|Interview PATRICIA VONNE
November 2003 (by E-mail) www.patriciavonne.com
The nice thing of working as a team on a music website, is that you get to hear great music by artists you don't even know the name of, at first. My webmaster at the time heard about Patricia Vonne in a conversation with Jon Dee Graham and became very enthusiastic about her debut album. Then he told me about Patricia and suggested she would be an interesting lady to do one of my interviews with. After listening to the self-titled CD and reading some background info, I totally agreed with him!
In her music Patricia brings early influences together in a typical Texan way: from Mexican ballads and corridos to gritty rootsrock and roadhouse honky-tonk, all mixed together becoming her very own strong voice, sound and style. She moved to New York, where she worked as a model and actress, while putting a band together and showcasing her music at clubs in a flamboyant stage act. Patricia lives and plays in Austin now, smiling at European music lovers in the meantime, are we ready to welcome her?
Johanna: Patricia, on your self-titled debut album we find a very nice selection of songs, sounding like it's carefully picked out. How long have you been working on the CD? Were all of the songs written and composed recently or is there also material you play for a few years already? Was it hard to make choices and putting songs in the right order?
Patricia: Some songs like "Bandolera", "Soledad", "Severina", "Dead Eyes Shine", were very new. I had recorded some songs in NYC where my original band members were and the new ones I recorded in Austin where I had recently moved back to. They were carefully picked out for the reason that I didn't want to have just one sound or one mood. I wanted it to be a tapestry of moods and music. Since it is my debut CD I released it with the thought in mind if I never had the chance to release another CD this is what I would like to leave behind to best represent me as a writer and as an artist...
J: Could you please tell something more about the fascinating song "Dance In The Circle"?
P: I have always held a special place in my heart for the American Indian. My great-grandmother was Indian. I wanted to write a prayer-like battle cry which tapped into the spiritual strength and undying courage her people possessed. I was greatly inspired by books, "In The Spirit Of Crazy Horse", Leonard Peltier's "Prison Writings", "500 Nations" and "Black Elk Speaks".
J: A few of the songs are in Spanish, I suppose you like just as well to sing in both languages. How do you know what fits best with a song? Is it like: with this melody Spanish sounds better and that story would be good in English?
P: "Bandolera", "Soledad", "Severina" were definitely written with the intent of being in Spanish. My Grandmother Severina was from Rio Grande City, Texas. She spoke Spanish at all times and the song was for her so as a tribute to her beautiful soul I wrote it for her in Spanish.
"Bandolera" I wrote while on tour with Tito and Tarantula in Europe. I wanted to write a song for the women as an answer to the "Pistolero" songs we hear. This one had to be in Spanish.
"Soledad" was inspired by the poems of Federico Garcia Lorca. I wanted to invoke his spirit through music.
The English songs are usually inspired by music... Sometimes it sings better in English than Spanish... I usually know right away. Especially if I start out with a title. Although "El Cruzado" is a Spanish title, the song is in English. I wrote it for my mentor Tito Larriva of The Cruzados. It sang better in English! Ha ha!
J: You have Mexican roots, did your parents or your grandparents come to the U.S.A.? Did they have a hard time at first? I have a soft spot for Mexican-Americans, maybe I'm meeting all the right ones, maybe it's a stereotype: I think they're all hard-working, family-oriented, courteous and cheerful people. Funny example: a Dutch yuppie-couple got the idea to work picking tomatoes during their adventurous travels, the lady told me: "We heard the Mexicans singing, further and further away!" May I ask for your comments?
P: I am 3rd generation Mexican American. During the days of Pancho Villa my Grandparents came across the border with the clothes on their back. My father was one of 11 children from Rio Grande City. They were very hard working and my father worked his way through college with a music scholarship. He was a drummer. He loved music as my mother did and that is why I like to continue the tradition. They instilled the love of music in the house.
J: "El Cruzado" sounds to me like a love story of two people who live on opposite sides of the border. Please, tell us a little more about the song?
P: Written as a tribute to my mentor and musical hero Tito Larriva of The Cruzados. The song is about a woman in search for her lost love South-of-the-border whom she believed she would inevitably reunite with. (My brothers and I were huge fans of The Cruzados and we tried to locate them after they disbanded. My brother Robert Rodriguez had just made "El Mariachi" and was at a Hollywood party and by chance met Tito Larriva. My brother was very excited that he found our Cruzado because he very much wanted him to score his next movie "Desperado". Robert called me in NYC with the good news. The long search was over. The song is symbolic of this event for in the story the woman is in search of her Cruzado...)
