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Sergio Curbelo Ed Paniagua

........Sergio Curbelo & Ed Paniagua of "PUYA"

Combining heavy riffs with sultry Latin beats, Puya, with the release of their latest album Fundamental, have created a new mass appealing sound. Signed to MCA's main label instead of it's Latin label, this band from the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico are set for crossover success. Sepultura immediately come to mind as predecessors for the combination of Metal and Latino music. However Puya play their own brand of music, whereas Sepultura welds the styles, Puya combine the styles, creating wild juxtapositions of beats and riffs sure to catch any music fans interest because of it's uniqueness. Featuring Eduardo Paniagua (drums), Ramon Ortiz Pico (guitar), Harold Hopkins (bass), and Sergio Curbelo (vocals), the band has just begun a tour of the states.

Q: I've been listening to your new CD "Fundamental" for a few days now and your guys really sound terrific. Has your music changed since the beginnig ?

A: When we started the band ? No, not quite. We've been playing for almost ten years now and we started in Puerto Rico, and I think the music has evolved a lot, but still from the beginning it has influences from the traditional music, along with rock, because we listened to both when we were growing up. But it definitely evolved and finally after we moved out of Puerto Rico for the first time back in '92-'93, we were living in South Florida for like 4 years and it was like all def metal hard core. But that rubbed onto us a little bit and the music got heavier and it got very Latin. Back then, we had more English songs then we do now, but that doesn't mean that we aren't going to do it again.

Q: This seems to be a banner year for Spanish music ?

A: Yes, it has been a great year. We had an opportunity to go to South America for the first time this year - a couple of times actually. We went on a tour with the Red Hot Chili Peppers all through South America and then we went back to Mexico, but just played two shows in Guadalajara and Mexico City. So, the following is starting to grow in South America as well. A record just came out recently down there. In the States, in three days, it is going to be a year old.

Q: You have a lot of energy in your band. Is that always the momentum in your music.

A: It's mainly about the energy. That's what we like to project on a live show. For us, we still haven't really captured that on our record, like to our fullest. Even when we did our record back in '95, "In Delaya" (??), the quality as the sound wasn't as good as this one, but you can still feel the rawness in the music - the energy was there.

Q: Are you going to do a live album?

A: Maybe. That's been in conversation.

Q: What Latino bands influenced you musically, and also, what metal bands?

A: Latino bands - well there is bands that I like a lot from Uruguay called "Poyote Hasacino". They are not very famous, but I think they are more known in South America, but they haven't crossed over too well yet. Like Mala Tov Blue Herea from Mexico, Santana. I also like traditional Salsa. I also like older stuff like Hector Lavoe. I also like classic rock like Jimi Hendrix and Santana. On the heavy side - everything from Temple of the Dog, Pantara etc.

Q: I read somewhere that when you lived in Puerto Rico, you were limited to certain music?

A: That's not quite right. When they wrote the bio of the band, like the guy who came up with that, that was his way to explain to somebody that doesn't know anything about us or Puerto Rico, how the style of music came about, but its more like a fable. There is actually many stations in Puerto Rico and many influences from all over the world because we get music from South America, Central America, as well as the United States. Everything is like a funnel. Everything goes through it. The music that has the most exposure down there as far radio and media, it's like Latin music, like salsa, maybe some reggae, some underground rap. But for heavy music like this, there is not much heavy output, but we we're trying to change that.

Q: Do you go to Puerto Rico sometimes?

A: Yeah, we go there every year. We just did a show a month ago. It was really good. We are a hundred miles from Argentina which is also a great band, a heavy metal band, and also Resorta from Mexico from Guadalajara.

Q: It sounds like your music is beyond heavy metal. Are you in another classification by yourself now?

A: I don't know. We don't really think about that. We write what satisfies us and we let other people hear it and get into it in their own way. Writers always want to put a label on music. It's heavy, it's hard core, but it's Latino as well. It has a lot of influence from Latin music. I don't know what you want to call it. The first thing that people do when they hear you is try to compare you with someone, what does he sound like.

Q: You have a sound of your own, but people have a tendency to compare new bands to somebody else, like System of Down (??) Korn, sometimes they have to do that to understand you music.

A: Yeah, it takes awhile like that. When its something really fresh like that, like the process of education, it always takes a little while.

Q: How is the acceptance is America?

