The artist must elect to fight for Freedom or for Slavery. I have made my choice. I had no alternative.
– Paul Robeson
Why do we think that we never have enough with just what’s inside of us? Today, today we must scream at the top of our lungs that we are Brown, we are smart, that nothing that they do can push it away!
– Victoria Ruiz, Downtown Boys
Paul Robeson was a seasoned actor, both in Theatre and Film productions, as well as a popular singer in the early 1900s. He was so talented, he was considered the 10th most popular star in British Cinema in 1937. Robeson was also a very outspoken activist against racism, fascism, and even the United States government itself for its imperialistic practices. He went so far as to put his career aside to concentrate on advocating against the fascist side of the Spanish Civil War. He used the platform he earned as an artist to advocate for the political and social causes he believed in. This, among other things, got him blacklisted by the US government during Joseph McCarthy’s Red Scare, and subsequently, denied a passport. This rendered him unable to work, and by the time his travel status was reinstated years later, he had already moved into retirement and isolation due to his dwindling health.
That was almost 100 years ago.
You would think that the world would be in a better condition by now, wouldn’t you? 100 years is a long time.
After all, plenty of science fiction writers thought it would be possible, didn’t they? They dreamt of an end to problems like hunger, war, and poverty. That without these kinds of issues civilization could finally move on and be perfect. That our greatest obstacles should exist no further than the constant entropy of the universe and maybe even just getting over this whole “mortality” thing in the process. This was the future they imagined and expected. Hell, it just plain made sense. Right? This was science, you guys. Not eugenics, oh no no no nooo.
Well, here’s the funny thing about those writers–and I call it funny because it actually makes me laugh, haha–the sweeping majority of them, if not damn near all of them, were 1. White and 2. men. So, when it came to naming the definitive titans of dilemmas that were keeping our “great human race” from thriving on this planet in peace and harmony, racism and sexism didn’t make the cut.
That’s like saying “Traffic? What traffic?” when you’re the asshole facing the open road blasting Nugent going 56 in a 70 one-lane-one-way with everyone else stuck behind you slamming their horns with their heads.
The fucking nerve.
Well, as time progresses, some people smash open some new lanes. A good chunk of them don’t survive the jump, but have made way for other cars to get through nonetheless. Despite this, the first car keeps trying to stay in front of the others. It doesn’t get why the other cars are trying to pass it. It hears their honking and thinks they’re being rather rude. It then takes it upon itself to try and run them off the road. In some cases, it succeeds. And so, the Struggle continues.
But, in this day and age, the voices of struggle are louder. They reverberate from all corners of the world, and make the planet tremble with fever. Some write, some paint, some speak, and some sing.
Some even scream.
Downtown Boys are a beast of a band hailing from Providence, Rhode Island. They play a charge of punk so electrifying it’ll short out your senses. The guitars sound like they’re coming out of a fucking tesla coil, the drums are a sonic beating, the two saxophones in the band bring the songs to an entirely new wavelength of expression, and above all else, the vocals. Victoria Ruiz leads Downtown Boys with an unapologetic snarl that is meant to rouse even deaf eardrums.
Things that Downtown Boys actively oppose and fight against include: “the prison-industrial complex, racism, queerphobia, capitalism, fascism, boredom, and all things people use to try to close our minds, eyes and hearts”.
The quote at the top of this post is taken from their new single, “Monstro”, which you can stream on YouTube below. The full-length it comes from, Full Communism, is out May 4th on Don Giovanni.
Their earlier releases are also available for purchase/download/streaming at their bandcamp. They go everywhere from jazz freakouts to Kleenex/LiLiPut style insanity. They even do a great cover of one of the greatest punk songs a lot of people haven’t heard of, Pekinska Patka’s “Poderimo Rok”. I’ll be crossing my fingers for them to play that one at Galax Z Fair IV.
As a music lover, Downtown Boys’ music fills me with a whole universe of emotions. But as a person of color, their music makes me glow from within. I’m filled with a radiant light of courage and purpose. I feel validated and empowered. I hope everyone reading this listens to them and goes to see them at the Fair. Especially people from my neck of the woods, the Rio Grande Valley. I really think you’d dig this.
Get your tickets here or at Melhart’s Music in McAllen.
In 2010, I had the extreme pleasure of interviewing Jeff the Brotherhood backstage at Fun Fun Fun Fest. I remember being super nervous about it. They hadn’t blown up yet, this was before they did anything with Third Man, but they were already such a recognizable force to be reckoned with. This was a little over 4 years ago, but now that Jeff the Brotherhood is coming down here to play Galax Z Fair, I figure it’s appropriate to republish this. From what I hear, the guys haven’t changed a bit.
(Photo: Jamin & Jake Orrall, Credit: Kahan)
This interview was one of the more memorable experiences I had at Fun Fun Fun Fest. For starters, it happened on the floor. When I met up with the band backstage for the interview, they walked over to a nearby tree next to the media tent and just sat down on the ground. I had never done that before in an interview, but I figured, “fuck it”. So, I dropped my bag, sat my ass on the ground, and started the interview. I really enjoyed talking with these guys. They’re both around my age, so it felt more like a casual conversation than an interview. I think that’s enough out of me. Check out the interview below.
The Photon God: So you are?
Jamin Orrall: Jamin Orrall.
Jake Orrall: I’m Jake Orrall.
TPG: Alright, first question. How was your Halloween?
Jamin: Our Halloween…was a bit of a–it was–alright, it was a really nice night. We had a really nice nigh–
Jake: It was a nice night.
Jamin: –yeah, but it really didn’t have anything to do with Halloween. So, it was a bummer because we didn’t, like, go to a Halloween party or see any costumes. But, it was still a really nice night. It’s just the fact that it was on Halloween.
Jake: We just hung out. We played an instore…
Jamin: Yeah we played at our friend’s record store…
Jake: …in Richmond, Virginia which is where we hung out.
TPG: What’s it called?
Jamin: It’s called–um…
Jake: I have the card! (begins searching his pants for the card)
Jamin: Strange Sounds? No. Something Sounds.
Jake: It’s uh…it’s a really great record store.
Jamin: (still searching) It’s brand new, it’s really awesome. My friend Marty runs it.
Jake: Steady Sounds!
Jamin: Steady Sounds!
Jake: In Richmond, Virginia. It’s excellent, excellent, excellent.
Jamin: We played there–
Jake: –after we bought, like, a million records…
Jamin: Yeah, and then we hung out with our friend Marty and his Wife and–
Jake: –they had dinner…
Jamin: Yeah they had, like, a nice dinner and then went to bed at, like, 11 o’ clock.
TPG: That’s cool.
Jamin: ‘Cause Jake lost his voice so were kinda like (shrugs).
TPG: Oh, okay. Can’t sing or anything…
Jamin: Yeah, and we had a show the night before. The two nights before we had some Halloween-vibe shows.
TPG: Did you dress up?
Jamin: Yeah at one of the shows we just dressed up as trash.
TPG: As trash?
Jamin: We just had trash bags on; that’s it.
TPG: Haha, alright. That’s simple, clever. Okay, the obvious question: the band is called ‘Jeff the Brotherhood’, but neither of you are named Jeff.
Jake: Correct, yes.
TPG: Why Jeff?
Jake: It was really just a ‘name out of a hat’ kind of thing.
Jamin: Yeah, we pulled it out of a hat. We, like–
Jake: Well, we didn’t literally, but it was that kind of a thing. Just whatever. Name it a name.
Jamin: We don’t really know how to explain it.
TPG: You just picked it, like, “Jeff”.
Jake: Yeah. Well we had wanted to name it, like, a name. Instead of like a…word or something.
Jamin: We named it like a person.
Jake: Cause it’s kind of like the entity that we become when we play together.
TPG: Yeah, you guys are really in sync. And ‘Brotherhood’ because you’re brothers?
TPG: Does that make things difficult on tour? Or in general?
Jake: Being brothers?
Jamin: In some ways it does, but in most ways, it makes it much better.
Jake: It makes it better, yeah.
Jamin: Because we’re completely honest with each other, and can like…
Jake: We understand each other a lot more than most people.
Jamin: Yeah we get each other really well, and work together really well. We fight all the time but it’s fine, like, five minutes later.
Jake: We always have someone on tour with us to kinda break it up.
TPG: To mediate?
TPG: That’s cool. Is it another family member? Or a friend?
Jake: No, no it’s a different person every time. Right now, we have our friend Louisa who’s sitting right there. (turns and points to nearby bench) Louisa!
(Louisa turns around; startled)
Jake: (to Louisa) Whatsup?
Jamin: (to Louisa) Just saying hi.
Louisa: (still startled) …heyyy!
Jake: (turning back) Whoever wants to come.
Jamin: Yeah, whoever can get off work.
TPG: Okay, how long do you guys tour for at a time?
Jamin: Usually, four weeks.
Jake Yeah, three or four weeks.
TPG: Do you guys have day jobs and stuff?
Jamin: We tour too much.
