SXSW Artist Spotlight: The Tiarras

The Tiarras [Credit: Jay Ybarra]

Latina power trio The Tiarras consists of biological sisters Tori Baltierra (singer/guitarist), Tiffany Baltierra (bassist) and Sophia Baltierra (drummer). Born and raised in Austin, Texas, the Mexican-American band has a unique sound, drawing from rock, soul, reggae, blues, and cumbia, among other genres. Tiffany described them as “alternative Latin pop-rock,” before adding that they’re trying to come up with their own genre.

Many of The Tiarras’ original tunes contain inspiring lyrics celebrating unity and empowerment. Their latest single, a cover of “La Negra Tomasa,” dropped on March 7. 360°Sound is looking forward to catching The Tiarras live at Stubb’s on March 14 during SXSW. The show is free and open to the public. In this interview, the artists formerly known as Tiarra Girls discuss their musical upbringing, their music’s positive message, and getting a call from Kathy Valentine to cover a Go-Go’s classic.

Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

360°Sound: When did you all take up your instruments and become a performing band?

Tori: Our story begins when we were kids. Our father was really into dance and music. He was a break-dancer for a while and then became a DJ. He exposed us to a big variety of music. Our oldest sister, Tiffany, picked up the piano. And Sophia began taking percussion lessons since she was the kind of kid who loved to tap rhythms on random household items.

I found a guitar one day at the house and was really interested in it. In music class at my school, a teacher was playing guitar and I was very mesmerized and begged for lessons. We all were taking lessons separately. Over time, we started creating music together because we lived in the same house. Then we took lessons together as a little ensemble which then became a band.

We covered songs and wrote songs. We began performing for family and friends and playing local shows and festivals. Our parents began managing us and booking us here in Austin and surrounding areas. Ever since then we’ve just been climbing up the ladder and creating songs through advocacy and empowerment and our own culture. It’s been a wild ride.

You fuse a lot of genres with your music. When people ask you what type of music you play, what do you tell them?

Tiffany: I guess right now we say that we’re alternative Latin pop-rock. I feel like before we’d have five or six different genres to describe ourselves. But now we’re trying to make it a little bit more cohesive and maybe come up with our own genre.

How was your SXSW experience last year?

Tori: SXSW was our busiest week we’ve ever had as a band. We played nine shows overall, but not all nine were for SXSW. It was really, really cool. We had released a single around that time, “They Don’t See Us,” which had started blowing up. We got a lot of new fans throughout that week. We met a lot of important people. We got to experience SXSW with our management team. It was just really magical.

This year, we’re not taking on as many shows. We’ve grown our audience a lot over the past year, especially on social media, which has been really cool. We’re excited for those who are traveling to Austin to see us. We get requested to play in a lot of cities that we haven’t touched down in yet. Overall, we’re really, really excited. We’re born and raised in Austin so we’re already around the SXSW madness, but to be in it is very different and so rewarding as an artist.

There sounds to be a reggae influence on your music, such as on “Let Love Free.” Talk about incorporating those reggae rhythms into your sound.

Tori: Reggae music has always been around us. I was very into Bob Marley. And we also listened to No Doubt, which I know they have influences of ska and rock. That was always an undertone in our music taste. In cumbia music, there’s a lot of that same rhythm. It just naturally found its way into our music.

“Let Love Free” was my coming out song. With my sisters, we put our heads together, and they helped me come out through music. The song taught us about love and all aspects and has allowed us to connect with our LGBTQ fans, which is really awesome. We get to be a representation for them. But reggae is one of the types of music that has always been around us. We’re not avid listeners, but it’s a rhythm and a beat. It’s beautiful and we love it.

Talk about the ways in which you want to empower and inspire with your music.

Tiffany: I feel like Tori’s always been the loud voice in our family. She empowered me and Sophia to use our voices, too. When she started writing music to empower people and lyrics that were trying to advocate for change, I feel like that changed how we were making our music. It changed our outlook for what our future was going to be like in the band.

Even when we were little, our parents were very involved in the community and would take us along with them. I don’t ever see us not using that platform to be advocates for others, speaking and playing music about things that are not always easy to talk about. But if you’re dancing and it’s melodic, it puts a seed in your brain.

You’ve said that y’all have a telepathic sister connection when you’re playing live. Talk about the chemistry you have that comes from being related.

Sophia: That’s probably the best part about being sisters and being in a band. Whenever we have a mistake on stage, we easily get back on the beat and continue with the song. I hope it’s not too obvious. I think it’s not. The way that we can complement each other on stage, we can look at each other after we do something really cool, like, “Do that again.” Just with our eyes, we don’t say anything. That’s just the best part.

You covered “Can’t Stop the World” by The Go-Go’s. I thought it was cool that you picked that one. It’s a great song but not one of their big hits.

Tori: We were approached by Kathy [Valentine], the bass player of The Go-Go’s, and she wanted a more modern take on the song. I worked with her directly on the lyrics. She gave me the original lyrics and some rewritten ones. I think it was in poem form. She was like, “Feel free to rearrange it and get back to me, and we can go over the verses.”

I think she thought it was a perfect fit because we were a younger, different generation that had a similar mission: to play music and have that sisterhood but also leave an impression on the world. We just started learning that song and doing the more modern take with kind of a No Doubt feel. During that time, I bought [Valentine’s] book and got to understand her more. It’s really cool that we got to work with a Go-Go.

What are your goals for the group?

Sophia: My goal is to finally release the album that we’re working on right now. I just hope that when it comes out, people love it, and we get the support and beautiful love that we’ve gotten with every single release.

Tori: I agree. Keep doing what our mission is, connect with others, and express ourselves unapologetically and just keep growing and keep dreaming.

The Tiarras are performing two sets at SXSW:

Tuesday 14 March, 8:40pm – 9:10 @ Stubb’s
Friday 17 March, 10:30pm – 11:10 @ Cooper’s BBQ


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