Interview: Danny Leal & Ruben Alvarez of UPON A BURNING BODY

by I.O. Kirkwood on January 10, 2015

splash interviewBack in November, I interviewed Danny Leal and Ruben Alvarez of UPON A BURNING BODY. The interview went so well that we had a few shots of Coldcock Whiskey after the show, but all that is “off record.”

Metal Descent (MD): I took the time to read the lyrics from your most recent album The World Is My Enemy Now and the previous album Red. White. Green. [which represents the Mexican flag]. What I discovered in the lyrics is an evolution of ethnic pride and also anger with the country you live in. Talk to me about what you are trying to convey in your lyrics.

Danny (D): I wouldn’t call it an [evolution]; I’d call it more of a release. As things happen in your life you kind of bottle them up and there comes a certain time in your life when you let them out. My outlet is the music. I was able to showcase the old emotions that I had never been able to let out. That’s really what it is. It wasn’t really anything current; it was past stuff, childhood stuff. That was the majority of the bulk of the album, the new one at least.

MD: When I looked at Red. White. Green., I noticed a raging against the way things are, while in The World Is My Enemy Now it changed to, “Fuck this shit.” Am I on point with that?

D: Well you live you learn, hopefully. You see a lot of things that you don’t necessarily agree with. It’s kind of a fed up and old emotions combined into a release of anger or whatever you want to call it — emotion. Either way it’s pissed at something or someone. That’s the majority of what I’m talking about.

MD: Do you feel like you might go into more political lyric writing?

D: I’ve never really been one to really talk about [politics] but anything’s possible. You draw inspiration from different places or you meet certain people or you experience certain things that turn you on to different ways of life or situations. So I wouldn’t say I would never do that, but as far as now I haven’t really done that. Politics are very interesting and very, very tricky. There’s an infinite kind of thing you can have with that. You can talk about almost anything.

Ruben (R): There’s bands whose whole theme is politics.

D: There’s just different politics. There’s politics in music and in the industry we work in. In entertainment there’s politics and in the real world there’s politics.

R: Even in your workplace there’s politics.

MD: Anytime you have a group of people working together there’s going to be politics.

D: We should just call it “people” not “politics.”

MD: We have gang activity in [Maryland] (MS-13 Salvadoran – not M7 which is Uganda-based). Has gang activity touched your lives?

D: [Gang activity is] definitely something that has been with us a long time. When you’re a child and even as an adult you still deal with that. We all are starting to get a little more successful with the band and other income and stuff and we kind of dropped from that environment. We’re trying to change that but we’ve been there since we were kids.

MD: Where in Texas did you grow up?

D & R: San Antonio.

R: The Barrio, straight up.

IMG_0005

Danny Leal

MD: As a cultural anthropologist I’m sensitive to ethnicity most of the time. What challenges have you faced in the music industry? Has your ethnicity been a barrier? Has it been a challenge?

D: I don’t know if it’s such a barrier. I don’t think we’ve ever been put on the back burner that we’ve seen because of the type of ethnicity we have. That’s not to say it doesn’t happen.

R: Being American is a different thing though. Even when we go overseas we’ve had some run ins more about that, about being from America, more than being Mexican. It’s crazy. They hear our accents and they’re like, “Oh, you’re from America.” Sometimes they show some hatred.

D: I got into a fight the first day we were in Europe because of that.

MD: So it doesn’t matter what color your skin is everywhere else. It’s just that you’re Americans.

D: I didn’t say I was from America. I said I was from Texas. The guy said, “I hate Texas.” And I was like, “Yeah, well fuck you.”

MD: Maybe he was just trying to pick a fight?

D: That’s the way to do it quick.

MD: How much alcohol was involved?

D: I was on my first beer. I don’t know what he was on but I had just shown up. I was kind of bummed out. I got kicked out.

MD: Are you conflicted about being American?

R: Nah.

D: We’re Texan first. Then we’re Americans.

MD: Explain that to me.

D: It’s just a joke we have, being from Texas, that it’s so prideful the people there, partially because of how big the state is so we can get away with saying “our state is the biggest.” There’s so many little catchphrases that we use. So we make the joke that we’re from our own country. Texas is its own country. We don’t need really anything else. You have everything you need there. A lot of military a lot of everything.

R: They said [the government was] going to take away our guns and we’d secede and be like “Peace, see you later, America, were going out on our own.”

MD: When I was in San Antonio I came across this old school car. It probably had like the hydraulics and everything. On the front was a pair of horns. I took a picture and posted it on Facebook with the caption, “Yep, I’m in Texas.”

D: We used to have horns on our set. We had them on the cabs.

