Latino Psych Band Native Sun Find Light in the Darkness on “Oedipus Race”

Lead Photo: Photo by Kevin Condon. Courtesy of the artist
Photo by Kevin Condon. Courtesy of the artist

Danny Gomez, the lead singer of Native Sun, is wearing a Joan Didion shirt when I meet the band for a drink at Abe’s Pagoda, a dimly lit Bushwick bar the band frequents. “She has this great essay in The White Album where she sits in on The Doors during a recording session and she’s an outsider—she sees Jim Morrison walk in and she’s completely mesmerized,” Gomez tells me.

The Doors’ psychedelic West Coast rock might be a far cry from the fuzzed-out garage sound Native Sun make, although both are certainly musical prophets of their time. Billing themselves as a band of immigrants—Gomez is from Cartagena, bassist Mauricio “Mo” Martinez is from Monterrey, and drummer Alexis Castro is first-generation via Mexican parents that emigrated to California—Native Sun have been staples of the Brooklyn indie rock scene since coalescing in 2017, with all the challenges and changes it entails.

“There were definitely barriers to us playing,” says lead guitarist Jake Pflum. “People didn’t want to book us because we had no music and then we’d go on and people would be like “you don’t have any music?” Gomez chimes in about the shift of venues brought about by gentrification and the closing of beloved indie venues in the borough. “I remember I was going to Shea Stadium and Aviv, and it seems they all got shutdown. Besides that, the main problem with the scene is a fake edginess, privileged kids putting on a show to make it seem like they’re something they’re not. A big thing for us is “what you see is what you get.”

Photo by Kevin Condon. Courtesy of the artist

That rawness Gomez uses to describe the band’s dynamic seeps into their music, a chaotic maelstrom of colors and reverberated guitar that exists in a sonic void. Latest single “Oedipus Race” is full of action, a gnashing criticism of the oppressive powers-that-be roared through an aggressive rush of guitar and drums. “Our friends run COLONY Studios in Greenpoint and they wanted us to play for 12 hours, the idea being to track the way the song changed,” says Gomez.

It was during this improvisational jam session that the fragments of “Oedipus Race” fell into place. “I made it a point to think about how the song melodically flows to the drum beat and about having the verses be staccato. I was listening to Uranium Club and loved how they found they found humor in dark situations in their lyrics, and talked about things people are afraid to talk about,” Gomez tells me. “Charleston was happening around that time, and you’d see all these riots—it’s interesting to think about being in 2019 and knowing the same generational racism from the 60s is still alive. I played around with the concept of Oedipus Rex and someone who wants to please their mom, and wanted to find the light in that darkness.”

If the Native Sun that created cutting tracks like the sparse garage litany “Palindrome” or the incessantly chugging social critique “Big Succ(ess)”, then “Oedipus Race” sees a complete surrender to chaos executed with the chops of a seasoned band, something Gomez calls “a focused aggression.” He also lauds their differences as their biggest asset, teasing that “bands that all have the same taste aren’t the best bands.”

Photo by Kevin Condon. Courtesy of the artist

They’re different contexts are the reason for their sonic melting pot, but only a band with a cosmic connection could traverse the sounds they create. “Jake and I grew up together two blocks from each other in Florida,” Gomez says. “Alexis and I met literally the first day moving to New York when I was trying to get a burger. Mo was the other brother life brought us – he fit our band like Cinderella trying on a glass slipper.” Martinez had to go back and forth between Mexico and the U.S. while resolving a visa issue, a story that’s not unfamiliar in the current political climate, and one that hits home for any immigrant. While he was back in Monterrey, he stayed in touch with the band as they figured things out on shakier footing. “I was the last person to join the band, and everyone came from different sounds,” says Martinez. “Even on Songs Born From Love and Hate and Always Different, Always the Same, we were still getting to know each other as musicians.”

With a SXSW appearance and plans for new releases in 2020, these budding guitar heroes with a knack for experimentation and an eye toward a future, even one that seems to crumble every day, are only further gelling together. “I think that’s what brings us together,” says Gomez. “We’re not just a bunch of Latin dudes in a band; we’re showing that everyone’s differences can create something when we work productively together. This is the America we want to portray.”

Stream “Oedipus Race” here: