La ArmadaLa Armada – Anti-Colonial Vol. 1
by Dave Schwartz

From the Dominican Republic via Chicago, hardcore thrash punk band La Armada’s latest release, “Anti-Colonial Vol. 1” is a strong follow up to 2014’s “Crisis.”  The band took a long time – 4 years of touring and reflecting upon the next musical statement they wanted to make. 

Since landing on the American shores in 2008, La Armada – consisting of Javier Fernandez (vocals), Alberto Marte (bass), Luis Martinez (drums), Jonathan Salazar (guitar) and Paul Rivera (guitar) – have worked hard to develop their sound and a significant following.  Blending “Afro-Caribbean” rhythms with hardcore/thrash/punk has yielded a different and memorable sound. 

La Armada had just returned from touring in Mexico when I caught up with Paul Rivera and Alberto Marte…

DB:  Well let’s get this interview started.  Let’s talk a little about your new record – “Anti-Colonial Vol. 1.”  I want to hear all about it, how it all came together.

AM:  It was a process of writing, long nights at the studio and working together mainly with the drummer, exploring beats and different ways to join punk rock with Afro-Caribbean beats.  This was also like the first record that we all came together and thought about it as a whole –  the way it was going to flow, the lyrics and the sound of the record over all.

PR:  Yeah, it took a lot of trial and error in the sense of getting the tones and everything.  Everything that we’ve done previous to this was just stepping stones into trying to figure out what we did during this process.

DB:  That’s cool and it’s great that your music has been an evolution.  It’s certainly evident in the music itself after listening to the new record.  How does writing come about?  Who does the writing?  Were there themes that you wanted to hit upon?

AM:  Usually drums and bass will create rhythm patterns and start tying them together to create the skeleton of a song and once that’s in place the guitars will come in and take that rhythm either try to match it to make it sound aggressive or try to add melody and take the song in a different direction.  Once all of that is sorted out then we start to think about how to best fit the vocals on top of the music.  And then we’ll edit music to better place the vocals as we need to.

DB:  That makes good sense.  So I’m guessing that you did a lot of this on ProTools.  Did you self-produce or did you work with somebody?

PR:  We do a lot of it just recording in our practice room.  We record incessantly.  We use GarageBand.  We demo or were demoing 3 or 4 nights a week at our peak.   And as far as producing, we did the early production of this record but we did bring along a person named Ariel Sanchez as producer.  He is a friend and collaborator from back home, the Dominican Republic.  He recorded our very first album in 2001 with hardly any resources and hardly knowing what we’re doing.  But since then he’s blossomed into an amazing musician and producer.  He does a lot of work down in Latin America.  And for this record we wanted somebody who understood where we are coming from and where we want to go.  So he understood exactly the influences we wanted to pull from – Dominican music but also he is a very savvy musician so he knows a lot of metal and he knows a lot of punk.  He knows how to get the best out of us.

AM:  And when something sucked he told us right away! (Laughs)

DB:  Well it’s cool to have someone to work with that really understands your music and is straightforward and see that same final vision that you do.  It’s been a long cycle since your last record, “Crisis,”  that came out in 2014.  Why the long wait?

PR:  We were touring a lot and we didn’t want to make the same record again either.  On “Crisis” we toured extensively.  We did close to 100 shows a year or more.  And then after we got back from touring, maybe three years after “Crisis” we really sat down and decided it was time to write and that was also a learning process.  So in between touring where we kind of had the opportunity to test out different things that actually made it onto the record and being home for a year to strictly write, it took us a long time.  We allowed ourselves that time to become a better band.

AM:  Yeah, I got to say that on “Crisis” we did a few lines of Afro-Caribbean beats on some songs but it was kind of inconspicuously.  Some people told us that they really didn’t hear them.  And this time we took our time in the studio trying to explore that sound and find ways to make it shine.

La ArmadaDB:  That very cool to have that opportunity.  Now I think I’m hearing you say that you had an opportunity to play some of these songs live before actually getting them onto the record.  That live experience often evolves a song, allows it to mature.  How did playing the songs live reflect upon the songs that made it onto this record?

AM:  It’s funny that you ask that because when we’re on tour, one of the things we like to do is watch the crowd’s reaction to the new songs and see how we’re moving them.  I like to say that it’s never been done before and it’s fun to watch a crowd try to figure out a new song.

PR:  And maybe to answer your question a bit more specifically, yes.  Taking the songs that ended up on this record on tour prior to recording them definitely helped us shape them.  Maybe we realized that we should add another chorus to this here or realize that something just doesn’t work.  Or even the sequence of songs on the record because people were reacting really well in that order.  I think having the opportunity to take our songs on the road before recording them is definitely valuable.

DB:  So your first single and video off this record is “Fire,” talk a little about doing the video and explain how you selected the song.

PR:  Yeah, so to be honest, the way we selected the song is that we sent the record to close friends and to people that we trust, admire and respect a lot.  And we just unbiasedly asked what they thought of the record and what was their favorite 2 or 3 songs.  “Fire” was the song that maybe 80% of the people said was the first song we should put out.  We felt strongly about the song as well.  So at that point we said fuck it, we love the theme of the song and it’s definitely a quick introduction to what we’re all about.  We also thought the song came out faithfully so we said fuck it, let’s go with it.

AM:  It is a strong song and it is a message that we all feel we have to say, to put out there.  Everybody knows that we have a right-wing government right now.  Minorities are being persecuted.  We have Nazi’s on the cabinet and it was very important to make the video as it came out.  It was a great experience.  We recorded it at a church in Indiana with our production team.  We did everything in one day and we were very satisfied with the final result.

PR:  Yeah, we wanted a video that would make a visual statement of what the song is trying to say but maybe not in such a literal way.  And I think that team, Adam Santiago and Derek Shreves, did a great job of the statement and putting it together in an artistic and a direct way.

DB:  I understand that the band just returned from Mexico – you were down there on tour. 

PR:  Yeah, we just did a two week tour with a band called Propagandhi and that ended with a show in Mexico City.  After that we did four shows of our own in Mexico.  This was our third trip there.

DB:  It’s always great to be able to do some international touring and spread the word, have some fun.  What else do you have going on the rest of the year as far as touring?

PR:  We’re going to be doing some regional stuff in April and in May we’re heading to the West Coast.  And then in June we’re hitting up Canada.  We’ll be playing more shows with Propagandhi as well as on our own.

I want to thank Paul Rivera and Alberto Marte for sharing a moment with DaBelly and talking about their new record “Anti-Colonial Vol 1.”  Check them out on tour and be sure to follow their social media pages.  

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