Interview by Sarah Williams.
La Armada bring a passion and ferocity to the stage that’s rarely seen, even in the hardcore punk scene. Starting life in the Dominican Republic, they’re heavily influenced by latin and Caribbean rhythms, but they’ve since relocated to Chicago via Florida, where a love for thrash, hardcore and grind has galvanized their fiery sound.
To relocate from Latin America to the USA for a shared musical project shows overwhelming dedication but they’re not stopping there: lyrically they’re aiming to be a voice for those who don’t have one, in Donald Trump’s America. Musically they’re seeking to defy genres and leave their own mark on the world.
We spoke to guitarist Paul and bassist Mani to learn more about this unique band.
I was lucky enough to catch you guys live at Punk Rock Holiday last year – I was floored by your live show. What did you most enjoy about your time in Europe?
Paul: A lot of things! I think the biggest one is the passion people have for music. I remember walking around precisely at Punk Rock Holiday and seeing groups of people marching around between bands and just singing songs from their favorite bands from the weekend out loud, just excited to be there and to see live music. You really don’t see that level of excitement as much on the side of the world we live in. So, definitely the appreciation people have for live music is the top thing we enjoyed seeing.
Aside from that, the experience of traveling country to country and being submerged into different cultures, languages without having to stop at a crosspoint for borders was great. We are planning to be back in Europe in the summer of 2019 with the help of Epidemic Records from Italy, who helped distribute our new record out there.
You released Anti-Colonial Vol. 1 earlier this year – it’s a melting pot of aggressive, latin-influenced hardcore. It’s quite a unique sound. What’s inspired that combination?
Mani: Music is a quintessential part of latin culture and identity. Before we even heard of punk and metal, we where listening to Caribbean merengue, salsa and bachata, and these rhythms had a big impact on our early musical development. By the time we went over every sub-genre of punk and metal (from grind to thrash) it was almost like we where fluent in two languages.
I think our current sound is also a direct result of the process of migrating and relocating to the US, being detached from our friends and families for so long pushed us to find a way to musically reconnect with our culture.
The rhythm section in Caribbean music can be extremely aggressive and visceral at times, and this is something that was always on our minds when we wrote Vol. 1.
You’re known for your sharp, political lyrics. What messages are you most keen to convey at the moment?
Mani: At this moment our lyrics are both a reflection of our environment and a platform to educate people about the struggles of the immigrant community under Donald Trump’s America. We are living in a time where hatred and xenophobia are being normalized from top to bottom, black people are still getting killed by police and women constantly get disrespected, and yet most people choose to remain silent about it. The message is simple. Fight back. Speak up. Get informed, get involved in the political process of your city. This is no time to stand still. This is a time to be a voice for those who don’t have one.
Do you think music can be used as a force for political good? Is that part of your intention as a band, or are you more in it more to have fun?
Paul: We’ve always been a band with a message. That’s the number one thing so, it is definitely the intention and the concept of the band to address social-political issues. At the same time we are a very musical band, who enjoys sounding good on stage and putting on a great show. We have a lot of fun doing what we do and if we didn’t, we wouldn’t be able to continue. The amount of sacrifices you have to make to keep a band going on a professional level when you are DIY are plenty. If it weren’t fun there would be no point to it.
Your music’s absolutely furious. What do you do to maintain that level of energy?
Paul: Musically, furious is our nature. I think even if we’re playing a slower song or jamming on a groove people can still tell it’s angry. It’s just natural territory, it comes with the messaging of the band and with how we write. Even though we actually pay more attention on the rhythms rather than how fast they are, it’s always furious in one way or another. Lyrically we draw from themes of oppression. This is something that fuels the flames of discontent when it’s time to write new music.
As far as the live show, we try to put on a high energy set every night. We appreciate bands that work on putting on a great show and that’s what we try to do as well. Being on the road for long periods of time is tiring so, we make sure to work out when were home and also on tour and in the last couple of years the band has become more health conscious in regards to food, with the whole band now eating either a vegan or vegetarian diet.
Can we expect a similar sound from Anti-Colonial Vol. 2?
Mani: With Vol. 1, the bread and butter of the album are the drum beats, we were determined to find different sweet spots on the metronome where we could transition from raw punk to hardcore to Afro-Caribbean beats in a smooth, effortless manner. without sounding like we deliberately stopped and included a “latin” part in the song.
With Vol. 2 we will focus on how to make that come across even more. We’re working on rhythms with strong Caribbean traces that also work well when played as punk or hardcore. It’s a fun process, we push ourselves to see how far we can take this concept. I think Vol. 2 will be a clearer vision of what it is we want to contribute to the genre. We want to establish a clearer musical identity.
You started off as a band your home in the Dominican Republic. What’s the music scene like there, and how do you think it’s influenced your current sound? Is there more of a DIY approach?
In Latin America, punks sing about poverty and oppression because they are actually poor and oppressed, and we lived through those same circumstances. In addition, when you live in a country as conservative as the Dominican Republic, any attempt to defy the norm is met with outstanding resistance. But when we started to see people connecting with what we were singing about, we knew it was something we had to continue to develop.
The music scene is small but passionate. In the early 2000’s the punk scene was very active, and we were part of that wave. We would put on shows everywhere we could, car washes, empty office spaces, backyards, parking lots, etc. This definitely helped instill in us a true sense of DIY ethics and of resourcefulness. If your a punk in the Island, you have to learn to make something out of nothing.
Why did you decide to make Chicago your home, and how do you think it’s changed you?
Mani: In 2007 we has just moved to Florida from the Island and we got invited to open for Chicago legends Los Crudos at the Latino Punk Fest. We automatically clicked with the scene there, and the overwhelming support we received made it clear this was the right move for the band.
The DIY punk community welcomed us with open arms and made us feel home. We’ve had the opportunity to absorb influences from different genres from power-violence, cumbia, to hip hop, and I think it shows on this record. There’s a certain element of “street” that comes out of the Southside of Chicago, It’s like a more relaxed D-Beat rhythm, and if you’re familiar with it, you can hear it in some of our songs.
Looking back I’m glad that’s where we ended up, the community is great to belong to and geographically, being in the middle of the country allows us to tour to any corner of the country or even Canada with relative ease. Winter sucks though.
You’ve had a rich history as a group – you’ve been together since the early 2000’s. How do you think you’ve developed musically in that time?
Mani: We are an ever-changing, ever-evolving hardcore entity. The essence of the band is still here but touring extensively for the last 10 years and watching hundreds of bands is something that developed our music in all directions and subgenera’s. Most importantly, I believe that when a band goes through a process like migrating to the US to start an art project from scratch, there’s a level of passion in the music being produced that can’t be replicated.
What advice would you give to a band that’s just starting out?
Paul: Do it because you love it and you can’t think of anything else you’d rather be doing. If you want to commit to being in an active band, you have to know that it’s far from glamorous and opportunities are far and in between so, passion has to be your main motor. If you’re just in it for fun or to play a few shows here and there, go have fun, music is for everyone.
What are your ambitions for La Armada in the future?
Paul: The biggest ambition is to make genre defining music. We want you to know when a song is ours. With that, should come a lot of travel and playing in front of people and at the end of the day that’s the goal, to play great shows.
As for immediate plans, we have a West US and Canadian tour to end the year then an eastern Canadian tour with Belvedere and Satanic Surfers and the plan is to be in Europe for the summer. Hope to see you all.
Interview by Sarah Williams.