Latin Style Magazine 1995
By: Walter Martinez
I was listening to your CD Amor Prohibido and besides one or two songs, it doesn't sound too much like Tejano.
"That's true. We have experimented a little. I am sure you can tell there are different combinations of music with Tex-Mex and Tejano music or the roots of it, especially with a couple of songs, 'Norteno' and the Tejano song "Corbarde." I think that has been one of the keys to the success of the band, There is a little bit of a crossover in the music even though it's still Mexicano.
Your musical career is a family affair. Tell is a little bit about it.
"My father is the manager of the group. My brother is the producer; he writes and arranges most of the music. My sister is the drummer and my husband is the guitar player. It is a family group, a nice piece of group, the rest of the guys in the band are also considered family."
How did your sister get into playing the drums
" It's very rare for a girl to play drums."My sister started playing the drums because the band was actually a family hobby, it was my father, my brother, and myself that actually started the band. We had a cousin playing drums for us. When he went back to Washington, my father, naturally, looked at my sister and said, "We are going to do something with this girl, We're going to put her to work," That's how she got into playing the drums."
Are there other family members that don't play in the band?
"No, there's just the three of us: my brother, my sister and myself."
And your father?
"He is no longer in the band now. He got out so he could manage us."
You started singing at a very early age.
"I started singing when I was six and a half and we'd perform for relatives. My father would do this show-off-the-kids type of thing. I was very shy and I hated it. I used to cry and throw my little tantrums. I didn't want to sing in front of anybody because I was too shy."
"My father had this dream of opening up a restaurant. At the time he worked for Dow Chemical and used his savings to open up a restaurant, the "Papagayo" in Lake Jackson, Texas. He made a little stage, put a dance floor in, and we entertained. I guess this is when I broke out of my shyness. We'd stand there and say, 'Thank you' and that was it."
When did you start singing professionally?
"I started singing professionally at the age of nine. We lost our restaurant in 1980-81, when Regan was in office, and oil companies stopped drilling. The economy went down and we couldn't survive because the restaurant was just too big. We lost everything, we lost our house; you name it; we lost it. The only way to put food on the table was to go into the music as a profession. We struggled a lot to get where we are today."
So your band owes its success to a tragedy.
"Exactly. We went through a tragedy as a family for quite a few years. We suffered. A lot of families gave us food and tried to help us out. We lived with relatives. I remember a lot of these things. I think that's why I am so appreciative of everything going on. I am thankful to be here."
I want to speak about this because a lot of our people, needless to say, are struggling...
So, could you go into a little more detail of how it was for you at the time...
"I was really young, but I knew the family was suffering. I knew it was hard times. Like I said, we had families giving us food. We were a middle class family who lost everything and became poor. We were on food stamps. I don't know how many times. It was very bad. We suffered a lot."
Were you ever homeless?
"No. We were very fortunate to have family and friends helping us out. But that was our hard time. That's one reason why I don't like eggs now. We ate so many eggs and potatoes and beans. (Laughter)"
Did this embarrass you, did it hurt, did you have any conflicts about it...
"No. But it saddened me to see my parents cry. My dad was truing to put food on the table for his family and when you're the man and you see your family suffering, you're going to feel down about it. I remember seeing my mom and dad really down and crying. I think that's why we've become really close and become successful together. I think that's what's been beautiful about everything."
Professionally, where did you start singing?
"We played a lot of weddings and anniversary parties. We played at my father's restaurant. We played dinner clubs. We did a lot of talent shows just to win money. We went through a lot. You go through different phases in your musical career, just as in any other job. You grow in stages. This is what we did at the very beginning."
How many years?
"We have been playing fourteen years as a family. We've been seeing success for the past five. This year has been the best."
At what point did you start to reach a bigger audience?
