In Part I of the interview, Mark Owen sits down with the band We The Lion to talk about an unexpected source of inspiration, some of the essential qualities that have led to their success, and what they perceive to be the biggest misconceptions about the band.
The following interview was conducted in English by a former news editor and current contributor to Traveling & Living in Peru, Mark Owen and the band We The Lion.
Mark: Hey guys. Thanks for sitting down with me today. I’m sure you give a lot of interviews, but for our readers who maybe don’t know you, could you each give me a quick elevator introduction?
Luis Buckley: I’m Luis. I used to be the bass player, but now I play the ukulele. It was easier to find a bass player than a ukulele player.
Alonso Briceño: My name is Alonso. I’m the singer of the band and I love music. This is kind of my dream. I was also an architect.
Paul Schabauer: I’m Paul and I’m the first guitar player. And is this your first interview in English?
Alonso: This is our first official English Interview.
The Name “We The Lion”
Mark: Oh wow, a little bit of pressure. We’ll try to make this a good one. So what is ‘We The Lion’ and how did the name come about?
Alonso: We’ve had a lot of bands together in our lives. We’ve always played music together and we thought we had to find a name. We had a couple ideas going on…
Paul: Bad ideas
Alonso: [laughs]Yes, bad ideas. We were first named Doris after my piano, which we named after my grandmother…
Paul: Then we took a five-year gap from that last band.
Alonso: Yes, and it was good that we had a bad name because we could then use a good one when we found it. I was driving home from the beach one day with my wife. I told her that I didn’t like the name Doris and wanted a new one. She asked me, “well, what connects your band? How did you meet?” and I replied that we all met at school. I met Luis on the first day of school, actually, and then Paul when I was 9. So anyway, our school has a lion on the shield…
Luis: And we wanted something bigger than ourselves. So ‘We The Lion’ is a play on words. We didn’t call ourselves ‘We ARE the Lion’ because we are not Lions. It’s too literal. We The Lion is more symbolic of the entity that is each of us combined. This idea extends to the crew and staff. Everyone makes the lion. When we make decisions, we think, “What’s best for the lion? Let’s think of the lion.”
Alonso: It shrinks our egos and the lion becomes the only thing that matters.
Mark: That’s really cool – that you choose to put the relationships of everyone in the project first. Since you’ve known each other for so long, who were your influences?
Luis: It has changed a lot over the years. [Points to Alonso] His father really influenced us.
Alonso: My father really loved the Beatles and he was, at least for us, emotive and excited about music. He only showed the positive side of music. He never listened to sad, depressing songs. It was [sings energetically]“I want to break free!”
Paul: And also my father taught me to play guitar, so everything I learned to play was then taught to them (other band members). The first song we learned was “Get Back” by the Beatles.
Luis: Yeah so Paul started teaching us everything…
Alonso: and we are really competitive, so everything someone else learned we would immediately be like, “teach us! teach us!!”
Luis: And then Paul’s brother was really into Metallica at that time. He bought the guitar
books and we learned it all. We were 12 at the time. We always loved music so we got into new things. We got very addicted to Dream Theater, which was the inspiration for our album, “Violet” because they do concept albums.
Alonso: And that’s probably the time when I started singing. I started out as the drummer… Luis was the singer and I was the drummer and then after a couple songs…
Luis: We realized I shouldn’t be the singer. [Everyone laughs]
“As your first filter, whatever you do, make sure you’re happy and honest with yourself, because if you start doing things based on what other people want, well, people want different things and then you get lost.”
Mark: What qualities do you think have been most helpful for you guys along the way to get to where you are today?
Luis: I’d say above all our friendship. You know the fact that we’ve been friends since we were really young kept us together and I think it’s going to keep us together. We’ve shared a lot of experiences together through the years and music has been there with us. I think it’ll keep us together.
Alonso: I always repeat to myself that no one else cares. In the end, probably some care, but first you have to care. As your first filter, whatever you do, make sure you’re happy and honest with yourself, because if you start doing things based on what other people want, well, people want different things and then you get lost.
What Makes Them Different
Paul: We are very ambitious and try to do things no one else is doing. We are also very organized.
Luis: One thing that we might do differently from other bands is that we get together like once a week and we say, “What’s the best thing we can do in the next six months?” Okay, let’s go play outside Peru, and then we think about how we can do it. Like last March we went to Texas.
Alonso: We try to pursue our goals.
Luis: And think outside the box. For example, we want to go play in Spain. We make a plan to go to Spain.
Alonso: And making videos, which is a great thing. We meet a director and he usually asks us, “what’s your budget?” And I’m always telling them to forget about the budget. What’s the best idea you want or thinking and then we figure out how to do it.
Luis: Yeah, it’s always like, we have 10% of that.
Alonso: It’s usually best when you’re thinking about ideals because then we can create a process to get as close as we can to those ideals.
Mark: from what I understand, you were an architect. I’ve heard architecture called “frozen music”. I don’t know if that would resonate with you at all, but what influence has being an architect had on your music?
Alonso: Yes, it’s had a great influence. What I’ve done in this band is conceptualize things. I want a starry night…or a party night!? Okay, that was a terrible idea, but you need to bring meaning to what you do. When you have meaning behind the things you do then they are much more powerful.
Designing the Show
Mark: Do you think at some point you’ll end up designing the show? Maybe something like the light show?
Alonso: Yes, I actually sort of do that. We have a screen behind us and some lights and everyone on the team likes me, but the one that doesn’t like me, but loves me, is the light technician, because I tell him, “When we go BOOM! You go BAA!!” and if he misses something then everyone goes and looks at him. He’s a really good guy.
Luis: It’s funny because, at the end of the show, he says, “Hey Alonso, did you see that?! I did my best.” And we are always like, “no”, because we can’t see anything from the stage.
Alonso: In the second album we are trying to make it more complete, more of a show, so the album music and the live show are more connected.
The Biggest Misconception About Them
“We are Peruvian and love Peru, but we don’t feel we need to limit ourselves to one thing in our expression.”
Mark: What are some of the biggest misconceptions people have about We The Lion? Is there anything?
Alonso: I think it comes from singing in English. People treat our choice to sing in English as if it is a marketing tactic when in reality it just came naturally. The bands we loved and covered as children sang in English and we just want to enjoy our music. But some people think we should play with Peruvian instruments and sing in Quechua.
Luis: Or own llamas.
Alonso: Yes, or own a llama. We are Peruvian and love Peru, but we don’t feel we need to limit ourselves to one thing in our expression.
Things you cannot live without?
Mark: You are busy guys, constantly traveling all over Peru, what is the one thing that you cannot live without?
Alonso: I need my headphones. I’m usually submerged in my music. Everyone is talking, but I’m in my headphones. And usually we share hotel rooms and some people snore, so it’s important to have noise canceling headphones.
Luis: I would say my cell phone. I love to be informed so sometimes I need to do something or make payments, and I’ll be in Arequipa, so I have to have my cell phone.
Paul: Hmm this is a tough one. I would say my guitar, of course, on tour. But in life, I always have my guitar with me.
The End of Part One
Mark: Alright, guys. If I were to extract the essential ingredients of ‘We The Lion’, I would say, community, friendship, imaginative ambition, and a clear action plan to achieve those goals.
Paul: Yeah that’s pretty good.
Alonso: It’s especially true. We wouldn’t be where we are today without everyone who’s helped us along the way.
Luis: Yeah, definitely.
Mark: Thanks for having me today. It was a really good time and I look forward to seeing what you do next.