No one taught me to play. I just started when I was a kid. I’ve learned much from many. From local Houston blues man Tony Vega who invited me onstage as an aspiring 18 yr old guitarist to weekly work and European touring as a 22 yr old musician with New Orleans Bourbon Street sax man Gary Brown.
Steady hanging from ‘06-‘11 with some serious New York players taught me more (Al Street, Adam Scone, Ian Hendrickson Smith, High & Mighty Brass Band, Smoota, Adam Falcon) while playing lead guitar and national touring for the moment in time MTV pop punk band Just Kait took my musical educations even further.
Connecting with Bay Area Lugnut Brand Records family in 2011 introduced more beautiful music endeavors. And since 2012, Austin, Tx the Wormhole Records family in Houston and working alongside Alejandro Escovedo has brought it together even more for Buenos Diaz.
Lisa: Hi Nick! You are a self-thought musician. How did it all start for you? What are some musicians that inspired you to start playing? Tell me more about your beginnings.
Nick Diaz: Hi. As children, my sister took 7 years of private classical piano lessons with this Julliard trained pianist Miss Veillone. I remember sitting next to her listening, watching, attending her recitals, soaking in what I was hearing. From there I’d try to remember and mimic some what she’d done, try to figure them out on my own, and eventually end up with a “version” of the original piece. This was a tight time for the family so there wasn’t a whole lot of extra money lying around for things like lessons. Figuring it out on my own was as close as I could get to some kind of instruction, and I guess you could say that’s where it started for me. Later on I tried the free piano lessons they were offering at my elementary school for families who couldn’t afford private instruction. I did them for a year, but that was short lived cause I lost interest as they proved a little too simple even for my untrained ear. Mom has also told me this story where around the age of 5, I was playing a toy piano in some store at the mall, and this stranger walks up and says, “ma’m he sure can carry a tune!”
Lisa: You were touring Europe at 22 yrs. of age. What was that experience like for you?
Nick Diaz: So many things. I had just starting working steady for the Bourbon Street saxophonist Gary Brown in his band Feelings. Little did I know he had this deep resume and had played with Otis Redding, Bee Gees, attended a music conservatory and had even worked on the film score for “Grease”! Anyways, it was my first real gig having to read (which I didn’t at the time), travel internationally, learn a whole repertoire of songs, and perform five nights a week. It was a crazy learning experience, learning how to put it all together. We were in Austria for about week one and played to a couple thousand people along with a few small club shows. They even put our photograph on the front page of the national newspaper. On our last night before heading home this local family even had me over for dinner. Rad stuff. It was also the first time I tried absinthe, not much happened… just saw some squiggly lines around lights and such.
Lisa: How would you describe the music that you typically create?
Nick Diaz: It’s pretty cross genre, but I grew up sneaking into blues clubs and listening to a lot of the old greats, Albert King, Buddy Guy, Freddie King, so I definitely feel there’s a “blues” undertone to what I do, or maybe more so a soul undertone cause it’s not just strictly blues. I mix that up with a whole lot of other stuff like indie rock, pop, jazz, new wave, small bits of hip hop. I’m constantly trying to blend styles in a cohesive way that takes the listener to an interesting place but throws a nod towards my influences while hopefully sounding fresh and inventive. I think being self taught contributes a lot to me pursuing a melody and harmony that doesn’t necessarily fit into any one box.
Lisa: Describe the musical frameworks your EP “Remember” explores. And is there a theme that connects the songs, or is it something else?
Nick Diaz: In January of 2017 I had a unique experience traveling throughout India for a couple of weeks. It was an extremely special trip and opened my eyes to so much including meeting new people, eating new foods, seeing bits of history that are centuries old and witnessing a level of poverty that doesn’t exist in the US. I started writing “Remember” as soon as I got back home and knew that my trip would influence the batch of songs that were coming out of me. My sense of empathy began to deepen after seeing this different part of the world. It was also around this time that I met the Grammy winning musician Beto Martinez who helped record “Remember” at his studio Lechehouse, in Buda, Tx. While in India, I remember having this incredible feeling like I was floating or something, once we were in the studio I asked the band to have a delicate approach in playing the songs, to be really chill, trying to mimic that feeling. I also suggested we use all house instruments including guitars, amps, keyboards, and drums versus our own equipment doing our best to utilize the studio itself as an instrument. I think those elements played a big part in cohesively connecting the songs.
Lisa: Your song “Beautiful” from the Remember EP is awesome. What inspired you to write it?
Nick Diaz: Thanks, it’s definitely one of my faves. When I first moved to Austin back in 2012, before diving in full time to being a musician, I was working on and off as a server at this mom and pop cafe called Snackbar. It was a great local joint with an eclectic staff, some celebrity sightings (Robert Plant, Jack White, St Vincent, John Cusack, etc) and local music three nights a week, I held down Monday nights there myself solo for three years. A couple years in, my friend Joe began working there who unfortunately had been fighting an opiate addiction most his life. He had sustained a few football injuries as a kid where the doctors had prescribed him morphine surrounding his surgeries, sadly one thing led to the next. There were ups and downs to his addiction and sobriety, when he was sober he was one of the funnest brightest humans I’d ever met, and then quite the opposite when he was high. Sadly, we lost Joe to addiction after a relapse last year during the pandemic. I wish he could’ve seen the song released and published in the world, I know he would’ve loved it. I sent him a version of the mix at some point, and he saw me play it solo a couple of times, he was always a fan of Buenos Diaz.
Lisa: What types of change do you feel your music can initiate?