Jake: We usually have like, a week or two off in between tours.
Jamin: Yeah we did like, over 250 shows in the past year, so we’re not home often enough to have jobs.
TPG: Wow. But it’s fun though, right?
Jamin: Yeah, it’s awesome.
Jake: It’s great. It’s the best thing ever.
Jamin: Yeah, it’s a lot of hard work, but it pays off.
TPG: Alright, you guys are a two piece, did you intend to be a two piece–just guitar and drums–or did you have trouble finding a bass player and stuff?
Jamin: I think it’s just easier, like, it’s better with just the two of us.
Jake: Yeah, I mean, we kinda grew up in the country when we first started playing together. So there wasn’t anyone else around in the first place. It kinda just worked out that way, I guess.
Jamin: It’s just easier.
Jake: Yeah, everything is easier being a two piece except for sounding big and full. That’s the only really hard part.
Jamin: Yeah, but we’ve figured out ways to cheat.
TPG: Yeah, I mean, you guys were mic’d really well. (to Jake) What’s your setup, man?
Jake: Well, there’s a couple, like, keys…a couple secrets…that I’m willing to disclose because I don’t really give a fuck. I mean, I spent the last 10 years trying to figure it out. But, basically I just play through bass amps, but I have separate amps for my low end sound and my high end sound so I can mix them accordingly to the room. ‘Cause that’s a big problem if you’re just playing through one amp; it’s just gonna sound one way and like, if the room is making it to like–well, I don’t need to go into detail, but anyways, I play through separate amps for my high end and my low end and…uh, I also only play the lower three strings because I feel–I don’t know if this is true ’cause I don’t know about sound and science and stuff but I feel like if I had all six strings, like…if you got six strings that are making sound, then it’s gonna be like, less sound. If you just have three, then it’s all gonna–like, three low ones…it makes sense in my head but I can’t really explain it.
TPG: I get it, though.
Jake: I don’t even remember what the question was now.
Jamin & I: What your gear was…
Jake: Oh, yeah I play through a bunch of bass amps…and a shitty guitar.
TPG: That’s cool, man. I want to get an old, 70s Fender Bassman. I want that low end.
TPG: I know Sunn O))) uses one of those. Those guys are fucking ridiculous.
Jake: Yeah, they have some crazy sounds.
TPG: Yeah, I want to emulate all of that.
Jake: I use all Acoustic amps right now.
Jamin: He used to use Sunns.
TPG: Oh, okay. They’ve been out haven’t they?
Jake: Oh yeah. They’ve been out for a while. Acoustic just started again. They’d been out for a while, too.
TPG: Okay. So would you guys call yourselves a ‘Garage’ band?
Jamin: I mean, if you listen to Garage music, we don’t really have much in common except that we’re loud.
Jake: We’re kinda like a rock band.
Jamin: More like a classic rock–like, 70s hard rock or something. Maybe something like grunge…I dunno.
TPG: You’ve got the riffs; definitely.
Jamin: Yeah, I feel like Garage bands are very Blues-based in a way.
Jake: We kind of, like, avoid blues.
TPG: Any reason?
Jamin: No, I mean, I like listening to it but I don’t want to try to play it. It seem like something that’s pretty difficult to get right.
Jake: It’s also like…there’s plenty of that going on. We’re trying to kinda do something that’s interesting to people…and fun is the main thing.
Jamin: Like a lot of 70s hard rock music–
Jake: –total party music. It’s total, like, ‘getting wasted with your friends’ music. That’s really what it is.
Jamin: But we’re not getting wasted, just having fun.
Jake: Or, you know, getting wasted doesn’t necessarily have to mean drinking.
Jamin: Yeah, it could mean, like, just having a good time.
TPG: Just wasted on fun.
Jake: Yeah, but for me, it’s usually beer…and whiskey. (laughs)
TPG: Would any of that influence have been in the show today?
Jake: A beer and whiskey influence?
Jamin: Not very much, cause we played at like–
Jake: –like, 1:30 in the afternoon. (laughs) But, a fair amount–come tonight.
Jamin: At the Mohawk.
TPG: I think I’m gonna be there!
Jake: Yeah, it’s gonna be wild! (he was right)
Jamin: It’s gonna be wild.
Jake: It’s probably gonna be completely packed. (It was)
Jake: –and…fuckin’ off the chaiiin. (It really, really was)
TPG: Cool, man. Hopefully I make it to the front. (I didn’t. :-( )
Jake: We’re playing inside! We made sure that we got to play inside because it’s always way crazier inside.
