Antonio Sánchez, Thana Alexa Grow Their Partnership

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Drummer Antonio Sánchez and vocalist Thana Alexa have reached a point of mutual influence.

(Photo: Jimmy & Dena Katz)

Alexa: And it was so good he didn’t hear the original because he did his own thing.

Sánchez: I feel like the artist’s mission is research: What can you do that hasn’t been done and is going to put you on the spot in an uncomfortable way? Through research, you’re always trying to find other variations within your voice that will still make you sound like yourself. This is a chance for me to see what I can do with somebody else’s material but completely transform it in the Bad Hombre fashion, which means me doing absolutely every ounce of it. I tell them, “Please just know that you’re probably not going to recognize your tune” [laughs]. It’s a lot of fun.

You both allow syncopation to inform all aspects of your compositions, both written and spontaneous. As artists who engage in activism, in what ways do you feel syncopation reflects the human condition?

Sánchez: Just like with the universe, we all have a rhythm—a very specific rhythm. A pulse. A heartbeat. But within that same analogy, we all are messy. As a race and as a society, we’re incredibly messy—we fall out of the groove. So, we are out of sync and syncopated most of the time.

Alexa: In life, we’re all in counterpoint. We sometimes come in to these unison lines and then we go back into counterpoint. We’re just trying to find some kind of middle ground. And with syncopation, sometimes it sounds like something’s off, but really you’re on.

In a past interview, Antonio, you described leading your own band as your “biggest challenge yet.” What has been most surprising to each of you throughout your development as leaders?

Sánchez: My writing. Migration has become my flagship band, where I can really develop compositionally. I didn’t know I had all that music in me until I put it out there. And being influenced by all these amazing musicians really makes me curious about what else there is for me.

In terms of challenges, the money is just miserable when you start leading a band. I would get less money for the whole band than I would get for just me on a gig with Pat. And then you have to subtract all the expenses—it’s insane. I never thought it would be that bad in the beginning. Little by little it would get better. But it’s freaking hard to get the money you deserve. We have had gigs with Migration where the place looks full to me and then I get an email from the promoter saying it’s not what they’d expected, so they would like us to give some of the money back—from the fee. And that’s not an isolated incident. It’s incredibly hard. It’s how society works, people having a million different possibilities. No matter where you are, it’s still a struggle.

Alexa: My having a sound that’s very different from the expectation people have for singers, no one knew where to place me. They want someone who’s in a nice package with a bow that they’re going to be able to sell and say: “This” is “this.” When you don’t really know how to explain what you’re hearing, even if you like it, that’s difficult for most people in the industry. I really feel like this record is going to reintroduce what my identity is.

I’m self-managed and self-produced. It’s been amazing for me to see how much control I can have over not just the music but my career trajectory. And if nobody wants to work for me at this time, that’s OK. I’m going to work for myself and I’ll probably work way harder than anybody else would [laughs]. One of the hardest things is that you spend so much time doing so many things that have nothing to do with actually creating. Then at the end of the day, you’re so tired and you haven’t actually written any music. So, I’m still trying to find the balance. DB

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December 2022
Kenny Barron
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