What started as three brothers from Alabama jumping on their beds to the soundtrack of "Grease" has now become one of Austin’s most influential music groups. Vallejo, a Latin-infused rock band, has won awards including The Chronicle’s "Best Performing Band" three years in a row, and have played many shows both in Austin and abroad. Brothers Alex, AJ and Omar Vallejo moved to Austin in the ‘90s and quickly found it to be the perfect place for their fusion sound. The group also includes Bruce Castleberry on guitar and percussionist Alex Geismar.
Story by Sarah Bloodworth
Vallejo’s members have integrated themselves into nearly every facet of the local music industry. AJ produces music and has won Austin Music awards for his contributions to the industry. Alex works with local nonprofit the Austin Music Foundation to support local musicians. Younger brother Omar owns 512 Studios and hosts his own TV show, 512 Studios Live.
ORANGE sat down with twins Alex (percussion) and AJ (lead guitar, vocals) in their production studio to talk about the history of the band and their sound. Vallejo’s new album "Unified" comes out in November.
What made Vallejo come to Austin?
AJ: We were going to move to Orlando, Florida actually, but our friend from the SIMS Foundation, a nonprofit to help musicians with drugs and depression, told us to try Austin out. Like everyone else who moved here, we fell immediately in love with it. It was cool because Austin really embraced us as a band. Nothing against Alabama, but the demographic there is not conducive to a lot of ethnic genres. It was the perfect city for us to hone our skills. Also it's a music town, so it pushed us to want to be better.
Do you prefer performing at larger shows or more intimate venues?
AJ: There's something about playing in front of 30,000 people, but the closest person is 40 feet away. It's very impersonal, but having thousands of people coming to see you is humbling as a human.
Alex: I think there are benefits to both of them. The more intimate shows are more personal and high energy. It's weird playing in front of thousands of people. There's energy there too, but everyone just kind of turns into one person. The different energy kind of produces a new show sometimes.
Who are some of your favorite bands that you've worked with?
AJ: The more memorable acts that we've played with are the ones that have become our friends, like Matchbox 20 and Three Doors Down. We are all lifelong friends. Now with Facebook and Instagram we can watch everyone grow and keep in touch with them. Before we couldn't really do that.
Alex: We've worked with almost every band in Austin that you possibly can, whether it's producing, done their videos or consulted with them. It's a great network.
What bands are you listening to right now?
AJ: I'm digging on the new Tameca Jones record. On a national level, that Chris Stapleton album is just perfect from beginning to end.
Alex: I'm digging on a band called CAPYAC and it's kind of new disco style stuff. It's a really cool local Austin band.
How does the band choose whether to write songs in Spanish or English?
AJ: English is our first language and it is what we are almost comfortable with. The Spanish language is much more passionate so a love song transfers much more in Spanish.
Alex: We write everything in English first. If it's something that we think will sound cool in Spanish, we'll try that but a lot of times things need to be rewritten.
What is it like working with family members?
Alex: It's great! We're 13 albums in, [we’ve] been doing this for 20 something years. I think working with family has made us work better together, and stronger as well. We all have our own thing but it all coincides together.
What are your favorite things to do in Austin?
AJ: Eat and sleep. The Thai food is great here. I like the little greasy places like Lucy's Fried Chicken. We love that Austin is not all national chains— we like to keep it local.
Alex: Austin is such a great town. We love Mexican food. My wife and I every week are looking for some queso and tacos, it goes great with beers. We are Mexican-American and can't get enough.
What is your experience like with Austin Music Foundation?
Alex: I've been there for five years. I come in and work with artists and sit down with them and go over all their stuff from publication to branding to marketing. It's a free, nonprofit, and it's great because Austin has so much to offer. There are all these great support systems for Austin musicians and AMF speaks more to the music business education. I'm really proud of my work there.
What do you think about Vallejo's style makes the music, in your words, "have balls?"
Alex: We've always been inspired by rock bands like Led Zeppelin. We're old school metal heads. We like Motörhead, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden too. We would look at those guys and say I wanna do that.” We want something that rocks and has the “cojones”, but also has that groove. I think Vallejo has that—. we rock hard, with a groove.
What is your experience like as a producer?
AJ: Producing comes from living vicariously through another band and bringing out the best of their personality in their music. We are very fortunate to be in a city with a great crop of musicians. I want to be the producer that brings out what makes them special. I want them to feel like, after they finish their album, that that's them.
What makes you sit down and want to write a song?
AJ: Songwriting is very therapeutic. Something as simple as cutting open a nice, cold pineapple and that pineapple being so good that you write a song. It just needs to be something that moves you. On the unfortunate side, there's loss, but if you're happy and in love, then you can write about that too. Music is an extension of how you feel. I've written a few songs about my dog and people think it's a love song about a girl.