"When we started performing at dance halls. Even then, we struggled because when you're a new group, no one's going go pay money to see you, especially if you're not with a large recording company, if you don't have distribution, or publicity, or any promotion. You're just there. It's very difficult. Another problem was that I was so young and a girl. And, with a lot of promoters and it still exists, although not as much as before there's the issue of machismo. They would tell my father straight to his face, "Not only is she too young, but there's no way she could draw like a male artist." And, with that my father, the more the people shut doors on him, the more determined he becomes to prove them wrong. When you're trying to promote your own self and you don't have a company backing you up of the means are not there, you have to work to pull your weight."
What musical influences did you have?
"A lot. I grew up singing both Spanish and English. I grew up listening to the Eagles A Taste of Honey, Little Anthony and the Imperials a lot of Oldies but Goodies artists. I remember going up listening to songs like "C.C. Ryder," "I'm On the Outside Looking In" and "Hurt So Bad." "But I never thought, honestly, it would get this far. When you're young, you don't think about this seriously. You just want to go outside and play with your friends. I think at the age of fifteen is when I started actually telling myself, "you know what? I could do this for the rest of my life. I like it. I should take it seriously. What could I do better?"
What did you do?
"Every show became more important. I was trying to better myself. I wanted to be satisfied when I walked away from the stage."
Did you ever listen to any traditional Latin tunes?
"Oh yes. My father had albums and I grew up singing songs like El Reloj, a lot of standard songs like Cien Anos, La Bamba. We also did country. I did country for about a year, when I was eight until I was about nine, when we changed over to Tejano music, because we weren't making any money with it"
When did you start to have success with Tejano?
"I would say right off. There was a bigger market at the time. We played weddings and so on. I never thought we would be this successful, not in my wildest dreams did I think Tejano music would grow like it has or be accepted by people everywhere."
Who influenced you as a teenage?
"That's difficult because there were a lot of artists at the time and I can't remember them. However, if you listen to our past albums, particularly Amor Prohibido, there is a pop feel to the songs. You can tell we grew up listening to English and Spanish. The sound isn't so hard-core Tex-Mex or Mexican. As I said before, I think one of the keys to our success is that were different. It doesn't sound traditional.
So basically you were experimenting?
"Yes, I would say that. I have this thing about being like a parrot. I liked to listen to different artists and try to imitate their voices. I used to play around like that, especially when we would do new songs on stage. We used to do a lot of cover tunes in the beginning"
You just sung the hits?
"Right, I'd try to mimic other artists. It was fun. I think I developed my own style doing that, because if you listen to the album, each song we did has a different style. I kind of go into that personality and sing like that particular artist."
Which female singers did you like in both English and Spanish?
"There have been so many. When I was growing up I used to listen to Laura Canales. I liked her music."
Is she a Tejano artist?
"Yes. She is actually one of the first ladies in Tejano music. She was the only one at the time. She won many awards and when I opened for her it was like, 'Oh Wow'.There were artists from Mexico that I really liked, Maria Mendoza, Lola Beltran, Lucha Villa, and I like the Spanish artist, Rocio Durcal who's been around a long time. I really admire her. (Durcal is a Spaniard who sings the ranchera traditional and is very popular in Mexico.)"
Who do you like now?"
A lot of artists who sing in English and Spanish. I still love Rosio Durcal. There's Amanda Miguel, who, even though she's kind of stepped out of the scene for a bit, she still sings. She has more of a high range and I admire her voice for that. I like artists like Mariah Carey, Whitney, Janet, Madonna, of course, Gloria Estefan. I admire, not only females, but also males."
Everybody is saying you are going to be the next Gloria or the next Madonna. How do you feel about those comparisons?
"I find it very flattering. I think when people say that, that means it as success goes. Everybody can identify my music from Madonna's and Gloria's. My music is totally different. Gloria Estefan has her own style. I admire her and respect her highly because she is an Hispanic woman who's opened doors for everybody else that has come along. I think everyone should respect her for that."
When did you get married?
"It's going to be three years this April."So, you were twenty?"Right. Twenty, going on twenty-one."
Did you have boyfriends before that?"
