Last month, we brought a pair of MP3s for your enjoyment via our County Grind (Broward/Palm Beach) and Crossfade (Miami) blogs. Aside from the monetary benefits of doing work, I did this because I've always felt it my duty to represent local music and musicians throughout the seven years that I've been writing for New Times publications.
I was excited when I heard about Pretty Please because I am a fan and pal of Juan Oña's since his days in the Brand and met Bianca Pupo in that band during her brief tenure.
In the comments for my reviews of "Sugarcane" and "Leftover for the Dogs," a small battle of words between the aforementioned parties that I never would have expected ensued. But what has been said is done. I chose to email five questions to both parties so that the replies wouldn't be muddled in any way or form by me.
Mr. Oña was the first to reply, and here is his side of the story. New Times is not taking any sides here; we are merely giving them a forum to work out the issue, and though there is an admitted sense of morbid fascination, I personally hope that this dispute can be resolved amicably since what is really at stake are their individual contributions to the South Florida music scene.
Who are you, where do you come from, and where are you going?
My name is Juan Oña, and I am a musician, videographer, a music producer, and an overall jack-of-all-trades. I currently handle all the PR and business for [Pretty Please]. The last thing I want to be is a band manager, but until we find the right person for the job, I'm the most qualified to handle those tasks. Physically, I come from Ecuador. Musically, I come from a place where hard work and perseverance pay off. I am going to a place where I can make a living off of what I love most: music. These days, I'm not all that concerned with the hypothetical record contract. I'm more interested in working with people like press agents, booking agents, managers, and lawyers who can take care of the things that I would rather not. Every other aspect of the biz: I'm all over it.
How did you meet Bianca Pupo?
I met Bianca back in 2000. Omar Garcia (the Brand) and I had a two-story warehouse space in Hialeah where we lived on the second floor and had our recording studio on the first. Bianca, her sister Raquel (Indigo Vox), and some of their friends would skip school (high school), come to our studio, and jam with us. I say this with nostalgia: I remember her annoying the crap out of me by barging into my room, jumping up and down on my bed, and waking me up. For the ill-minded out there, I'll note that we NEVER had sex or did anything sexually, for that matter.
How did Pretty Please come to be?
I can't really tell this story without telling a little bit of the Brand's story. The year was 2004, and Jorge Gonzalez had just quit the Brand. Omar and I were discussing where we wanted to go with this. He suggested that it would be cool to have a female synth player. Just a couple of days ago, I had gotten a call from Bianca saying that she was moving back to Hialeah from Gainesville. Needless to say, she was a perfect fit. Long story short: She fell in love and lost all interest in touring. About a year into the band, she quit because she simply didn't like being away from home. A few months later, the Brand got an offer from Mantaray Records in London. For the London shows, we wanted the synth lines to be performed and not sequenced. I asked Bianca: "Hey, Bee, how would you like to go to London? All expenses paid, no commitment, you don't have to join our band again, just rock a couple of shows on the other side of the pond." She then asked me for how long we'd be gone, to which I replied "about a week." She thought about it for a moment and said "Nahhhh." So the Brand went to London, declined the offer, came back to Miami, and decided to move to New York.
During the time I was in NY, Bianca fronted Outre Violet with Farina Mackliff, Didi Aragon, and Alex Cordovi.
Another long story short, I ended up leaving the Brand and moving back to Miami. It was 2007, and I was itching to play music. Bianca had a solo project called Ghost Milk Tales. I called her and asked her if she wanted to jam, maybe start a new band. She agreed and brought Farina into this project, which was not named at the time. A few weeks later, Omar would brand this band Pretty Please. Then Didi moved back to Miami after splitting up with the Brand's bass player, Leo Valencia. She too came itching to play and instantly joined our team. One day I was editing the new tracks to "Air Castles" when it occurred to me that this song could use some violins. I knew Bavie from playing with her for a short period in Leo's project: Leonardo Valencia Sails on Paper Boats. I asked Bavie if she would come in and lay down some violins for "Air Castles." The chemistry was just right, and before we knew it, we were a five-piece.
What lead to the end of this musical partnership?
