||The Caliente Column (1995)
Pete Astudillo: Up Close & Personal
By Doug Shannon
A lot of water has flowed down the Rio Grande since
album "Como Nadie" was released Sept. 1993.
The nonstop schedule of Pete and his songwriting partner and producer A.B.
Quintanilla III delayed Pete's new CD, "Como Te Extrano," longer
But critics and fans are too busy raving about the new album's five cumbias,
four rancheras, and one bolero to complain about the wait. The album
reached #2 on Billboard's Regional Mexican Albums chart, and the title track
spent most of Dec. and Jan. as the #1 Regional Mexican single.
Pete's also on the ballot for 1996 Male Rising Star at the Tejano Music
Awards, according to one of his colleagues.
Here's what Pete had to say.
How do you decide which of your songs are good enough
for you or other artists to record?
It's a team decision. A.B. Quintanilla III is my producer, and the main
decision comes from he and I. We both evaluate the song and rewrite it.
We're pretty critical of ourselves. Abraham Quintanilla, my manager Lee
Garza, and my band also listen to it. If something's grooving, you can feel
it right away. Usually if I like something, A.B. likes it and everybody else
likes it too.
Is it true that you keep your best songs for your own
albums and give your next-best songs to other artists?
Of course not. We don't have a pile of songs that A.B. and I go through and
say, "This one's mine, this one's mine, and this one's mine." We work on one
project at a time. When Chikko put out their album, some of the songs that
are on my album didn't even exist, and when IMAGEN LATINA put out their
album, some of the songs on Chikko's album didn't exist. So it's not like
"Como Te Extrano" existed when we were working on Chikko's album and we
didn't want to give it to them. Or to take you a step further back, when
Selena would put out her music and I
would put out my music, it's not like we said, "We're not going to give this
song to Pete; we're going to save it for Selena."
Whoever the songs are for, they have A.B.'s name and my name on there as a
writer, so we want to put out the best that we can.
Do you still come up with ideas for songs that make
you think, "Selena
would do a great job with that one"?
Of course. I think anything would sound good if she sang it. A.B. has this
saying when we write songs--"Would Selena
do that?" And when I write something, I like to think in that sense too. A
song has to go through a lot of refining to make it onto a
Selena album. So if we think
Selena would have done it, we think it's a
If you listened to a Tejano cumbia and a Monterrey
cumbia, how could you tell which was which without knowing who the artists
The beats are different. Tejanos, in general, tend to have a more mechanical
feel with their cumbias. Of course, some of the Tejanos like
Selena and MAZZ have changed that a lot.
They're not as mechanical. If you listen to a five-year-old cumbia and a
cumbia from today, the ones now are leaning more toward the Mexican
style--they're more tropical. But when you talk about cumbieros from
Monterrey, that's what they grew up with; that's their bread and butter, and
they've refined it to a T. And we learned it from them. So it's not as
refined yet. Selena and A.B. have done
some tremendous work on cumbias, using different bass lines and beats, but
there's a definite distinction when you hear a song from Mazz and you hear a
song from LIBERACION or BRONCO. And some of the Tejanos are still a little
backwards and haven't caught up with what a cumbia is supposed to sound
like. There's a Tejano-style cumbia and there's a Mexican-style tropical
cumbia, and if you play me two songs I'll tell you who's who.
Having said that, how did the Monterrey crowd respond
to your music when you appeared there in September?
It's always a little scary to go into a new territory where people don't
know you yet. Even though I was there with Selena
before, and she got the respect of the people from Monterrey, the people
there are really tough. So I was scared, even though I'd been part of the
Dinos, because I knew this time they were going to judge me as me. But the
people responded very, very, well and I was happy with everything. I
was astonished to find out how many people did remember me from the Dinos. A
lot of times, people really focus on the band's singer, and if you ask 80%
of the fans who's in the band, they don't know. So I was surprised that they
knew me and my material, even my material from the prior albums that hadn't
been released in Mexico.
Does it seem like it's been over two years since "Como
Nadie" was released?
It really hasn't. I was surprised at how well that album did. We never
thought that it would hold out for the two years and we didn't plan it that
way. It's just that A.B. was so busy with Selena
and everything that we never got around to my album. I'm glad that EMI kept
pushing it and putting out singles on it and that radio stations kept on
playing them and listeners kept requesting them. It did survive for two
years, which I think is somewhat of an accomplishment. But I don't consider
myself one of the big bands--I'm somewhere in between, so for an album to
have that kind of longevity was really good. And it just proves that there
was a lot of good material on there.
One of the big hits off "Como Nadie" was "Piquito De
Oro." Sometimes you've had to say what "Piquito De Oro" meant in English
("Single Girl") in order for the crowds to know what you're talking about.
Do you wish that more of your fans knew more Spanish?
