South L.A. is best known as the breeding ground for top-shelf rappers like Ice T, Kendrick Lamar and NWA. But there’s another music genre that’s slowly taking over the area — punk.
The new documentary, "Los Punks: We Are All We Have," chronicles the growing punk scene in South L.A., where every weekend there's a show in a backyard, a warehouse or on a rooftop.
The Frame’s James Kim spoke with Gary Alvarez, who sings in the band Rhythmic Asylum, and Kat, the singer for the band Las Cochinas, both of whom are featured in the documentary.
What made you want to start a band, Kat?
KAT: So Las Cochinas, my band, started as a joke. We told everyone in school, "Yeah, we're in a band," and we passed out big flyers and one day somebody said, "Hey, can your band play our show this weekend in Sylmar?" And I was like, "Yeah, definitely!" We had written a song as a joke, so we played three songs. Later on in life, my friends were all like, "Yeah, when you guys used to play we used to cover our ears. It was so bad."
I wanted to talk about your song, "40 oz," and how it's about men who are abusive towards women and how women should rise above it. What inspired you to write this song?
KAT: I was really in an abusive relationship. Growing up, I saw my mom hit by multiple men who weren't my dad. I didn't want to write songs about anything that wasn't something that I couldn't relate to or other people couldn't think, "Oh, I could rise above this."
ALVAREZ: We actually bonded over that song, that's how I met you. You were like, "If you beat up your girlfriend, come up here and stand up like a little bitch." And I was just like, "Well, my girlfriend beats me so I'm just gonna be up here in the front, too." You were like, "Yeah, but you like it," and I was like, "Yeah, I kind of do."
What attracted you two to the punk rock scene?
ALVAREZ: Anybody who gets into punk rock gets into it because they might feel ostracized or they might feel like they're not cool enough or they have problems at home. I think everybody bonds over the fact that we're weird and we're kind of outcast and we just celebrate those differences.
KAT: Yeah, definitely. I think even with our own families, sometimes we're judged. My grandpa doesn't even know I have tattoos, I have to wear pants around him. I think for all of us, it's just a place where we can actually be ourselves. I don't have to be drunk to feel comfortable whereas if I was at a club or anything like that, I'll probably be wasted by the end of the night just because I don't feel comfortable.
You both have such a good relationship with each other. Was there something you two bonded over other than punk music?
KAT: I think we bond because we're both open-minded but we're also super into our studies. For us, it wasn't just about going out and drinking every weekend.
ALVAREZ: I feel like Kat and all of the other studious punks in the scene, she understands that there's things that you want to do and there's things that you have to do, so you just learn how to prioritize and you can't be at every show every single weekend.
What do you study?
KAT: I'm actually a business communications major. I switched from law. I was doing the same thing that Gary is doing.
ALVAREZ: Yeah, when I was going to school in UC Santa Cruz, I was studying political science and history. So whenever I was learning about Japanese internment or the Brown Berets or the Black Panthers, like, "Oh, this would be a cool song concept," and I would put a lightbulb next to the margin and I wanted to talk about it and explore it.
I had this whole list of issues that I wanted to talk about, everything from equal pay for equal gender rights or undocumented people not having an equal path to citizenship here in the United States. There's a lot of different things about race and culture that I'd like to discuss, and if I take my time just really craft it out, I'd be happy.
What does your family or parents think about you being involved in this scene?
ALVAREZ: Growing up, my mom was just like, "Who are hanging out with? Who are these people? Why does your hair look like that? Why do you have so many holes in your face?" At first, it was kind of superficial. She was like, "This kid is doing drugs or something." But now that she saw the documentary, she's like, "Wow, you're inspiring people and you're saying cool things and interacting with the crowd and motivating them?" She's proud of me.
KAT: Growing up, I was a super — I know this is super cliche — but I was a very angry person. So this was the one place where I could go and live. It wasn't like, "Hey, you need to get straight A's," or I was a soccer star, "You don't need to score a goal this weekend." I think if I didn't have this scene, I would probably not be in a good place. I wouldn't have very many friends, I would probably be a lot angrier than I am now.
“Los Punks: We Are All We Have" will be released on iTunes on May 27th.