RUDY DE ANDA: LOCK ME IN THE FREEZER AND FIGHT ME
photography by stefano galli
Rudy De Anda has been a key player in the Long Beach music scene—he’s a founding member of Wild Pack of Canaries and his most recent venture is a four-piece band bearing his name that began as a fun side project but which took off when the famed local icon Ikey Owens (of the Mars Volta, Jack White’s band, and his own Free Moral Agents) took interest, and offered to record and mix their debut EP Ostranenie, which will be released in May on Porch Party Records. De Anda’s sound is deliberately difficult to classify—like the title of the EP, it’s familiar but novel at the same time, blending Beatles-style song structures with romantic Latin crooners, subtle hints of modern pop, dreamy washed-out production and lyrics in both English and Spanish. Needless to say, it’s a dramatic divergence from the maximal multiple personalities of Wild Pack—as well as unique reflection of an artist creating a style designed to express himself totally. De Anda speaks now about location, inspiration and fighting in a dumpster cage over the proper way to display cilantro. He performs tonight, Thur., Apr. 2, at La Cita. This interview by Desi Ambrozak.
You’re the only person I know who’s come to blows over cilantro. What happened?
I was working at Whole Foods—I worked with Mike Vermillion from GoGoGo Airheart. We didn’t know each other too well until the day I got in a fight with one of the produce guys. He didn’t want to rotate the cilantro and would put new stuff in front of the old stuff, which you’re not supposed to do. He didn’t like it that a younger person was telling him how to do his job and he tried to lock me in the freezer and fight me. I told him no—we should go outside. So we locked ourselves inside the dumpster cage and after a few minutes of fighting we decided to stop. When I came back inside my shirt was all ripped up and I had a gouge on on my face and pretty much looked like I’d been fighting. Mike Vermillion looked at me like I was crazy. I think that’s the moment when he started taking a liking to me and I started hanging out with him. He’d show me a lot of his records and I would show him the Wild Pack recordings and ask for feedback. He became a very good friend.
Have you always lived in Long Beach? Were you born here?
No, I was born in Watts at MLK hospital, which is shut down because of malpractice and when someone died in the waiting room. That was at least a decade after I was born there. My mom said she was watching the Lakers versus the Celtics in the finals when I was being born. But I was actually conceived in Mexico which is cool. She crossed the border when she was six months pregnant with me. So I was definitely imported and probably conceived in some Monte Carlo from the 80s.
Did you grow up in Watts?
I lived there for a second but was mostly raised in Compton. It was the Rodney King L.A. riots that caused us to move out. We lived next to a church, a liquor store, and a laundromat so it was prime real estate for whoever was conducting the riots. No one was attacking our house specifically, but it got caught in the crossfire and we were out of there within a few hours. My mom, dad, and me got everything we could into our little Honda and scrammed. I was like four or five years old. We just took off. We spent the next few months in East L.A. and when we came back to check it out, it was just a flat surface of ash and remains. The structure was completely done for. It was literally done. It was just an empty lot. After that it was East L.A. for a few months to get back on our feet. My dad started his own janitorial service and it was his own company so that was cool. We moved down to Long Beach because him and my uncle found a duplex on 10th and Redondo. I was a fresh kindergartener coming to Long Beach and not really speaking much English. As soon as I came out, I got the chicken pox, and my mom was pregnant so I couldn’t even stay here because the doctor told her that the baby could have birth defects if I was around her while she was giving birth. So I got sent for about three months to Mexico to live with my grandma. I finally came back after and from that point on did elementary, middle school, high school—all here. I see the L.A. riots as a blessing in disguise because there’s no way, I think, I would have ended up in Long Beach without some kind of freak event that shaped the course of people’s lives differently than they would have been otherwise. I don’t think that Compton is a music town like Long Beach. I could have ended up being a cholo or something.
When did you start playing music?
When I was 13 and by the age of 15 I was playing in bands with my neighborhood friends—one them was Alfred Hernandez who I’ve continued to play with through all these years and who is the drummer for Wild Pack of Canaries. That original group was all neighborhood buddies. We all wanted to play and were learning to play and did a few shows. It was called Cromlech which is a single stone that makes the full Stonehenge. That was the ultimate beginnings.
How did you come up with that name?