Yeah, you always wish for that. We live here in the United States and I
think it's very unfortunate when parents don't take the time to teach their
kids Spanish. It's a great advantage being bilingual and a lot of people
don't realize that until it's too late. Growing up, you think it's cool to
speak English and you don't want to learn Spanish, it's tacky. But when you
get out into the working world and out into college, that's when you realize
you should have learned Spanish, and learned it well. So I think it's a real
shame when you're a Mexican and you can't even speak your own language.
On your new album, Jesse Garza of LOS AGUES plays the requinto. What's that?
A requinto is a type of guitar they use for trio music. Trio music is three
guitars--the bajo and requinto and the regular guitar and it's a very
traditional music in Mexico. One of the groups that's just synonymous with
it is LOS PANCHOS. And Los Agues are trying to introduce trio music to the
Tejano scene by combining trio and Tejano together, which is a good idea.
The requinto is the guitar that does the melody and the licks as opposed to
the rhythm section.
What did you think you'd be doing for a living before
you were successful in the music business?
I had a very normal life. I've been in the music business for about eight
years. I went to college. My whole family's in the restaurant business, and
I thought after I graduated from college I'd open up a restaurant and be in
the restaurant business like my family. And I do love the restaurant
business and I probably will get my own restaurant one day, as an investment
for the future. I started when I was 13 years old, as a dishwasher. Then I
was prep cook, cook, waiter, manager, you name it, I did it. When your
family is in the business, you do everything and when you're old enough to
work, they'll put you to washing dishes.
What college did you attend?
I went to Laredo Junior College and Laredo State University. Unfortunately,
one of the drawbacks of entering the music business was that I didn't get to
graduate. I had one more year and I would have gotten my bachelor's. To be
honest with you, if there's something I regret, it's that. Not because I'm
doing bad--I thought it was the right decision at the time and fortunately
this business has been good to me. I regret it in the sense that I'm a firm
believer in education and that was one of my goals and I didn't get to
achieve it. When I tell my kids to go to college, I'd like to say,
"Check it out, I did it, and you can do it too." A degree is just a
piece of paper I guess, but there's a lot more involved than that.
Do you have any kids?
No, I'm not even married. Not that you need to be married to have kids.
What were you majoring in?
Business. Doesn't everybody in the world? I've been contemplating going back
because I need about 30 credit hours. I need to talk to some of the
instructors, because in our business we work mostly Friday, Saturday, and
Sunday, sometimes more. So I thought maybe I could tell my instructors the
situation I'm in, that I'd really like to finish college. I think that would
be a really big achievement on my side.
Is your birth date really 12/01/63?
(Laughing) Yeah, but don't print it. I'm 32 years old, and I started
doing this when I was about 24. Up to when I was 24 I had a very normal
life. I went to college for one year, and I got out of it to work, and my
brother Javier and I opened up a restaurant in Loveland, Colorado, and
that's when I decided I want to sing. Then I came back to Texas, and I went
to college for two more years, and that's when I got my chance to join the
Dinos, in 1988. I think I feel better now than when I was 21 years
old, partying. I think I'm in better shape and I don't think I even look 32.
Why were the liner notes to "Como Te Extrano" so
basic--nothing more than the credits?
In all honesty, it was a time thing. They were really rushing to put it out,
and I was very displeased with (the credits) inside. It's just one page. EMI
did it for a practical purpose, because they wanted it to come out, and it
was way behind schedule. They didn't even put my thank-yous in there, and it
wasn't because I didn't want to, it just happened that by the time I sent
everything out, they'd already done all the artwork and printed everything
What musical trends do you see happening in La Onda in
the next couple of years?
I don't think it's going to get too techno, because then we'll be pop and
we'll lose our roots. When you do stuff like "Techno Cumbia" it still hasn't
crossed that line. It's still a cumbia. Several bands like XELENCIA
are doing the reggae thing, which is cool. I think songs like "Techno Cumbia"
and "Bidi Bidi Bom Bom" are good, but if they go too far, it'll kill it. I
think we're going to see more live instruments. On our new album we
did some acoustic stuff on cumbias like "Si No Fui Yo." If we take that
route, I don't think we can go wrong.
Do you ever listen to your CDs after they come out?
I listen to them a lot before they come out and I'm very critical of myself.
I'm like, "I hate the way I sound here; I hate the way I sound there." Right
when the CD comes out I listen to it a couple of times and then I put it
away. So I'm not too big on listening to myself.
Jennifer Pena provided some background vocals on your
new CD. Do you think, at age 12, she's really ready to be a star?
