The secret of a band staying together and evolving while others come and go isn’t rocket science, says Mikael Ramirez of the Austin-based quartet, Son de Rey. The key is to adjust to changes that are inevitable in the music business and to welcome the creativity of members.
Son de Rey was founded in 2003 by David Moreno, a songwriter, arranger and keyboardist. This reporter first heard them at a performance on 6th Street several years ago, noting the strong horn section and great vocals. Very impressive work. But what followed, the departure of some band members in 2010, caused Moreno to put the group on pause. Instead of throwing in the towel, Moreno didn’t stop what he’d started and re-created the group, recruiting lead vocalist Luis Mikael Ramirez via an online ad on Craigslist.
Ramirez, a University of Texas at Austin and University of Texas–Pan Am alum, was job searching, though not sure of what career-path he wanted to take with his degree. “One thing I always wanted to do was sing,” he said via a phone interview, taking advice from a friend who encouraged placing the ad. Although a job offer for a cruise line attendant failed to materialize after a couple of months, the former member of the Longhorn Singers remained in Austin and locked in to the opportunity to do what he aspired to do – sing.
Another change from the prior iteration of Son de Rey was the addition of a female member, vocalist Deborah Moreno. Rounding out the band is drummer and percussionist, Marc Ruiz. Their love for Latin music and similar upbringings in Mexican American households has unified the group, leading them to achieve some goals while strive to reach others. “Our process has been ‘easy does it’ – take it step by step,” said Ramirez.
The band’s EP, “Ojos Azules,” released in August, 2012, was produced by Grammy winner Fabian Hernandez (known for his Chente Barrera and Ruben Ramos recordings, as a former member of the Little Joe y La Familia band and tours with the Hamilton Loomis Band). The five-track EP was a success, reaching the top 100 list of downloads on iTunes in the Pop Latino category and remaining in the Top 10 in ReverbNation’s Austin Latin Charts. That led to Son de Rey’s first full-length project. “Ojos Azules,” a production featuring 10 tracks including re-mastered songs from the EP. The work was released this past May after a successful marketing campaign through Indiegogo.
The compositions on “Ojos Azules” reflect interpersonal hardships and emotions, blending sounds that echo from their common heritage with contemporary, mainstream American music. Ramirez created the original music and lyrics for the title track, “Ojos Azules,” as well as “Ese Agosto” (Dimelo), “Quieren Ser, Juego de Amantes” (Pray for a Lover) and “Dime,” in addition to co-created “Oye Mi Amor” with David Moreno. “Ojos Azules” includes remakes of Los Angeles’ Azules’ “El Listón de Tu Pelo,” Phases’ “Yo La Veo,” and a cumbia-Spanglish version of Wham’s, “Careless Whisper.” “Ojos Azules” is available on multiple online music stores now and at live appearances.
The band has performed at several music festivals, include at Pachanga Latino Music Festival in 2011 and 2015. “One big difference about our performance in the two festivals is that we did not have a single recording available (in 2011),” stated Ramirez, who notes that at this year’s festival, they were given an opportunity to showcase the songs from the CD, which was officially release around the same time in May.
Son de Rey have also performed at Easter Seals’ Dia De Los Muertos Festival, Pecan Street Festival, Tejano Music Awards Fan Fair (San Antonio), Poteet Strawberry Festival and El Camino Real Music Festival (Bastrop). They’ve also shared the stage with A. B. Quintanilla and Los Kumbia All-Stars, Del Castillo, Ruben Ramos & the Mexican Revolution, Michael Salgado, and Dennis Quaid. “We hope to perform with Ozomatli, as we have modeled ourselves after that band,” added Ramirez.
In 2014, Son de Rey were nominated in three categories of the Austin Music Awards, including Best Latin Rock Band, Best Latin Traditional Band and Best New Act in Austin. This year, they were nominated for Best Latin Bandand the Best World Music Band. Despite the nominations, the band has never held an offer to perform at SXSW’s music fest. “Our goal this year is to hit bigger venues and go to SXSW as an official artist,” stated Ramirez. “We have played during the festival (week), but not at SXSW’s invitation.”
The band’s most recent music video, for “Juego de Amantes” (Pray for a Lover) debuted in July, 2014, with a screening in the E. 6th entertainment district. They were also invited by a Spanish language television program to participate in a music video, Somos Hermanos, along with top Mexican Regional and Tejano artists, as part of an effort to fight children’s hunger.
“It is huge for (us as) musicians to be embraced by our own culture” said Ramirez. “It can be a hard thing.” He believes that in some cultures, people may have difficulties expressing themselves physically, even through dance. As an example, Ramirez shared an observation he finds puzzling, that of an audience who stares during a live performance with minimal interaction. Yet there are shows where patrons stand at arm’s length but approach the group afterwards to inquire about the group. Ramirez opined that “el machismo” could be a factor at some venues or festivals.
Plans are in the works for a music video for “El Listón de Tu Pelo.” “That song resonates with us and we hope to launch it in September or October,” said Ramirez. In September, they’ll also be featured on stage at the Pecan Street Festival and again in October at Easter Seals’ Dia De Los Muertos Festival. A standing gig at the El Rincon Restaurant in Pflugerville is scheduled the first Friday of the month. For show updates and to learn more about “Ojos Azules,” visit www.sonderey.com.