I don’t know—doing a lot of hallucinogens and reading a lot. I like to read dictionaries and thesauruses. I was also reading a lot of Aldous Huxley and George Orwell. I really got into this book Chrome Yellow. It got weird. Then I joined a group called Minus Radio with Bill Cutts and Gerardo Gonzales. We went on to play at the Smell a lot and with bands like Abe Vigoda and Health. That was all through high school. I was like 16 and 17. It was really experimental art rock. We were really reaching. I was on a lot drugs so it was right up my alley. Bobb Bruno recorded our album and we eventually broke up before my family moved. When we moved to Vegas it was a real fork in the road. I saved up money from a job in a Japanese restaurant where I learned how to make yakisoba and stuff. I came back after like ten months and slept on my friend’s floor while I learned how to survive on my own. I got a job at Whole Foods in the produce department and joined a soccer team and was just trying to adapt and grow up. After a while, the opportunity to start Wild Pack of Canaries came when someone asked me to play a show. I didn’t have a band or anything so I asked Alfred, Drew Pearson, and J.P. Bendzinski to see if they wanted to get together some songs and the rest was history. That was in 2008.
How many records did you put out?
We put out a CD called The Coroner Can Wait on Mountain Man Records. That was our debut. I have a tattoo from the cover here on my forearm. Then we did a 7” vinyl with the song ‘Brain Brain’ and another self-released full length called In the Parian Flesh and a cassette on Lolipop called Agua Amarga.
What were those songs about? What were you trying to communicate ?
They were all different kinds of concept albums because we’re fans of prog music. For ‘The Coroner Can Wait,’ I had a visual of a family coming to see the body of their beloved passed away next to a tree. They come up and shove the police officers out of the way and then they just need a moment with the deceased. They turn and say, ‘The coroner can wait.’ That was the title track. I would say the one that was super conceptualized was In The Parian Flesh. We definitely tried to stay away from topics like love and friendship. I felt like it’s been done so much. It’s funny because nowadays I’m definitely referring back to those type of songs but at that point I thought of it as a challenge. ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to Insanity’ is a play off the book Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and is about what you would do if you woke up and found out the world was going to be over—just like how the book starts. It was a big collection of different storybook ideas but In The Parian Flesh was my spaghetti-western romance novel in space. Like if Ennio Morricone was in a punk band. A lot of the ideas for the records start off with a visualization. It’s mostly a lot of hidden meanings for me. There are names on those records that have meaning, like the last song on that record titled ‘Antoinette’—that’s the middle name of my girlfriend at that time. She played a role in helping me write all the songs and used to be in the band. We worked on a lot of songs together and ‘Antoinette’ is one that we didn’t finish, so I thought it would be a cool way to honor her in the record by finishing it and putting it out. It’s dedicated to her. Not until now, however, have I shown any light on that aspect. She always knew that that song was about her. No one else really knew.
What about Agua Amarga?
I think that was when the band was at its most mature point. We spent so much time recording In The Parian Flesh with Ikey, and were conjuring up a bunch of new songs in the midst of it. As far as having concrete drawn-out ideas is concerned, that was when we we were at our most mature point of where the band could actually go with all the different ideas that we were always trying to cram in. In terms of song construction, this was our best representation for sure.
How did you meet Ikey Owens?
We were friends. He saw us grow up. We were his fans and he would always give us tickets to shows and vinyls. He knew we were kids from the neighborhood but he didn’t know that we were practicing and trying to make good music. Then when he saw Wild Pack play he asked us if he could produce a record for us. He took us into his world and under his wing to show us the ropes and help us out. We gained a lot of insight from hanging out with him all the time. We already had an existing relationship but it just grew more and more. That’s what led to him being interested in doing the songs that I was doing on my own.
How did working with Ikey change your own ideas about making music?
Across the board he showed me a little bit of everything—whether it’s how to talk to management, how you talk to show promoters, how to know your self-worth in situations where you could easily be taken advantage of … things like that. It’s kind of an overwhelming question. All I can say is that for me growing up and watching him play … for him to take me under his wing like he did, he supported me like no other person has. And was a Grammy-award winning musician who toured all over the world. Obviously in how you approach songwriting and different textures you can add to recordings, he definitely showed me a lot. We just had a great relationship in the studio and I think ever since I worked with him whenever I visit studios again I have that sense of calmness and can just go in and do my thing. I know I’m leaving a lot of stuff out because whether it’s a musical or not, we shared a bond. Both of us had our fathers pass away recently and shared in that plus both of us are from Long Beach and shared that lifestyle. Also sharing a sense of humor—and probably the biggest thing was seeing how much of a normal, humble, nice person he was in the midst of all of his success. That was, I think, the best thing that could ever rub off on me. The way that he handled himself—the way that he was always pushing himself, learning more, and playing with a lot of people, always thinking about his next move—that’s something, among countless things, that I take with me.
How would you describe Wild Pack’s style?