I don't know if anybody is every ready to be a star, regardless of age,
because it's something you can't prepare yourself for. If you're mature
enough, you can handle it. If you're not, that's when you get a lot of
people turning into drug addicts and alcoholics and fly-by-night stars. I
couldn't tell you if she's ready or not. I don't even know if she's going to
be a star or not. She's a little girl. Abraham Quintanilla (her manager)
thought she had talent; a lot of people say she's the next
Selena. I think that's erroneous because
Abraham doesn't see her that way at all. It's not like he's pushing her as
the next Selena. I think she's got to
pay the dues like anybody else. If she's going to be a star, it's not going
to happen overnight. I have yet to see that. It didn't happen with
Selena for a long time and
Selena had a lot of talent as a little
girl. The faster you climb, the faster you fall. You have to work at it and
put in the years and the effort. That's what you want--longevity, not
to be a one-hit wonder. I think that if you want anything worthwhile, you
have to work at it for a while.
A lot of fans believe that Mr. Quintanilla shouldn't
push Jennifer's career until she's a little older.
They're seeing it in the sense that
he's doing it to replace Selena, and I
think that's wrong, because he's not. I think even if he'd met this little
girl before Selena passed away, he would
have still seen the same talent. It's just like Chikko or any other band he
has--he's promoting them.
Do you think Q Productions is evolving into a label?
I think so. It's somewhat of a label. A lot of the artists like myself are
with EMI but we're part of Q Productions. We're not direct with EMI. I guess
we're a label in our own way already.
So hypothetically, if Q Productions' contract with EMI
was up, could they call another label and say "we want you to distribute our
Of course. Any time.
What are your current projects?
I've gotten calls from a lot of people who want me to write for them.
Recording artists like Liberacion, LOS FUGITIVOS, and JOSE JOSE, who I met
in Miami a while back. And in the Tejano scene they've been calling me for
music tambien, so I've been staying busy, working with Ricky Vela and A.B.
It's such a rewarding experience to hear somebody play my songs. There
aren't that many songs that have been recorded outside
Selena and myself. I guess the one that
stands out the most is "Estupido Romantico." One of the biggest problems
I've had, and it's really funny, is when people ask me, "Why did you give it
to Mazz?" Well, I'm a writer; I give music to other people to sing. I guess
they can't understand the concept, because they're like, "Well, why don't
you do it?" And it's like asking, "Why did Selena
do 'Amor Prohibido' or 'Que Creias'?" I guess it's because they see
Selena and me as part of the same band and
when they see me write a song for someone outside that little circle, it
freaks them out. With the success "Estupido Romantico" has had, I guess they
think I was cheated out of it. But it's nothing like that at all. I
own the song; I'm the publisher of the song.
Maybe it's because you and your band don't seem to be
hyped as much as some of the other groups.
We really are a low-key band and I don't know what it's due to. If you come
down to working days and sales, we're up there with everybody else.
But at the same time, we're not doing all the hype. We don't have all these
fancy sponsors behind us, like beer companies. We know who's working and
who's not, and who's charging what. And as far as that's concerned, we're
one of the hardest working bands out there, on the
road 50 weeks a year.
In addition to being about
Selena, is "Como Te
Extrano" also about your mother, Paz?
I wrote that song for my mother, and of course for
Selena who was like a sister to me. My mother passed away a year
and a half ago. It's kind of ironic that she passed away almost one year
before Selena. My mother passed away
April 12; Selena passed away March 31.
So when Selena passed away, it just
brought all those feelings back, not that they had gone, because one year is
nothing. But it just took me back to that moment again. It was a very
emotional part of my life when Selena
passed away because she was very dear to me. What was so great about it was
that A.B. was thinking along the same lines I was--we didn't want to mention
Selena's name, or my mother's name. And
we didn't want to talk about death, either. That's how well A.B. and I are
connected with each other, that we were thinking along the same lines
without even talking to each other. So in the song, we're just talking about
missing somebody so much it's incredible. Another thing that's really
important is that people have taken this song and applied it to their own
personal lives. I've had tons of people tell me that they lost their
husband, or their wife, or their children. Or people call me up and say "I
had a bitter divorce but I still love him and that song makes me think of
How does it feel when such a personal song ends up
reaching so many people?
When we wrote the song, we wrote it for personal reasons. After we recorded
it, we thought, this is a good song. Our family and
Selena's family felt the same way too. We
related to the song. I don't want to say we didn't do it for the public, but
we did it for ourselves. It was something we really needed to do. We
never said, "Let's do this song because we think it'll be #1." Of course,
the accomplishment is tremendous and it feels good. And it feels good in the
sense that a lot of people are in the same situation we are and that song
brought them some kind of relief and helped them out.
How do you commute from Laredo to CC?
I drive. I have my bus here in Laredo and several of my roadies and my
brother live here and we'll meet up in Corpus or in San Antonio because my
band members live in different areas. When you're used to being on the road
as many hours as we are, a two-hour drive is nothing.
Pete's band "FUTURO" is: