If there was any justice in the world (and sadly, right now, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot), there should be a saying that goes something like this:
To be truly happy, at least with yourself, you have to be able to look in the mirror, and on most days, be able to fall a little bit in love.
For many musicians, this practice often creates a sort of magical fine line to dance along where if the mirror calls your name too much, whispering sweet nothings and telling you how amazing you are, you're fucking doomed unless your name happens to be Bono, Elton John or Madonna. Even in the best situations, being talented and knowing it is a recipe of disaster. Musical onanism is probably rampant in just about every rock and roll scene around the world, but occasionally the rare band manages to transcend the typical traps of self-love and actually understand that it's okay to celebrate not only your success, but your existence, without coming off like total dicks.
In fact, there are the rarest of rare bands who can construct and learn to thrive in tiny little societies built around mutual respect and a shared love of creativity, music, and having fun. Bands like this don't need to bathe in the adoring glow of their fans for their collective psyche to survive, but instead reverberate on the same wavelength as their fervent supporters in a symbiotic appreciation of what can best be described as a "good thing." When this happens, it is nothing short of amazing.
One such band is Tucson's very own Lenguas Largas. In speaking with the band over the last several months, it's become apparent they all love being in the band and playing music with each other. They also appreciate the "good thing" they have when it comes to writing songs, playing shows locally or places like Osaka, Japan, and creating art with each other.
When you think of Lenguas Largas, words like idyllic, biting, infectious, intense and beautiful come to mind. Most importantly, though, are the layers of sound created by the incredible cast of characters who have come together to make the band the torchbearers for the current (and probably next) wave of brilliant Tucson music. After three albums, five 7-inch singles, and multiple tours, Lenguas Largas is just getting started.
The almost 10-year-old band was started by guitarist/vocalist Isaac Reyes and lead guitarist Ricky Shimo, veterans of both the Nogales and Tucson music scenes. The two friends began getting together at Shimo's place and having some beers, smoking a bowl (or 10) and writing and recording songs in 2007. Reyes says he was inspired by the Oblivians, a legendary garage band from Memphis, Tennessee.
"I wanted it to be like the Oblivians, two guitars and shitty drums, but then we just kept recording and recording," Reyes says. "I didn't plan on Lenguas becoming a band. I just wanted to write songs and record them."
For Tucson, and really the world as a whole, it is a great thing that Reyes and Shimo decided to make music together. If anything ever seemed destined to happen, it was definitely the coming together of these two guys.
"I grew up in Nogales, Mexico, and he grew up in Nogales, Arizona, so when we met when we were like 17," Shimo says. "I was playing punk rock and our bands played together."
This would have been about 20 years ago, when Shimo was playing bass and singing in Nogales, Sonora's Suicidio Collectivo while Reyes was playing guitar and singing in Nogales, Arizona's Bakesale, and as luck would have it, the two punk rock bands shared a stage on a fateful night.
Reyes, who also spent time in both Swing Ding Amigos and Shark Pants, two excellent (and noisy) punk rock bands, is a bit more cynical about those formative years in his hometown. He recalls his high school years in a band called Bake Sale that included his brother Levi, his cousin Roy Valencia, Sergio Mendoza and Jaime Peters.
Bakesale, Reyes recalls, "was the shittiest name ever, but it was the first band I did a real recording with. Jaime's dad was the high school art teacher and he was also the guitar teacher, so he had all the gear in his house. We started hanging out every day after school. We're all still doing it, too."
Quite a pedigree for a teenage band from a border town that shared a name with a Sebadoh record. Peters played with Shimo (then known as Ricky Custodio) in popular Tucson band The Jons, while Valencia moved north up I-10 and plays with Phoenix proto-jock punk Bro Loaf as well as Roger Miret (Agnostic Front). Mendoza leads the awesome and highly acclaimed Orkestra Mendoza. Levi Reyes also spent a fair amount of time playing drums in Lenguas Largas, as well, before semi-retiring to raise his daughter.
Many Arizona music fans are probably unaware of the rich musical history of the area, but growing up in Nogales, on both sides of the border, had a profound effect on the founding members of Lenguas Largas. Musical instruments were around and the Reyes brothers looked for any excuse to play.
