David and Rene Pacheco are East L.A. underdogs
who first stepped onto the scene as Thee Commons – a spitfire trio that shredded surf, cumbia, and punk music into a tangy, tropicali pulp. Six years into Thee Commons the brothers decided to pivot from their established trajectory and created Tropa Magica. They lost their label and management during the change but also obtained the freedom to develop their signature PCP (psychedelic cumbia punk) genre.
Recently, Tropa Magica expanded from a trio into a quartet and are playing with more cinematic, layered textures in the studio, all while keeping the frenetic energy of the live show. David and Rene are currently working on the follow up to their debut album (self-titled) and hope to have a new album ready by Do-It-Ourselves Fest.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity
by Garrett Bethmann
You guys used to be in Thee Commons and now you are Tropa Magica? Could you give me an idea of what Thee Commons was to you and how it morphed into Tropa Magica?
David: Thee Commons was a project we developed in 2012 and did for about six years. It took us a good while to cultivate our sound and niche, which we call “psychedelic cumbia punk.” We toured the country twice as Thee Commons and got this feeling that we weren’t growing as much as we wanted to. Some of those limitations came with the band name. It didn’t have any connotation of us being Latino and it didn’t sound exciting. So, we switched to Tropa Magica, much to the dismay of our booking agent, record label and manager, who dropped us because of this name change.
Me and my brother Rene put in the time and the work with the goal to continue doing what we were doing because we were on the right path. To just continue on that threshold and expand it. We were always doing a three-piece band and that was in and of itself limiting, we started exploring more in the studio as Thee Commons with piano parts, sax parts, and other instrumentation that wouldn’t be executed when we played live. We wanted to at least become a four or five piece so that the live performance would match the recording. We could have done it as Thee Commons but we were kind of over it. We did Coachella, we got some really dope press but it was time to move on. Any great artist needs to know when to let a project die.
You are back out there, literally doing it yourselves again. What have been some of the positives and drawbacks of going back to doing everything by yourself?
David: We have complete freedom, we run our own schedule. We don’t have to listen to a label’s formula or regimen when it comes to making an album. Being musicians is what we do for a living and the best way to make money off of it is making records and going on the road. So us making records by ourselves, we have complete autonomous control over our music and what we write and how we put it out.
But a record label can give you that broader support. They are keyholders that can open up doors. As a band we might not know someone from Spotify or iTunes that they might know and because they know them our single get on playlists. We are very grassroots and it’s a little slower. It’s nice to have a team who are dedicated to the same vision as us and are willing to support us and stand behind what we are doing.
Why does this music you’ve created speak to you? Why have you chosen this type of sound to express who you are as David and Rene?
David: A lot of garage rock scenes and burger scenes were predominantly caucasian and white audiences and we felt like it wasn’t resonating with us on a deeper level, a spiritual level. Tying into cumbia and psychedelic music brought us into this understanding of where we are from and where our parents are from. It kind of speaks to this element of culture that isn’t so politicized. It’s open and free and outgoing and a celebration of life. Where we are from there is a thriving scene like Chicano Batman that are blowing up. It’s a community of like-minded individuals that we just happened onto because we were going out to shows and we just grabbed onto it.
We did our own interpretation of it, much to the dismay of our peers because they were straight-up cumbia and we were like a rock and roll fusion. They would really be astounded by our sound, they would dance to our cumbia and then crickets when we got to rock and roll. That in itself was kind of part of the sound we created because there was no one doing the sound we were doing in the way we wanted to hear it. It was psychedelic, but psychedelic now is kind of 1960’s and you got these guys who aren’t exploring sounds. The cumbia bands were calling themselves psychedelic cumbia but they weren’t doing that either and they weren’t as edgy as we wanted to be.
Renee: When I first heard the influences that led us to this sound we have I knew it was the direction I wanted us to go in. But this has been years in the making. We’ve had our garage rock phase, a country phase, a rockabilly phase. Once we related it to cumbia it all sort of clicked and made sense. Even though we’ve tried a lot of styles, we were always trying to innovate something.
The first time I heard a cumbia band in a backyard scene, it was like, “Holy shit, people do this?” It took me back nostalgically and I felt connected to people immediately. When people first started telling me about listening to us, we had a similar connection in feeling a throwback element.
David: It feels like it took the first three years of Thee Commons to get a sound and the last three years to market it and to push it. It’s been a slow, organic procedure. We still have to work hard to win an audience over, which I enjoy. I enjoy playing a show and have the audience start off staring and then slowly build up to crazy. I know the day will come where it will start off like that. It’s a sonic seduction in which they become enraptured by our sound and go nuts. You got to tease them a bit and then bam, everyone is having a good time. Mission accomplished.
I saw you guys were out with King Tuff, how did that go?
David: That tour was great! King Tuff has a completely different demographic than what we are used to and we were playing to his audiences and they were loving it. We are a band that they are really happy to see as an opener, like, “fuck, glad we got here early.” It’s kind of like in class where a teacher asks who wants to present their report first and you raise your hand (laughs).
You guys are getting back into recording. What are guys feeling and how do you think you will evolve from what you’ve done in the past?
David: The theme of this next album is kind of discodelico, where it’s dancey and psychedelic. As we’ve been writing songs they’ve been morphing and some of these songs are really personal. We don’t want to pigeonhole ourselves as a straight up cumbia band. Whatever we do is going to have the Pacheco Brothers’ signature sound. We want you to hear the drums and think “that’s them” or hear the guitar and think “that’s them.” That was always our goal, to develop our sound.
“Chunti Party” is probably one of my favorites. The song is great, I was wondering what does “chunti” mean?
Rene: It’s one of those words that doesn’t really have a meaning. In Spanish, one word can take on thousands of meanings. It can be an insult or an endearing compliment. It’s kind of like saying “you’re a dork” with love. Where I first heard it was from our grandparents. They said I looked “like a little chunti,” probably because I wearing plaid shorts with some Converses, a white shirt with some plaid blue (laughs).
David: It’s sort of derogatory, you don’t want to be a chunti (laughs). But we gravitate towards that word. People call themselves chicano or chicana, or chiquita. Now the term going around is Latinex. So Renee and I always liked the term chunti because it was not cool. This is a stereotypical chunti: someone who is chicano or Mexican that drives around a pick-up truck, blasting corrido music. They get out of the trucks with some fancy boots, wearing tacky Hardy jeans, white shirt and an old baseball cap. Like dude, get your shit together (laughs).
We love that word because we are like that. We see bands like Chicano Batman and they wear tuxedos on stage. They’re not trying to be cool that’s just their style and that’s our style, not trying too hard.
If you had the ability to curate one person’s experience the first time they heard Tropa Magica, what would you do? What would be the most fun and ideal way to be introduced to your music?
Rene: This has happened to us before. We get very social and will talk to whoever is around. Let’s say you are walking around and you happen to see me, I’ll probably ask you to join me for a beer because you are passing by the show. The next thing you know we are getting up on stage and your thinking, “Hey, that’s the guy I was just talking to.” Boom, show goes on (laughs).
Interview by Garrett Bethmann