Nick Diaz: I’ve never really thought about my music initiating change. I’ve been told there’s an underlying positivity to some of the songs I release. I hope that inspires people to be light, happy, to enjoy themselves, especially when we play live, it’s a fun band. As I get a little older though, I’m definitely focused on writing more songs that have an actual message about social issues, politics, racism and such. I currently have an unreleased song that discusses how NAFTA factory workers, specifically Mexican women in Mexico, are overworked, underpaid, and then often kidnapped and left for dead in the desert, maybe never to be found. It’s a topic that kind of hit home, and that is rarely publicized or discussed because it’s so traumatic. It makes me stop and think how easily that could be my mother or sister, and how incredibly difficult an experience that must be for those families. I hope songs like that will inspire people to at least talk more about things like that.
Lisa: Do you tend to follow any pre-defined patterns when composing a song?
Nick Diaz: Not really, any one thing can be the catalyst, a phrase of words, a chord progression, a guitar riff, a bass line, a drum machine groove… a live drum performance we might’ve recorded. There really are no rules or method, it’s a pretty free flowing process working and reworking, writing and rewriting until it just feels right and the idea clearly works in song. I’m always making notes in my phone, and I often revisit them exploring if they can become songs.
Lisa: What advice or philosophy might you impart to other musicians, be it in forms of creativity, technical stuff, the business side of it, or anything else?
Nick Diaz: This is going to be a long winded, ha! Be self contained as much as you can, own what you do. In the past everything in the music biz was so sub divided from labels, managers, agents, and publishers to studios, rental companies, etc. The higher ups made it almost impossible for artists to own anything. But the price tag has come down these days allowing us to own more of what we do. Learn about your craft, know a little bit, if not a lot about everything. If you want to be a recording engineer/mixer teach yourself. Get around people that do it and talk about it. Watch YouTube vids, there are tutorials for almost every element of recording. Research about microphones, amps, instruments, recording software, or research the people who you want to work on your music. Dig up articles and books about songwriting, surf the net for inspiration on content. If you’re looking to be a side person, play with everyone you can and get comfortable hopping on stage with complete strangers. Get yelled at for doing something wrong, take it to head, not heart, learn, and then pick yourself back up and get back on stage. Learn from folks older than you, listen to what they say, they’ve been there before you. Listen to all kinds of music so you’re well versed in a variety of styles, so when someone throw’s something at you you’re prepared. Be fearless, but complimentary to whoever you’re supporting and know that you’re part of the show but not THE show. Listen to the song and respect it. Have great equipment and spend the money, and if you don’t have the money yet, find something comparable until you get the loot to get the good stuff. It takes time to get good gigs and good gear, and yes, some of us get there faster than others, but it’s rare that someone shows up with all the gear, knows all the songs and has all the great gigs. We all move and shake at our own pace, and what might seem like a great gig in the moment may turn into just a stepping stone down the road. Don’t be jealous of your fellow musicians in town because they land a hot gig, support them, go watch them and learn how they got there. The less ego we have as artists the more we open ourselves up to creating positive work and an environment where people are excited to enter as fellow musicians and spectators. Value yourself, take the $50 gigs in the beginning, but then raise your bar as you spend time in the field getting better at what you do. There’s so much, and I don’t I know all the things, there are so many little nuances, nooks, crannies and hidden road bumps that no one tells you about when you’re diving into the world of music. And lastly, be cool.
Lisa: What does your curiosity look like? How do you explore things?
Nick Diaz: Fearless, wacky, and wicked. Interested in the new, the different. I’ve spent the majority of my life hanging around and seeking out cultural districts and things alternative to the mainstream. Places that weren’t always the safest to be around, but that drew me in because they guaranteed a motley cast of characters that viewed and approached life through a different alternative lens. There are so many ways to live life and for whatever reason the more non traditional approach has always been my path and I think it’s allowed me to explore the depths of human emotion, misery, love, desire and adventure, always trying to figure out the true essence of why and how music resonates with people and moves them. My curiosity after all has taken me to parts of the world and allowed me to do things I would’ve never imagined. From traveling to Doha, Qatar to scoring a movie, to playing lead guitar alongside Alejandro Escovedo, to camping alone in the Utah desert or living in New York, to touring Oktoberfests with a Polka Band. You could say it’s a mixture of seeking solitude to digest and process all the things I see in wacky parts of the world to being right in the middle of it all. I basically look for things that you won’t find in every day 9 to 5 life.
Lisa: If you could change anything about the industry, what would it be?
Nick Diaz: I don’t know.. that’s a really hard one. The biz is so splintered and all over the place, and I’ve carved out my own path on my own terms it’s hard to say what I would change.
Lisa: What are you currently working on, and what’s next for you?
Nick Diaz: There’s a mastered blues record in the bag that’s being actively “shopped” for release, to have a stronger team behind getting it in front of more ears. I have to say it’s the first genre specific record I’ve ever made and I’m proud of it. I worked on it for over 3 years, and the performances are fire. I’ve also got a synth/pop/rock record I’ve been working on for a couple of years that I’m excited about. It’s being mixed by Dan Workman out of Houston,TX who’s a mixing genius. It’ll soon see the light of day. The current live line up is also working on a new set of recordings, heavy on upright bass featuring Dana Marie, Sammy P on Rhodes piano, Greg Clifford on drums, guitars, synths, drum machines by yours truly and some pretty hip layered vocals that will include a variety of singers. I’m also working on a movie score with my buddy Mike Saint Clair for this small DIY film out of LA. So kind of a lot! From there, I’m excited to just hit the stage and road once again after the long Covid break and just keep writing more songs.
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