Singer-guitarist Alex Estrada sports a Selena T-shirt as he walks into El Compadre in Echo Park. Mariachis perform as patrons consume their margaritas and enchiladas. It’s the fifth anniversary of the formation of Estrada’s band, Silver Snakes.
Estrada is a sixth-generation musician. His grandfather performed at the Million Dollar Theatre in the 1950s with Mariachi Chapala. His grandmother sang on radio shows broadcast from Olvera Street. His father is a Grammy-nominated mariachi, and both his father and mother worked with Linda Ronstadt during her Canciones de Mi Padre period.
“I would be 3 years old seeing Linda Ronstadt on Sesame Street and watching the Muppets lip-sync to my dad’s voice,” Estrada says as he nurses a margarita. “I knew music wasn’t just a hobby to my family.”
But as Estrada entered his teenage years, his own musical interests took a turn.
“My father got me a trumpet when I was 9 years old,” Estrada says. “It was given to me with the understanding that I would become a mariachi … but then in seventh grade I discovered Smashing Pumpkins and Nine Inch Nails.”
Now 30, Estrada was a child of the ’90s, and embraced the alternative-rock scene of the time.
“I would sit there all day with a guitar and a Smashing Pumpkins tab book,” he says. “It freaked my parents out. I said goodbye to the trumpets and goodbye to the mariachi music then.”
Growing up in Monterey Park, Estrada spent his teenage years playing in punk bands in the East L.A. backyard scene, then played throughout the 2000s in an abrasive crust-punk act called Cathedrals. He also recorded albums from other L.A. hardcore acts in his custom studio and worked on self-produced demos that embraced his early rock influences.
After Cathedrals broke up in 2011, Estrada formed his current band. In stark contrast to his mariachi upbringing, Silver Snakes specializes in melodic post-hardcore wrapped in an arena-rock shell, similar to pioneering acts such as Cave In and Failure. The group recently completed a tour opening for genre heavy-hitters Coheed & Cambria and Glassjaw.
Estrada has circled back to his familial roots in recent years. While working on the newest Silver Snakes record, Saboteur, Estrada called on family to help with the traditional Mexican flourishes he wanted to incorporate.
Closing track “The Loss” climaxes with the rhythmic flamenco clapping known as palmas, which his mother taught him. Estrada also incorporated mariachi finger-strumming techniques learned from his uncle on the track “Red Wolf,” albeit in an amplified rock manner.
“I throw in those Easter eggs as a tribute to my heritage,” Estrada says. “I don’t know if that can be heard through the wall of distortion, but having the feel of my fingers hitting the strings in that pattern is cool for me. My music doesn’t sound anything like their music, but it’s my way of incorporating what they do.”
Though he is well established as a rock musician, Estrada doesn’t rule out re-embracing his mariachi roots someday. There would be one nonmusical hurdle for him to conquer, though.
“I need to get better with my Spanish first,” Estrada says. “I understand Spanish but don’t really know how to converse in it well. But what I have learned is from being around mariachis the last few years.”