Formed in the heat of West Texas around 1996, Los Lonely Boys have something that a lot of bands don’t. And I’m not talking about that Grammy award for their catchy inspirational song “Heaven”. What they have is a strong sense of family values, love and respect, and a pureness of heart for the music they create.
Not only are Henry, JoJo and Ringo Garza brothers, but they have been bandmates since they were kids playing in their father’s band. Traveling the country and learning about life at such a young age didn’t ignite dreams of the wild life; it actually reinforced what their father was teaching them about faith and humanity. And the majority of their songs are certainly a reflection of those values.
With a spirited new CD out called Rockpango, Los Lonely Boys are putting the party back into what they call “Texican Rock & Roll”. You get the groove and rhythm of Tejano, the honesty of country, the sultriness of the blues and the beat of rock & roll. Mix all this together and you have yourself an album chock full of something for everyone.
Out there on the concert trail playing festivals, clubs and anywhere else people want to have fun, Los Lonely Boys’ bass player JoJo Garza spent a little time talking (and joking) with Glide about what makes his band stand out in an industry that promotes pop confections over in-your-soul music, how faith and family are the real roots of life, and what is really on the cover of their new CD.
Hi JoJo, Los Lonely Boys have out a new record called Rockpango. How different was it recording this one compared to the ones from the past? I know you had some issues with your throat, so how did that affect everything going into making this one?
We were already in the process, already in the studio for eleven days, and we pretty much had all the songs cut but none of the vocals yet. And we had a tour to do and we were doing the tour and we went to Denver to get my voice checked and the voice clinic said that I needed to stop singing for at least three months. So I did and the record was put on hold and it was really sad, you know, really sad timing. But we made the best of it. A lot of prayers came in and a lot of love.
We finally finished the record when I got better. The whole process with the record was pretty much the same: We get in the studio and we’ll jam and we’ll play around and stuff and we’ll create in the studio as well. But I guess what was really, really different about this record was that we were really super hands-on. I mean, we’re always involved in our records of course, but at the end process with the label, the producer they hired, they like to let them get the final touches on it and such. But we got to do it ourselves.
I was actually in LA for the mastering process. We definitely did all the production and wrote all the songs. Also, what was different was we got involved with a friend of ours, who is a lyricist, on this record and wrote a bunch of lyrics together on all these songs. We thought we’d do that for a change and see what that was like. Overall, I think it’s a great record. I think all that hard work and dedication you can really hear it in there. There’s a lot of versatility on the record, something for everybody on here.
I bet it felt good to have most of the say-so on this album.
Of course. When you’re in a business, any business, for yourself, it’s always good to have the say-so (laughs). Don’t get me wrong, they were never like pushy or nothing and I was always proud of our other records as well. The producers that we’ve worked with were great producers and it was great learning experience on the curve. Now, we’re making the most of what we got. It’s on our own label as well.
That sounds like the band is moving up on the business side as well.
We’re trying (laughs). We’re definitely hoping to start producing and stuff for other artists as well. That is definitely one of our big things to do with Lonelytone Records. You know the artist Kush, which is the lyricist that we worked with, we’d like to work on his stuff. Our dad actually has a lot of songs that he’d like to record and got a band and stuff. So we got a few prospects already. But the time right now and of course the finances aren’t all there, so we’re doing everything we can to do the best with what we got.
I noticed that there was a big variety of music on Rockpango. It actually is very upbeat sounding, although some of the lyrics are quite serious. For example, “American Idle” has very poignant lyrics, like you’re almost making a plea to everyone.
Yeah, it is, because I’m just as human as everybody else. We’re all the same and we all live in the same place. I’m sure we all just want to be happy. I don’t think all of us care about money and things like that. Money is something here because it’s got to be here for some weird reason but for the most part it’s just what we do. The business-side of it is one thing. So when it comes to that song talking about making a dollar, it’s important because we got to survive here. But for the most part, I think that song [says that] love is left on the shelf like a second-hand item rather than a first. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with second-hand items (laughs). I probably used the wrong term for that, I probably should just say that love is on the shelf and it’s not the most important thing to a lot of people.
It’s been pushed to the side.
That’s exactly what I mean.
“Change The World” is also in that vein but the sound of the song is totally different, a little more bluesy.
Exactly. There is so much more. You can hear on the record there’s definitely songs about loving my baby and wanting to have a good time or we’re having a good time kind of thing. But God gave us a voice and the ability to write these songs and he gave us these songs so each song turns out what it is. “American Idle”, “Change The World”, “Believe”, those songs are positive songs, even though they have negative things they’re talking about in it; but the message is just positive. That’s what we want to spread. Like right now, it’s sunny outside here in San Angelo and a very beautiful day and I like rainy days too but to be constantly living in that, I don’t know. I’m not sure that’s where we belong.
My philosophy is that you can choose how to begin your day. I just happen to choose to be happy every day.
Exactly. Each day you can decide, hey, I’m going to be helpful in this situation or I’m going to do this to make something better. And it might not happen everyday but hey, being conscience of it is a big step forward. We all have our [bad] days too but that is what makes it beautiful, that we’re all the same and we’re all still here to help each other.