We saw the beauty of song construction but also free-form, freak-out stuff. It would be both the ethics of the Beatles song writing and also the ethics of other song writing styles—with no regard and with all kinds of mixing and matching. I would say that I take something from pre-drug Beatles, like ‘62 to ‘66, and then ‘66 to ‘70. Not every song is obviously the greatest song but I took a little from all of their different episodes or incarnations. I almost call Wild Pack’s music ‘ADD music’ because the time sequences change so often that you need to be on your toes. Besides the Beatles I would say that it’s influenced by anything from Captain Beefheart to Frank Zappa and things like that.
Let’s talk about the Rudy De Anda band. How did that start? And why?
I always had songs, but around the summer of 2013 Ikey approached me and said that he wants to do my solo songs because he heard that I had my own songs and that my band was kind of on the ropes or maybe not as active as we should be or could be. So he offered to record the songs that I had and invited me over to his house and use his 8-track in his living room. It started as more of a passion project—just for fun. Then I met Zach Mabry who has been the drummer for me. We were both at a time in our lives when we had a lot of free time and lived close to each other. That’s when the Porch Party house was still around and we just exploited it. He was very supportive and had a lot of energy. He just landed on my lap as a drummer and soon after [I got] Lily Stretz on bass, so I just had these two people and a rhythm section that I was stoked to be a part of and stoked to play with. There was nothing ever set in stone until we started realizing that we had all these songs rehearsed. Twin Steps had a show in Long Beach in December of 2013 and I asked my buddies Froth if they wanted to join and that’s what would become our first show. We were finally ready to play a live show. All the guys in Wild Pack had started doing other projects and doing their own thing. So it was almost natural. It wasn’t forced. It just happened. Everyone was supportive and happy of the chance to be productive. If they were busy, it’s too bad. I still wanted to play music frequently. It just turned out that I landed a really cool rhythm section that wanted to be a part of it as much as I wanted to do it. I had to let them know that it was going to be the Rudy De Anda band and we could play under other monikers but this is what it is without ego involved so much. They were fine with it and we’ve already played 75 or 100 shows in the last year in places all over like San Francisco, Oakland … That’s been the norm for the last six or seven years. Since 2005, I’ve done over 5,000 shows.
I feel like the two groups are so different. If I didn’t know I would never guess that it was the same people.
That’s a good compliment. I had a lot of songs that weren’t so much frenetic and were more romantic or more ballad-y and with a different sound. With the help of Zach, it just kind of dawned on me to create this new different format of sound specifically for the EP. It sounds more dreamier and a lot more lo-fi and intimate and not so in your face. It’s an ode to a lot of Spanish crooners from the past like Luis Spinetta, who is the singer from Almendra, and Los Apson. There’s a lot of bands from the past that I happen to be influenced by. Some stuff that was right under my nose and some that I was curious to learn about. I took a trip to Chile in 2012 to see El Guincho from Spain who was touring down there and is one of my favorite artists. I was down there by myself with no cell phone and no credit card, just hanging around meeting the locals. That trip really made a lasting impression and the music scene down there is incredible with bands like Astro and Alex Anwandter. It really helped me understand that it’s really nice to embrace your roots. It’s rock ‘n’ roll music but it’s also influenced by your culture. There’s always going to be songs that you heard from your family that have this neverending effect on you. It’s like rock ‘n’ roll but you have your Hispanic heart behind it. It’s cool because it’s a form of rock music that’s distorted through the eyes and ears of someone who grew up in a totally different culture. It translates in the sound in such a way that gives it a very rich distinction.
What do you mean by ‘Hispanic heart’?
I grew up in a Hispanic home listening to Latin music all the time. It’s like a given that I would be influenced by it. I think that the special thing that happened for me was realizing it further on in life. While I was in the Wild Pack, I realized what a profound influence the early stuff really had on my life. Once I really started to go back and find all the gems—whether it was rock, bossa nova or even traditional Mexican music—I really enjoy a lot of the songs. I think that the older I’ve gotten, the more I appreciate how much it has blatantly influenced my musical style. I like it because I feel like it’s a natural progression for me. Your roots music combined with growing up in Long Beach liking rock ‘n’ roll and punk rock all comes to a head in your musical mind when you write songs. It’s like a splatter of paint on a canvas. My mom and my grandma, we’re listening to crooners and ballads and stuff like that—and I feel like my approach, when it comes to music, is less of the teen angst sound and more of a romanticized sound with a more crooner approach. This makes it a lot different than traditional rock ‘n’ roll. I’m also working on a full length but that’s going to be with a full band that has the more rowdy punky stuff that I’ve been playing at all of the shows I’ve been doing. It has more of a Television influence and other bands like Fugazi and Deerhoof, too. It’s more live performance based with punkier dancier songs. We’ve been playing a lot of shows with bands from Burger and Lolipop and people that go to those shows tend to want to dance. We definitely have a lot more songs of our sleeves that are more up beat and get people moving. It also goes along with the rock en espanol sound from the 80s when it got more upbeat and sped up and definitely more influenced by American rock ‘n’ roll and punk but just with Spanish lyrics.
