Interview: AJ Dávila, Soundtrack of your life and my life together

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It’s a well-known fact that music scenes tend to be insular, with bands coming and going and no one but those in the know find out about the music. This is even truer if your home is an island like Puerto Rico, where it’s easy to feel like you’re stuck in a cultural void, often excluded from the Latin American whole because of our political status. If you ask any of the old- (and new-) school musicians in the independent scene, they will tell you that Puerto Rico has always been an open place for bands from other Latin American scenes to come out and play. Yet, resources (and cashflow) are always an issue, and smaller groups tend to get passed up by those with the dough in order to bring more “established” (that’s my thinly veiled attempt to say overexposed) artists that fill more seats at the bigger venues.

So, for many years, there was a drought; until some very influential music geeks (our friends from Puerto Rico Indie, the Mala Vida Buena Música blog, and the public radio show Frecuencias Alternas), saw the real hunger of fans and musicians alike. We all wanted to be more connected to the scenes around us, so they ventured out to create the concert series El Independiente. “El Independiente was a way for us to contribute to the local scene in a way that felt much more real and vital than our other contributions,” explains Alfredo Richner, founder and editor of the blog. “Instead of writing about the music and playing it on the radio, we thought it was time—and part of our duty—to, like they say, put our money where our mouth is. We wanted to offer an alternative to events being promoted by brands and marketing people that clearly have little idea about what an independent artist is and stands for, while putting up the best promotional front possible with our limited resources in order to make these events exciting to people not familiar with the music.”

One of the main conspirators on that was Terror Amor’s mastermind, AJ Dávila, who made connections and helped book some of the killer lineups of the past four editions. Now, “El Indpendiente V” will close up shop with the live debut in Puerto Rico of Terror/Amor. “El Independiente V is the logical conclusion to what we first dreamt up last year as we began the concert series,” Richner adds. “If not for AJ’s involvement we wouldn’t have been able to get some of the international artists who came to Puerto Rico for the first time to play at our events. Many of those artists (Las Robertas, Alex Anwandter, Juan Cirerol) ended up contributing to Terror Amor’s debut. That record is phenomenal. When it came time to debut Terror Amor’s live incarnation in Puerto Rico, there was simply no other way to do it.”

So, this Friday, November 8th, Los Nervios, Juan Cirerol, and Buscabulla take the stage. Not one to miss such a special opportunity, I asked AJ a few questions about his new project, sort of expecting the standard fare. What I got was an incredible dose of honesty and disclosure about the real reasons for Terror Amor’s existence and why this might just be one of the most heartfelt projects to come out this year. It floored me, and I hope you’ll enjoy it, too.

What started as a solo project has now become an ambitious and incredible new band. Tell us about your other collaborators or live band members.

I have always loved the feeling of being a part of a big family. When I was 3 years old, my brother died and when I was 7, my parents divorced. I was raised by my mother—my best friend. I have cousins but they were in jail when I was in my teens and my uncles, grandpas, and aunts lived really far away. We got our first car when I was 18 so I saw them once in a while. My family was my mother and my friends from the streets, and a lot of them are dead or in jail now. I think that’s what made me want to have a big family. For this new project I’m blessed to have all my old and new friends with me—a big beautiful family!

What has the concert series done for the San Juan scene, in terms of exposure to international scenes and media?

I think it has done a lot for the music scene on the island. It has shown to the world that Puerto Rico is another stage for their music, that they can come and have their concerts, great concerts. Other promoters on the island focus on bringing the same recycled artists over and over. The same DJs, the same ’80s hair metal bands, etc. El Independiente has focused on showing what is relevant in music right now. It doesn’t matter what music style or genre. They care most about giving love to local bands and artists.

In terms of showmanship, what can people expect from your new project on stage? What kind of live experience do you want people to take away from it?

We are going to cook hot dogs, hamburgers and baby guts onstage. We are going to do some ancient Native American dances and some polka dances to spice it up. And maybe we will bring our pink unicorn, Federico, onstage to break dance. It’s going to be fun…lots of energy, gang vocals, dance, dance. We want you to shake your ass.

You just got signed to Nacional Records. Congratulations! Can you tell us a little bit about how that went down? When can we expect your new record and, most importantly, what can we expect in that record, aside from what you’ve already leaked?

Thanks a lot! I feel really happy to be part of the Nacional family. We have been talking for a while. It’s great to have a new home and be label mates with friends that I love, like Sergio Rotman and Alex Anwandter. The record is my baby. All my heart is in this album. I recorded like crazy, 25 songs in seven months. I took my time, I didn’t rush or stress. No bullshit, no bad vibes, no fucking drama. I gave love to myself. I think this was something that I really needed. Last year was a heartbreaking year for me. This record is about Davila 666 and all the ex-relationships that have broken my heart. It’s my most honest work. It’s catchy as hell, full of energy, danceable, dirty. It’s pop, it’s dark, it has attitude. It’s the soundtrack of your life and my life together.

You’ve made some interesting remarks in earlier interviews about wanting to keep writing in Spanish and being able to appeal to the wider Latin American scenes; something you didn’t necessarily achieve with earlier projects. Do you think Terror Amor will afford you that opportunity? What’s your ultimate goal for the band?

With Davila 666 we made our career in the USA and Europe. We didn’t have the chance to play that much in Latin America and, for me, that was really sad because we live, sing, eat, and daydream in Spanish. There’s no way that I can write in another language than Spanish. It’s my native tongue. But don’t get me wrong, if you paid me a million dollars I’d make you the best song in any language. I think that everything in life is possible if you want it and work hard to make it happen. I’m the hardest-working guy ever. I’m a trooper. My music is my life. So I think we will end up in Latin America. My ultimate goal with Terror Amor is to have fun and live life to the maximum. It’s all about love. I want peace. I hate gossip.

After El Independiente V, what’s next for Terror Amor?

We play El Independiente and have to get on a plane to California immediately. We are doing a West Coast/Mexico mini tour with Cali-Ruta from Nov. 9 until the 16 (Pomona, LA, Santa Barbara, San Diego, Tijuana). We will do a live show at KXLU 89.9 FM LA too and we’ll play All My Friends Fest in Tijuana. It will be fun.