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Parental Guidance: Downtown Boys’ Victoria Ruiz is Interviewed by Her Mother

Changing, But Still the Same

Sep 14, 2017 Web Exclusive
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In this new series, Parental Guidance, Under the Radar listens in as a musician’s parent interviews them. For the inaugural edition, Lupe Aguinaga interviews her daughter, Downtown Boys’ vocalist Victoria Ruiz, along with the band’s guitarist, Joey La Neve DeFrancesco, about how the life of a band changes as they reach bigger stages, and how they would change the music business, if they could.

Downtown Boys’ new album, Cost of Living (their first for Sub Pop), asserts itself boldly as an important voice in the current national political and media landscape, with more rallying vocals from Ruiz, jagged guitar work from DeFrancesco, and the band’s trademark sax accompaniment.

Lupe Aguinaga: Victoria and Joey, Downtown Boys have been together for more than five years now, and I’d like to know if there’s anything that you would doyou’ve been touring a lotif there was one thing that you could change about the Downtown Boys, Victoria what would that be?

Victoria Ruiz: About the way that we tour or about the band? That’s a good question. I think the one thing that I would change, and this sounds kind of like, I don’t know, snooty or something, but I think I would just change the expectations that are put on the band, and that we could be seen for who we are and what we’re actually saying, instead of more what people want us to be. And I think that I would also change the way that shows are funded. I think right now, the times that we get paid enough to actually do it is because, you know, alcohol is being sold or a company is funding it. And if there could be more public funding, like from the government, I think that would help a lot of artists and show spaces. When we saw that happen in Europe, we were treated better. The touring conditions were better. And so, I think you only said one thing, but I think it’s kind of connected to people kind of expect us to do this for nothing, and I think we could actually have more resources and support.

Lupe: How about you, Joey? Especially you, you started the Downtown Boys all these years ago. What would you change?

Joey La Neve DeFrancesco: Yeah, I think I agree with all of the kind of industry-wide things that Victoria is mentioning here in terms of how the economics of how the music industry are so backwards and have always been. But right now it’s a particularly dire time where even though we’re putting out a record on Sub Pop Records, we’re still struggling to make anything off of doing this. And you tell people now you’re doing a record on Sub Pop and people remember Nirvana and people remember these great bands from the ‘90s, and associate the label still with kind of creating these like wealthy rock stars. There’s a historical memory of that. That [memory] has not changed, even though the economics have changed so much, where bands just aren’t getting the money. There is still money in the music industry, it’s just going to gigantic streaming services like Spotify, or it’s going to Amazon or it’s going to Apple. You know, that money is being generated via ads and stuff, it’s just being more and more concentrated than ever before. There needs to be a massive redistribution in the music industry, as in all industries. In terms of what we could have done differently, I don’t know. Like, we’ve learned so much through the last four or five years doing this. And so, you know, part of me wants to say I wish from the get-go that we knew how to work the industry better. Because you do see bands that just like come out of bigger cultural centers like D.C. or New York, and they’re like 19 years old, and they have all these connections to everything already. And their first record will play NPR Tiny Desk, or whatever. And you know, that’s great, no hate on them doing that. Part of me wishes we knew how to do that from the get-go. And then part of me is like, via having to navigate this journey we’ve built this community of people and made all these friends. And it’s been a struggle and we’ve had to work a lot harder than a lot of bands to get to where we are right now. And having some of those fast lanes would have been nice to do. But it’s hard to say what’s actually better in the big picture.

Lupe: Good answer, I also wondered, there’s a lot of different parts of Downtown Boys. There are all these different things that you guys do in the background. I was wondering, what is the part that you enjoy most? Is it writing songs or performing or traveling, or practice? [Laughs] What’s the part that you enjoy the most?

Joey: For me, performing is definitely the most fun. I think I do overall like the job of doing the band, even though it can be crazy and terribly under-compensated at all points. But I think performing is the payoff, in some ways. You know you put a lot of work in answering emails and doing all this stuff. But actually being on stage and doing the shows, and letting it all out is definitely the mostI’m not sure if fun is the right wordit’s not necessarily fun, it’s hard and draining to perform. Writing songs is still a lot of staring at your computer all day and fighting yourself while you’re doing it. But I think being on stage definitely is the most freeing part. I guess maybe that’s the right word. It feels the most free. Feeling free isn’t necessarily about having fun. There’s a lot wrapped up into it. But I think that’s definitely the best part for me.

Victoria: I also think that show time is the best time and I think that getting to perform for people like my mom or grandma is just the best. And it was like really, really great when we performed in San Francisco, and you were there and grandma and auntie and some other family members and Joey’s cousin and brother were there. It just felt so awesome. I’m like, “If I never have a fancy wedding, we have that show.” [Laughs] Just, performances are so fun. And even when, we’ve played more shows that I can count on two hands where there have been 5-10 people there. I also love that, as well. If each personyou get to sing one song and look directly into that one person that whole song and they each get their own songthere’s something really special in those situations as well. I think all types of performances are my favorite part.

Lupe: Victoria, is the experience of being in the band the same as when you first started? How would you compare it now?