Ruben Alvarez

Ruben Alvarez

MD: I had some questions about specific lyrics. “Red Razor Wrists”— I’m a goddamn monster. Where the hell did that come from?

D: I don’t know. Sometimes you just come up with things.

MD: Do you feel like a monster? Do you feel like you have a beast inside of you?

D: All the time. You talk to me here but you can talk to any of us, when you put that stage presence on its different. [You become] a different person altogether. Anybody who is an entertainer has to have that switch where you can go there. If you don’t have that then you’re not really an entertainer. You are just somebody who goes up there and plays music and sings a song.

MD: There’s no passion to it?

D: There’s a difference between people who just play music and entertainers. We aim to entertain.

MD: “Generation Hate” Pledge your allegiance. What’s that concept?

D: That’s collectively us thinking about how shitty everything has gotten. When our parents grew up, there was somewhat of a sense of opening a woman’s door when you take her out. Anything like that, you know, being courteous, letting someone go when you’re driving. Now it’s just like [people] don’t care.

R: It’s this day and age.

D: I mean something catastrophic could happen to somebody in the world and you give it ten minutes after and there’s like a meme about it, a joke about what happened. It doesn’t matter how bad it was, people just want to make fun of something. When did that become cool? To me it’s such a shitty thing. There’re different generations that have been named [different things] and I just think our generation is hateful. It’s just full of hate.

R: Being brought up in the Hispanic community, we were always taught respect. That’s the way any parents should teach their kids. Nowadays all the kids are so infused with technology and social media at such a young age, the parents aren’t even teaching them these basic morals and values. So right off the bat they’re cussing—

D: And the people skills are gone because everyone is just behind a computer talking a bunch of shit. The way we were brought up, and we’re not old guys, as kids in our culture, Hispanic, you didn’t talk about anybody on the Internet. If you talked about somebody it was either to their face or just someone who then told them. Then that person came to you and said, “Yo, what’d you say about me?” Then you have to deal with that. Nowadays, these kids are just like “piece of shit” [and saying whatever].  It’s just a different world.

MD: Tell me if I’m saying this right [and I never do]. La Clancha?

R: La Chancla <laughs>.

Here’s the video that brought this to mind.

MD: It’s power. They’re doing it to women. They harass [women] online and make them afraid.

D: It blows our mind that kids are actually afraid of things that have been said to them over the Internet. Like that situation where that little girl was getting bullied on the Internet and she killed herself. You shouldn’t have to be afraid of what’s [online]. Be afraid of what’s right in front of you. When somebody’s got a gun or a knife like when we grew up, be afraid. I just don’t understand how it’s come to being afraid of black and white [print]. It’s just typing.

R: It’ll be some time but I think eventually it will implode upon itself and people are going to realize that you can’t live [behind a computer screen.]

D: Go outside and play.

R: Something will happen where technology is gonna become so bland that someone’s going to go back to like picking up an acoustic guitar or start painting again.

D: Everything goes full-circle. You know the 80s came back for a bit.

MD: I don’t want to relive the 80s <laughs>.

R: It’s the same thing that’s happening with music in general. Right now our industry is at such a weird point. Musicians aren’t making any money off their music. There’s no way to draw the line, or a value, because people can just take it now. It’s on the Internet, so anybody can take it. It’s the worst for us because we’re trying so hard to make it happen. We’re getting older and were starting to worry. “It’s gots to pop” or we’re not gonna be able to do this forever. It’s going to come to the point where we got to survive, we gotta live. That’s where the industry is right now. It sucks. Something has to change. They’re going to have to figure out how to generate money for the actual musicians.

D: The value is important in this kind of [industry]. With the illegal downloads—

R: People are losing jobs. Think about all the artwork that goes into CD’s. People don’t even buy CDs anymore.

MD: I still buy CDs. I try to buy them at shows so the money gets directly to the bands.

R: And that’s awesome.

D: It’s at an all-time low. In the history of music, right now I think is the lowest point.

R: There’s only one platinum artist this year maybe not even?

MD: And this is in Metal?

D: Music in general.

R: Even in Pop. They said there might not be a platinum artist this year because [people aren’t] buying (and yes, MD fact-checked that statement – at the time of the interview, this was true).

10/16/14 http://www.forbes.com/sites/hughmcintyre/2014/10/16/not-one-artists-album-has-gone-platinum-in-2014/

11/05/14 http://www.npr.org/blogs/therecord/2014/11/05/361577726/taylor-swift-platinum-party-of-one

12/08/14 http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/jason-aldean-has-only-platinum-selling-2014-country-album-20141208

D: Music in general is at the lowest in the history of the industry, ever.

