While the commercial glory days of the US punk scene may be behind us, music of the hard, fast and passionate variety is still blossoming on the other side of the Atlantic – albeit away from the spotlight. Downtown Boys, the six piece who bill themselves as a bilingual political dance sax punk party, are one of the scene’s brightest prospects. Currently kicking up a storm with their debut album Full Communism, guitarist, vocalist and one time tuba whizz Joey L. DeFrancesco and singer Victoria Ruiz spoke to State about a terrible hotel, mixing punk and politics and why their hometown of Providence in Rhode Island suits them just fine…
“It has a big supportive community of activists and artists doing amazing work. The economics of making art right now are such that we can’t afford to live in New York or somewhere similar and be able to make as much work as we do. It’s just impossible. Providence allows us to do what we do”.
What local bands were you into?
“There are many…CMOV, Whore Paint, Medusah Black, Mother Tongue, Lovesick, many others…”
Joey, the tuba doesn’t seem the most obvious instrument for a young punk rocker to take up?
“My band teacher in high school told me I’d get money to go to college if I played a rare instrument like tuba, so I picked it up. Turns out it was a trick no one really gives you money to play rare instruments. I put it down for a while then picked it back up to play in the What Cheer? Brigade and ended up getting to tour all over the US and Europe with a tuba, which is not something I was expecting”.
Where did you two first meet?
“We met while working at a hotel called the Renaissance Providence Downtown Hotel. I worked in room service and Victoria worked at the front desk. The working conditions at the hotel are terrible – in fact workers there are still calling for a boycott of the hotel until their demands for better conditions are met. We both worked there and got close through our efforts to unionize the hotel. A lot of our songs were written about or at the hotel”.
Was forming a band always an idea?
“Downtown Boys existed for maybe two months or something before Victoria was in the band. We weren’t that good. Then Victoria joined and it got a lot better”.
How did the other members get involved?
“We’ve had a bunch of different members throughout our existence. A few of us had played in What Cheer? together. Then other people bouncing in and out of our lives”.
Was the musical vision always the same?
“Not sure we necessarily have a musical vision. This is what comes out. It naturally changes slightly over time”.
And the political one?
“We have always wanted to make the most honest and real creative work, inherently it needs to be political because of the urgency and necessity to confront the status quo. Everything has a political vision, whether it wants to call it political or not”.
Did you find the punk scene to be open to a band with such a feminist / political agenda?
“The punk scene is made up of so so many different groups of people and micro scenes, many of which are at total war with each other. Parts of the scene were not open to us at all and that is fine, we just continued to push through it all. Other parts have embraced us and we have cosmically collided with other POC and/or queer artists, or people who are simply down with what we are doing”.
Do you address different topics in each language?
“All the topics are related to race, class, capitalism, total culture, and the pain and beauty that comes from the most personal moment to the biggest picture we could possibly think about.”
Calling an album Full Communism seems designed to get attention in the US?
“We live in a period where we have a very negative vision of the future. There’s not much real hope for another kind of world. It’s been said a lot, but we have an easier time imagining the end of the world than one that has even slight modifications to current forms of capitalism. We wanted a title that would express some hope for a better future”.
Has any of it been negative?
“We are sure there have been negative reactions, whether it is cynicism or people not wanting to see us as “punk,” etc., any real critique is useful, any pure negativity is usually rooted in fear and discomfort of what we are doing. We honestly get more shit for talking about things like bros than we do for having communism in our album title”.
Do you accept that the lyrical message may go above some people’s heads, or they just might not be interested?
“Yes, of course, there is a lot of violent apathy and ignorance in the world”.
Do you try and win those people over?
“No, we aren’t trying to win people over, we are trying to win a State-less society, which is concerned with structures, not cynics shaking their heads”.
After two Obama terms, is there still a lot to fight against?
“Of course! Obama has helped implement a few useful policies, but the fundamental structures of oppression in this country haven’t been even slightly altered. Obama, for example, has deported more people than any other president. And just look at his current eagerness to push through the Trans Pacific Partnership. There are countless other examples. It’s still the same fight”.
How are you finding playing in other parts of the US?
“It is amazing. We live in a very weird country, far from static, far from completely determined, vulnerable to everything”.
Full Communism is out now on Don Giovani Records. Downtown Boys are currently looking for a bassist. If you live in or around Providence and that sounds like your kind of gig, email them at email@example.com. It might just change your life.