No. My father was very strict, to say the least. But it was nice. We dated for eight months. I had met him before. He was in another band before joining our band. It was more of a friendship. It happened gradually. I like his personality. He was a good listener. A friend brought it to my attention, "hey, you know, I heard you have a crush on him and all. And I said, "What do you mean? I don't have a crush on him." But then I started to see him in a different way. He is kind of cute and he is a good person. He has a good heart."
Do you plan to have a family?
"Hopefully in the future. I love children and I think its something natural for everyone. Whenever you get married, it's like the natural thing to come afterwards. I don't think right now I am ready for it though. I think there's too many things I want to accomplish. I figure that it would be best to wait. That way when I get a lot of these things out of my system, I'll be able to dedicate all my time to my children."
When did you sign with EMI Latin?
"It's been five years now."Is that the only label you've been with?"No. We were with a much smaller label before. It doesn't even compare. When a company that doesn't have distribution or promotion, it's very difficult for a band. But, the day we signed with EMI was when we started seeing success. They had faith in us, 100% faith that we were going to do something. Also, they treated us like family. They're good to us."
So you plan to stay with EMI?"
Of course, we're happy. Very happy."
What about the Latin Market? How do you like playing south of the border?
"It's been great. I think it's been one of the keys to our success here in the States. When we became popular in Mexico it had repercussions here. People have families there and they'd tell them about us. Word of mouth is very powerful. Mexico's been wonderful to us. I'd say it's been the springboard for us into the states. We're doing well in Central America, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Puerto Rico."
One of my surprises was reading about your successful concert in New York City. You have lots of fans there.
"Yes, we preformed at the Jacob Javits Center. It was an amazing show. We had a blast. You know, the one thing that's really hard for me to believe is being famous. I mean like, we went to Burger King here in L.A., and I was sitting in the back of the car and the girls there recognized me. That blows my mind away. For so many years, you hope and wait for something. And when it finally happens, you're like "wow!" I'm just amazed at the power of television."
What are your professional aspirations, as a singer?
"I just want to make sure people notice I am a sincere person. That I love my job. I hope to make a lot of people happy with my music. I hope people understand that when I sing my songs, I am not only singing them because I like to sing them, but I am singing them because I want to touch somebody's heart. In our music, the words have a strong message and somewhere out there somebody's going through the something. And if I can touch somebody in that way, that's the ultimate."
What about you're other business career?
"I hope to see Selena clothing all over Mexico, and here in the States. We hope this year. We're test marketing in less than a week in Monterey, Mexico. We have a perfume coming out, and later there will be other Selena products coming out. I don't want to give it away, but they're coming."
What do you see for yourself as a businesswoman?
"I hope to see success. That's what I'm shooting for. I've learned a lot in the music business. I've been very fortunate to apply that to another business, although clothing and music are completely different. I have learned a lot from my father. How to treat and talk to people, How to be a professional. I'm 23 years old and I'm proud to have come this far."
Aren't you a spokeswoman for other products?
"Yes, Coca Cola and Agree Shampoo. We do TV commercials. Agree is going to be coming out with a photo layouts, advertisements in Cosmo and Vogue. So, that's going to be really neat."
Your band is called Selena y los Dinos. Who or what is los Dinos?
"Dinos is Italian slang for the guys. The name los Dinos comes from my dad's original band. He was one of the singers. After we were born, he started teaching my brother the bass guitar. I got a little jealous because of all the attention my brother was getting. So I picked up a songbook and started pretending to be reading the words and making a melody. My father looked at me and said, 'Come here.' He started teaching me. I was like a parrot, repeated everything and singing what he was singing to me. I guess he saw dollar signs. (Laughs). I don't know."
Are you going to stay in Tejas?
"Yes. I love Texas. I'm a Texas girl. I am Texan. I really like Corpus because it's really laid back. It's like 385,000 in population. Its very small compared to Los Angeles. I like it. Everybody treats me like I'm nobody. It's like Selena's at the mall. She's shopping again. No biggie.' When I go other places, I'm working, and I'm enjoying meeting people, but when I go home, that's my time to be myself, and relax."
That's where you have your boutique?
