The Chicago-based hardcore band La Armada use their music’s ferocity to dive headfirst into the challenges and triumphs facing themselves and their communities in both Chicago and the group’s original home in the Dominican Republic. “It’s usually a reaction to, or an observation of an external event,” the band’s guitarist Paul Rivera explains of their songwriting process. “We’re pointing out the perspective of the marginalized in one way or another. There’s a lot of social critique, but, we try to do it artfully, and moreso each time we write. Think of it like a 1970’s dystopian movie.”
Diving into the community cultivation aspect of their hardcore punk music, in which they include intermingled Latin rhythms inspired by Caribbean musical traditions like Merengue, Palo, and Gaga, La Armada have now released the first installment in a planned series of short records for 2020 titled Songs of the Exiled. These releases chronicle their takes on respective locales that the band have lived in and been emotionally affected by — and that’s a considerable list, since the band helped spearhead the Dominican punk scene all the way back in the early 2000’s before heading to the U.S. Installment number one of their new slate of releases, titled Songs of the Exiled I: Chicago, sports their take on the Chicago culture in which they eventually settled.
Building the Community
“Chicago is a huge influence from since before we ever set foot here,” Rivera explains, citing the Latino hardcore punk band Los Crudos, which came together in the city and was one of the first in the burgeoning U.S. punk scenes of the ’90s to use Spanish lyrics.
“Once in the city, we were welcomed by the south side black and brown scene,” Rivera adds. “One of the bedrocks of this band is the connections and the relationships we’ve built in those communities. Neighborhoods like La Villita and Pilsen gave us access to various cultures and musical subgenres. When we think of La Armada in the context of Chicago, that’s what we connect with first.”
Their community connection comes together in the live show format, Rivera notes. La Armada hosted a sold-out show in the middle of Chicago last year that was meant to bring the northern and southern Chicago communities together, which “started with a stoner metal band and ended with cumbia coming through the speakers and the crowd in full on dance mode,” Rivera says. La Armada were slated to host a similar event this June before the COVID-19 outbreak through a wrench in plans of musicians in the U.S. and around the world.
Still, Rivera notes: “Because we speak on social issues and support activist causes, sometimes folks can tend to pigeonhole us there, when in fact we work tirelessly on our live show. We are a live band first and foremost, who is now, after almost two decades, learning how to fully be ourselves and transmit that on record. We’ve always been able to get people’s attention from the stage, now we’re trying to get that on record and through that, we have been lucky enough to, even as a small band, inspire and motivate.”
The group has taken cues for their live show from luminary bands with which they’ve toured like Sick Of It All and Pig Destroyer. “When it comes to playing live, we’ve learned so much by being able to play or tour with bands we grew up listening to,” Rivera shares. “To learn to take from the stage mastery of Sick of It All or the precision of Propagandhi or the brutality of Pig Destroyer — we have tried to absorb from all those experiences.”
The Sounds of Songs of the Exiled
For their latest release, to support their aim to use their freeing ferocity to bring people together, La Armada dialed into an especially DIY sound and production process, Rivera explains. For starters, the group opted to have recording engineer Juan Carlos “Kanky” Lora complete the mixing for Songs of the Exiled I: Chicago, rather than seeking a big name who might have less of a connection to the palpable sound that the group was actually after.
“Kanky grew up with us in the Dominican, and he’s a drummer in the metal world so, he understands where we’re coming from and where we need to go,” Rivera explains. “Early on, it was decided we would try to keep the recording process as in-house as possible and this last session was a great first step in that direction.”
The point, he adds, was for the band to feature the feel of their live show in the experience of their recorded songs. “Sound-wise, it’s taken years to get where we are right now, and we feel we still haven’t taken it to where it needs to be,” Rivera shares. “One of the major things we wanted was to transmit the feel of our live show. For that, the latest release was the first time we went in the studio and didn’t use a click and recorded together, minus vocals.”
As for the songs themselves, La Armada take cues from luminary ferocious groups like the early punk icons Bad Brains and the death metal forebears in Chuck Schuldiner’s group Death. Also in their sound, their cultural roots weigh heavily, and Rivera notes an influence of the “lyrical cynicism” from the Spain-based punk group La Polla Records, which was formed all the way back in 1979.
Bringing the Pieces Together
Besides the fierce lyrical confrontation of socially resonant themes like police violence, Rivera explains: “As for the songs themselves, we are looking to marry punk, hardcore and metal with rhythms from Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. Our drummer transitions between punk beats to Latin infused patterns. As a band we try to make that seamless, we don’t want it to be like ‘…and here’s the Latin part!’ It can be subtle or it can be upfront, but we like it to feel natural. That’s what we feel that, as a band, we can add to punk and hardcore.”
And La Armada have been contributing this perspective for many years. “What many don’t know is that there is a big metal community in the Dominican and in Puerto Rico,” Rivera notes. “But more than that, that the talent level is fucking surreal. We always say that that struggle brings out the best of art, so the lack of resources in places like those makes you go real hard.”
Photo via Furyo State Photography
Check out the first installment of Songs of the Exiled below!