Story and Photography by Meredith Goldberg
Back on July 25th, La Armada kicked off a mini tour in Chicago at The Burlington in support of its most recent record, Anti-Colonial Vol. 2. I caught up with founding member, and guitarist, Paúl Rivera, after the show to discuss, influences, legacies, and what drives them musically and otherwise.
La Armada was first formed in 2001 by grade school friends in the Dominican Republic: guitarist Jonathan Salazar, guitarist Paúl Rivera, bassist Mani Marte, and drummer Eric Urrea. Casper Torres has been on vocals for the group for a decade and is from Puerto Rico. “We have been going to play shows in Puerto Rico pretty much since we were 14 or 15 years old, so we all knew each other and grew up as friends,” says guitarist Paúl Rivera.
“We discovered punk, hardcore and metal pretty much in the mid 90’s when internet service became available in the Dominican Republic. Metal is more known in the DR, and we enjoyed it but never really identified with the lyrics and imagery.”
Rivera continues, “Punk came more natural because we were feeling a lot of the same discontent they would be singing about, especially because during that time we were on the tail end of a dictatorship state and on route to a Neo-liberal pseudo dictatorship.”
Growing up in the DR, the band members were exposed to music at very young ages. “Music is always around in the Caribbean. Our first form of musical love was what was around, merengue, salsa, and Bachata. But once we discovered Spanish punk, American metal, and so on that’s when it became an obsession. “
However, that obsession did not cause the band to entirely separate from the music of its native region. Rather, it fused the multiple genres to create its own unique sound.
“When you are young and on the island you kinda rebel against the music your parents listened to, when you grow up and become an immigrant there is a yearning for it and those are the rhythms we try and incorporate into the heavy genres we participate in.”
While La Armada has always had much to say with its music, Rivera notes the group has one strong, recurring theme, “Anti-Colonialism. Which we explain is just not in the historical context of large nations extracting the wealth of the global south. We also lump up what we call “neocolonialism” into this motto, which we define as all external forces that have an influence over masses of people, like news, information, social media, ads, product placements, etc.
Rivera adds: “A lot of these things are destroying our sense of worth, the environment and each other, but we consume it daily because it’s wrapped up as entertainment. It’s hard to know right now what is more dangerous, the physical or the digital sword.”
I also asked Rivera what are some of the bands and sounds most influential, to La Armada. “Musically it’s all over the place. Spanish Punk rock like La Polla, Escuela de Odio, and more. American Hardcore like Bad Brains and Sick of it All, the island music we grew up with like merengue and bachata. Canadian, melodic Punk like Propagandhi, classic metal bands. And on and on.”
Turning to the way the band operates, Rivera says, “As a band model, we take a lot from the DIY hip hop scene. Limited Merch drops, live sampling, owning your own masters, etc.”
From Burlington Bar’s stage, band members spoke repeatedly about pursuing your art and how artists need to really go after it. Rivera expanded on that post-show.
“We’re just at point where we’ve been doing this for so long and are now in our mid and late 30’s that anything other than being the absolute best version of the band wouldn’t be worth it.”
He also noted, “As a small, DIY band that literally carves out any traction or momentum against all odds, we have made our peace with just putting the work in and trusting that the rest will take care of itself.”
Rivera explains, “Basically, if we’re going to do something, we are really going to go for it. Otherwise, none of us really have time for hobbies. For example, our album roll out consisted of 6 singles, 5 music videos and different pieces of visual art. All made in collaboration with artists from the Caribbean diaspora across the world. That was a big effort, but that was the only way we were going to do it. All or nothing.”
Of course, La Armada found itself affected by the pandemic. Rivera addresses this:
“First off, we were lucky that everyone remained healthy, employed and nobody had immediate family affected by it. However, artistically it was rough. We were used to being on tour for 3 to 4 months out of the year and all of a sudden that was taken away from us. It felt like you lost your identity.”
He continues, “We were also planning on heading back out on some tours that coincided when COVID first hit so, we got left holding a bill for goods we had purchased for tour, which also completely sucked.”
Rivera recognizes that despite difficulties, the group members might have been luckier than many others.
“A lot of bands and artists went through the same and much worse situations. Somehow, we made it to the other side and are now able to look at things differently, as in, simply doing the work is the reward.”
That work includes the new La Armada record.
“Our new record is Anti-Colonial Vol. 2 – It is the follow up to 2017’s Vol. 1. We wrote it and recorded it during the pandemic in 3 different spurts at the studio because things kept getting canceled because of Covid protocols.”
Still, Rivera stresses the importance of remaining positive:
“It was a difficult time to do art, but it was the only way to keep the band going and maintain some sense of inspiration going.”
The band has played sporadically thus far in 2022. “This year we had our Chicago release show in February, a weekend in the Midwest in March and now are now touring again in longer spurts.”
The “longer spurts“ began with this particular night at Burlington Bar, where family, friends and fans wished them safe travels and hopes for a good time out on the road.
That road will take them across North America. “We are first doing the eastern US and Canada for 3 weeks during August, then we take a 3-week break and follow that up with 3 more weeks out west for shows with Propagandhi, Tørsö, and headliners of our own.”
More photos below!