"I have one there and another in San Antonio and a new business in Monterey, Mexico. They're not big businesses but they're functioning very well."What does Selena want for herself, not as an entertainer, or a businesswoman, but for her own self?"I just want to be happy. I'm not saying that I'm not now. But I would like to visit my relatives. When you're on the road traveling so much, things change a lot. You don't share with your friends or your family as much. You loose a lot of contact. I miss that. We grew up in a very tight-knit family. Not just my father, my brother and sister, but my uncles and my aunts and all that. We were always having barbecues and I miss that."
What do you want to do for your fans?
"I want to give them better music. I also want to give back to the community. We have been doing that. I visit schools with little kids and talk with them. Its good to see a smile on a kids face and know they're fans, getting all excited. It's really neat. There's a lot of good about the business. A lot of good things that come with it."
So to you, fame is not as bad as many famous people make it out to be?
"No. I think a lot of times people seem to dwell on the negative sides of things. I'm not saying this business doesn't have a bad side to it. Every business does. But if you don't love your job, naturally you're going to harp on the negative. But I love my job. I wouldn't change it for the world. I enjoy everything that comes along with it.Some people who have become very famous get aggravated by all the attention they get."I'm a people person. I love to be around people. I'm very curious about a lot of things. I'm constantly asking questions. Well, what about this? What about that? I'm a very inquisitive person.
Do you like tropical music, salsa?
"I love it."
Who do you listen to?"En la salsa?
"Luis Enrique. Of course, Celia Cruz, Gloria Estefan, Willy Chirino. He's got a new album, talking about what's going on in Cuba. There are a lot of artists that I listen to. I love Olga Tonaon, her new stuff, Mujer de Fuego."
What other music do you listen to?
"Now I have started listening to a lot of Mexican groups, rock groups. I am always curious to know what they're doing and why they'd do this. I like flamenco a lot."
You have an English language album coming out. This is an important move in your career, what is it called?
"We don't have the name yet. But we have all the songs. We have produces working on it. Keith Thomas, the producer for Vanessa Williams and Amy Grant. A couple of songs are being worked on by Full Force, they used to produce Lisa Lisa. We have Rhett Lawence and Andy Goldmart. They've all produced for top artists. I feel honored they have taken up the project. I am looking forward to its coming out."
How long has this been in the works?
"Since last year. And it's going to be out, hopefully this summer."
Is this your move, your managers, or your father's?
"Its everybody's move. We've been waiting for this a long time. This has been one of the goals.
Tell us why.
"I think a lot of Mexican artists want to record an English album. They want to conquer the English market or vice versa. There are American artists who want to do a Spanish album. You get to a point where you want to try something new. You want to achieve a goal. And when you achieve one goal, you want to tackle the next project. This has been one of our projects we've wanted to accomplish for a long time. Because, needless to say, although my parents always used to speak Spanish to me, my first language was English."
That's a surprising thing about young musicians in Texas who are brought up with English like most of the us here in L.A. or in New York. They all start out their musical careers in Spanish with traditional music.
"Exactly, because it comes from the parents. That's one thing parents should continue to push, our culture. That's very important. I can honestly say, that the older I've gotten, the more appreciative and proud I've become of my roots. It's very sad to see a lot of people out there saying, •Oh, I don't speak Spanish. Oh, I'm not Mexican.' They deny the fact of what they are and where they come from. And that, I think is very sad. If you lie to others you're lying to yourself, you are, people are going to notice and they're going to respect you."
What advice can you give Latins about our culture?
"Our culture is very beautiful. It's very romantic. Spanish is a very romantic language. (She smiles and laughs softly) it's the language of love. I think it's very sad if we forget where we come from. Because we are who we are. I think the color or our skin is beautiful. I think people should be proud of that."
You are also working in the movies and TV.
"First of all. I don't consider myself an actress. I did Dos Mujeres, un camino (a Spanish-language soap opera starring Eric Estrada)."
How'd you get that gig?