But then after all this, you have a song called “16 Monkeys”. A crazy song.
(laughs) That’s what I was saying, there’s songs that are about having a good time on the town with your girl and then there’s songs like “16 Monkeys” that are really nothing (laughs). It’s just kind of like trippy stuff but it’s really just a song. And Los Lonely Boys, I don’t know if you listen back to our records, it’s like that one and “Porn Star” are like the first two songs that we’ve ever really done that are really just kind of like off the wall songs. Because we have a lot of songs that we don’t put on records and those are two of the songs that we just finally decided to put out and see what they did to people and see how people took them. We always try to write songs that mean something, even if it’s about a good time. But to me, these songs are really great songs cause they’re kind of abstract to what we normally do.
Yes, I was listening to that song and then it was like, wait, what did he just say? That doesn’t sound like something coming from the Los Lonely Boys (laughs)
(laughs) A few people have actually said that. They say, that doesn’t sound like Los Lonely Boys or Los Lonely boys are turning into a different band. I read a comment once that said something like, “Los Lonely Boys are starting to sound like the Beatles when they were on drugs all the time”. And I was like, man, we should just be able to create. I’m sure the people said the same thing about Michelangelo’s paintings or Van Gogh or something. They were like, “oh this dude is crazy”. But now, everybody is like, “Oh we get it” (laughs). We don’t really get it but its super cool (laughs)
“16 Monkeys” is definitely a laugh out loud song.
Like I said, this record has something for everybody. And even if that song, like you said, makes you laugh out loud, you might have to go back and listen to it again to see what it is actually saying and stuff. As long as we can get somebody’s ear, as long as we can get somebody’s mind or heart or catch an emotion or something, I think we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing with our music. I really feel that and believe that.
I want to ask you about the artwork on the cover. It’s a skull but it’s so colorful and pretty.
You can look at it in different ways. Like as sad as maybe death is, it’s still beautiful in its own, with a lot of colors. But then you’ve got like the West Texas scene where we’re from and lots of cactus and stuff. You can see the little guitars on the cactus. Somebody said, “That looks like the Sgt. Peppers cover”. And I go, “What do you mean?” And they go, “All the colors”. And then I started saying, “If you look at the cover there’s a little skull on the cactus there, that’s Paul McCartney’s skull cause he’s not the real Paul McCartney” (laughs). If you know the whole conspiracy theory about Paul McCartney … I’m just joking but I was like, “That’s Paul McCartney’s skull” (laughs). It’s not true, I just started saying that because people started saying, “Are there any messages on there?” so I’m like, “Yeah, look there’s Paul McCartney right there” (laughs). It’s really just a colorful thing. You can see there’s a cross on the head which represents us believing in God and Jesus Christ. And there’s the heart that shows the love and peace and stuff. If you look at the deluxe edition, it’s solid black with the skull and that was Ringo’s design there with the skull and he decided he wanted to make it a matte black finish. And we were like, cool, boom (laughs).
You guys still live in Texas. Why? The big cities just don’t appeal to you?
That’s what a lot of people ask. “Why haven’t you guys moved to LA or New York? Why haven’t you even moved to Austin?” And we go, like, we got kids, we were raised here as well. We were born in Snider, Texas, but we were raised here in San Angelo. And the deal is that we’re just hometown boys. I don’t think that we’re looking for anything. We’re very happy with what we have and we’re very thankful for what God has given us and I think that’s enough. If we’re supposed to move then it’s going to happen at some point if that’s what is written in the cards. But for the most part we just want to raise our kids in a nice place, definitely a familiar place, and I think we all do. That’s definitely important. When I grew up and was raised and moved left and right, up and down, it’s not something I want for my children.
Since the three of you all have children, do you see any of them keeping with the tradition doing music?
I think so, completely. Every one of the kids in the family, we even have two sisters that have like four or five kids each, and all of the kids are singers or they’re playing guitar or drums or percussion or piano or they’re singing. Some are even little dancers and stuff like that. Henry has three sons that have their own little band already. They’re like eight, six and five. It’s a drummer, a guitar player and a bass player and these guys are already playing full songs. I’m dead serious. They’re starting earlier than we did and we started playing at four, five, six years old. But as far as a band? Well, I didn’t start playing in our band till I was like eight or nine. My son and my daughter sing very well, they play a lot of instruments, they all play drums, they all play a little bass, some guitar. They’re still constantly learning but they love it.
Your father was a musician. Can you see the similarities between your families now and you growing up in that environment with music all around you?
There are a few different things about it. We kind of had it rough on both sides of our family because even though there was music on both sides we always got it kind of bad from all the uncles and the aunts. “Oh you guys got to sing Spanish music and this rock & roll stuff ain’t working and all this stuff”. So we definitely try to encourage whatever it is they’re doing. That’s the most important thing. It’s not about you can’t do this or you got to sing this way, it’s only this way. No it ain’t. As long as it’s within reason, then we got a deal.
Yeah, we have to always keep encouraging our children to keep following their dreams.
