Quick, pop quiz: what’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about Puerto Rican music? If you’re young, probably reggaeton or hip-hop. If you’re old, probably salsa or meringue. But a thriving punk and garage rock scene has been flourishing on every East Coaster’s favorite Caribbean island over the last few years, with bands like Davila 666 garnering the lion’s share of attention. But close compadres Los Vigilantes are creeping onto the radar as well, combining lo-fi rock, American hardcore, Spanish punk, doo-wop, ‘80s pop, funk, bossa nova, blues, and metal influences into a potent Borinquen brew that goes down smooth. Lucky for us gringos, Los Vigilantes kick off an extensive tour of the United States next week, their first American performances anywhere outside of New York. If you love good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll, sweaty dance-offs, fist-pumping punk choruses, and the fine island of Puerto Rico, show Los Vigilantes some love at one of the 51 dates they have planned between February 28th and April 20th. As you’ll read in our interview with Los Vigilantes frontman Jota Vigilante, that, my friends, is pure punk rock.
ESM: First off, give us the lowdown on each member and what instrument they play.
Jota Vigilante: Javi Garrote, bass and vocals; Pepe Carballido, rhythm guitar and vocals; Jota Vigilante, lead guitar and vocals; Rafa Diaz, drums.
ESM: How did Los Vigilantes come together, and how long have you guys all known each other?
JV: Maybe seven or eight years, but we didn't start playing together until about three or four years ago. It came together like this: Pepe and me have known each other since high school. In 2005 he was living in Brooklyn and I decided to move there. He was friends with Rafa, who happened to have an empty room that a mutual friend of ours had moved out of and I moved into. About a year later Javi moved to Brooklyn, and we started talking about starting a band. We all had played in previous bands — Javi had Napolnariz, I had played in a few metal and punk bands in Puerto Rico, and Rafa still is the drummer of Exigencia, a Colombian hardcore band. But none of us had been in a band together till then.
ESM: So you guys bring a lot of influences to the table with Los Vigilantes.
JV: Yes, we all have extremely different backgrounds. Javi, for example, is all about Spanish punk like Eskorbuto and La Nueva Ola Española (the 1980s boom of Spanish rock”. Pepe is totally pop — he likes Madonna, Michael Jackson, The Beach Boys, and The Beatles. Rafa has played hardcore all his life but he's really into funk, bossa nova, and a lot of South American psych and garage. I, on the other hand, like blues and metal: Son House, Blind Willie Johnson, Rev. Gary Davis, and, of course, Slayer, Darkthrone, Mayhem, etc. I guess if I had to pick a “genre” for Los Vigilantes it would be something like Spanish garage-influenced power pop... or Power Slop.
ESM: You played guitar and toured with Davila 666, Jota, the most well known of the recent wave of Puerto Rican garage punk bands. How close are you with those guys, and is it common for people to switch back and forth between bands like they do here in the United States?
JV: Yeah, I'm really close to those guys — we’re all like family. Gianky from Davila plays drums for us on a few tracks on the record, “Ven Vamos” being one of them. And we all have side projects. For a while all the bands here were the same 10 people shuffled around. Javi has Carie with Koki, the bassist from Ardillas; Pepe has Reanimadores and EspaZmos, which also includes Carlitos and Gianky from Davila and myself. We’re recording that now and hopefully it'll be out soon. I also have another band with Carlitos called Oil Sheiks.
ESM: Sounds like the garage punk scene is pretty strong in Puerto Rico today. How big is it, and have you guys been able to compete with the reggaeton and hip-hop that are huge on the island?
JV: There is a small and growing punk/garage community in Puerto Rico. It's gotten better, because for a really long time it was mostly straight-up punk and hardcore bands, and in the last couple of years the scene has gotten a lot more variety I guess. There are a couple venues here but it’s really hard; like you said, rap and electronica are very popular and most of the clubs are aimed at that. The venues we can play at always have some sort of catch, like, “Oh, we’ll let you play but you gotta pay us $500 bucks for the sound guy” or some bullshit like that. There are a few places, though, like Red Shield Music Hall and Nuestro Son that want us to play and let us do our thing without being dicks.
