Vamos a Hacer una Fiesta!
Davila 666 Bring The Fun, Puerto Rican Style
“I don’t think they do much more than party all the time… and write badass music…and show up late to stuff, or not at all. Puerto Rican time is a hell of a concept.” – Atlanta musician Warren Bailey (Barrerracudas, Gentleman Jesse & His Men) on Davila 666.
“The thing is,” responds Davila 666 singer Carlos Davila, “people think in Puerto Rico we party all the time. I mean, we do party a lot, but I think that when [friends] come out to visit us, we party more, just because we want them to party. So when they come out, instead of it being a three-day-a-week or four-day-a-week partying thing, It’s like a seven-day-a-week. Usually it’s three or four days.”
So to clarify: on average, Carlos and the boys only spend roughly half of every year raising hell and getting fucked up, except when entertaining guests when it doubles to always. The rest of the time is, presumably, spent composing the aforementioned badass music and letting time get away from them. In the case of the pumped-up party workouts on their new album, Tan Bajo (scheduled for official release March 1st on In the Red Records), procrastination paid off with a better batch of badass songs than they’d originally knocked together.
Explains Carlos, “We had that record done by May last year, but we were supposed to start recording it way before then. And so, since we had already put out a record [2008’s self-titled In the Red debut] and we’d been on tour and everything, it sort of put pressure on us to make a better record. So we were sort of writing songs, but these songs, I don’t know, they weren’t very good. They were alright, but they weren’t better or as good as the first record. So we didn’t know what to do. I think we were thinking about it too much. We were thinking of concepts and all that lame bullshit. Then when there were two or three weeks left before we had to hand in the record to In the Red, that’s when all these great songs started coming out! Because we weren’t really thinking about what the songs had to sound like or anything. We were just making songs. I think the pressure of the time limit is what made the songs sound better.”
It’s hard to imagine these songs sounding any better. This pop-punk porridge is just right. Several years of hard touring have honed the band – they are a noticeably tighter, more accomplished group than the one that recorded Davila 666. The songs are consistently strong across the span of the album, which could not be said of the debut, as dizzily enjoyable as it was. Their grab bag of multi-generational musical influences is broader now, yet they sound more focused. They make use of lots of simple but wacky production flourishes, which give Tan Bajo more of a giddy, psychedelic feel. But really, the only thing you need to know is this: it’s just an enormously fun rock ‘n’ roll record. And I can’t wait to experience the songs in all their live spectacle.
Watching the six-member wrecking crew – Carlos, bassist A.J. Davila, 32 (no relation, think Ramones), lead guitarist Johnny Otis Davila, 30, tambourine banger Panda Davila, 30, and younger recruits GiGi Davila (rhythm guitar) and the Latin Snake (drums), both 22 – rip it up at last year’s Mess-Around, swept along with the rest of the packed EARL by their unbridled enthusiasm and sheer go-for-broke energy, thrilled by their humor and embrace of classic showmanship mixed with punk rock fuck-all, I remember thinking, “This must be the closest thing to how it must’ve felt to be at an early Little Richard show, or a Who show in the mid-60s, or the Ramones playing CBGB.” Not to hyperventilate and proclaim Davila 666 to be the equivalent of those touchstones – but you know what? They absolutely could be just that, for this jaded day and age. I know this: there was a reckless, jubilant, spontaneous spirit erupting from the room that night that was neither calculated nor concocted. It was pure.
I guess it’s more proof that music is a universal language, because all of Davila 666’s songs are sung in Spanish. I ask Carlos (who’s also gone by Carlitos Davila and Sir Charles Davila at various junctures, just don’t call him Chuck) if he finds it strange to have this devoted and growing American following, most of whom have no idea what he’s singing about.
“Yeah, I find it real funny, man. It makes me feel actually fucking good, you know what I mean? To know that they don’t give a shit what we’re saying. It almost makes me feel like they understand it even more. It’s not really about what we’re saying, it’s about what happens to you when you hear the music, you know, or how you feel when you hear the music. Most kids in Puerto Rico don’t speak English, and they’re all into American bands.”
Could that be one reason Carlos, now 32, left San Juan for a four-year stay in Seattle right out of high school?