TPG: The sound is great too! It’s perfect for you guys.
Jake: So that’s gonna be cool.
TPG: Awesome. Alright, you have a blog, right? The Blogspot? jeffthebrotherhood.blogspot.com?
Jake: It’s just jeffbrotherhood.blogspot.com. Kind of confusing.
Jamin:You should check it out.
TPG: Oh, I got it on my RSS reader.
Jamin: Oh, I was just telling it to that (my audio recorder) to check it out.
TPG: Oh, right. I’ll edit that in.
TPG: Alright, do you think it’s important for a band to have a blog?
Jake: Yeah, absolutely.
TPG: Yeah? Why?
Jamin: I mean, if you’re trying to, like, have a–I dunno…
Jake: Yeah, it depends on what your goals as a band are.
Jamin: Yeah. I mean, I do it cause I want people to know what we’re doing.
Jake: Yeah, you want to be able to connect to the people who are into what you’re doing.
Jamin: Yeah, and it’s fun for me.
Jake: They go on there and are like “oh, look at that! They’re eating at this restaurant; I might check that out the next time I’m in town”!
Jamin: Well, it’s fun ’cause you get bored on tour and it’s something to do for me. It’s also a way for people that like our band to keep track of us. And I think we’re trying to like, do this for a living, so we want to connect with people that are going to support us in our music.
Jake: Right. The blog is also–if you go to the blog, you’ll notice that there’s not really any writing, it’s mostly just pictures and videos.
Jake: ‘Cause we’re trying to make it like, I dunno, reading can be kinda boring. It’s more fun to look at pictures and stuff.
TPG: Like Tumblr?
Jake: Yeah, and watch videos of us, like, doing stupid shit. That’s more fun than reading.
Jamin: …reading onscreen…
Jake: So, we just try and make it fun for people. Check it out.
TPG: So in one word, what would you describe your goal as a band? If you have one yet.
TPG: Japan? Budokan?
Jamin: Japan. We just wanna go there.
TPG: Have you played there yet?
Jamin: No, that’s our goal. That’s like number 1.
TPG: Cool, man. Well, I hope you make it.
Jamin: Thanks man.
TPG: Thanks for the interview.
Jeff the Brotherhood will be playing Galax Z Fair IV in 5 days.
So lately I’ve been watching the new Cosmos series hosted by Neil DeGrasse Tyson. It’s reminded me just how much of a fan of questions I am. I love mysteries and solving them. Something about solving a problem is very gratifying for me. I especially love questions that don’t as of yet have answers. The infinite space of “what could be” is so damn intriguing and exciting, aching to be explored, in my eyes.
I’m reminded of a time in my life when I had nothing but questions. Questions about my body, about who I was, who I was “supposed” to be, and whether anyone was really “supposed” to be anything. From the ages 12-18, I was plagued with a ridiculous pressure to take my fluid and shapeless form and mold it to something that would have helped me be a more palatable person in the eyes of my peers. Being in the oldest child in my family, I didn’t have an older sibling to influence me, and I don’t think my parents had much more of a grasp on who I was than I did myself, which didn’t help me in terms of “figuring myself out”. This is a formative period in any young person’s life. You’re still a sponge, but a much more picky sponge. Guidance is essential in whatever shape and form. Like most kids my age, I’d find my guidance in bands I listened to. Certain songs would make sense of everything in the world no matter how convoluted it all could really be. But I have to admit. Not once in my younger years did a band hit me as hard as Makthaverskan has in my now mid-twenties.
The way vocalist Maja Milner sings “Fuck You, Fuck You” near the end of the first track on their latest full-length, Makthaverskan II, has so much blood and guts in it, it should have teeth. Throughout the album, the same honest and brave voice occasionally sheds its outer shell to get some fresh, vulnerable air. It’s a much more confident and empowered sound than what I initially heard on their self-titled debut, which is still amazing, but somehow doesn’t shake its fists at the sky quite as uninhibitedly as their second album does. Makthaverskan is exactly the kind of band I needed when I was trying to figure my shit out as a young kid, or to at least feel like I had a grip on things. Especially at that age, when the feeling of control and being empowered, even if for a second, lasts a lifetime in memory. And at a point in my life when that wasn’t something I really knew, it would have been so amazing and helpful to have had it in such a pure and powerful form.
Listen to Makthaverskan II in its entirety from their bandcamp page here.
