I first met Hugo Orozco and Zora Sicher of the band Magnolia at the inaugural Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls in August 2005. While most girls returned to the post-camp real world of school, friends and typical after-school activities, these girls kept at their rock band with rehearsals, songwriting and soon, performances all over NYC.
The 11-year-old girls of Magnolia have songs like "Miss Scream-a lot" and "Whatcha Gonna Do"; how can you not find them adorable? But the drum and guitar-playing duo are more than just super cute. These girls write their own songs, each sing and play two instruments in the band, and are now seasoned performers at classy NYC rock venues like the Bowery Ballroom (opening for indie rockers Clap Your Hands Say Yeah at a Rock Camp benefit in January), the Knitting Factory, and CBGB's, performing at the latter the weekend it closed. They are preparing for a show hosted by the Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls this weekend at the Brooklyn Museum's First Saturday, April 7.
I met them for band practice recently at Rock Camp volunteer Val Opielski's apartment in the Bed-Stuy section of Brooklyn. I could hear the drumbeat pounding as I knocked on the ground floor window to be let in. The pair happily agreed to be interviewed in Val's kitchen after practice was over but before they needed to start on their homework. Hugo's mom showed up early and I told the girls they could blame it on me that their homework wasn't done.
I started the interview by saying some of these questions might be "redundant" since these two have already been featured in the New York Times and MSNBC/Newsweek, among other places. I suddenly realized "redundant" might not be an 11-year-old vocabulary word. Hugo gave me a blank look and they both started laughing when I admitted my mistake.
When did you two first meet?
Zora: We met when..
Hugo: Two years ago.
Zora: Yeah, two years ago, when Hugo moved to...
Hugo: Moi (all laugh)
Zora: ...moved to Brooklyn from Texas and she came to my school and we were in the same 4th grade class, and then we found out that we were both going to Rock Camp.
Were you in the same Rock Camp band?
Zora/Hugo: Yes, uh huh - Hellish Relish.
Tell me about Hellish Relish and how you got to your band now.
Hugo: There were six people in the band and we were one of the only bands that made it out of Rock Camp.
Zora: We continued practicing and playing shows outside of Rock Camp. We practiced for awhile and played a few shows including the show at the Knitting Factory for the Willie Mae auction. Then everyone (in the band) started getting busy and not being able to do it except for me and Hugo, and we lost touch with most of the people. And we were like, why don't we just start practicing by ourselves. Then we were like, hey, let's just start a band by ourselves. That's how Magnolia was started.
How did you pick the name Magnolia?
Hugo: Oh, I love this story!
Zora: We were at practice once and we were thinking, we had various names, some really weird ones, corny ones like Glass Hearted.
Hugo: Yeah, that was my idea. (Fake slaps herself.)
Zora: Then we were hanging out one day, and she was coming to my house.
Hugo: Walking by her house.
Zora: This sounds really weird but there's this restaurant on my block called Magnolia and on the way there we were saying random words like...
Hugo: Magnolia scones.
Zora: Scones. But we thought of that after we saw it.
Hugo: Oh yeah.
Zora: We were thinking of "skeleton" and weird random words like "apples", and then we saw it and I was like, Magnolia, cause I had just saw the sign. She was like, hey...where'd you get that from? And I was like, look (at the sign.) And we were like, that sounds good.
Did you ever tell the restaurant owner?
Zora: No, I've only been there twice.
Hugo: They would sue us.
Zora: No, they wouldn't. Why would they sue us?
Hugo: I don't know..haha. They might.
What instruments do you play?
Zora: We both play guitar and drums, and I play a little bit of piano. I think you play a little bit of piano too.
Hugo: Yes, I do, but we don't have that in our band.
What do you like best about playing music, and what do you like best about playing music together?
Hugo: I like playing shows.
Zora: The shows are fun because it's like you entertain everyone. It's really fun to do it, and hopefully everyone likes it..all the cheering..it's really fun.
Zora: (As for) playing together...we have a lot of the same tastes in music.
Hugo: Yeah, that's one of the things.
Zora: We think alike. When we're writing we both picture a lot of the same things when we're thinking it, so that's how we write lyrics sometimes.
Zora: It works well.
Can you tell me about the creative process? What's your process for writing a song?
