Maná’s Alex González Keeps on Drumming

Founding member of legendary Rock en Español band looks back at what made the band click and reasons for their continued longevity
Photo Credit: Maná

Arturo Hilario
El Observador

One of the most famous “rock en español” bands of the last quarter century, Maná formed in 1986 in Guadalajara, Mexico. The band included Fher Olvera, the vocalist and main composer, the brothers Ulises and Juan Diego Calleros, on guitar and bass respectively, and 15-year old drummer Alex González.

At the time they only hoped of booking club shows, much less the far-off dream of a successful radio hit and record album to go with it. At the time they were unaware that in a few short years they would become one of the most iconic musical acts of the Americas, and the prototype for the alternative rock en español movement worldwide.

Thirty-three years later, they’re coming towards the end of their current “Rayando el Sol” tour, named after their 1990 all-time hit song, and will play in Oakland on November 30.

Drummer Alex González took some time between shows to talk about their origins, and his fateful decision to move from his hometown of Miami to Mexico City and answering a “wanted” ad that changed his life – and gave the world one of the most kinetic drummers in Spanish language music.

I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit about yourself. I wanted to know a little bit more about how you got started off with Maná and music in general.

I’ve been a founding member of Maná since the band started, but prior to being one of the founding members I met Fernando (Fher), the lead singer prior, because he was looking for a drummer for the previous band that he had called “Sombrero Verde”.

So, I had recently just moved from Miami to Mexico City, I was 15 years old and my mother saw an ad in the paper that a band was looking for a drummer. A well-known band was looking for a drummer between the ages of 15 to 21 with more than nine years of experience. I was definitely looking for a band especially you know, moving from Miami to Mexico. You know I still wanted to continue my dreams of being in a band playing with a band, so long story short I went, there were other drummers there.

I asked Fer for me to be the last one to audition because I wanted to see how the drummers played. In that way I could learn the songs a bit better. So, when it was my turn to go up and play the songs, I already know them fairly well, so I played and Fernando really liked what he saw, and what he heard.

I went by train actually from Mexico City to Guadalajara which was an amazing trip – 12 hours on a train. And I arrived in Guadalajara and met the rest of the guys in Sombrero Verde. I auditioned and they told me that I got the gig, so long story short I stayed in Guadalajara. I came to live by myself when I was 15 years old, I lived in Fernando’s house with his mom and his sisters.

I lived in the back part of his house where they had the rehearsal space. There was this little room where I was renting next to the rehearsal space, and the rest is history. I played with Sombrero Verde from 1984 to 86. That’s when Fernando decided to disband that band and to start a brand-new band.

So that’s why you know we just started dabbling in the whole rock en español thing but mixing more Latin elements. Sombrero Verde was already singing rock en español from 1981. So, it was just like a normal transition. Then the rest was a lot of hard work and history. So here we are you know 30 something years later.

Now talking about your most current tour, what is the meaning behind using the name of one of your songs, “Rayando el Sol” as the tour name?

Well the reason is this is the first time that Maná tours without a new record. So, when we were coming up with a name we were going through a whole bunch of names and Fernando came up with the name of the tour. “Why do you want to name it that way?” He says, “Well if you guys remember that was the song that basically saved our career,” which is true. I mean we were really struggling as a band.

We had put out already our first record in 1987 but a lot didn’t happen. We toured very few times around the country. We weren’t getting any gigs and the economic situation was really bad. I was personally living you know from friends to friends’ homes and long story short when we came back from a record company meeting and we took our gambles and the director of the company said, “You know nothing is going to happen with you guys. You know this whole thing, rock en español, doesn’t work. You guys are doing salsa, rock and reggae rock and all that. You know that’s not going to click off.”

We were pretty bummed out. So, we came back from that meeting we were staying at a friend’s house in La Condesa [neighborhood] and Fernando went and he bought some beers. Normally we would always travel with an electric guitar, with a bass guitar, a drum machine and a four-track recorder.

And we just started drinking beer and just trying to write something, and then we came up with this really cool melodic circle of different parts: verse, chorus [and] bridge. We were working all night and then I went to bed and Fernando kept writing and when I woke up the next morning he said, “I have the lyrics. You know what, I was just going to go to sleep and the sun started to rise and I started coming up with these lyrics.”

And [he] sang it to me. I mean it’s “Rayando el Sol”, and I go, “Wow man that’s a great lyric.” So what we did was we recorded that demo then we gave it to a friend of ours, Jose Quintana, who was a person that has always believed in our band and he heard it and goes, “Wow this is this is a great sound. This has potential.” He took the demos to Warner Brothers Mexico. They heard it, and they said it [sounded] like a great song. But here’s the funny thing though, we record album “Falta Amor”, where “Rayando el Sol” is included, and when they released the song the company didn’t get too behind it.

