Multi-talented artist Patricia Vonne has released her seventh album, “Top of the Mountain,” out on Bandolera Records. Patricia Vonne is an immensely talented Latin roots-rocker, as well as a songwriter, actress, filmmaker and more, whose many albums have been critically acclaimed locally and nationwide. The New York Times has deemed her the “Renaissance woman of Austin, Texas.”
The new album was produced, mixed and engineered by Rick Del Castillo and Michael Ramos, engineered by Joey Benjamin and mastered by Mark Hallman. The album features Vonne on lead vocals, acoustic guitar, castanets and electric guitar as well as special guest musicians Fort Worth sax virtuosoJohnny Reno, Grammy award winner Max Baca of Los TexManiacs on the bajo sexto, David Grissom, Grammy award winner Joe Reyes and Robert LaRoche on guitar and Scott Plunkett (of Chris Isaak’s band) on the keyboard. The album features co-writes with Joe the “King” Carrasco, Alejandro Escovedo, Willie Nile, Steven Medina Hufsteter of the Cruzados and longtime performing and songwriting partner Robert LaRoche.
We had a chance to talk with Patricia Vonne about her musical roots and her new album.
Did you always gravitate towards music artistically?
Patricia: Music was always encouraged in the house. My dad is from Rio Grande City, Texas and was a drummer so there was always a drum kit in the house. My mom taught us how to play the guitar and taught us Mexican mariachi songs and how to harmonize and everything. With that influence always in the house, it was always encouraged. When I moved to New York City that’s when I really wanted to pursue it. That was why I moved to New York and started a band.
In San Antonio, everybody knows your business. I was like I want to go where I can try it and if I fail no one’s going to care. But I really wanted to pursue the arts and it was New York arts and started my band. I moved back to Texas after spending about 11 years in New York and doing the New York circuit. I really wanted to move back and be closer to the family but also to be known as a Native Texan. The first time I played at South by Southwest it was noted that I was from New York and I’m like no I’m a Texan. Tejana, 9th generation.
Your father is of Mexican heritage and your mother is of Spanish descent. And then growing up in Texas must have had a big influence on your music. How do you manage to fuse all of those influences together but still make it your own?
Patricia: I’ve always wanted all my albums to not only be original music but to be bilingual. Being from San Antonio that’s what we heard growing up – this diverse mix of music. And realizing how many artists are from San Antonio like Flaco Jiménez, Charlie Sexton, Steve Earle, Rosie Flores, and Alejandro Escovedo. They are all from San Antonio. There are such different musicians, the music is very different from each other.
And of course, the mariachi music which is influenced by the Germans, the Polish immigrants, and the Irish. I tour overseas and am able to tell the crowds, ” Wow, it’s because of your influence that we have Tejano and conjunto music.” They don’t realize that and those are my best markets in Germany. I love telling them that I am here because of them. I think it’s important for me, being a Tejana that it always has those elements. For me personally, I grew up trying to embrace my heritage but I always tried to use the language. I speak English 90 percent of the time so if you don’t use it, you lose it. That is my reason for always having that imprint on my albums and my music is that of being a Tejana to be a reminder of where I come from. When I go tour or even visit Italy I’ve been told that the younger generations are not cooking at home, they’re going to McDonald’s. It’s like, “Oh my god no don’t lose that.” I mean something as simple as that tradition. You know what you’re known for and heritage is very important, to me.
Can you talk about the animated music short film “Huerte de San Vicente?” Can you talk about what that experience was like working in a different medium directing and writing?
Patricia: It’s another extension of my artistry to show a visual to the song. The song was written back in 2009 and I really wanted to dust it off and bring new life to it visually. I started making animations to three of my songs. That one, in particular, was about the Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca. I chose him because I think he’s a beacon for artists. The way he was trying to get his work out there and how the Franco regime was trying to completely obliterate his existence. I collaborated with a couple of artists, one who is a musician who drew his portrait and I drew everything out including the backgrounds and the scenes. I was able to edit it and shoot it. It’s really just a reminder of the passion that he had for his work. The story that touched me because not only was he murdered in cold blood because he was an artist and but also had sharp social commentary in his work.
It mirrors what we’re going through today. And this is was 1936 when he was murdered in cold blood and his body was never found. At that time he was at his peak, he was famous already. He was like Salvador Dali, they were really good friends. And for them to just kill him off thinking nobody would ever care about him or his works because they were trying to completely obliterate his existence really speaks volumes. That’s why I really wanted to do it about him. There are so many other amazing prominent poets from Spain and Mexico but that really jumped out at me and made me want to write two songs about Lorca. What really made me happy was that it did win first place in Madrid where he went to school and where he met Salvador Dali. I got to go and tour that school with his niece that was the curator of the school now. I got to meet his blood relatives. It was as if he was rolling out the red carpet for me saying thank you for keeping my spirit alive. “I invite you to the Madrid and I will make sure you win.” It was like he had his hand in it and was the gift that came back to me for trying to give that gift to the world, like don’t forget this man. This is who he is, this is who he was. And he’s still prominent.