Zora: Sometimes we write songs at a practice. We write it together. We play the song a few times without lyrics and we say, what do we think when we listen to this and then we write lyrics. And then sometimes I write some at home and she writes some at home. For example, Miss Scream-a lot, which is one of our songs, Hugo went home and made the main lyrics.
Hugo: And then we added to it, little details.
Zora: Then there's some songs like Hometown or I Don't Care where I wrote it and brought it in and we figured it all out. That's what we usually do. One of us writes it, but sometimes we write it together.
How do you decide who's going to play what since you both play guitar and drums?
Zora: Usually one of us has an idea. Say I come up with a drumbeat that I like and then we make a song from it.
Hugo: If she makes up a drumbeat that I like and she likes, then I make up a guitar part and we add little details and that's how it's a song.
Zora: Or vice versa.
What have been your shows/performances so far?
Zora: My favorite one was probably at the Bowery Ballroom.
Hugo: Yeah, me too.
Zora: I was really really nervous and I thought I was going to be so freaked out, cause I usually am in smaller audiences, and that wasn't really a small audience...
Zora: It was a lot of people, and I kept looking at people's faces and they were like...yeah (makes a dancing, grooving movement...both laugh.) I couldn't really see anything but it was really fun. I didn't really feel nervous after, when I got on stage.
Hugo: At first I was really scared and nervous, and then once we got on and started playing, and everyone was clapping and cheering, then I was just excited and not nervous.
I was at the show and you both were really really good. That was probably my favorite show too, seeing you play. What was the CBGB's show like?
Both: Oh yeah...(laughter)
That was fun too.
What music are you listening to now?
Hugo: I like a lot of things.
Zora: I mostly like rock but I like a lot of different types. Recently my dad showed me some really old goth music like Bauhaus, and I've been listening to that. And Siouxsie and the Banshees. I've really been interested in Gang of Four. I really like Gang of Four.
Hugo: I like rock. I like...Nirvana. Pretty much lots of types of rock.
Zora: Sometimes when we're driving in the car we turn on a pop station. We like some of the pop punkish bands.
Hugo: Panic at the disco.
Zora: Panic at the disco.
Hugo: It's like this pop-rock band.
Zora: They're not our favorites but some of their songs are catchy and they're in our heads a lot.
Have people compared your sound to other bands?
Hugo: At the Bowery Ballroom, we were getting off the stage and someone compared us to a REALLY famous band that played there before..he was like, better than this band!
Zora: We were getting our Shirley Temples (laughter), and there was a guy at the bar and he worked there in sound or something like that, and he was telling us all the bands (the Bowery Ballroom) had, like the Donnas, and a lot of bands that we like playing there. He said, you guys were better than some really famous band....
Hugo: That was one comparison.
Are you looking forward to the Brooklyn Museum show?
Zora: It's going to be really fun because that's one of the First Saturday parties. We were just talking about this earlier and I was like, there's going to be a lot of people coming back and forth. I think we're playing in the entrance. So people are going to be coming and will say, hey, forget the party, these guys sound good.
Hugo: We're excited. I'm excited.
What about the other bands playing? Do you like playing with them?
Zora: Care Bears on Fire. They're fun.
Hugo: We play with them a lot, and they're really really good.
Zora: I really like them. They're cool.
Hugo: They're good.
Do you know what you're going to play at the Brooklyn Museum show?
Zora: We made the set list downstairs. We have...
Hugo: Miss Scream-a lot
Zora: Miss Scream-a lot, that's our opening song.
Hugo: And then we have a new song.
Zora: Constant Distraction, it's instrumental. I like it. It's a cool song.
Hugo: And then...
Hugo/Zora: Whatcha Gonna Do?
Hugo: Then we switch.
Zora: I'm on the drums and she's on the guitar and then we switch.
Hugo: We play..
Zora: A new song called, the Red Brick Road, like the Yellow Brick Road. Then we have a new song we've only played once at a show.
Hugo: Oh yeah.
Zora: It's called Steps to Survival. It's like a story almost. Some songs have a chorus and verse you repeat. This one doesn't have a chorus you repeat. Every verse is different. There's not really a chorus.
Hugo: Then we have Hometown.
Zora: Then possible encore, Don't Want to Hear About It.
Last question. Are you coming to Rock Camp this summer?
Read more about the Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls and their upcoming fundraiser.