By Jacob Katel
By Laurie Charles
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Abel Folgar
By Kat Bein
By Jacob Katel
So two Cubans, a Puerto Rican, and an Irish guy walk into a dental supply warehouse ... "We make music that's unique to this neighborhood. Sometimes I'm surprised people are interested." 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 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 Guajiro. Three of its four members are Hispanic -- 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 group, and the thirtysomethings 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.
"Whatever -- 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. "We didn't say, Let's be a Latin punk band.' No. We're a Miami punk band. In Miami you speak Spanish, you speak English, a combination of both, and that's how our lyrics come out."
Their mish-mash style of hardcore meets Spanglish rock isn't brand-new, but it's unique enough to give them a platform on which to build their own sound. Their recordings and live shows 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. And an undercurrent of Latin percussion runs through some numbers. Even with a hard-driven punk aesthetic, Guajiro is inescapably a product of South Florida.
"I don't see how what we're doing is so special," says Mackinnon. "We make music that's unique to this neighborhood. Sometimes I'm surprised other people are even interested." But outside the group's home base, fans and industry types are increasingly seeking a piece of Guajiro. Recently the bandmates signed with Belgium-based I-Scream Records and inked an endorsement deal with Gibson that has landed them a spot on the upcoming Vans Warped Tour. Their debut full-length album, Material Subversivo, was released last month.
Perhaps most 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. Guajiro 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 and initially bonded through a conversation about the lack of a definitive Miami rock sound. The exchange planted the seeds for Guajiro.
"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," says Mackinnon, "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 began forming Guajiro in 2005, they were tired of false starts and determined to put together a band with enough wisdom and talent that it couldn't lose. Before Guajiro, Mackinnon played with two quasi-legendary groups: the Boston hardcore band Slapshot and L.A. punk pioneers the Vandals. Lopez fronted the New Jersey-based Friction Wheel in the early Nineties and then worked as a marketing rep for Warner Music Latin America before giving up on music to run a dental supply company. Gonzalez played with local pop-rock outfit the Brand and 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. Guajiro was a second chance for a group of musicians who had temporarily put aside the craft.
"We all know what a good band is supposed to sound like, and we're really hard on ourselves," says Gonzalez.
"When you're playing some strain of punk," Mackinnon adds, "with our resum's, 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 and Santos joined the group a year and a half ago, Guajiro's original lineup featured Luis Castellanos on bass and Ariel Gonzalez on lead guitar. They were briefly signed to Long Beach Records and released a self-titled EP, which received considerable buzz in Latin American markets, but still the group lacked focus.