By David Rolland
By David Von Bader
By Rebecca Bulnes
By Laurie Charles
By Chuck Strouse
By Lee Zimmerman
By Laurie Charles
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.
When the lineup shifted and the current formation of Guajiro emerged, the master plan, as Lopez likes to call it, was finally possible. They booked shows in Puerto Rico and Mexico while continuing to establish themselves on the Miami scene. Though Churchill's Pub and Studio A have become their main performance venues, ground zero is an expansive dental warehouse in Hialeah. It was there, in a stuffy backroom, where the concept for Material Subversivo was created. The video for the album's first single, "Santa Fe," was shot there as well.
Listening to the record is like going on a journey with punk and all of its various offshoots. A song like "Delinquente" is all Agnostic Front drums and thrash, yet "Bad Idea" starts off like the tune "Kiss Me" by Sixpence None the Richer and gets more emotional as it continues. "Santa Fe" is pure Spanglish rock with an edge, perfect for MTV Latin America, where it's already getting spins. The bandmates have no problem with their highly varied sound.
"Whatever, man, you can say what you want about this band; maybe it's not hip with the hipsters or the indie crowd, but we don't really give a shit about that," says Gonzalez. "We make music and let the rest take care of itself." It's this combination of confidence and nonchalance that sets the band apart from some of its younger competitors. These qualities were definitely evident during the filming of Rally MTV, an Amazing Race-style series of challenges across South America.
"We had to go from So Paolo, Brazil, down to the beach for this rally," says Gonzalez, beinning to laugh. "The first band, they went to a McDonald's, ate real fast, and then took off. And we're like, Ah fuck that.' We went to a churrascaria, we had a bunch of beer, 30 pounds of meat, soccer game on every channel, and the folks are saying, Hey, you're losing the rally,' and it's like, Uh, yeah ... whatever.'"
They're soaking all of it up, and with so much experience under their belts, they recognize an opportunity worth savoring.
"A lot of it's just knowing how to enjoy life," says Lopez. "We're already satisfied in many respects as people. We're just playing the music that we love and letting everything come to us."