"My dad had an acoustic guitar he got from a Mexican curio shop," Reyes says. "He never really played it. My brother and I would mess around with it before he came home from work."
He remembers hanging out in the band room in junior high, playing guitar "until they kicked us out. A friend of ours opened up a record store and we would go there and hang out every day. People would come across from Nogales, Mexico to hang out. After the store closed, all of the records and tapes and shirts were at my buddy's house. We got everything. All the stuff from Alternative Tentacles and Taang Records."
This was the beginning a love affair with punk rock that all of the members of Lenguas Largas, past and present, seem to share. While Lenguas Largas' sound leans more towards a combination of '90s indie and noise rock with post-punk overtones and undertones, there is definitely a punk edge to each member, even if punk rock is only one of the many influences the musicians share.
The members of Lenguas Largas also share a collective and genuine love for the infectious and slightly left-of-center Southern Arizona desert psychedelic-indie-punk sound. To listen to Reyes talk about music in general is a treat and it is readily apparent that his passion springs from a lifelong dedication to his craft that grew steadily out the junior high jam sessions.
"During high school, a girlfriend of mine had a mix tape that had a Weird Lovemakers song on it and it blew my mind," Reyes says. "Then I found out they were from Tucson and the lead singer was from Nogales. We ended up hooking up with the older dudes in town and playing shows. It was cool, in a way, that we were a 'bar' band when we were in high school."
Reyes and brother Levi moved to Tucson just after high school, but maintained their connection to the Nogales scene by continuing to play shows, as well as book other bands down in the Nogales area until Reyes decided to pull back from setting up shows in his hometown.
"It became too much," Reyes says. "I was putting up all the backline gear. I was driving back and forth a lot since the bands were staying with me. I used to have energy when I was young. It was a ton of work."
During this era, Reyes met eventual Lenguas Largas bandmate and Tucson legend Mark Beef (Pop Gestapo/Junkie Vomit/Cuntifiers), who is currently living in Nogales as well.
"Isaac is from the same area that I had lived," says Beef. "I'm about 10 years older than Isaac and Ricky, but I knew some people who were involved in bands from Nogales. There was a guy named Acho (the late Alvaro Durazo) who was older and he would have bands play at his house."
Beef was one of the first musicians to join Reyes and Shimo in Lenguas Largas.
"I knew Isaac's (previous) bands," punk, but I also love Roky Erickson, Rolling Stones, Sam Cooke."
The band, which at that point was Reyes on guitar and vocals, Shimo and Beef also on guitar, and drummer Chris Kohler (Dory Tourette and the Skirtheads), jammed for about a month before playing their first show at birthday/Valentine's Day party at a house in Tucson.
Within six months, a second drummer, Dicky Solomon, joined the band, as did John Polle on bass.
Those guys still may sit in with the band from time to time, but the latest incarnation of the band is a quartet: Reyes and Shimo are joined by bassist Tommy Melchionda (Discos) and drummer Brian Bollt (Carbon Canyon/Free Machines/Sabertooth Snatch).
"It helped that everyone could play a little bit of everything in the beginning," Reyes says. "It's hard to find people to play (music) with that have the time and are cool. People keep leaving and we just keep going. We can have a 10-piece or we can be a four-piece."
Just as the music of Lenguas Largas is made up of layers, so is the story of the formation and transformation of the band. The supporting cast of characters includes not just the aforementioned Beef, Kohler, Polle (Whispering Wires/Discos), and Solomon (Shark Pants) but also Matt Rendon (The Resonars/Marshmallow Overcoat/The Knockout Pills), and Levi Reyes (Swing Ding Amigos/Cuntifiers). The lineup is pretty spectacular in that each of these guys can play multiple instruments and, if they were so inclined, could be the centerpiece of a fantastic band.
"No one is ever out of Lenguas Largas," says Melchionda.
Every one of these guys is also a rock and roll lifer when it comes to music, and the lead singer, Reyes, is the epitome of the term.
"I just love music," Reyes says. "I knew I wanted to play rock and roll since I was a kid. In fourth grade I played violin and I fucking hated it. All I learned was 'Mary Had a Little Lamb.' At one recital, a dude showed up with an electric bass and I was like, 'What the fuck? I want to play that.'"