ESM: Has the scene there been mostly homegrown, or has it been cultivated and helped along by bands, record labels, promoters, and the like from the U.S. mainland?
JV: It’s been a dual thing — there are homegrown labels like ChaCho Records and Discos De Hoy that help move local bands, and bands here have always been hardworking. And you have to be — we’re on a fuckin’ island. But part of that growth has also been helped by U.S. labels like Slovenly and In The Red, as well as bands doing their own thing and spreading it on the Internet. Labels didn’t really get interested in Puerto Rico until recently, though, and even now there are only a handful of bands from here signed to U.S. labels.
ESM: Obviously East Coast surfers know the Aguadilla/Isabela area the most. Is there much of a rock scene out there compared to where you guys live in San Juan, and are any bands connected to the surf or skate communities?
JV: We have played all over the island, and there are good bands out there if you know where to look. But there's a bunch of shit, too. I guess it's like anywhere else really. And yeah, everybody has a skater or a surfer in a band — or a former skater/surfer. Check out Diente Perro; they live for that!
ESM: Do you guys feel connected to the garage rock community here on the mainland?
JV: Yeah, I think we do, just like we feel connected to the scene in Europe. But we definitely have our own identity — we still sing in Spanish, or, more specifically, Puerto Rican Spanish. So that in itself gives us an identity. Aside from Spanish, South American and American influences go into not only our music but also us culturally as well. We can’t deny we are heavily influenced by the U.S.
ESM: You guys haven’t toured much in the U.S., right? Has that been because it’s hard to make a name for yourselves over here?
JV: We have never performed anywhere in the states other than New York, so we’re super psyched. It’s been hard, but we didn’t really have a game plan when we started, so I guess it is a success. Puerto Rico has always had good music, but it’s never really been known for rock ‘n’ roll or punk. That’s slowly changing, though, but we would record and tour regardless if we were known or not. Some bands start out and their whole thing is to get huge and be famous and whatever, but in my experience those bands are usually the ones that suck.
ESM: So whom have you guys played with in the past, both in New York and Puerto Rico?
JV: Floridas, Jacuzzi Boys, Mark Sultan, Personal & The Pizzas, Flaming Groovies, Gentleman Jesse & His Men, Turbo Fruits, Barreracudas, Haunted George, Wau Y Los Arrrghs, JC Satan, The Spits...
ESM: Impressive. Your upcoming U.S. tour is pretty hardcore — pretty much a show a day for two months. Are you looking forward to that?
JV: We do like touring like that. We’re a working band, and that means we have to work. There’s no doubt it gets to you, though. You lose weight, the van smells like shit, you don’t eat as well as you would at home, and it might even seem like you’re not really having a good time. But in retrospect it’s always worth it. The pluses? Playing in a new town every night and meeting people you would never meet otherwise. The downside? No floor or foldout bed will ever be as comfortable as your own bed — oh, and the cold toilets when you tour in winter. I hate that.
ESM: You guys are also playing SXSW in Austin, TX, which should be great for a relatively unknown band that kicks ass live. Are you guys excited about that?
JV: Fuck yeah we’re excited about SXSW — most of us have never been there so I’m sure it’ll be awesome. We also have a few shows with bands from Puerto Rico like Ardillas and Diente Perro that should make for a pretty kickass party.
ESM: How did you guys hook up with Slovenly Records, who boast a ton of great punk bands on their roster?
JV: We got that break when Pete Slovenly came down to Puerto Rico with Wau Y Los Arrrghs. He heard us play, offered to print a 45, we said yes, then asked us about an LP, and we jumped at it. The relationship between us and the label is good — they've definitely helped us get our music to more people, no doubt about that.
ESM: Do you guys have a preference between recording and playing live?
JV: Both are equally as important but very different. I’m the one that records us and I’m a geek for that shit. But there’s nothing like playing to a crowd.
ESM: Your first full-length came out last year. Do you have more releases planned?
