Very rarely does a band resonate so much that it feels like a shift is happening. East Los Angeles band The Tracks subvert indie rock structures by simply existing. They illuminate underground rock music’s permeating whiteness, its institutional exclusion in a city where nearly half the population is Latinx. The Tracks proudly celebrate their Boyle Heights roots, forming part of a longstanding tradition of Chicano rock from East LA. But with only one single, The Tracks are still a young band. There’s a certain power in their relative obscurity, as it stands now, and in knowing that they’ll soon shed it. The Tracks have yet to release a full-length album – a debut record will arrive early next year – and yet, they’re inspiring a lot of conversation.
Frontman Venancio Bermudez reveals that the project emerged during his senior year of high school. “I was getting serious about doing something other than just having a job. I ran into [bassist] Felipe [Contreras.] He didn’t really play bass, he would just bring it to school.” He found their drummer Jamie Conde in a similarly innocent fashion. “He was a skater. He couldn’t play any [instruments] but he had a hunger for music. We didn’t think about it at the time, but little by little I’d teach him a beat until we could all write together,” he recalls. “We practiced at my house and our neighbor would call the cops on us. This lady would throw oranges and limes at us, so we got a practice space that we shared with a metal band. In Boyle Heights, it was mostly metal bands that were around. They didn’t really like having us.”
Geography and isolation are real motivators, but so is economic necessity. You must work hard to survive; everything else is secondary. The fact that Bermudez wanted to make music so he was doing something other than “just having a job” feels revelatory on a personal level: making music is work, but for Bermudez, it means having the luxury of creative freedom.
Our phone call drops and we reconnect after a minute. “My job…is complicated.” His voice fades to the side, as if his head is tilted in secrecy. “I’m a lineman. I was a bicycle mechanic for five years.” Those are only two of his many arduous gigs. “Around the time of the recession, I was at the tortilla factory for about three years. It sucked. They still had these things called comales — a conveyor belt where I’d drop flour balls and it would go under these rolling pins that would smash them. It was an old-fashioned tortilla factory, and every tortilla was hand-stretched over this super hot plate of iron. It was terrible for the ladies who were stretching them. I’m not sure how to sum it up — there was so much bullshit there. It was really hot. I would sweat so much that the flour would stick to my arms. It would get in my nose. It was a really hard job. Everyone was so pissed off the whole time.”
“I would sweat so much that the flour would stick to my arms.”
The monotony of unfulfilling work gave Bermudez space to reflect, and in that introspection, he realized that music was not only a hobby, but his real passion. “At the same time,” he stops his own thought, “I’m the kind of guy who gives 100 percent. Even though it’s a shit ass job, I always give it my all — to try and make work easier for everyone. I tried to make people laugh and at the end everyone appreciated me. I just fucking walked out. I couldn’t take it anymore.”
At times, Bermudez’s music feels distinctly similar to the pop phenomenon of working-class English music. They’re over 5,000 miles apart, but The Smiths wouldn’t have developed their romantic sound if they didn’t hail from Manchester, a factory town. A few years later and an hour east in Sheffield, Pulp would spend their time atop the Britpop charts singing songs about aspiring to leave the limitations of their economic reality. Frontman Jarvis Cocker didn’t want to sleep with “common people,” he was the common person rich people fetishized and wanted to sleep with.
That escapist energy comes across in The Tracks’ lead single “Go Out Tonight.” It exudes the spirit of those timeless English pop tunes, but it makes class issues intersectional. Yes, The Tracks subvert indie rock norms by existing, but they do so musically, too; celebrating your non-work hours as a space of much-needed freedom is something many people take for granted. For this band, writing a song about leaving the factory is a political gesture, one as simple as a song about fun — weighted fun.
The video begins with a clip from the 1961 film Exiles, which chronicles the lives of Native Americans who left their reservations to live in Los Angeles. It’s an exploration in trying to make it in a society that others you. “I relate to that movie even though I’m not Native American. The way that movie is set, how they’re surviving…they would fight against each other. That happens in our neighborhood. We fight against each other,” he explains. “Sometimes there were gunfights. There were some bodies next to a bridge [near my house] that they found. One time I saw a dead fighting cock. They’d drop any shit there. They’d have random porno shoots there. This was me coming home everyday from middle school, coming into this weird ass scene with weird smells.”
It’s not overtly political, but it manages to illuminate his experience in a way that feels political.
“Go Out Tonight” feels far removed from that world, but it couldn’t exist without it. The song will give you goosebumps with distinctive warmth, the same way a pop single by The Killers crawls under the skin. Bermudez doesn’t mention his past struggles in the song, only the moments when he could break free from danger and mundanity — the moments where he leaves the harsh conditions of the factory. It’s not overtly political, but it manages to illuminate his experience in a way that feels political. At a time when the indie rock that gets most press is made by white artists from the suburbs, The Tracks have the potential of becoming a new band kids from Boyle Heights and East L.A. can call their own. That is the power of visibility.