BY ANDREW LENTZ
Wth Maná, Alex Gonzales has already achieved more than most drummers ever will. In 2015 the Guadalajara-based roc en Español act released its ninth album, Cama Incendiada, the most stylistically diverse in its 28-year history, and Gonzales reckons he and the band used a different gear setup for each song. “We were joking the other day that we should strip back for the next album and just go to using whatever drums you have, whatever amp you have, back like when we started,” he says from a hotel in Buenos Aires. “I think that’s a really good exercise.”
Tonight the closet head banger will exercise a different part of his rhythmic brain with De La Tierra, a metal super- group — a descriptor that makes him cringe. “We always tell people, ‘Don’t call us a super-group because normally they don’t last.’” [laughs]. Despite his objections, the De La Tierra lineup, featuring Sepultura’s Andreas Kisser, Andres Gimenez (A.N.I.M.A.L.), Sr. Flavio from Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, and Gonzales on drums, will be familiar to metal and roc en Español fans alike. Maná just finished a European tour where the reception in Madrid, unsurprisingly, was “insane.” But his personal highpoint was closer to home with De La Tierra at Santiago Gets Louder and Rock in Rio, where he got to hang with fellow pummelers from Deftones, System Of A Down, Slipknot, and other metal titans. His bandmates wondered what Gonzales was thinking, taking a wild career detour when his main band is riding so high. “There’s this other side of me that loves heavy rock and metal music, so when the opportunity came I said, ‘Screw it, I’m gonna do it.’ To be honest, at this point in my career I have nothing to lose.”
Musically, De La Tierra and Maná may not have much in common, but what they do share — lyrics exclusively in Spanish — separates them from their peers. That’s no small thing considering that Latin megastars like Pitbull mostly sing in English. For Maná the decision was not a political statement but something that seemed natural. “Come on, I think there’s like 56 million Latinos living in the United States. [laughs] There’s a lot of third generation, second generation people that listen to music in English and in Spanish, so I think that’s pretty awesome.”
Despite almost thirty years as a working musician, Gonzales is still experimenting with his approach. Watching the explosive- yet-fluid movements he busts in Maná you get the feeling the self-taught drummer is somewhat underchallenged in that setting. “With Maná I play for whatever the song needs as opposed to a band where I need to showcase my drumming.” In either band any perceived weakness is magnified for the self-critical Gonzales. “One of the things that I’m still working very hard on is leading with the left hand with fills. It just opens up a whole different perspective on the way you attack the drums or the cymbals. Some stuff in my solo I do lead with the left, but that’s by accident more or less.” Gonzales has already spoken with instructor-to-the-drum-stars Dave Elitch (ex-Mars Volta) about getting a lesson next time he’s in Los Angeles.
His Maná kit has been stable over the years. “The only thing I did differently was a deeper kick. I’ve always used 24″ x 18″ but on this tour I went 24″ x 20″.” But the De La Tierra kit, a double-bass monster, is relatively low, and cymbal-wise, pretty flat. “Before I had them at an angle — I was trying to be Terry Bozzio [laughs] but I changed it back.” Speaking of gear, the Paiste endorser recently codesigned three models in the cymbal maker’s Rude line: Basher (18″, 20″), Blast China (14″), and Shred Bell (12″, 14″). “The people in Switzerland sent me prototypes. I would play them and everything, then give back my feedback. Erik [Paiste] is very happy because they’ve done extremely well. Who knows, in the future I might come up with something else.”
Before the end of the year Gonzales will have launched Mala Vida, a tequila brand he has spent years developing. “I plan to enjoy that with a lot of people.” [laughs]. The 46-year-old can’t punish skins at this rate forever so it’s good to have another moneymaker in the pipeline. Then again, age might not be a factor. “Maybe we’ll end up being like the Rolling Stones — 70 years old and still kicking it.”
2015 also marked the drummer’s 26th wedding anniversary. When you tour as much as Maná, a loving and stable marriage while raising three daughters is not taken for granted. “To be doing what I love, travelling all over the world making music, doing what I’ve dreamed about since I was a little kid, and to have the full support of my family, I feel like the luckiest guy in the world.”