"Originally, I was supposed to come out with the band singing. But it didn't turn out that way. When we got there, they said, we'll come for you all later." So I went with them. It struck me kind of odd. I mean, why did they leave the band there. They didn't tell me I was actually going to be saying any lines. And they said, well, you're going to put this on." So I said, "what am I going to do?" and they said, "your going to be doing a little acting. You're going to say a couple of lines." I was like, "Wait a minute. Nobody ever sent the script to memorize anything." I was having a major cow, because I was there by myself. My father wasn't there. Nobody was there. And I said to them, "I don't think this is wise. I don't know what I am doing. I've never acted before in my life." And they said, "you'll do fine. Just put the ear monitor on and repeat what the guy says." And I was like, "Oh my God! I can't believe this." I was nervous. One because, I am around people who have been doing this for years and are experienced. And here I was, a nobody, coming in and actually trying to act."
Selena, you are not a nobody.
"You know what I mean (laughs). I have no experience in acting. The guy started talking to my ear, telling me my lines. And I was huh? I was so nervous. And then, I find out that they want me to play Ramiro's girlfriend, then they wanted me to kiss him. Oh my God, I was having a major, major cow. I was so nervous. It came out OK. I think I could have done better. Anyway, maybe that little bit of experience helped. Because people from this movie, Don Juan De Marco, starting Marlon Brando, Faye Dunaway, and Johnny Depp, called and said, "we're looking for a mariachi singer in your company, do you have one?" and they said, "no but we have a singer who's done a little acting and won a Grammy, blah, blah, we'll send you a bio." And boom. They called and said, "She's got the part." It's not a very big part. I come out singing in a restaurant which is Don Juan's hangout and in one of the scenes I serenade Marlon Brando and Faye Dunaway. You see me in the background, and then there's a close up of me singing."
What songs did you sing?
"I sing Siempre he sufrido*, Tu solo Tu .I come out as a traditional mariachi singer with full dress, my hair slicked back. That was fun. I really enjoyed. I was in awe watching Marlon Brando, Johnny Depp and Faye Dunaway. It's really neat."
(*i think when they put siempre he sufrido its supposed to be siempre hace frio and the magazine miss quoted her or the name was changed later)
Do you want to pursue a film or acting career?
"I would love to. You know, when something is new, you get nervous. But when you get a little taste of it.I would love to do a film. (She laughs whole heartedly and is unable to finish her sentence.)"
What kind of roles would interest you?
"I really would not like to portray a bad person. I know I could do it. But I'm not really on the cussing thing and all. I don't really cuss in my personal life. So I couldn't see myself on the screen letting millions of people look at me cuss. (She laughs) I have a lot of fans who are kids and I wouldn't want to disillusion them, especially their parents."
So you want to make family movies?
"(She breaks out laughing) Disney movies. (She continues laughing unabashedly) No. I don't know. Romantic movies, a drama. I would love to do a drama."
So that's the extent of your acting career?
(With a healthy laugh) That's as far as it goes. But, I'd love to get into it some more."
Anything you want to tell people?
"I got five dogs and a python. (Again Selena laughs wholeheartedly) That's everything. I love animals."
What kind of dogs?"
(She laughs more) Your really want to know? I have two mastiffs, very big dogs, a husky, and two inside dogs, a Pomeranian and a miniature pincher and the python."
You live on a farm or something?
"No. (She laughs) I have three outside dogs, and then the two small ones."
You must have a very big house.
"No it's very small, actually. It's a regular neighborhood. I still live in the same barrio I have been living in."
You live at home?
"No. When I was nine we and the band was going, we moved to Corpus. The house that we first got money to move into is the house that I live next to. My parents bought the house next door."
So you live next door to your parents?
Well, you almost live at home."Yeah, and my brother lives on the other side."
So it's the Quintanilla family block?
"We live in a normal neighborhood. I live in a three bedroom house. They're small bedrooms. It's not a big house."
Sounds like you're pretty content.
"Oh, yeah. I'm content with it. No need to move."
What do you want to say to your fans?"
I just want to say thank you. Because I know that without the fans and the public we wouldn't be where we are today. I am really conscious of that fact that they made us what we are."