dios malos: Clearly California

Its a rare find in music to come across a band that can be easy on the ears and interesting at the same time. dios malos (always lowercase) is a band hailing from Hawthorne, California, offering living proof that a four-minute pop song can be engaging and inventive, while still coming off as effortless. My first impression of them was an amalgam of the Beach Boys and Radiohead. Their self-titled debut album has garnered a fair amount of press from the BBC, Rolling Stone and others–all pegging them as a “band to watch.” Despite favorable, sporadic media coverage, dios has managed to stay just under the national radar. They are at a unique stage in any musicians career: most people don’t know them, and those that are lucky enough to have heard them consider them to be one of the best-kept secrets in music today.

The band members are every bit as unpretentious and easy-going as their songs may lead you to believe. In speaking with the band, it was clear they were having a good time, but were ready to head back home after a month on the road. A number of bizarre things can transpire in a month-long roadtrip, as JP Caballero recalls in a show in Houston: “We played with the Fiery Furnaces that night, and after the show Joel and I were hanging out back at the car. Some homeless-lookin’ guy walked past the club and was carrying a ten or twelve-foot construction ladder. He glances over at us, and says ‘hey, do ya wanna buy a ladder?’ This is at like 1am!”

The band recently had to change its name from dios to dios malos, to avoid confusion and dios-laden legal battles, as Caballero explained: “we got an injunction letter from his attorney, and we thought it was a joke. Then we found out it wasn’t. We didn’t have any money to hire an attorney and battle it out, so we changed our name. And, yeah, it pretty much blows.”

The past year has been quite a ride for dios malos. Their website confirms my suspicion that they had a track appear on the O.C.: “In January we’re going back out for a West Coast tour, but if you can’t wait till then, you can go pick up O.C. Soundtrack Volume Two. Somehow one of our songs is on there, and maybe our souls are on there too.” In looking back at the past year, Caballero notes that “we went from this nobody band from L.A. that had a really hard time getting decent shows and any real, legitimate press to…getting a lot of attention. And that’s real crazy, but if it continues at that rate, we’ll be happy.”

It shouldn’t sound as though this is a band that compromises their musical integrity for the sake of appealing to a broader number of people. The music on their debut speaks for itself, and it will quickly become apparent to any listener that this wasn’t an album mass-produced for consumption over the airwaves. Indeed, the album wasn’t recorded in a classic studio setting to say the least: “it was all home-recorded. It wasn’t formal in any sense of the word. It was done over the course of about a year, and a lot of it was recorded in the practice space. Parts were done at other people’s houses as well as the practice room in my garage, so it definitely wasn’t formal…it was just kind of done. It wasn’t like ‘okay, we’re gonna do a record…we’re gonna take two weeks, spend eight hours a day.’ Everyone was going to school, working, doing whatever full-time commitments they had.”

In terms of their general musical appeal, Caballero says that “we’re pretty open-minded with trying new things. And that’s a big thing to us: stimulating ourselves, and making it interesting and not doing it because people are wanting it to sound a certain way. Its about stimulating ourselves first and then kind of going from there, which usually translates into something good for other people…because we like the four-minute pop songs as well.” It is evident that while some of the tracks have a raw energy to them, the band went for a textured sound with a great deal of multi-tracking and effects layered over the top.

And while the album has a soothing, melodic quality to it Caballero is hesitant to suggest that it is representative of their sound. He feels the band’s live performances more fully capture their essence: “The record is very mellow — the drums aren’t super-loud or aggressive on it…but live is a lot more dynamic. We like that. The loud and the quiet parts. We like textures, things like that, so it comes across as a lot more aggressive. And the songs sound different than the record. You know, something that you’ve played for a couple years shifts, it changes, and you come up with things as you go along. So its a little more progressed than the record, and that’s definitely good so I’m hoping that we’ll be able to show a lot more of that on the next record. The record portrays us as being quiet, kind of mellow, and that’s not necessarily what we are. We like having a lot of tension.”

After wrapping up their tour, dios malos is heading back to Hawthorne for some well-deserved relaxation, but are keeping a collective eye toward the future. Caballero discussed their plans over the next couple months: “We’ve got about a month and a half off. [So we] may start working on the next record. That’s kind of on everyone’s mind — just getting something a little more representative out. Probably going out in January, doin’ a little coastal tour. Probably going out in February, hopefully go out in March…” And so it continues for dios.

This is one of those bands that is destined for greatness. My amazement at the quality of their debut is exceeded only by the band member’s insistence that their best work is still ahead of them. dios malos is a group that will have a broad range of appeal to a number of different people for a number of different reasons. Their unpredictable rhythmic and melodic changes keep the listener attentive at every turn, and the depth of their creativity ensures that their first album can withstand repeated listening. This is one of the more interesting groups to come around in the past few years, and while the band may be humble enough to talk you into waiting for their second release…the debut album is well-worth the trip out to the record store. A year ago they were virtually unknown and today they are revered in a few small circles. In a couple years the secret will be out, and for good reason.

For more info, and a classic web experience, visit www.wearedios.com

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