JV: We’re working on a couple of things right now. We’re releasing a Japanese 45 pretty soon that'll include two songs sung in Japanese written by our fifth member, Ricky Tony. That’ll be out on the Colombian label Sandunga Records. We also have a bunch of new material we’re working on that we hope to release soon. You’ll hear a couple of the new songs at the shows for sure.
ESM: Do you guys play 100% original tunes, or are there any covers in your repertoire?
JV: We do some covers, like “Mi Mami Dijo” and “Solo Pido Amor.” It’s important to let people know were you’re coming from, but 95% of what we play is ours.
ESM: How does the songwriting process go?
JV: We usually work alone — each of us will bring a complete idea for a song and show it to the band, somebody will say “I like this, but I don’t like that,” and we keep at it until we think it sounds like a Los Vigilantes song.
ESM: And you guys sing the bulk of your lyrics in Spanish, right?
JV: All our songs are in Spanish. It’s just what we talk to each other in, so it’s what’s natural. We’ve seen a lot of Spanish and South American bands doing the whole English thing and it always seems fake, like they’re trying to be this band or that band, instead of just taking their influences and being themselves.
For all things Los Vigilantes, visit
www.Slovenly.Bandcamp.com/album/Los-Vigilantes-self-titled-lp or www.Facebook.com/pages/Los-Vigilantes/23883146906
UPCOMING LOS VIGILANTES TOUR DATES:
2/29 Churchill’s Miami, FL
3/1 Respectable Street West Palm Beach, FL
3/2 Spacebar Orlando, FL
3/3 Nobby’s St. Augustine, FL
3/4 RetroFit Records Tallahassee, FL
3/5 The Eclipse Montevallo, AL
3/6 The Other Basement Nashville, TN
3/7 The Comet Cincinnati, OH
3/8 Foam City Lafayette, IN
3/9 El Lenador St. Louis, MO
3/10 The Buccaneer Memphis, TN
3/11 House Show Little Rock, AK
3/12 H&H Lounge Shreveport, LA
3/13 Walter’s Houston, TX
3/14 SXSW Austin, TX
3/15 SXSW – Austin Java (3:40 p.m.) Austin, TX
3/16 SXSW – Liberty Bar (9:00 p.m.) Austin, TX
3/17 SXSW – Beerland (1:35 p.m.) Austin, TX
3/18 TBA TBA
3/19 M’s Lips Lounge El Paso, TX
3/20 Monoco Beer Club Mexicali, Mexico
3/21 Tower Bar San Diego, CA
3/22 VLHS Pomona, CA
3/23 Mr. T’s Bowl Highland Park, CA
3/24 Speakeasy Art Gallery Long Beach, CA
3/25 Thee Parkside San Francisco, CA
3/26 Eli’s Mile High Club Oakland, CA
3/27 TBA Sacramento/Davis, CA
3/28 The Hideout Lounge Reno, NV
3/29 TBA TBA
3/30 Funhouse Seattle, WA
3/31 East End Portland, OR
4/1 The Baby Bar Spokane, WA
4/2 TBA Bozeman, MT
4/3 TBA Salt Lake City, UT
4/4 The Moth House Denver, CO
4/5 Slowdown Omaha, NE
4/6 Gabe’s Iowa City, IA
4/7 Crown Tap Room Chicago, IL
4/8 Quarters Rock ‘n’ Roll Palace Milwaukee, WI
4/9 Louie’s Trophy House Kalamazoo, MI
4/10 Now That’s Class Cleveland, OH
4/11 Ace Of Cups Columbus, OH
4/12 The Union – Blackout Fest Athens, OH
4/13 The Depot York, PA
4/14 WFMA Live On Three Chord Monte Jersey City, NJ
4/14 Grand Victory Brooklyn, NY
4/15 Bell House Brooklyn, NY
4/16 TBA Philadelphia, PA
4/17 Comet Ping Pong Washington, DC
4/18 Strange Matter Richmond, VA
4/19 The Milestone Charlotte, NC
4/20 Atlanta Mess Around Fest Atlanta, GA
4/21 The Earl — Atlanta Mess Around Fest Atlanta, GA