This is your seventh album, “Top of the Mountain.” How do you feel your music has evolved since you started?
Patricia: I call it my lucky seventh album because it’s the pinnacle and all came together and appropriately called “Top of the Mountain.” When I moved back home, I was able to work with some of my Texas heroes like Joe Ely and Alejandro Escovedo. Escovedo is such a great influence on me. I would never have been able to do that if I stayed in New York. So it was just a calling for me to move back. And I really wanted to utilize that and did. It was a culture shock moving back to Texas because New York is like an island built on granite. That’s why it’s the city that never sleeps but you’re constantly moving and you’re constantly producing and you’re being very productive. But, I really missed my family and the element of being a Texan and being home.
I was able to go on tour with another hero of mine, Tito Larriva who is the voice of Lorca on “Huerte de San Vicente.” He was part of one of our favorite bands growing up. My brothers would share their record collection with me and the band is called the Cruzados. His band is Tito & Tarantula now. He was the Cruzados’ singer-songwriter. All their songs were original and he scored many of my brother’s (Robert Rodriguez) films. I even wrote a song as an homage to their music called El Cruzado on my first album. On the seventh album, I got to co-write it with the actual lead guitar player that was responsible for the sound and that was one of the reasons my brother loved their music too. I feel like I’m an honorary Cruzado now. It was just such a blast to write this song because I wanted them to be my muse for this instrumental. The Cruzados only released a couple albums but they had a Spanish song on their rock album and I’ll never forget my brother bringing the vinyl home listening to this badass Mexican band. And we were so proud. Again it was that reminder, “Gosh, that’s me, I’m Mexicana, Latina and they’re representing our music.
My brother asked me to write a song for his film, “Once Upon a Time in Mexico.” A lot happened when I moved back home to Texas. I was able to collaborate with my musical heroes which allowed me to keep going and keep making albums on my own label and self- finance every single one of them. This is the seventh one and I’m very proud of that. I think this is the best one for sure, it’s just a progression. But it is definitely one that I’m happy to put out there.
Do you have any favorite songs on this album? I really loved the song “Canción De La Boda” because it felt very traditional but modern.
Patricia: Thankfully I had Michael Ramos and Rick Del Castillo. I wanted him specifically for the Spanish songs. I really wanted Del Castillo for the rock songs because he’s a guitar slinger and he’s going to make those guitars big and the pick slides are going to rip your head off. That’s what I wanted. And Michael Ramos with his amazing music of Charanga Cakewalk. I told him Charanga is out – make “Canción De La Boda“ a traditional Spanish song. And that one he immediately gravitated towards because I told him it was inspired by Flaco Jiménez. That was my whole idea around it. I wrote it for one of my four sisters who got married recently and I really wanted that traditional sound. And so that’s what the song was written for. I had always wanted to write one that was more Tejano sounding with the accordion and all that. So this was it it was a perfect invitation to finally have it on an album. It’s a wedding song that is going to be fun.
Yeah, you definitely put your own spin to it.
Patricia: I remember my mom would sing her songs and with the mariachi songs she’d always give us the back story. I tried to infuse that. Any kind of childhood memory to make the melody fit well. It just kind of wrote itself. I wanted it to have a different melody. It’s like putting a thousand piece puzzle together and fitting all the pieces and cutting off the fat and then giving it to the producer.
I think my favorite song on the album is the most important. The most important song is the title track, “Top of the Mountain” which is why I chose it because I wrote it for a dear friend who passed away from his fight with muscular dystrophy. He would come to our shows in a wheelchair and his family would bring him. He would come to a lot of shows all over Austin but he was always there at ours and he always had a smile on his face never complained. Can you imagine what pain he was going through? Most of his life he was confined to a wheelchair and lost all mobility. So we wrote that song for him and again it’s just a reminder to be grateful of what we have and not what you don’t have. That’s what I want people to take away when they hear that title track. I would say that’s the most important song that rings true today because living is hard and dying is easy. And it’s like OK, we’re here as long as God wants us to be here so let’s make the most of it and just get out of the valley of despair because everyone goes through that. Let’s just get to the top and stay there and a good way to do that is to be reminded of that. I’m not in a wheelchair. I have my limbs and I can move, I can write songs, I can do this. I use my pen as a beacon and as a reminder that we are Powerful people, we are children of God and let’s just go for it.
You can find more information about Patricia Vonne’s tour dates and music at PatriciaVonne.com. Her new album, “Top of the Mountain” is out now!