That’s exactly how we feel. And me personally as a father, I want that for my children more than anything else in the world. I believe that the Lord has blessed us with all these talents, just like you being a journalist and a writer. I’ll pass on these things and if they accept it that’s awesome; if they don’t accept it that’s just as awesome too.
What do you remember most about being that young and being a musician and working and seeing all these new different places and faces?
There was a lot of love from my family, all my brothers and my Dad and of course our sisters and our Mom and step-Mom. It was rough, it was good, it was bad, it was all these emotions and experiences. We saw it all, we felt it all, and I probably shouldn’t say all because we definitely don’t experience it ALL, but we saw a lot. We saw life firsthand, there were no blankets over what the world was. I mean, our Dad taught us that. That’s what I remember most as a kid. But a lot of it also I remember my Dad teaching us about love and how to respect people and trying to pass that on to people that you meet and extend that out to people.
And you try to do that with your music.
We try to do that all the time with music. But we do that too with meeting people and talking to people. Being in the line in Wal-Mart and somebody says, “Hey, can you sign this?” Sure, we say hi and we talk to them and if they want a picture it depends on how fat I’m looking (laughs).
I understand that Willie Nelson has played a big part in your career, especially early on. And you’re still recording at his studios, correct?
Yeah, that is where we recorded this one. I think there’s a lot of magic for some reason over there, just the vibe of the place, the environment; it’s just a very good space to create. And yes, Willie had a great amount to do with Los Lonely Boys being who they are today. We give thanks first and foremost to God; and then we give thanks to our Dad for teaching us the way. But then we got to be thanking people like Willie Nelson and Santana and all these people that have just taken us under their wing and talked to people about us. But Willie really did it first and he did it big and we could never be more thankful than we are. It’s a real blessing that he even considered doing something like that.
Los Lonely Boys is a well-respected band. You won a Grammy early in your career. You had all this attention early on. Have you ever felt that your ego was getting out of hand when everything was bombarding you at one time? Did you have to keep yourself in check?
Completely. I’m still a rock star and I’m better than everybody in the world and (laughs) I’m just kidding (laughs). As far as egos changing and things like that, no, I think we stayed exactly who we were before, and who we’re going to be for the rest of our lives. We try to be very accepting people. You know, I’ve been telling you the whole conversation that the deal is we’re all human and we all have our days and we all have our times, our really good times and our really bad times; it’s just trying to balance it out and make the most of every aspect of what life can give you … A lot of people get in to drugs and get into some weird stuff but like I said, we saw life firsthand and it was easy to decide we’re not going to be alcoholics and we’re not going to be drug addicts.
How did you end up being a bass player?
Actually I started playing guitar first and then I started playing a little bit of piano and then a little bit of drums. And then I left with my Mom to live with my Mom for some time. Henry taught Ringo to play drums while I was gone. My mom bought me a guitar while I was with her in Amarillo, Texas, and I came back home and I heard the whole story that Henry taught Ringo to play the drums in fifteen minutes and my dad came home from work and they showed my dad he could play drums and then they started playing gigs not long after that, a few weeks later. Then I showed up and “Now we got a bass player” (laughs). I’m like, “But I don’t have a bass”. Well, “We’ll put four stings on this guitar and tune it an octave lower and take out all the treble and turn up all the bass and you’re a bass player, dude” (laughs). And there it is. I was like nine years old, I guess.
Your brother Henry said in an interview a few years ago that your music was like “a wild stallion untamed and free”. Do you still feel like that is the best analogy for the band’s music? Or is there more maturity in there now?
I think that is a great way to describe our music. It’s definitely got maturity in it, for sure, and growth. You can hear that, in the orchestra strings in the back of one of our songs or a DJ scratching in the front of “Porn Star”. But for the most part, I think what he means by that is that we go against the grain of what everything else is musically in the business and things. And we’re not doing it to be rebels. It’s because that’s what we do, we create music from raw, from organic roots type stuff. It’s not electronic, it’s not supersonic, and don’t get me wrong, some of that stuff is cool but we just believe in the roots of music and believe that you can’t tame music. You can’t put it in a box and make it turn into a square; you can’t force it to be something it isn’t. Music is a free spirit. And when you learn that about music and I think it’s like that with anything. Like with martial arts and you realize that the martial arts or the kung fu is like a free spirit type thing that is involved in everything you do. I mean, I’ll be cleaning out my garage and sweeping with a rhythm (laughs). And it might sound kind of crazy or corny or something but that is how much music is around. Music is everywhere.
One of my best friends, we met through music. In fact, she said the other day how it seemed that everyone who loves music are happy people and that it just seems to bring people together. Like a universal language.
You took the thought right out of my head and the words right out of my mouth. That is exactly what it is, a universal language and it crosses boundaries and breaks down boundaries and walls and barriers and it beats racism and it beats poverty and heartbreak. It’s just a beautiful gift. It really is. It sounds kind of crazy and I don’t know if everybody feels this way, but I really believe, without music, life won’t be. It’s like water or air because if you watch a movie or you’re going through your day like you said, and you listen to a song, it makes you feel a certain way. Like “Eye Of The Tiger” on Rocky. Makes you feel like, “I’m bad, whoo!!!” (laughs) It’s a beautiful thing, I love it.