Arvelisse Ruby Bonilla-Ramos, known to the stage as Lola Pistola, is working three different jobs, bartending and waiting tables, and living with her boyfriend in a tiny Red Hook, Brooklyn apartment. She is also absolutely, wildly, unequivocally living her best life. Lounging on the couches at Remezcla headquarters, the singer, songwriter, and guitarist muses, “I feel like if you are in the right spot in life and you are doing what you truly love, you are able to feel fulfilled and happy and in control.” When asked if she is in that spot, she replies simply, “Oh, yeah.”
She’s just released her first album, Curfew, a 10-track storm of grungy, moody rock with touches of Velvet Underground-style downtown glam and dreamy psych pop. Like its raspy-voiced creator, the record seems effortlessly cool, but Bonilla-Ramos, a puertorriqueña who came up in San Juan’s storied punk scene, will tell you it took a lot to get to this moment, a moment where she is sharing her own music with the world and plotting her first tour, at least as a solo artist.
She got her start in music singing with AJ Dávila, sharing vocal duties with Selma Oxor on “Es Verano Ya” off his solo debut Terror Amor and touring as a vocalist in his band. (Fun fact: She also features on the debut album from rappers Füete Billete.) A longtime friend, Dávila had always encouraged her songwriting and dreams of performing. “My first demos, my really crazy stuff, I would send him,” Bonilla-Ramos recalls. Perhaps most encouraging was Dávila’s promise that, someday, they would collaborate.
“I feel like if you are in the right spot in life and you are doing what you truly love, you are able to feel fulfilled and happy and in control.”
It came to pass when Dávila embarked on a solo career following the breakup of his beloved punk band Davila 666. “He was like, ‘One day we’re going to do something together.’ Years after, he had his project and asked me, ‘Do you want to come and sing? Do you want to be in the band?’ This all happened when I was already planning to move to New York,” Bonilla-Ramos remembers. She wrote “Tu Pensabas,” which became her first single, one night with Dávila in his home studio, while he was working on Terror Amor. She recorded the vocals for “Es Verano Ya” on her laptop after moving to New York.
Moving to New York City and simultaneously joining the band was all part of a watershed period in the singer, songwriter, and guitarist’s life. Shaking off the heartache of a breakup, the then-24-year-old landed in Bushwick and started working as a hostess at Jay-Z’s 40/40 Club in Manhattan. She calls the job “chaotic,” and those first early days in the city “overwhelming.” “I got sidetracked my first year here, because I just wanted to feel New York. I wanted to feel the people, and I didn’t want to care about anything,” she reflects. “My money was never for anything that wasn’t going out, going to raves, partying, DJing.” (This creative Catherine wheel has also been known to DJ and make electronic music.)
Heady as her first year in New York City was, being part of AJ Dávila y Terror Amor was even more so. Looking back on it, she describes an experience that was both challenging and beyond rewarding. Dávila’s 2014 U.S. tour was the first time she had really sung with a band, and it was also her first tour here in the States. She shares a vivid recollection of her first show in Virginia. “We were expected to be very professional, to know our notes and to know when to sing.” But, she says it was “such a rush. I had never experienced anything like that before.”
And thus, she was hooked. Bonilla-Ramos turned out to be a born road dog. “My favorite view is being in a van and your bandmates are around you, being loud, knowing that you are going to play in a venue, and looking into the back and all your equipment is there,” the musician explains.
As much as she loved touring with Dávila, after a second U.S. tour with him, she knew that she was done singing someone else’s music. “I knew that I had to be selfish. I knew I needed to put something out. After I got back from that tour, I was like ‘I have to do this,’” she says. While on tour, she released the single and video for “Tu Pensabas” as Lola Pistola. When she got home, she doubled down on writing and demoing songs.
The album is called Curfew because she essentially imposed a curfew on herself, not unlike the one her mother enforced in her teen years. “If I wasn’t home by 11 p.m., she would call all my friends. At 10:55, she was already calling people to see if I was on my way.” This time around was even stricter; she told all her friends she couldn’t hang out, and in a largely symbolic gesture, deleted Tinder from her phone. Moving to the relative quiet of Red Hook helped, as did getting into a serious relationship a bit later. The album took a week to record when it was ready, but she worked on the songs that would become Curfew for a year.
She knew she had it when the raw, punky songs she was writing started to ring true for her. “It’s very intense when you write a song and you don’t doubt yourself and you don’t question what you are saying. When I could sing the same songs over and over and they would still have the same effect, that’s when I knew that these were the songs,” she says. One song off Curfew that she says always evokes the same indefinable feeling in her is “Wild, Rich & Loose.” It’s a ballad with poetic lyrics about young and hungry souls, resembling a Mazzy Star song that’s been dragged through the gutter. It builds to a fantastic roaring breakdown.
On this track, and the rest of the album, she’s mining the noisiest end of 90s alt-rock with emotional honesty and trippy sonics. It’s tempting to call the sound dreamcore. Whatever it is, Curfew is bound to have the ring of truth for many more ears than just her own. Last year, she started performing the songs live, and is already hustling to try to take them out on tour. She’s working three jobs to save money so she can go back out on the road, this time sharing her own music. It won’t be long before she can glance over her shoulder and see her bandmates and gear all crowded together in one vehicle again – her own personal definition of happiness.
Lola Pistola’s Curfew is out now on Burger Records.