By Jacob Katel
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Brash, unabashed, and in your face, the Hialeah power-pop trio are not ashamed to tout themselves as the new messiahs of rock and roll. Coming together from varying backgrounds and experiences, these local troubadours are using all their wiles to propel themselves to the next level. Guitarist/vocalist Jorge Gonzalez, 31 years old, came to Miami during the 1980 Mariel boatlift. He is a freelance photographer. Born in Ecuador, 26-year-old Juan Oña is a self-taught drummer with a little over two years' worth of experience. His educational background is in film and business. Bassist/vocalist Omar Garcia was born in New Jersey to Cuban parents and relocated to Miami at a young age. The 29-year-old handles graphic design and visual direction for an advertising firm.
Throughout the Nineties long-time friends Garcia and Gonzalez palled around in nameless bands before solidifying their chemistry and harmonics with their tenure in a punk rock outfit called the Inside. Early this century they met Oña, and his cheerful approachability led the journeymen to ask if he would play drums with them. Though he wasn't professionally trained in any sense, Oña's raw enthusiasm and interest shone through in his ability to keep perfect time and produce appropriate fills.
Frustrated by their previous attempts at becoming serious music players, Garcia and Gonzalez found inspiration in Oña's carpe diem take on life. Though choosing to commit to a future together as the Brand, the trio knew the road ahead of them would be tough. "We knew it had to be up to us. Music, direction, booking, and pretty much everything," reflects Gonzalez. "We know what we want and we're working hard on getting it."
Earlier this year the Brand recorded, mastered, designed, and released a self-titled EP that included handmade packaging, nine audio tracks (ever the sticklers for detail and quality, they remastered and repackaged the disc a handful of times after its original release), and a DVD video for their song "X-mas Day." Because they want their fans to know how hot they are, they've been giving away the discs at shows or to anyone who asks.
At around the same time the triad came to the bewildering conclusion that there were no live rock and roll venues in their hometown of Hialeah. Enter the Diamond Lounge, which, according to Gonzalez, "had its regulars, but you know how crowds fluctuate. So we told them that we'd pretty much handle everything and draw more people. Omar had done a show there before, so the bar knew we'd be serious about it." Since the Brand struck an agreement to book its shows, the Diamond Lounge has gone from a nondescript dive bar (shadowed by a liquor store and a 24-hour pizza joint) to a local live music mecca. Because their attitude is of brotherly love, they book as many locals as they can: the Getback, the Stop Motion, and Para are some of the groups that have graced the bar's small stage.
"We share our scene," says Oña. "Even though I go crazy during the week posting flyers and sending out e-mails, my payoff is on the night of the show, having a drink with my friends and making sure the P.A. sounds good for them." The arrangement works out for all parties: The Diamond Lounge makes money, and the bands get paid.
The boys in the Brand have made out, too. This past April they toured through several East Coast cities, and in September they played a few shows at venerable New York clubs like CBGB's and Le Bar Bat. Their DIY ethic and a referral from friend and local musician/journalist Rene Alvarez earned them a spot in Burdines's "Back to School" campaign last summer. The trio shot a commercial for the Florida store in which they performed their song "Girlfriend" poolside to a crowd of reveling teenagers. Meanwhile the video for "X-mas Day," the first track on the EP, is regularly shown on Mun2.
But there are detractors to their quest. Some think that the boys are full of themselves. They have an assertive, Cassius Clay-esque manner of talking about the band and a frenzied, circuslike approach to public relations. Gonzalez feels their promotional tactics are not detrimental. "We try to create good songs. Fun songs," he says. "If they can't see what it's all about, then we gotta work a little harder."
It would be one thing if the Brand sucked. But the fact is, their music ranks as one of the freshest takes on power pop/punk in some time. They stick to the basics, delivering catchy, finger-snappin' music complemented by a soaring range of vocals that can go from whiskey-stained gruff to melodically high octaves. The quasibiographical content of their lyrics, while not exactly earth-shattering, serves their aesthetic needs. The band's interests are put into perspective in the pop ballad "Photograph": "I put photographs on every wall in my room to try to feel better, every time I'm left alone I sleep, cause I'm so exhausted ... I don't know what day it is or if I'm s'pposed to go somewhere ..."