Musically, Makthaverskan takes pop structure to anthemic proportions with an approach which rivals that of every great emo/pop-punk band I could have fallen ass-over-tea-kettle for. The guitars, drums, and bass are all geniusly written; take the simple and elegant “Something More” for example. It begins on such humble notes and bursts so beautifully like a star that can no longer contain it’s pressure. That kind of grace is rare in a band. Every twist and turn throughout this record is a moment of pure illumination. I honestly can’t wait to see them at Galax Z Fair IV this year. I can’t wait to bear witness to this beautiful band.
Not to mention, they’re making one hell of a journey to get here. Poor Makthaverskan has JUST RECENTLY (like yesterday) gotten their travel visas approved. They’ve already missed dates on their tour. And they’ve posted on their Facebook page apologizing for it! I don’t know about you, but that means something to me. These people just really want to come over here and play. All the way from Gothenburg, Sweden. Here’s a file called “Makthaverskan is this far away.jpg” to give a little geographical perspective.
They’ve also started an Instagram account (@maktmaktmakt) that you can follow to join them on their journey. It’s quickly become one of my new favorites, seeing as I’m on there quite frequently as well. Here’s the first photo:
If you speak the language of feelings, I recommend you come feel this band at Galax Z Fair IV.
I say to you, those still searching for purpose and belonging, but whom have yet to taste their fruits with your tongue: your heroes will arrive in 5 days.
Below are the rest of their tour dates w/ Self Defense Family (ALSO playing GZFIV this year!) Finally, is it really fucking cool to see McAllen on this thing or is it just me?
Off to feel up a storm.
It’s been a while since I’ve posted, blah blah blah. Now for my point:
You know how in horror movies surrounding secret cults and ‘strange’ ceremonies there’s always this long shot leading to the grand reveal of whatever horrifying, inhumane ritual is afoot. Take the “Ka-Li-Ma” scene in Temple of Doom, for example.
There’s always a huge feeling of dread that emanates from the screen at that point, but not without an insatiable curiosity fueled by intrigue and wonder. Here’s this ill-boding ensemble that you do not understand one bit, and you get an intimate portrait of its goings on. What a treat that is to feel after digging your nails into your seat for who knows how long. That’s what it’s like listening to The Ukiah Drag,
They’re fucking incredible, and they’re going to be HERE. HERE. HEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEERRRRRRRRRRRREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE in 8 days at
GALAX Z FAIR IV
Listen to their latest album, In The Reaper’s Quarters in full on Youtube below.
This is the fourth year this great festival gets put on at our lovely and treasured venues Cine El Rey and Thirsty Monkey. In my time here as a “switched-on” (see: insane) fan of music, Galax Z Fair has been one of the greatest things to grow out of this Rio Grande Valley soil. Its managed to bring down bands that people never thought they would ever be able to see in their hometown. Imagine that kind of miracle. It’s like giving someone who’s only eaten white bread a piece of cake. I know how great this event is as a performer, as well as a patron, since when I’m not playing, I’m enjoying the vibe and scoping out other bands. It’s super exciting to be able to just walk around this part of town and two different venues are playing cool shit. It’s almost overwhelming. It’s also such an intimate experience because you as a fan get to talk to these bands you like, because they’re just hanging out having a beer/smoking a cigarette/checking out bands too! That’s like All Tomorrow’s Parties shit. For any music lover new or old, this is the kind of thing you can’t get anywhere else. I don’t know of any other music festivals happening this month that give you that much freedom to be around bands. Also, ever since Thirsty Monkey got added to the picture, that place has been nothing short of a party every year. I remember turning from someone’s set at the sound of a beer bottle hitting the floor and seeing members of Nu Sensae, White Lung, Mac Demarco, and some of their friends doing some dumb shit in the corner having an absolute ball. They had never been here before and they were enjoying themselves! If you aren’t a fan of being around music and people who like it, I can understand not being interested. But if you like music, I recommend you come out to this event and get some new flavors on your palette. If you’re a fan of these bands or in anyway have heard of these bands, you should also buy your ticket asap because I guarantee you it will not be something you regret. If you’re into one band but not the rest of the bill, who knows? You might discover a handful of new favorites and end up kicking yourself for not having enough cash on you to buy more than one record. Not to fear though, in this age of the Internet, most of these bands will have a way of getting a record out to you in some way. Especially if you ask nicely!
Buy your tickets for Galax Z Fair IV here and at Melhart’s Music if you’re in McAllen.
Man, it’s been a while. Might do a few more of these.
I’m starting a new series of posts listing my top 15 bands or artists that I have only recently heard of. These posts will highlight the artists and include an example of their work along with reasons as to why you should listen to them carefully crafted by yours truly.
This will be great.