A: It's been really good so far. We have incredible opportunities to play some big crowds, like the OZ Fest and concerts like that and the acceptance has been great. It's a little different the vibes of the crowd when you play to a loving crowd. It also varies and depends on the city you are playing. Some cities have more loving.

Q: You use Spanish and English in your lyrics, is there any kind of system to that?

A: No, not really. The main lyric writers are Harold and Ramon, our guitar player and usually it just happens in a natural way. The way that works better and flows better in the song. We don't decide it's going to be in English or Spanish, they start writing. Sometimes it starts in English and it could have some verses in Spanish - just how it flows better. No rules to that. Some songs are fully Spanish. It varies. We have a song we wrote recently. Its going to come out on the animated movie Heavy Metal 2 . You know it's the squeul to Heavy Metal. It's coming out in February with a bunch of new bands and I think System of Down is in it,I don't know who else. We have a track in it and its all fully in Spanish.

Q: Movie tracks are the latest for bands. Have you experienced this?

A: I don't necessarily for that type of thing, we did it gladly because it's a cool thing to be in, like it's a classic movie. We generally don't do anything just for the show.

Q: So there's no hard rock scene in Puerto Rico?

A: There's an audience for it and bands go down there and do concerts. There is a big audience. People buy the records. Those bands have a lot of records down there, but there just not exposure as far as radio or anything. Its different. It's like underground. There's a lot of kids that like it.

Q: How does it feel that MCA records signed you.?

A: We feel really lucky to be able to just do this and bring our music to these crowds. I am glad that a label like MCA took that risk. They have Spanish bands along with other bands. I respect them for that.

Q: Are you on another label also?

A: No, a long time ago, we did an independent CD. It didn't really get any distribution. It was a new label. We were like their first band. It was just starting. At least the word got around enough to where we got to music people and everything that followed. The producer on this record, Gustavo Santoalalla (fabled producer/auteur responsible for Cafe Tacuba and Molotov's crossover success) in Miami, he has his own label.

Q: When you are recording a live album, do you get much direction from the producer?

A: No - well we always tell him our ideas with the songs already. We play in pre-production and decide what goes and what doesn't go. The producer puts his input in it and his suggestions. Ultimately, we are the ones doing it and we have the last word. But yeah, we always have open ears for suggestions and we try them and if they work, they work. We're not like - oh, we're not going to do that. If we don't like them, then we'll say we don't like them. But it seems to work. We share the same vision and we don't want to change the band. We want a good environment to work.

Q: Are you able to try new songs on the road?

A: Yeah - definitely. Actually, we are playing one tonight that is not new, but it's never been recorded and we've been playing it the last few shows. It's called "Insecto", it's like really heavy and fast. It seems to pump up the crowd every time, so we have been doing it and maybe considering recording it in the future, but there is a lot of new material coming up and we have plenty of songs. It's like when we play them live, it's a test. Depending on people react, we might or might not record it.

Q: The reason I ask that, is that a lot of bands don't get time to practice on the road, but it's a good idea to try them out.

A: That's what did with a heavy metal song. We wrote it while we were on the road. It was Harold's idea and he wrote it and we tried it on some of the shows while we were on the road and it was really cool.

Q: Puya means black coffee. Does it mean anything else?

A: It doesn't really mean black coffee, but in Puerto Rico it's a slang word to describe coffee which is straight up - no sugar; but Puya basically is anything that has a point. Like anything sharp, anything that stings. Puya is the actual edge. It varies. Like this instrument called a "guido", I don't know if you have ever seen it, your scratch it with what looks like a comb, a Latin instrument, that's called a Puya also. It's easy to remember and short and powerful and that's why we like it.

Q: Is this your third album ?

A: No, on a major label, it's our first. Before this, we had the Indie label CD, and before that we had a cassette we did, but it wasn't any label. It was just us doing a demo with a friend of ours in Florida. He had some recording gear at home and we did it in his house. It had six songs. If you can get your hands on that, you're the master. I don't even know how to get that.

Q: Was that transferred to a CD, or was it just cassette?

A: No it was never put on CD. It was a 6 song cassette and does not exist anymore.

Q: Are any of those songs you use now?

A: Yeah. There is one, "Men a Nino_" the international one, the one they sell in South America and it has like two extra songs.

Q: You don't get a break for a while?