As Reyes grew up, he and brother Levi gravitated to music that was loud and aggressive. The two brothers would pilfer change from their grandfather and head to the local record store to get new tunes, the first of selection of which was Guns 'N Roses' Appetite for Destruction (1987).
"We wore that out," remembers Reyes.
While only the most determined musicologist could probably find a link between the Lenguas Largas sound and a song like GNR's "Welcome To The Jungle," the album is thanked on their second record, Come On In.
The band members keep pushing their own boundaries of exploration when it comes to creating their sound. To say Reyes, Shimo and crew are dedicated to their craft is an understatement. These guys are not messing around when it comes to building beautiful layers of sound.
Reyes' musical aspirations have always been centered around building something worthwhile, whether it was a band, a scene or a song.
"Isaac is an amazing songwriter and an amazing singer," says Melchionda, who joined the band after Polle stepped down when he and his wife had their daughter. "I'm constantly blown away by how he comes up with vocal melodies. He's not trained. He doesn't give a fuck. He comes up with these insane vocal melodies that he puts over his riffs. I'm constantly impressed with what he comes up with."
In many ways, songwriting is the heart and soul of Lenguas Largas. On many of the the band's 7" releases, which started with 2009's I Feel limited edition on Tic Tac Totally Records, Reyes and Shimo have recorded all of the vocal and instrumental parts, including using some cleverly improvised household items to make the drum parts.
"I don't even have a drum set," Reyes says. "I use a Pilates ball for a bass drum. I do have a snare, but I use a maraca as a high hat and a tambourine as a snare head. That's how I make the drums. I EQ them so they sound like drums. One song I used a bicycle and just hit different parts of the bicycle to get the drum sound."
For the three-full length Lenguas Largas records, whoever was in the band at the time of recording has added more guitars, bass, drums, synthesizers and keyboards. 2011's eponymous Lenguas Largas often has words like "classic" and "amazing" and "genre-defining" attached to it in reviews and the high praise is deserved. The standout track on the debut record is a paean to souls aching for requited love called "Yardsale Heart."
Choosing just one favorite song by the band is incredibly difficult, but this album is chock full of catchy, psyche-driven, post-punk rock and roll that leaves a smile on your face.
Beef, Kohler, Polle, Reyes, Shimo and Solomon set the bar pretty damn high with this full-length debut and it could be postulated that Lenguas Largas completely changed the Tucson musical landscape. If they had flown under the radar for some fans and fellow musicians prior to this, the whole town had to sit up and take notice of songs like the drunken, psychedelic "Cobra Command Me" or the epic sonic landscape of "Endless Sands." Shimo's guitar work weaves its way through Reyes' vocals beautifully, yet each musician leaves room for the entire band to provide the previously mentioned layers of sound that define the band.
Polle, who is often credited as "Tio John" on releases, says it best.
"Isaac is just an amazing singer and Ricky adds that psychedelic element," says Polle, who has lately been playing out as Monsignor Wednesday's Guitar Mass as well as doing his other killer project, Whispering Wires (which also features Bollt on bass, and Melchionda on guitar). "They have a unique thing going on, which is just an amazing thing these days. It was fun to play those songs, but I was still just a fan. Even when I've been a member of the band, I still sometimes think of Lenguas in terms of 'they.' I listen to the records a lot, which I don't do with my own bands.".
The band recorded Lenguas Largas with local guru Jim Waters at Waterworks and Tic Tac Totally and Recess Records collaborated on releasing the record nationally. Reyes has had a long-standing relationship with San Pedro's Recess Records, which is run by Todd Congelliere of F.Y.P. and Toys That Kills, to name just a few of Congelliere's projects. Recess Records also released the follow up to Lenguas Largas, Come On In, in 2014.
Come On In kept the pedal to the metal. The band also recorded this one with Waters, but was also joined by Rendon, Bollt, Melchionda, and Levi Reyes, rounding out the sound to its full majesty. "Circles" and "Little C's" are two of the standout tracks on Come On In, as well as "Ese Culito" and "La La La La."
