MEB staffer Maria Gironas recently had a chance to talk to Diego Val, a past The Voice contestant, and George Pajon Jr., former guitarist of The Black Eyed Peas, about their new project Sons of Mariel. The two are quite a unique mix of individuals, but what has brought them together is their love for music as well as their Latin American heritage that they hope is conveyed through their sound.
MEB: I’ve been seeing you guys perform a lot lately, and love the performances recorded on YouTube. What performances or projects do you guys have coming up for your fans?
George Pajon Jr.: Well, right now we have finally finished the EP, and it’s a fully produced, radio-friendly version of our music. Kind of in the way I did all the writing and production when I was working with The Black Eyed Peas and other artists that I have had the pleasure of working with. And we are on the next phase now, which is putting the live show together and we are going to be doing a lot of shows and a lot of residencies in the Los Angeles area because it’s easier for us to do it here since we are living here and we are trying to stay as local as possible. It’s really expensive to tour nowadays with the price of gas and we tried it, but it’s just really expensive. Mentally, we will be doing that, but for now we are going to be doing residencies in L.A., and we are also putting together special interpretations of the songs that we are going to be selling as limited runs at shows and online to start everything off. The actual EP that we finished, I’m holding onto until it’s the right marketing plan to put together for it to reach the right people.
Going back to L.A. and playing local, George, I understand you’ve grown up in Los Angeles, so how does it feel to play in the area and start your own music career here?
GP: I’m born and raised in L.A., first generation. L.A. is a special place for me and for music, you know? There are three places in the world it happens and it’s London, New York, and L.A. And L.A. is pretty much, for what I’ve done in my career, the home base of everything. The Peas were based here, my studio is here, so it makes the most sense for me and for my connections. It’s the best possible place to reach our fans and to create new fans, by doing it in a very old fashioned way – one fan at a time. But, you know, we want to connect with the people that like us individually and in a personal way.
So Diego, you are from Peru, went to Miami, and now you’re in L.A. How have you liked the change?
Diego Val: Well, when it comes to L.A., and what is beautiful about L.A., is that I find it like a mixture of what I’ve been looking for in a perfect city. There’s waves, the weather’s amazing, there is music all over, and our own band is from Burbank. I’m just extremely happy to be here and be part of this project, and Hollywood has been treating me very well.
With the EP being done, what kind of process did you guys go through? Was it a collaboration between the two of you?
GP: It was a collaboration, but it was a collaboration with many people. What I knew for a very long time through my career to this point was that my strength was going to be to create a band that was Latin American-based. My strength was always my roots and I needed to find a frontman that his strength was also his roots, and that was Diego. When I met Diego I knew that this was the right frontman and this was the right guy to be the face and the voice for this. And I’ve always had him in the back of my head and I have saved a lot of favors for over 13 years that I have been blessed to write with. Amazing writers, amazing top-line writers, amazing vocalists, producers.
So, I called in all those favors for this project and the EP, the five songs that we wrote for that EP and then there are four interludes that are one-and-a-half minute samples of what is to come.
So, there were two processes. There was a process of me getting in the room with these amazing writers and Diego and we all collaborated on these songs and you know, music is very difficult nowadays to compete. What is going on in the mainstream and [with] most of the labels, they take the time and pay the money to get the best melody writer in the industry to write the hook for the person that is going to be on the radio. So I used that same process that I used with the peas, Ricky Martin, and with Santana, to make sure that not only did we have the best vocals and the best lyrics and the best structure, but that I was writing to the best of my ability to give the band the best possible thing I could do.
That was the first process and I used that for five songs, the second process was just organic. It was just me and Diego picking up the guitar, and the second song on the EP was the first thing he and I played together. The very first time he came into my studio and I heard him sing, I picked up the guitar, started playing something and it became that song. And it was just organic and we sing what comes to heart, and leave it that way.
So we are going to represent both spectrums. We have the ability to be able to reach the masses, but we aren’t just going to do that – we are going let it be extremely organic. So if you come see us live, we are going to showcase that.
So, Diego, I noticed you were originally a solo artist and since Sons of Mariel is a band, how has that transition from a solo career to now been for you?
DV: It has been something I have been waiting for for quite some time as an artist. I’ve gone through a process of development as a solo artist. I think it was a process in my life for my career to grow and basically get ready to eventually have this project happen, which was having a band. Having George next to me, it feels great to have somebody I can lean to and just experiment with and just grow on a different level.
When you guys aren’t performing, recording or writing, what do you guys do for fun?
DV: We keep it simple, right George? We like to hang out, watch the basketball game, have some beers. I like to go surfing, he likes to spend time in his studio fixing or playing with his guitars. We just bond, you know? We are young souls.