J: I'm sure you're aware of the horrors that take place at the border. The most awful thing I witnessed happened when we were on a Greyhound somewhere in New Mexico and the Border Patrol stopped us. They dragged a group of Mexicans from the bus, including the sixteen year-old girl sitting with us and she had her baby of four weeks in her arms. After the officers had pushed everybody in a van and left, our busdriver picked up a tory of the baby and we both cried. Do you recognize that helpless feeling? Like you want to do something and you can't, as these Border Patrol men are usually over six feet tall, built like a tank and have big pistols on the hip. Do you feel connected with the Mexican people who struggle at the border?
P: That is a sad account, Johanna. I am so stunned to hear that and I know it goes on... How sad it is... I have not witnessed those accounts for myself but have heard stories and they are tragic... Very much in the way that the history of the Native Americans is tragic. We are all one people and should be treated equally, not like animals.
J: In your bio Joe Ely and Alejandro Escovedo are mentioned as musical heroes, yes, they are great! The third hero Tito Larriva might not be so well-known here, could you please tell us something more about him? You went on a European tour with his band Tito and Tarantula, were you opening or actually in the band? To what countries have you been and was it fun?
P: Tito Larriva was the lead singer of The Plugz (punk band), Cruzados (Mexican rock band) and now known as Tito and Tarantula. My brothers had their records in their collection which they shared with me. The music was in both Spanish and English and made us proud of our heritage. He wrote all his lyrics and music and the sound was like spaghetti western, tough, edgy, and just rock! We loved it!
I had written "El Cruzado" for Tito after I met him on the set of "Desperado". In 2002 he asked me to join his band playing guitar, keyboards, mandolin, castanets, and back up vocals. It was a dream come true and I learned a lot. We toured in Germany, Italy, France, Switzerland, and Austria. I would love to bring my music to these countries in 2004!
J: We like Jon Dee Graham, he did a great show with his band at the Blue Highways Festival 2001. He plays on your album, he recommended your music to the websites here, how did you get in contact with him?
P: Jon Dee has a Wednesday night residency at the Continental Club in Austin. My husband and I attend his shows regularly. My husband and I had written this song "Dead Eyes Shine" and right away we thought of using his lap steel talents. He has a way of making songs sound haunting and this song needed his magic.
J: You went to New York City to start a career, that's quite a big step for a nineteen year-old girl, how did you feel, determined, a little scared, excited or...? Years go by that I don't talk with a professional model, please, tell us about it! Did you pose for ads or did you do fashion shows, any modelling jobs you particularly liked?
P: I loved NYC with every fiber of my being! It was just what I needed. My sister Angela who is an actress, lived in NYC and I couldn't wait to follow in her footsteps. She was the first to predict that I would start my own band. I had many odd jobs until I landed some lucrative modelling jobs that took me around the world (Japan, Italy, Spain, Greece). I did mostly commercial, print, and runway. I was able to finance my band when I was ready to form it. Living in NYC was always challenging but it taught me survival instincts and how to work smarter not harder.
J: You're also an actress, you have played some parts in movies your brother made for instance, please tell us something about the characters? And, quite special for a roots artist, you're starring in your own videos!
P: My first role was as a dead body in "Four Rooms". I had to audition for the role but I was a very convincing corpse! I knew the trick was to die with my eyes open... I got the part! I was a bar girl in "Desperado" (I was one of the few that lived!! Antonio saved me!) and a bridesmaid in "Spykids 1". I really enjoy working with my brother. He is an equal opportunity kind of man!
J: Do you think the visual aspect, the look of an act is important? What can we expect from Patricia Vonne on a European stage? Do you always play with a band or occasionally also as a solo act? Could you please introduce your band?
P: I love full band gigs! I get to let loose! I do a duo performance at times with my husband. It allows us to be flexible. I love to tear up a stage with my castanets. My band is now Scott Garber on bass, Darin Murphy on drums, Robert LaRoche guitar and vocals... and me on guitar and lead vocals.
J: Your husband is Robert LaRoche, please tell a bit more about him? You met via the music, I always like these romances, where musicians eventually end up getting married! Can we have the short version of Patricia & Robert's story?
P: We met in 1990 at the China Club in NYC. I was working coat check and he was performing the New Music Seminar with his band The Sighs from Massachusetts. It was love at first "sound" because I could not see the band but could hear them. I HAD to meet the leader of the band. We met after the show and the rest is history...
J: After you got married you moved to Austin, was that because of the music scene? In some cities there are groups of musicians who only play with each other and it's hard or even impossible finding your own spot where you are comfortable and able to work. How's that in Austin?
P: We moved to "The Music Capitol of the World" because it made sense. We wanted to play more than just once a month. We wanted to tour all of Texas and build a loyal fan base in my home state. My family lives here and we were ready for a change from the concrete canyons of NYC to the soil where I was born and raised and where the music came from. It was just time to bring the music back home.
J: Please, say something in Spanish to everybody who reads this! To quote Butch Hancock "Spanish is a loving tongue", right?
P: Viva La Musica!! OLE!
Interview by Johanna J. Bodde, previously published on Real Roots Cafe, The Netherlands