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Gabriel eagerly took the guitar home to his older brother, Raul, now 19 years old, then a student at Hammocks Middle. Raul had the makings of a drum kit, and within a couple of days, the brothers had the ragtag beginnings of a band.
"The same night as the flea market, they started playing," the eldest Garcia says. "There were a lot of noises going on in the room. And then in the next couple of days, they started to actually sound kind of like music." The brothers quickly recruited Alex for second guitar, and Zakk for bass, which he would also have to teach himself, and the group began learning cover songs from bands such as Blink-182, Green Day, and Screeching Weasel.
But soon they discovered rock and fucking roll, as well as a number of core influential bands, which Zakk rattles off in reverent, abbreviated form: "Maiden. Metallica. Megadeth. Priest."
Gabriel credits his cousin. "He had a bunch of old CDs, and at the time they weren't playing any of that stuff on either the new rock station or the classic rock station. We were playing all that pop-punk stuff, but when we heard Guns N' Roses and AC/DC, we were like, 'Fuck that. This is what we're playing now.'"
Dad Raul takes some of the credit as well. "Around the house, I listened to the kind of rock metal I loved beginning as a teenager. There was a lot of Guns N' Roses, Metallica, Megadeth, Ozzy Osbourne, Led Zeppelin. But it was a surprise in my mind that my kids were gonna love it so much," he says. "When Gabriel was, like, eight years old, he started saying, 'Hey, Dad, I like Guns N' Roses.' And I said, 'What the hell do you know about Guns N' Roses? You were born in 1992!'"
That was, until the day he heard the strains of a competent rendition of "Sweet Child o' Mine" emanating from his kids' bedroom. "Of course, he sounded like a little cat back then! But you could hear the playing was really good."
Gabriel tapped his cousin for a few basic lessons on chords and blues scales and then pored over Internet videos to learn technique
(Van Halen was a favorite). Everyone around him soon agreed: Age be damned, the preternaturally gifted Gabriel could really shred.
Calling themselves Radio, the scrappy quartet hit Miami's early-'00s all-ages circuit — ferried by supportive band parents with spacious vehicles. They played a venue called The Space, inside South Miami's Shops at Sunset Place (now the site of L.A. Fitness), and numerous house parties thrown by slightly older, often privileged kids. And there were many shows at Kaffe Krystal, at the time the spot for underage, subdivision-dwelling music fans, where the band played its first official paying gig. "It was $20, split among the band," Zakk Sandler recalls. "So that was, like, five bucks for us to all go to Wendy's afterwards. We were like, 'Cool, I can go get a sandwich!'"
Pedro Mena and Steve Pestana — two Broward County-raised, New York-based promoters — stumbled upon the band's MySpace page. Mena and Pestana were known for their devotion to breaking new acts, via their ASCAP-sponsored compilation series featuring emerging artists, as well as their long-running weekly Sunday party, Shout!, which had turned into a platform for introducing bands to the downtown New York cognoscenti and played a role in the garage rock revival a few years earlier.
"I think at first [Mena] thought it was a funny joke, that there were these little kids playing heavy metal in Florida," recalls Pestana, now a Brooklyn-based producer of editorial photo shoots. "And I listened and was like, 'Dude, this isn't a joke; these kids are supertalented.'"
Mena and Pestana flew down to meet with the bandmates (and their parents); they watched the boys play in one family's garage. They flew them to New York, setting up showcases and meetings with major-label A&R reps. "I'd tell them there was this amazing band with a 13-year-old singer with a lot of potential crossover appeal," he says. "And heavy metal has one of the most loyal audiences in the music business, along with country. They'll keep supporting artists and going to concerts no matter how old they get."
Eventually the band scored a so-called demo deal with Atlantic Records and was sent to Orlando to record with Jason Suecof. Somewhere between engineer, producer, and muse-finding shaman, Suecof is a renowned heavy-metal alchemist. He co-wrote and produced the two top-selling albums for Orlando-based metalcore giant Trivium and has worked with other "active rock" staples such as All That Remains, Chimaira, and DevilDriver. Suecof quickly recognized a wellspring of outsize talent in the then-pintsize band, which now called itself Black Tide.
"At first it was like, Here's a bunch of kids," he says. "But Alex had this really cool blues quality about his playing. And Gabriel — you can ask anyone you talk to, right away, that as a guitar player, he's just gonna be amazing. You could tell by his vibrato and the way that he kicks and the way he performs with it and the way he writes. It's just in his hand; you can hear it."