GP: Honestly, I’m in such a constant state of creation. I don’t sleep very often, I hardly sleep really, because I keep thinking about the project and when I’m in the studio, I’m constantly tinkering. Nothing is good enough, nothing is perfect. We play live and it sounds amazing, but it’s never good enough for me, I don’t like the sound that I’m representing yet. I know what I hear in my head and I enjoy that process mentally, and that’s my fun. It’s me tinkering with my amp until it’s perfect. And in between all that, my wife will cook dinner for us, and it’s a very family-based situation. And our whole team is our family, everyone who has been part of us and has been a part of this has been part of our lives for a very long time. So, it’s a very much family-based organization, and it’s going to stay this way.
What influences you in your music?
DV: Well, I’ve lived in several countries and have moved a lot, and I think since I was young I have just grown with music, truly. All sorts of styles from pop-rock, to hip-hop, to reggae, to classic. When it comes to my background, I’m just a big fan of music and just a big fan of good sounds. That’s why today, in the project, I can offer the project that, which is just a mix of everything. You never know what might come out my mouth. (Laughs) I just like everything to be honest with you, I love music.
You guys have been performing a lot lately, has there been one show that has stuck out amongst the rest?
GP: There have been a lot, but the best overall show, without thinking about performance so far, has been a show we created out of nothing and that was a show in Miami…
GP: Yeah, at Grants. We went into a place where we liked the atmosphere of the bar and asked the owner if we could set up and play. And we bartered with him for a bar tab and a couple dollars and we did a whole set. No one expected it, and it’s exactly how we want to represent this. I don’t want to have formulas. If there is a cool place that we love hanging out at, I just want to play there. I just want to show up and play and not have to go through the whole process about, “How much will you pay me,” no, just let us play! The whole reason we are doing this is to play. It’s to show people it’s our music and if it’s the right people, right now, let’s play for them.
DV: I’ll give you another story! We were playing at church on Monday and had Kanye West show up in the front line. You know, that’s L.A. and that’s what I love about Hollywood – you never know who is going to walk in.
GP: (Laughs) We were invited to play for Tim Stories, who is a life coach, pastor, and a motivational speaker, and he works with Kanye. Tim heard our records because our manager showed it to him and he loved the music and wanted us to perform three songs, and we said yes. We showed up, played three songs, and Kanye was in the front row and was bobbing his head and enjoying the songs.
Where do you guys see Sons of Mariel in five years?
GP: I’m going to come from a realistic standpoint because I’ve taken this ride already once. Five years from now I see us at the festival stage where we are going to be doing a lot of the festivals around the world. Probably playing for 1,000 to 5,000 people if we are blessed to have that. And working on our second record.
DV: I see us traveling the world, doing festivals, yes. And just being happier than ever. Just having a good time and on our second album as well, maybe going to the third.
What would your like your fans to know about you?
DV: Well, I don’t eat animals. I wear small socks. I’m a medium shirt and my birthday is July 20th, if anyone wants to send me a gift.
George, what has been your favorite stage you’ve ever played in your career?
GP: Red Rocks in Denver Colorado. It is a very, very amazing place to play. I’ve played there 12 times and it never gets old. I can’t wait to play there with this group.
Favorite experience thus far?
GP: I have two actually. Will.I.Am got asked by Oprah to do a show for her for a network called “Visionaries.” At the time, he asked her what she wanted him to do and she wanted him to write a song from scratch and create something so the people can watch the process. So, he gave me a piece of music and said, I want you to learn this, but I want you to make it your own. So then he told Oprah that he wants to write a song about the Mona Lisa, like who is that girl, who painted her, and who sat there and decided to paint her, and I want to know that story. And he said he was going to write a song about the Mona Lisa as if it was my girl or someone’s girl and I want to record the guitars at the Louvre Museum in front of the Mona Lisa. So, Oprah made it happen. And while we were playing in Paris, we played a show at – and I think it was the Stade De France – the big stadium there and at 3 a.m. they opened the Louvre for me and Will and we went and recorded our guitar parts in front of the Mona Lisa with no one there. It was a very scary, religious, incredibly artistic moment and I don’t think there will ever be a way to top that. The security guards were really freaked out because they had never been in that place past closing time.
The second is the piece of music I wrote that ended up becoming “Yes I Can,” the song that Obama ended up using for his campaign when he was elected President. I wrote that piece of music in London while we were recording Monkey Business and we were on our way to a club. Will handed me a guitar as we were leaving for the night and he asked that before we leave, just to sit down, play whatever comes to your mind, and press “record.” And with that, the song “Yes We Can” was recorded. And so three or four years later he heard the speech and was moved by Obama’s speech and put his speech over my guitar part, and that [is what] the whole world later heard as “Yes We Can.”
Be sure to keep an eye out for Sons of Mariel’s new music through their site here.
And check out this video of them playing an acoustic version of their song “I Told You.”
If you like what you hear, remember, sharing is caring.