The Mezcaltones, a Mexican-themed band fronted by a ‘crazy moustachioed gringo’, Col Padre, are returning to their stamping ground of the Northern Beaches to perform several concerts to dance-off the end of 2022. Then, beginning in February, the six-piece will undertake a monthly residence at Narrabeen Sands Hotel.
Manly Observer caught up with the dramatic, enigmatic and charismatic party-starters and swapped sombreros with Neralita, founder, guitarist, vocalist and band manager, to hear about the hillbilly surfers’ next moves.
How did the band settle on the Mexican theme for the band image?
“Col Padre and I were watching the film Desperado by Robert Rodriguez and I fell in love with the music and the outfits,” Neralita revealed, “and suggested that maybe we should put together a band with a similar look and play similar tunes. Col said he thought it was the stupidest idea he ever heard, but as the concept emerged he fully embraced it.”
At first appearance, in their cowboy/cowgirl hats and matching black stage outfits, The Mezcaltones appear like the flamboyant bandoleros from one of the acclaimed ‘Spaghetti Western’ films of the 1960s, such as the infamous ‘Dollars Trilogy’: A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
Directed by Sergio Leone, these three cinematic masterpieces introduced and featured the taciturn ‘Man with No Name’, Clint Eastwood, a morally ambiguous outcast who traded bullets with the Mexican bandidos and reluctantly liberated the down-trodden.
It’s not coincidental, then, that The Mezcaltones give more than a nod and a wink to this much-loved cult genre, describing themselves as “The good, the bad, the groovy, playing all things cool with a Tarantino and strong Mexican flavour.”
Who makes their fabulous costumes?
“Mimi and I scour the net for ideas and things to adorn/embellish,” Neralita explained, “usually plain black tights and simple tops. Once Mimi and I have finished procuring said items, Mimi’s mum sews them all together (aren’t mums awesome?!) including conchos and trims, to plain black pants for the boys, who accessorise these with cool cowboy shirts found online.”
Can you tell us a bit about the background of the band, how you met and established yourselves?
“Initially, I intended to have an all-girl band with my husband Col as the front-man. He’d played in a number of Northern Beaches’ bands over the years (decades actually) and had now considered himself retired from performing. I got sick of him lounging around the house and decided to get him back in the saddle.
When my brother-in-law, Dan, volunteered to drum for us, the idea of an all-girl band went out the window because, frankly, you just don’t turn down the services of a musician as talented as him. So I had a drummer, a front-man and myself on guitar, sort of an out-there Partridge Family!
“After enlisting the help of Steph on bass, and work colleague and trained actor Mimi as our dancer/percussionist, there was one more piece of the puzzle needed… a lead guitarist, and not just any guitarist, I wanted the best.
“After several auditions we hadn’t found anybody suitable (someone who could play Misirlou note for note) so we decided to advertise on Gumtree, where we found Shango. He said it was the photo of Clint Eastwood in the add that caught his eye.”
The aforementioned ‘Spaghetti Westerns’, starring Eastwood, were often enlivened by the sparse, iconic scores of composer Ennio Morricone, who wrote some of the most memorable tunes in contemporary cinema. The Mezcaltones perform a Spaghetti Medley tribute to Morricone.
Furthermore, the band appeared in Uno, a short film spoofing the work of Sergio Leone (embracing the unforgettable final scene of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly) which is described as “set in a Mexican cantina at a time when men were stupid and a woman had the power to manipulate a man’s feelings as easily as pouring a drink..”
The sextet also routinely begin their shows accompanied by the theme tune from The Magnificent Seven, appraised as one of greatest films of the Western genre (although it was directed by John Sturges and scored by Elmer Bernstein, not Leone and Morricone).
“When our bassist Steph went off on maternity leave,” Neralita continued, “Lucre, a good friend of both Col and I (who we had previously worked with) stepped in as a temporary replacement. When Steph left the band and moved up north, Lucre just slotted back in.
“We rehearsed regularly, initially only doing songs from Robert Rodriguez and Tarantino movies. Our first show was at a birthday party so heaps of photos were taken so we could put together a showreel and I started touting it around. There was interest because we are quite different from other Northern Beaches’ bands. We started adding other songs to the set, including originals, and after pestering bookers on the other side of the bridge for a couple of years we finally started doing shows all over the city.”
There is also an element of Dia de los Muertos accompanying The Mezcaltones, particularly in the ghoulish skull masks the two women, Neralita and Mimi, sometimes wear on stage.
Dia de los Muertos – Day of the Dead – is an annual holiday in Mexico to honour the deceased, which, taking place over 1-2 November each year, coincides with the centuries-old European Samhain (which evolved into latter-day Halloween) and has its origins in the same pagan traditions.
Coincidentally, these were the dates Manly Observer sent Neralita these questions.
I’ve seen Mezcaltones play shows where the whole audience is either dancing or tapping their feet along with the music, everyone fizzing with the energy the band brings. How did your winning set list evolve over time?
“Thanks for the compliment. Over time our set list has been reasonably fluid but I think one of the constants has been honesty, and so while we’re honestly having a good time and honestly enjoying the songs we are playing, then the audience tends to respond in a positive manner.
“We play a mixture of original songs and covers from Tarantino-style films/TV shows. We give them a Mezcaltones’ makeover and the crowd usually dig them.”
The Mezcaltones often divide their live shows into two or three sets. It’s a good tactic, because it gives the audience time to refresh, socialise, and pause for meals and drinks. Do you prefer to play these sorts of shows?
“We’re pretty much at the mercy of the venue,” Neralita disclosed. “Some places want three sets some want two. When we get the opportunity to work with other bands it’s just one set, which is really fun, but it kinda feels like half a job done, so I guess my favourite shows are two sets.”
You have an EP and two CDs out, the last one, Mexican Hillbilly Surf Music, released 2020 in the midst of the Covid pandemic. Any new music or albums in the pipeline?
“Funny you should ask that,” she said, “as we were just in the recording studio [at the end of October] on the Day of the Dead weekend too. We recorded nine tracks at Damien Gerard’s studio for Foghorn records in association with Manly LongBoard Co. and the new tunes sound fantastic. I think this will be our best album ever! We can’t wait to release it.”
What’s on the horizon for The Mezcaltones? Any plans to tour Mexico or Latin America?
“Ha ha!! We Wish!! Nothing international but we have put some applications for interstate festivals and just waiting to hear back.” 😊
Anything she’d like to add?
“We are about to release a film clip for one of our tracks, Hillbilly Surf Rage called “The Adventure of Motorcycle Girl” Ep 1 – which is a parody of the old 1940’s movie serials. We’ve shot the better part of three episodes so far using songs from our latest album. All three film clips will be released over the next couple of months…”
The Mezcaltones’ upcoming gigs on the Northern Beaches
The Beach Club 1058 Pittwater Rd, Collaroy. Friday 25 November 8:30pm – 11:30pm
Bucketty’s Brewing Co. 26 Orchard Rd, Brookvale. Thursday 15 December 8pm – 10pm
The Beach Club 1058 Pittwater Rd, Collaroy. Friday, 23 December 8:30pm – 11:30pm
Sands Hotel 1260 Pittwater Rd, Narrabeen. Saturday 25 February 9:30pm – 11:30pm
The Mezcaltones online