The singer/guitarist/bass player for punk-rock band Animals of the Arctic, Ricardo Guerrero, is stripping onstage at the Pawn Shop Lounge. As drummer Rhodaine Wallace pounds away and bassist/guitarist/singer Alex Puentes wails out a backup, Guerrero loses his shirt and pants. By the end of the fourth song, he's singing in nothing but a very thin pair of underwear, occasionally jumping offstage to rub bodies with the terror-stricken spectators in front. The audacity of Guerrero's nudity is intensified by the boldness with which Puentes struts about the stage.
Aside from a sense of mild disgust, one sentiment rings true with the crowd: These guys are naturals.
Though the bandmates have been together for nearly two years, this early-fall Pawn Shop performance is one of their first since they began playing live in April. Before that, it took some time for the Animals of the Arctic to even acknowledge themselves as a band, because they began playing together only when Puentes and Wallace asked Guerrero for help with recording.
"I was actually just supposed to help them produce a little demo so they could get more members," Guerrero says. "But then we just kept playing and playing, and eventually we started coming up with our own shit and basically started making songs and slowly became a band."
All Miami natives, the three members originally met at Miami Lakes Middle School before parting to attend different high schools. However, their drive for music never wavered; all three stuck with the craft throughout and after high school, and decided not to pursue college degrees.
"We're pretty sure about what we want to do, and it definitely doesn't involve any sort of bachelor's degree," Guerrero says. Though the three attended different colleges for some time, all left early to concentrate on music.
"We're pretty convinced," Puentes says.
And although the band name might imply its members are as foreign to Miami as polar bears, their sound begs to differ. Combining straight-up punk rock with danceable beats and varied melodies, the three have created a sound they and their fans consider distinctly "Miami."
"We've been around the scene, going to clubs and going to shows," Guerrero says. "That's really influenced our sound a lot. That's what we've been engulfed in; the whole thing with the dancey rock shit that's been all over the place has had a huge effect on us."
When the band first formed, the guys would often meet to practice in Puentes's father's warehouse from 10:00 p.m. to 3:00 a.m., after spending days working whatever nine-to-five jobs they could find. During this period, the bandmates solidified as a group, though usually playing to no one but themselves, a few crack addicts, and the occasional construction crew working on the road in front of the building. They also recorded a demo. Since then, they have switched practice spaces and jobs while continuing to tweak their sound.
After playing at Churchill's, Animals of the Arctic had little difficulty booking shows at other venues like Studio A and PS-14, in addition to the Pawn Shop. And as the shows increased, so did the band's comfort when it came to playing live.
"It was definitely exciting to finally have some material to really show everybody," Puentes says of their first show. "But we were definitely nervous as fucking hell."
The bandmates, however, contest that the nervousness didn't last past the third song of their first performance, at which point they became too absorbed with the playing to worry about the crowd.
"You're glad to see the audience there," Puentes says. "But you're just playing the song for yourself and your band. You look at the audience just to see what they're doing. We feed off of that shit."
Currently the band is playing the same set at all of its shows, though Guerrero says the set as well as the style are likely to change in due time.
"These ones are pretty accessible; they're pretty dancey and poppish with choruses and stuff," Guerrero says of their songs. "That doesn't necessarily mean that's all we're going to do; it's just the stage we're at right now."
Puentes is also quick to point out that the stage they're at now took a long time to develop, which isn't surprising for a group that practiced for two years before its first show.
"We don't rush it at all," Puentes says. "It's just a matter of jamming and playing and experimenting, and we see where it goes."
Part of the experimenting, and perhaps one of the more interesting aspects of Animals, is that they write lyrics after music.
"The music always comes first before we even touch the lyrics," Guerrero says. "It's almost like we try and let the music dictate the lyrics."
This decision played a huge part in postponing the band's live act, because none of the members knew how to write or sing lyrics until long after they had already perfected their music.
"We had a bunch of songs done with no lyrics for a long time," Guerrero says. "At first no one knew what we were going to do vocally."
"We didn't know what the fuck we were going to do. We just took our time with it," Puentes adds. "It took me awhile to even approach [Guerrero] with actual lyrics I'd written, because you're still a little shy about shit like that."
As the bandmates play a set, their singing clearly develops throughout the performance. Some songs sound underpracticed, with uneasy vocals that are loud and harsh, resembling more of a rap than a song. In other numbers, however, Puentes and Guerrero allow themselves to use their vocal range, showing they made good use of their practice time.
"I'm not trying to just be loud," Puentes explains. "We do want it to sound musical, but we don't mind being aggressive with it at all."
With plans for a full-fledged tour and an album recording, the Animals of the Arctic are dead set on continuing their growing success on the Miami scene.
"We've still got a lot of work to be done. With the rate it's been going, we're really encouraged," Guerrero says. "To us this is like we've just barely started."
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