Victoria: I think now the experience is different, because like Joey was saying, we kind of know more of the tools that exist. It’s sort of like if you’re an accountant, if you learn a new database or software or learn something new that’s going to help you be better, then it’s a new experience. And that happens a lot in being a touring band. You’re like, “Oh, this tool existed that I didn’t know about before.” So figuring all of those things out has made it different, and knowing our toolbox is bigger, it’s a different experience. And I think being a musician or a performer, like I remember when you came to our first show and you took that video of what it was like, and last week, Joey, I was in a really bad mood and my mom was like, “You can’t go to sleep, you shouldn’t go to sleep upset.” And she showed me this video of the day after the first Downtown Boys show. I think I couldn’t play all the songs. I would run out of air, I would have an asthma attack. I remember having that slicing feeling in the middle of your brain when you run out of oxygen, and that would happen after the third song. And being able to play 10 songs is really hard, which is why I would just jump around a lot and try and be really energetic. Because I would be like, “I can’t give the crowd my voice right now,” so I would just try and give this other energy. So being better at being an athlete is a new experience. It totally changes everything. And then not having to hide the band in the shadows. I think for a couple of years I would use my sick days for touring, or I would not tell anyone that I was in this band. And now it’s like I can’t even do that. Right now, at one of my other jobs, my boss is actually a Downtown Boys fan. [Laughs]. So it’s sort of having that new relationship to it is a new experience and I’m really grateful to be respected by people outside of music for it.

Lupe: Joey, how is different for you now than when it started?

Joey: I agree with all the ways that Victoria says it’s different. There are obvious ways, everything is scaled up to where we have a broader reach. But at the same time, I can think about how it’s comically the same a lot of the time, in terms of just, I don’t know what word to use exactly, in terms of the feeling of performing. How it can be very fun, or how some nights you’re just not feeling it and you really have to push through and you feel like you had a bad show and afterwards you have to work on controlling your mind to not think about that you had a bad show, because probably no one else cared. That kind of feeling you have to push yourself through. And I remember feeling the most that way at a show in, like, Worcester, Mass. There were probably 20 people there in like 2012 or something. Which is funny because now it’s like we can have a bad showwell I don’t think there’re ever bad showsyou have that feeling of it in New York to 400 people, or something. And the scale is so much different, but the emotion of it is very similar, which is kind of a funny thing. But that’s just how life works. You adapt to whatever level you’re operating at, and respond to it accordingly. So I guess all this is to say I think the day-to-day process is really trying to appreciate what we get to do, and being able to perform and share this music with people, and working at it and believing in it. In a lot of ways does feel the same, for me as I’m playing for 400 or 500 people, or playing for like 15 people in a basement. And we do still sometimes play for 15 people in a basement. That still happens. It’s changed in a lot of ways where we get to do things at the certain level and speak to people at a certain level now. But it is still comically similar in terms of driving around in a van all day, sometimes playing for these small groups of people, things going wrong, things going right, a lot of the work remains the same.

Lupe: For us, when we saw you three years ago in Oakland, and then when we saw you this past year, my family was like “wow.”

Joey: Yeah, as a band we’ve definitely gotten better. [Laughs]

Lupe: I think we get the feedback, because we know you guys so well, from the audience, it was amazing. I think that was it! Joey I love you, and Victoria I love you.

www.downtownboys.bandcamp.com

www.twitter.com/DowntownBoys

www.facebook.com/DowntownBoys/

Downtown Boys 2017 Tour Dates:

9/14: Iowa City, IA @ The Mill
9/15: Minneapolis, MN @ Triple Rock
9/16-9/17: Chicago, IL @ Riot Fest
9/19: Vancouver, BC @ Fox Cabaret
9/20: Seattle, WA @ The Vera Project
9/21: Portland, OR @ Mississippi Studios
9/22: San Francisco, CA @ Bottom of the Hill
9/23: Los Angeles, CA @ Summer Happenings at The Broad
9/24: Oakland, CA @ Starline Social Club
10/9: Leffinge, Belgium @Cafe De Zwerver
10/10: Paris, France @ Le Point Ephemere
10/11: Brighton, UK @ The Haunt
10/12: Leeds, UK @ Brudenell Social Club
10/13: Edinburgh, UK @ Sneaky Pete’s
10/14: Glasgow, UK @ Stereo
10/16: Dublin, Ireland @ The Workman’s Club
10/17: Liverpool, UK @ The Shipping Forecast
10/18: London, UK @ Dome Tufnell Park
10/19: Sheffield, UK @ Picture House Social Club
10/20: Manchester, UK @ Deaf Institute
10/21: Bristol, UK @ Simple Things Festival
10/22: Birmingham, UK @ All Years Leaving Festival
10/24: Cologne, Germany @ Tsunami Club
10/25: Berlin, Germany @ Urban Spree
10/26: Hamburg, Germany @ Hafenklang
10/27: Amsterdam, Netherlands @ London Calling Festival
11/15: Baltimore, MD @ Windup Space
11/16: Philadelphia, PA @ Underground Arts - Black Box
11/17: Brooklyn, NY @ Brooklyn Night Bazaar

Follow Ed McMenamin on Twitter at @EdMcMenamin.

Also read our recent other interview with Downtown Boys on Cost of Living.

Support Under the Radar on Patreon.



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Susan E. Allan
February 7th 2021
11:16pm

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