“Well, to be honest with you…I just wanted to get the fuck out of Puerto Rico. I didn’t even know where I was going. I knew I was going to the States, and I, uh, I had a map of the States, and put my hand over my eyes and stuck my finger down on the map, and when I opened my eyes, it was in Washington, and so I went to Seattle. I didn’t really go chasing after any music scene. I wanted to go to a city because I knew there would be a music scene in the city. But it wasn’t necessary for me to go to Seattle, that’s just what ended up happening. And I got into a lot of great music out in Seattle.”
Carlos lucked out by getting a job at the same store where Erin Wood, bassist for the Spits, worked. “He used to turn me on to tons of music, you know. Tons of cool shit,” recalls Carlos. “The Screamers, Television, and a lot of the Killed by Death [bootleg compilations], like late ’70s American punk stuff. He turned me on to that. I could relate to it more because they seemed to have a better sense of humor – it was goofier than what I had heard of punk before that, which was, like, British, Sex Pistols, shit like that, which was really political stuff that I couldn’t really relate to.
“And the Spits have had a tremendous impact on what I do today,” he continues. “They were just better than anything I’d ever seen. They were just fun, and I don’t think many people liked them at that time, in Seattle. I kept in touch, I just followed the bands as the years went on, and that’s how I got into the Black Lips, that’s how I got into all that shit, was through the Spits. I saw the Black Lips were opening for them on a lot of their tours, and I thought, ‘Who’s this Black Lips band?’ So I heard them, I loved that, so that’s pretty much been the reason I got into the sort of thing that I’m in now.”
Curiously, upon his return to Puerto Rico, Carlos didn’t immediately put together a crazy punk band. Instead, he started recording rap songs with the help of his friend A.J. “Then I just got sick of that and wanted to do something else that I really loved, which was rock ‘n’ roll,” Carlos says. “We started writing songs together, and the songs were better than we thought they’d be.” Formed in 2005, Davila 666 immediately set out to, first and foremost, have lots of fun, but also to be proactive and not get stuck in the isolated Puerto Rican rut. They immediately started recording their originals, pressing up a demo CD to sell on the street and at shows. The wild abandon of their performance was there from the first show they played, and word-of-mouth spread. They toured the States. Their reputation grew. Larry Hardy at In the Red was among the early fans to take notice, rightly recognizing a band that’d be perfect for his label.
When the Black Lips started catching on in Atlanta they inspired a renewed garage rock scene in the area that is still going strong. From the looks of it, Davila 666 are helping jumpstart comparable activity in Puerto Rico.
“I hope so,” Carlos says. “I mean, I think before us, most of the punk scene was pretty much hardcore punk bands, and I think after us, it’s spread out more to where there’s other garage bands, and there’s some weird folk sort of stuff, and rock ‘n’ roll bands – I think we’ve inspired them more in the way of doing something for themselves. You know what I mean? Instead of just playing in Puerto Rico once a month, I think they’re more willing to book themselves a tour of the States, and try and get their stuff on wax and distribute it and stuff like that.”
So now you have a situation where Atlanta musician Warren Bailey moves not to New York or L.A. or Austin but to San Juan, where he’ll be playing guitar in the Oil Sheiks, a late ’70s-inspired, fast-punk side project of Carlos’. “Yeah, I think he’s actually gonna stay here a while,” Carlos says of Bailey’s impending arrival. The guys in Davila feel a particular kinship with Atlanta, and with bands like Barrerracudas and Predator, the Gaye Blades and Jesse’s group; they’ve also released a 7-inch on Atlanta label Douchemaster and a 12-inch on Rob’s House. “They’re all good friends of ours, they’ve all come to visit us in Puerto Rico,” Carlos stresses. “Yeah, we have a lot of fun in Atlanta. It’s probably the closest to the way we party here in Puerto Rico.” Three or four days a week, that is.
This party gene, not to mention the musical one, it may be hereditary. At one point I ask Carlos about the spooky old singing man heard on Tan Bajo‘s opening track, “Abuelo.”
“That’s A,J.’s grandfather. He’s drunk and he’s singing, and that had nothing to do with the album. We just recorded that. The name of the album, Tan Bajo, means ‘so low.’ And A.J. played that in the room while we were recording the record, and the song that he was singing is this super sad song about being alone. It just sounded perfect for what the title of the album is. So I said, ‘Let’s put some reverb on that shit, and put some weird horns and shit behind it, and that’s an intro for the record!’ Yeah, it’s his grandfather, drunk.”