By Natalya Jones
By County Grind
By Liz Tracy
By Chris Joseph
By Liz Tracy
By Matt Preira
By Jesse Scheckner
By Michael E. Miller
Developing a strong identity as a band is a challenge. Often, groups try so hard to be unique that they all end up sounding the same, or they don´t have the experience to trust their gut and just be. Throw race and nationality into that mix and things get even more difficult.
Enter the world of Hialeah-based punk band Güajiro. Three of its four members are Latin -- lead singer Will Lopez and bassist Jorge Gonzalez-Graupera are Cuban, guitarist David Santos is Puerto Rican -- and the fourth, drummer Doug Mackinnon, is an Irish-descended transplant from Boston. But ask them to define their band and the 30-somethings laugh. It´s as if they´ve thought about the question so much that, instead of offering a detailed answer, they´d rather just be.
¨The language down here is English, it´s Spanish, it´s invented words, and we represent this area and what this town´s about,¨ Lopez says. ¨And that´s how our lyrics come out. We didn´t say, Let´s be a Latin punk band.´ No. We´re a Miami punk band.¨
Their mishmash style of hardcore meets Spanglish rock isn´t new, but it´s unusual enough to give them a platform on which to build their own sound. Their recordings and live shows alike are full of intense power chords, raucous energy, and complex compositions. Some tunes are straight-ahead classic hardcore; others have a Latin indie feel that can catch listeners off guard. Underneath it all are elements of Afro-Cuban percussion. Even with a hard-driven punk aesthetic, Güajiro is inescapably a product of South Florida.
¨I don´t see how what we´re doing is so special,¨ Mackinnon says. ¨We make music that´s unique to this neighborhood. Sometimes, I´m surprised other people are even interested.¨ But outside of the band´s home base, fans and industry types are increasingly seeking a piece of Güajiro. Recently, the band signed a deal with Belgium-based I-Scream Records and inked an endorsement deal with Gibson, landing a spot on the upcoming Van´s Warped Tour. Its debut full-length album, Material Subversivo, was released last month.
Perhaps even more notably, MTV chose them to star in a reality television series featuring Latin American bands called Rally MTV, which saw the four-man group spend close to three weeks in South America filming last month. The show will air stateside in a bilingual version on MTV tr3s as well as on all of the company´s Latin American channels. Güajiro was the only participating band from the United States.
¨This is all happening way faster than we could have expected,¨ Lopez says with a smile. ¨We´ve all been through a lot to get to this point, and now things are falling in line.¨ Mackinnon and Lopez first met at a barbecue in 2004, initially bonding through a conversation about the lack of a definitive Miami rock sound. The exchange planted the seeds for Güajiro.
¨We were talking about how when you´re listening to a punk band from Long Beach or New York or Boston, you can tell exactly where they´re from by the way they play,¨ Mackinnon says, ¨and that what this scene lacks is a punk band that sounds distinctly like it´s from Miami.¨
Gonzalez-Graupera, the group´s wiseass and resident shit-talker, playfully interjects: ¨Most bands down here are trying to be from someplace else. At a certain point, you´ve just got to be yourself and make music that you like. If you´re in a band for any other reason, you´re starting off on the wrong foot.¨
By the time Lopez and Mackinnon started putting Güajiro together in 2005, they were tired of false starts and determined to create a band with enough wisdom and talent that it couldn´t lose. Before Güajiro, Mackinnon played with two quasilegendary groups: the Boston hardcore band Slapshot and L.A. punk pioneers the Vandals. Lopez fronted the New Jersey-based Friction Wheel in the early 1990s, then worked as a marketing rep for Warner Music Latin America before giving up on music to run a dental supply company. Gonzalez-Graupera played with local pop-rock outfit the Brand, then toured with Latin indie outfit Volumen Cero before trying out and then mostly abandoning a solo career. Santos spent time with local metal band Car Bomb Theory but was floating unhappily, waiting for the right opportunity to reveal itself. Güajiro was a second chance for a group of musicians who had temporarily left the craft.
¨We all know what a good band is supposed to sound like,¨ Gonzalez-Graupera says, ¨and we´re really hard on ourselves.¨
¨When you´re playing some strain of punk,¨ Mackinnon adds, ¨with our résumés, people are going to expect it to be at a certain level. It´s like, why even set up your equipment if you´re not gonna bring it?¨
Before Gonzalez-Graupera and Santos joined the group a year and a half ago, Güajiro´s original lineup featured Luis Castellanos on bass and Ariel Gonzalez on lead guitar. They were briefly signed to Long Beach Records and put out a self-titled EP that got considerable buzz in Latin American markets, but the group still lacked focus.