This record took me a little over two years to produce. When it comes to teamwork, this has to be the roughest seas I've ever sailed. At first, it was easy to get her to record her parts because we lived together in a warehouse in Little Haiti, then in a house off of Biscayne Boulevard. I'll also note that in the time we lived together, I was constantly covering for her. First of all, she only paid half the rent of what she was supposed to be paying -- all because I genuinely wanted to help her. Then that half was rarely paid on time if paid at all. I had the extra money and didn't mind helping a friend who was in need. It was around this time that her personal problems began to consume her. Then the day came that I got fed up with living with other people, their mess, etc. So my girlfriend (Farina) and I moved to the small studio in the back of the property.
If you ask me, that's when things really started to go sour. I think she felt sold out that we were moving on without her. From my experiences, the biggest mistake people make who receive help from others is that they for some reason expect that help to always be there and feel resentment when it's gone.
I kept trucking with the record. It was around this time that Bavie joined us. As time progressed, it became increasingly harder and harder to bring Bianca into the studio. She would not show up to sessions and would turn her phone off. I'd be looking for her (Brand days all over again) and she even hid from me in a few instances. So we carried on without her. She wasn't around for the majority of this record. But at the time, she was our lead singer, and it was imperative to get her voice, so I kept trying to bring her in. In the end, her vocals were about 60 percent done. I got tired of chasing her down, so I just edited the crap out of all the outtakes and got a finished track. Then I paid a professional tuner to manually tune all of her vocals.
We all grew increasingly frustrated with her. We had "the talk" more than a dozen times. Each time, she would promise to try harder, with no results. It simply got to the point that we couldn't take her word for it anymore. She had burned us, let us down, and broken her promises time and time again. So there we were with grand ideas about our CD-release party. We were talking about bringing in entire percussion sections, dancers, performance artists... you name it; we wanted to do it all. Then we came to the sobering thought that we just can't count on Bianca to be on point with soooo much at stake. What if we plan this huge production and just like she did in the Brand days, she bails on us at the last minute?
The more we tried to help her with her personal issues, the more she alienated all of us. I'm down to help a friend but not at the expense of my personal life and my professional goals.
However, we were still willing to try to make it work with her. One night, we sat down with her and told her that she needs to take a break. We suggested she resolve her personal problems and told her that we'd be here waiting for her when she was really ready to make a go at music again. She took it the wrong way, and the rest is history.
A lot of words were vaulted amongst yourselves on our blog; however, a white flag has been raised... where do you want to go with this?
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I never wanted to take the drama public, but I feel that she left me with no other choice. I'm happy that Bianca has raised the white flag, but I don't think we've heard the end of her. She'll kiss and make up, but in the absence of attention, she's likely to stir up more shit. I'm down to drop it all if she's willing to do the same. I do, however, want to clear up any confusion these comments might have created. In your blog, she has accused me of many things which I don't really care to dignify with comment. What I do want to address is her claims of single-handedly writing all these songs and that we "stole" them from her. Bianca wrote "Air Castles," "F Is for Failed," "Sugarcane," and "XXX" before Pretty Please, in her solo project Ghost Milk Tales. You can hear her versions of these songs on her MySpace, and you can hear our collaboration on these tracks on our record.
We will release these songs on our record because it does represent all of our efforts. However, she did write them, which is why we would never play them live without her. The others songs that make up the majority of this record was indeed written by all of us. To say one of us had a bigger part than the rest is simply unfair. What I can say is that there are four of us who agree with that claim. Simply put, I wasn't going to let her pull the rug from under me. I wasn't going to let her strip away two years of work and sacrifice just because she can't get her shit together. I'm keeping her (tuned) voice on the record because at the time they were recorded, that was the band's chemistry. She will still get full royalties and credits for all her efforts, but we're not going to stop doing what we're doing. There are a few out there that feel that Bianca was the driving force of this band. To those people, all I can say is keep waiting for her next record.
Usually after so much recording and development, a band naturally leaves the studio to market its music through tours, etc. Although making another batch of songs is the last thing that I should be thinking about. In light of all that's been said, I feel somewhat obliged to create new material to shut up the skeptics. Although we're releasing the record (with Bianca on it) this December, everyone can expect our first post-Bianca record in the summer of 2011.