The pace of the sophomore record is definitely a bit more energetic in terms of adding a few more beats per minute on average, but the growth of the band is apparent, too. There are some truly beautiful passages on Come On In that allow the listener a chance to soak it all in before the next of dose of fuzzy psychedelia gets pressed on the tongue like the cleanest tab of blotter ever.
Also originally a fan of the band, Bollt was stoked to join in on the fun.
"Lenguas Largas was my favorite band before I joined," says Bollt, who credits playing with his fellow musicians in Lenguas Largas for drastically improving his drumming. "I've known Isaac and Mark Beef from playing in punk bands for many years. I thought they sounded like nothing I've ever heard before."
In 2016, the band released Abba Daddy, which came complete with a board game on the inside of the gatefold cover. Released by German label Red Lounge Records, it features an alternate version of the lush-but-trippy "Kawasaki Dream" off of Come On In, but it doesn't stray from the path of continued sonic expansion. The packaging is impressive, of course, with the game and all, and the songs do not disappoint in any way.
Abba Daddy shows the continued maturation Lenguas Largas that hardcore fans would look for in a third effort. Reyes and Shimo's multi-layered songwriting continue to progress, even though the overall quality of the recording is not as high as their first two efforts. "Aromatic Love" is a standout track, for sure, but there is also something super alluring about '60s fuzz sound of opener, "Psychic Eye," especially when the song almost completely destructs itself at the 2:25 mark.
Lenguas Largas recorded this one themselves at multiple locations, so this might lend itself to the slight step down in overall sound quality. The slightly more lo-fi approach lends itself nicely to the more laid-back tone of the record and the vocals on Abba Daddy are extremely strong.
Reyes says the band is fortunate to have been able to put out so many releases in a relatively short time.
"We record our own shit," Reyes says. "We are lucky enough to have a lot of friends. Some of them run labels. I've never had to send out anything to a label (to solicit interest). I feel very lucky about that."
Over the years, though, the band has been stockpiling gear so they can take more control of their recording process, as well as save the money they typically spend on recording to fund their tour efforts. According to Reyes, the band spent a fair amount of money on the two records they did at Waterworks and wanted to be able to have a bit more control over their recording process moving forward.
"We are nocturnal when we are doing this," Reyes says. "We work during the day. Now it's easier because we have all our own shit. We learn as we go. The last one we did, the tape for the Japanese tour, it sounds good. We had a deadline for that one, but now we don't and we can fuck around with all of the stuff that we bought."
The Japanese tour Reyes alluded to took place in July and was Lenguas Largas' first time in Japan. Reyes had toured there once before with Shark Pants, but as a whole, the current incarnation of Lenguas Largas was blown away by how well the tour went.
"I wasn't sure what to expect to be honest," Shimo says. "My grandfather was Japanese. It was a big thing for me to go there. We actually played on the island where my grandfather was from. The people were really nice. The whole culture...I never felt so secure and comfortable."
Bollt calls the trip to Japan "amazing."
"It was a milestone for me and the first stamp on my passport," Bollt says. "Seeing the culture was very profound and eye-opening. I learned a lot about respect and keeping an open mind about different people's point of views. There is always an enigma about a band that comes from another place. Our band was the enigma in this case, as opposed to seeing the enigma. I would go into even more debt to do it again."
The secret sauce here, though, beyond the ridiculous amount of talent that makes up Lenguas Largas, is the bands' ability to keep it all in perspective. The members of Lenguas Largas enjoy each other's company and enjoy all of the time, hard work, and challenge that comes along with being a genuinely independent touring and recording band in 2017.
The band plans to continue to write and record songs and are currently working on their follow up to Abba Daddy. They also intend to keep touring, with another trip to Japan a strong possibility. For Reyes, though, who readily admits he is terrible at promoting his band, there is a lot more to be done.
"Our story deserves to be heard," Reyes says. "I don't know how to explain it. I feel like we kind of got passed the torch from the Weird Lovemakers and all the bands that influenced me to go on tour. They got me in contact with people and got us started. I've always wanted to do the same thing, but it's different now. People have managers now and PR companies. It's weird."
Shimo, though, puts it another way.
"We've been working together for so long now," he says. "I think it's pretty cool. Then I destroy the guitar."