Who is in the Rudy De Anda band now?
J.P. is the guitar player. We’ve always had a really solid understanding of each other musically. It’s the most rewarding and challenging thing to play guitar beside him. He has a jazz background from high school, which combines with all of his time playing in bands. His level of guitar playing is a very high. It’s great for me because that means I have to keep up with him. I think that we feed off of each other. Plus we both really like bands like Television and The Nerves. We love to play together—it ties our lives together. I know it’s good for him and it’s great for me—the fact that I can keep up with him. We have a great musical chemistry. He’s an outstanding musician, and the more I play with outstanding musicians the better I get.
And you just got a new drummer?
Yes—Anthony Vezirian. Which goes along with the fact that the music is always changing. Bringing new people will mix up the sound. I would like to continue that tradition in this band. I’d like to not get so tied down with an idea but always experiment. I never want people to pigeonhole us and think that we’re just a surf band or a Hispanic band. I always want to keep people guessing. There’s never going to be a definite sound to this band.
What about Lily?
Lily’s the youngest member of the Rudy De Anda band. She’s 20 years old, and has been playing bass for over eight years. Her dad’s from JFA and she’s just like a little Long Beach protégé. She’s been with us since we started. We all just clicked together. She adds a punk-y personality. She’s also in the Meow Twins on Burger Records.
How would you break down the history of Long Beach music?
I see music in Long Beach as being very generational. You can go back to the 70s with the band War or to the 80s with Suburban Lawns into the movement of the early 90s and the Christian rock-era bands like Cold War Kids or Delta Spirit, who were transplants. There was a lot of bands that came out of that. It’s always been a generational thing. I just think that the Porch Party house was a meeting point for everyone who was seriously artistically driven. Casey [of Porch Party] was behind it and the daddy of it all, and we would just congregate there. You could practice without paying and share ideas and brought up this camaraderie of the bands. Once we noticed how Casey was putting out vinyls more and more, it garnered a bigger level of respect. We noticed that Long Beach wasn’t being represented in a way that it should be. You can quote me on that: people find it easy to talk shit about Long Beach, but most of those people are probably not even from L.A. If you are not actually here, then you don’t know what’s going on. But at the same time we want people to come and see what’s going on. It’s definitely harder to make DIY connections in the community, but it was just a matter of time that it would get represented right—or maybe not right or wrong, but these were bands that Casey handpicked to show to the world. Finally we have this platform to do it.
Tell me about the festival you’re curating in Mexicali.
My friend took me to a brewery down there for a beer festival because she knew I was from there. While I was there I became friends with the owner and people who worked there. I was just hanging out with them, pouring beer for people, and they invited me back a year after. That’s when the Rudy band played down there. This year they had a big budget to do a festival so they asked me to help them curate it. It’s called Celsius Festival on Saturday May 2 in Mexicali. So far we got Cutty Flam, Los Apson, Chicano Batman, AJ Davila, Sleeping in the Darkness, Summer Twins, and Eureka the Butcher, which is Marcel from Mars Volta. For me it represents a celebration of the intertwined culture that we are in where we love rock ‘n’ roll but we also love our roots.
Anything else you wanna talk about?
Yeah—there was this one time I went to Oakland with the Rudy band and my hat fell out the window of the car. I jumped out while it was still driving to get my hat back and when the car came back they couldn’t find me but and I ended up meeting some girl that let me stay in her attic. I woke up there at 5 AM and ended up finding some shoes under a bridge before meeting my friend London at the train station at 6 AM.
What are you on?
The older I get the more high I get on life.
L.A. RECORD PRESENTS RUDY DE ANDA WITH SLIPPPING INTO DARKNESS AND EL HARU KAROI PLUS DJs CHRIS ZIEGLER (L.A. RECORD) + LONDON GUZMAN (WILD PACK OF CANARIES) ON THU., APR. 2, AT LA CITA, 336 S. HILL ST., DOWNTOWN. 9 PM / $5 / 21+. AND RUDY DE ANDA WITH LOS APSON, A.J. DAVILA, CHICANO BATMAN, SUMMER TWINS, CUTTY FLAM, EUREKA THE BUTCHER (MARCEL FROM MARS VOLTA), AND MORE ON SAT., MAY 2, AT THE CELSIUS FESTIVAL AT PARQUE VINCENTE GUERRERO, MEXICALI BC. RUDY DE ANDA’S OSTRANENIE EP WILL BE RELEASD THIS MAY ON PORCH PARTY RECORDS. VISIT RUDY DE ANDA AT FACEBOOK.COM/RUDYDEANDAMUSIC.