There wasn’t that much promotion. We did a video, but it really didn’t take off. The fans were the ones who started calling the radio station is saying, “Hey can you play that song again?” So, the fans really made that song into what it is. We started getting more phone calls, you know to play in clubs, so we started really playing a lot and then people saw us live and that really started resonating and getting the word around.

We toured almost two and a half years behind that that record from all 1990-91 and a little bit of 92 and then immediately we started working on the next record. Basically, that’s why we made this tour “Rayando el Sol”. That song saved our career. In fact, there would be no Maná [without it].

I was wondering after all this time you guys have had this band and constantly been touring, what do you like best about the touring aspect?

Oh, we’re addicted to touring. I mean that’s basically a huge part of why Maná is successful. It’s because we’ve toured so much, and people get to see us play. You know it’s not the same having a song on the radio playing 24/7 as opposed to somebody seeing you live and seeing if you can actually play that, or if you can actually play the record. We’ve always had a very good credibility as a live band and we always invested a lot of our money into the production and to making sure that the sound system is awesome, and that we have a great crew, and that the lighting gear is great and [we’re] always coming up with good ideas.

At the same time taking care of ticket prices to make sure that everybody has the chance to see a band. So, it’s so important to tour and that’s that you also build your base. We love going to other countries, seeing other cultures, meeting new friends, seeing old friends. You know, just the adrenaline once the lights go off and you hear the roar of the crowd, that gets you so pumped up and then hit the stage and just give 100 percent.

So, we really love playing and that’s something that we really cherish, and we really try to make sure that we give the people the best show possible and we get their money’s worth in. We want to have people leave inspired, leave people happy and with a positive attitude and go home and say, “Well I had a great time and it was worth it.”

Speaking of giving the performance 100 percent, there’s a moment in your tour where there’s a change of stage location in the venue and you’re doing a drum solo as the rest of the band relocates in the dark. I was wondering how that developed?

I’ve always been doing a drum solo with Maná, that’s something that I always really enjoy doing and it’s just a fun moment of me with the audience and interacting and just doing something fun that people can enjoy and appreciate at the same time. I’m having fun doing it. But since I would say 2007 when we did the “Amar es Combatir” tour we brought in a second stage, an island, at the end of the arena because we always try to see how we can get closer to our fans. You know not only the fans that are in front of us, we want to reach the crowd that’s all the way in the back.

So, we started playing some songs on a second stage all the way at the arena. But on this tour, we have now three stages. So, we have the main stage, we have a stage that’s in the middle of the catwalk which is in the middle of the arena. And then we have an island that’s at the end of the arena. So, the great thing about this is that you know you get to play in three different areas of the arena, and you give your fans all these opportunities to see you in different areas.

And thanks to the P.A. system that we had the video screens and stuff, the people can hear anywhere there in the arena they’re hearing really really good, and they’re seeing the band really really good. So that’s like I mentioned before, you know we always have you know thinking about our fans and to make sure that they get to see the band and hear the band the best possible.

Then with my solo, what I’m doing now is I wanted to do something different from the previous tours. So now what I did was I have a drum set that it’s a regular kit, the main kit that I’m using. When it’s time for my solo my drum kit adds an extra kit in the back. So, it’s a hybrid kit. So, at the end of the day I’m surrounded 360.

And it’s fun because I’m going around playing all these drums and cymbals and everything is acoustic, there’s no electronics. It’s just me playing all these amazing drums and cymbals and just having fun. That’s something that that I really enjoy, and the fans also really like.

Yeah of course. Thanks Alex. Now my last question is, why do you think folks should come out to Oakland on November 30 to see you guys on tour?

Well I think we have some of the best fans in the world because we’re seeing second generation, third generation fans going to our shows. We’ve seen [people of] a lot of different ethnic backgrounds going to our shows on this tour and it’s so amazing because you know every single show that we’ve played has been sold.

On one hand there’s all these fans that have seen Maná before. That are excited to see us again. There are fans that are going to see Maná for the first time which is amazing when we see and read their feedback on social media.

And then there’s people that are going to see Maná just out of curiosity. It’s great when there’s people that don’t speak Spanish and they’re in the crowd seeing the band and because you know they have heard about us or they’re curious about rock en español and they talk about social issues, human rights, the environment, how we’ve been pushing that you know to get immigration reform.

So, what I can tell you is that you’re going to see a concert that lasts more than two hours. They’re going to see a band that has a variety of music even though it’s a pop rock band. But we play so many different styles of Latin music and at the other end also they go to see an amazing production. We get close to our fans and that we interact with our fans.

We really enjoy playing and people see that and they feel that, they see a band that’s giving everything on the stage and getting the crowd going so hopefully you know the fans that have seen Maná, you’re gonna have an amazing time, and the fans that are gonna see Maná for the first  time they’re gonna be also having a great time and probably blown away.

And the people that want to go see a band that they’ve never seen before. I think they’re going to be very satisfied and very happy.

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