Luigi Ramirez’s dad rolls up in a van with flames painted on the hood, and two little kids — Luigi’s brother and sister — get out and start hauling drum stands to the tent. Luigi, skinny and dressed in black, lugs the kick. A pudgy dude in khaki shorts inspects a gilt-framed landscape across the street. It’s the first day of a summer arts fest, it’s still light out, and it looks like it might rain.
Miguel Avina shows up looking like some kind of party shaman in animal-print stretch pants, white pointy shoes, a denim vest and an electric mop of glossy curls. “It’s harder to write than it used to be,” Avina reflects, heaving a speaker cabinet over a sinew of cable. “It can be kind of good when you’re all sad over a breakup or something, because the writing just pours out of you. I’m happily married now, so it’s harder.”
That might be one reason that Izcalli hasn’t put out a record in six years. But the main reason, says Avina, is because Izcalli is “a working band.”
Avina has operated under a blue-collar ethos since forming Izcalli ten years ago with an acoustic guitar and two hand percussionists. In that early setup, he focused on what he wanted to do, which was, first of all, rock; he jettisoned one hand drummer, put the other on a kit, recruited little sister Brenda Avina on bass and traded in the acoustic for a Les Paul. He also wanted to rock in his native Spanish, drawing not just on Latin sounds, but on hard-driving rhythms and dirty blues, and he applied a catch-all marketing strategy: Play for anyone, anywhere, anytime.
“Our fans are pretty diverse,” he says. “We went down to Texas to play SXSW, and we played the Colorado Music Party — mainly musicians and industry people from Colorado. It was an 18-to-24 crowd, hipsters, art folks, white — and they loved it. That same day, we walked like three miles down the road with all our gear — we actually pushed our gear down there — and played another bar, all American people, white, middle-aged, affluent, people drinking wine and margaritas. And they loved it. Then we hit up a place in Dallas and played for a crowd of Mexicans, and they loved it. We’ve played little kids’ parties — they go crazy.”
The breakneck pace, too, is basic Izcalli: not even Spinal Tap-rivaling drummer turnover (Ramirez replaced Mario Gonzalez as the band’s fourth drummer this past winter; next up: Princess Toadstool?) can slow this band down. “A month after I joined, we started recording,” recalls Ramirez. Previous drummers have had even less time. Brenda had a couple of weeks, and she didn’t even play bass before she joined.
In fact, on this day, a month before its planned release, Izcalli’s third record, III (in tribute to the band’s beloved Zeppelin), is not even done. “We thought it would motivate us,” Brenda says. “It’s a little stressful.” The rain’s letting up outside the tent, and Brenda, dressed in a floral jumpsuit and white jacket, is tuning up. The arts fest has cleared out. An amp hums over dripping rain.
Miguel fingers out a minor chord. Sometimes-violinist Josh Lee, who’s sitting in tonight, fiddles a few plaintive notes, and the beat — a heart-rate-tweaking four on the floor — drops hard beneath a melody as lonely and longing as the near-empty tent. The thin crowd starts to clap. The rain starts up again. The show goes on.