to sound [boastful], but I think we did a really good job at conveying that on this record.
ME: Nice. With your dynamic, I’d imagine your collaboration goes smoothly, since you’ve all worked together previously?
Jes: Yeah, I mean, it’s not without its downfalls. We still have arguments and disagreements. But we remind ourselves that we’re adults, and that we’re family. At the end of the day, we say let it die and move forward.
ME: As of now, do you have plans to work out some new material, or are you focusing primarily on the tour?
Jes: Actually, it’s funny you’d asked that, too, because as of late, I just got a new laptop and put some recording software on it. I can start working on stuff on my own at home, so I can have better presentations of ideas for the guys in the band, or whoever we work with next. I hope we get to work with Josh Wilbur again, because that guy’s busy. He’s hot right now. A lot of people are working with that guy, and I feel like we might get to a point where we either have to wait a long time, or work with someone else, which kind of sucks. But it’s just the reality that the guy is busy, and always working on something new. For us, our music has gotten bigger and better every time. But I feel like I have to learn some of this stuff too, so I won’t have to explain myself so much; I can just present it, you know?
I don’t think we’ve ever stopped writing, actually. We send each other clips – like Jon would send me something he’s worked out during rehearsal, or Mark sends me an idea; he writes full songs. But it never stops, man. It just keeps going!
ME: That’s awesome, man! Especially nowadays, it’s so easy to send each other ideas, and kind of meditate on them until they’re fully realized.
Jes: Absolutely, man! And it’s funny you said that, too, because we utilize the fact that we have five different minds with five different talents. For example, I’ll record a separate guitar piece or what have you, and then I’ll send it to the other four guys. Then, whenever we get together, we each have our own perspective on how the song should be. What we do is we compile the best ideas of the five of us to make one song. So, it’s great to have different views, man. Something I might see as slow and sludgy, might be heavier and with a faster pace to the other guys.
An example on this record was the song “Down In The Trenches.” It was sludgy and slow in my head, but once we got into the studio, we were like, “What if we speed it up,” and it actually became a faster groove. To be honest, I think it’s great the way it is now! That goes to show that someone else’s perspective on what you’re doing can not only change, but improve what the song becomes.
ME: Who knows? You can probably put out the slower, sludgier version as a b-side.
Jes: (Laughs), yeah!
ME: Lastly, anything you’d like to say to your fans?
Jes: This is for anybody who likes our music and is thinking of coming to see us for the first time: We finish the set, load up the gear, and make sure we’re packed up and ready for whenever the show’s done. After that, we go straight to the merch table. We like to look people straight in the eye and say, “Hey man, thank you so much for showing up and supporting what we do. We appreciate you being here.” Whatever you’re doing, whether you just want to talk, have a beer, take a picture, or have something signed, we’re there, man. Come see us, come say hi, and we appreciate you guys.
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