R: I think it’s obviously the illegal downloads and people being able to steal it—

D: Nobody cares about anything they get for free. That’s the reality of life.

MD: The new album came out and you’re on tour with WHITECHAPEL. How’s that going?

D: Pretty good.

R: It’s been good. It’s been a while since we’ve done a club tour.

D: [The Ottobar] is really small tonight. Sometimes those [small clubs] are the coolest ones. We’ve had a few, a decent amount on this tour, and 99% of the time it’s been nuts in there and it’s tiny.

R: It’s been crazy.

MD: I’m just gonna warn you guys, we have a guy who is wheelchair-bound and he is no joke. Do not get in his way. At the last WHITECHAPEL show, the crowd lifted him up in his wheelchair and crowd-surfed him to the stage. So is it just you and WHITECHAPEL or is there somebody else?

D: GLASS CLOUD is the other band.

MD: I’m jokingly asking this because everybody does this: the genre label that you choose for yourself, what is that?

R: It’s Metal.

D: Metal.

MD: I’ve noticed a lot of bands are just picking Metal.

R: It’s because this genre shit is getting too far out of control.

D: You can notice though that we’ve always called ourselves [Metal]. All the other bands who are now trying to say that they are Metal, didn’t say that before. I just wanted to throw that out there “on record.”

R: Every time somebody asks us we don’t like to put any kind of sub genre on it. We’re just Metal. That’s what we grew up with; that’s what we love. I love Iron Maiden, all that old shit.

D: That’s what we thought we were and then all these [sub genres] came into it.

R: It’s like oh no, we’re this kind of band.

D: Last time I checked I thought we were just Heavy Metal. It changes and you go with the times [but it’s all Heavy Metal].

MD: Okay so now I’m going to ask the uncomfortable question that you probably expect after what happened in July. <crickets chirping> That whole thing fell out for you but I understand, with politics and business just like we discussed, that these things happen. My question is have you fulfilled your contract with Sumerian Records? Is three albums it? Is this the end of your time with Sumerian?

D: We have one album left. We’re contracted for four.

MD: And that’s gonna happen?

R: Yeah, yeah.

MD: That’s what I wanted to know. I think that’s what the fans want to know. When do you think you’re going to go into the studio?

R: Hopefully sometime in this next year we want to go and start writing and planning it out. If it’s to beat the last one we wrote it’s gots to be good.

MD: Do you already have material?

R: No, just ideas and that’s where it starts. It starts on paper first. We all like to come together and just think about what we’re going to write. We try to plan each song even like what the song will be about just real vaguely. That way when we’re writing musically, it all comes together.

MD: Because you have a theme going on?

R: Yeah, you write a song about romance, it’s gonna be soft. If you write a song about being angry, it’s gonna be crazy and fast. You want to sell the emotions that are in the songs. We definitely think about that first.

MD: My final question: is there something about your band that you’re willing to tell us that you want your fans to know that they might not know at this point?

D: We have these matching tattoos (see picture below).

R: I guess we kind of had all have our [“las placas”] kinda like a gang would. If we went to jail the cops would probably think we were in a gang.

Las Placas

Las Placas – UABB

MD: Is that an impression you want to perpetuate?

R: No, no, it’s not that where a gang it’s just that we’ve been together—

D: It’s just a unit, I mean gangs would stick together, you know? The idea behind it is that we got each other’s backs, stuff like that, but we’re not violent.

R: [Like the movie] Blood In Blood Out. It’s all like Hispanic violence.

MD: Isn’t that EXODUS’ new album?

D: I thought that was HELL YEAH.

MD: HELL YEAH is Sangre Por Sangre. I had interviewed Chad Gray and he was talking about that whole media blowup. What I’m discovering is that musicians in the industry are all talking about the same thing. It’s almost like a group mind in the Metal community.

R: It sucks how like everything is changing. I hope that it will go back to just being more about the music and what’s going on in front of you. There’re bands that can get big off the Internet and not even play a show and not even have to put any work in. That’s the part that sucks for us musicians that are out here every day busting our ass. To see a band blow up and never even play a show—

In closing, I just want to let everyone know that UABB’s newest release The World Is My Enemy Now kicks some serious ass. I would give it a 4.3 out of 5 with track number 6 being my favorite right now. Jeremy and I were head-banging to that on the way home from the Philly Battlecross show December 28th. I also reviewed the show on November 13th and UABB’s performance was POWERFUL. The Beast had been unleashed most definitely.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/uponaburningbody

ioI.O. Kirkwood is METAL DESCENT’s Senior Live Music Editor. You can read her personal blog HERE.

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