A: At the end of February we finish in Atlanta, and then after that we are taking some time off to finish writing our new CD. It's going to be like writing and rehearsing and stuff like that and we are also taking some time off because Ramon, our guitar player, his wife is having a baby next week so he needs to be at home for a while. And we are going to take that break to write music and we go into the studio in March and put out a new record for the summer and we are off again and start a big tour.

Q: Where are you going to record?

A: We haven't decided that yet. We don't know who is going to produce this record either, but it's going to be a different producer. We are probably going to the basic tracks .

Q: What kind of drums are you using?

A: Right now I have a premier set that I have been playing for 5 to 6 years. Recently, I have been talking to the people from Taramond (??) and I might get some kind of endorsement from them, so maybe I'll be using Taramond (??) too.

Q: Have you ever tried electronic drum set?

A: Not live. I have messed around with it in the studio a couple of times. I have never had one. I never bought one. I have played it in the stores. To me, it doesn't compare to a real drum set - just the way it feels. I mean if you are doing electronic music, that's the kind you need to have, but for our kind of music, it has a full body sound.

Q: Did you ever incorporate Tabalas (??)?

A: In the drum set? I have done it before - like a long time ago, but I haven't done it recently, and we have Rafael doing the conga's and cymbalis (??), so that takes care of that and a good drum set. We kind of play it like that. SERGIO:

Q: How would you describe our song writing process? Is it just you and Harold?

A: No, a lot of it's Ramon and Harold bringing basic ideas, or sometimes full ideas, and then practice what you have lyric-wise and I collaborate with Ramon and Harold on some of the songs, but a lot of times they bring in lyrics. It all depends, some of the songs like I said are collaboration and some of them, if they have a good idea, then we will just go with it, because it's all about you know, here is something great, not about who gets to write what.

Q: Do you sometimes incorporate your lyrics to a song - like a song someone else is already starting?

A: No, most of the times we will write lyrics after the music is written. The lyrics will be the last thing. Sometimes, when we collaborate, maybe Ramon has written the first verse and then I'll come up with the second verse. There is even one song in "Mundoz" (??) which is "Keep It Simple", which Ramon did his own verse, Harold did his own verse, and I did my own verse and we respectively each sang our own verse. It all depends.

Q: I was curious, when you are incorporating Spanish music, how can you switch off from Spanish to English - is that something that comes natural?

A: Yeah. I guess it comes from just being able to speak both of them. Sometimes I'll sing something like a paragraph, and then the last sentence, I'll process it in Spanish and I'll have to think for a moment and translate. It just happens like that, it's like an automatic thing.

Q: Who was raised in New York?

A: Ed Paniagua, was born in New York, but raised in Puerto Rico.

Q: Does Puerto Rico have pretty much everything the United States has?

A: Pretty much. Anything you can get here in the States, you get over there. Video games, movies, everything. Culture wise, it is totally different. Commercial wise, it's pretty much the same. Except, we do have things that are pretty typical of Puerto Rico. Like what we call chito ricos, like little homemade little establishments where some of the older folks or local folks who don't have very much money, they will have a home business, like they will make typical fast foods in Puerto Rico like tortillas and stuff, or like little bars and stuff like that. They don't think about carding people to drink. If you look 17 or older, you'll probably be able to drink. If you look over the bar, you can drink. It's a party town for sure. In a lot of aspects it's a lot like here, but in a lot of aspects its not. Like the people, the language, the climate, everything.

Q: Are you all the original members?

A: Yeah. When the band first started it was Ramon, Harold and Ed and they were just jamming. Then after that, I went through college in Boston for a little while, for like 3 years, and during that time, they played with another drummer friend of ours, Eugene, and then after awhile, he went to college. When he was out, there was another drummer, and they were instrumental and another singer was in the band for a little while and then he left. Then I came in 1992. Then in 1993 we went back to Florida, that's when the other drummer left and we had another name - the band was called something else - and when the other drummer quit, Eugene was the first one everybody thought about. We called him up and pulled him out of college and asked him to come back.

Q: When did you really feel like we have something really good here, and people were noticing it?

A: I think just hearing the music, I think the first time I ever heard the music they were playing, I knew. You just knew it was going somewhere. But as far as getting big opportunities to play big shows, it just started in the past year. What's good though is, some bands to get big quick, and sometimes you get frustrated and say "damn, I wish it would happen", but sometimes its better to just let it roll naturally and let it roll slowly like with System. Because those people were coming to see System because it took them so long, it them a long time. Thank You it's been a real pleasure...

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By Randy Cohen

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