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.
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¨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.
When the lineup shifted and the current formation of Güajiro emerged, the master plan, as Lopez likes to call it, was finally possible. They booked shows in Puerto Rico and Mexico while continuing to establish themselves on the Miami scene. Churchill´s Pub and Studio A became their main venues for performances, but ground zero for the band is an expansive dental warehouse in Hialeah. It was there, in a stuffy backroom, where the concept for Material Subversivo was created. The video for the album´s first single, ¨Santa Fe,¨ was shot here as well.
Listening to the record is like going on a journey with punk and all of its various offshoots. A song like ¨Delinquente¨ is all Agnostic Front drums and thrash, yet ¨Bad Idea¨ starts off like the tune ¨Kiss Me¨ by Sixpence None the Richer, only getting more emotional as it continues. ¨Santa Fe¨ is pure Spanglish rock with an edge, perfect for MTV Latin America, where it´s already getting spins. The bandmates have no problem with how varied their sound is.
¨You can say what you want about this band. Maybe it´s not hip with the hipsters or the indie crowd, but we don´t really give a shit about that,¨ Gonzalez says. ¨We make music and let the rest take care of itself.¨ It´s this maturity and nonchalance that sets the band apart from some of its younger competitors. These qualities were definitely evident during the filming of Rally MTV, an Amazing Race-style series of challenges across South America.
¨We had to go from São Paolo, Brazil, down to the beach for this rally,¨ Gonzalez says, starting to laugh. ¨The first band, they went to a McDonald´s, ate real fast, and then took off. And we´re like, Ah fuck that.´ We went to a churrasqueria; we had a bunch of beer, 30 pounds of meat, soccer game on every channel, and the folks are saying, Hey you´re losing the rally,´ and it´s like, Uh, yeah... whatever.´¨
They´re soaking all of it up, and with so much experience under their belts, they recognize an opportunity worth savoring.
¨A lot of it´s just knowing how to enjoy life,¨ Lopez says. ¨We´re already satisfied in many respects as people. We´re just playing the music that we love and letting everything come to us.¨
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