WRGW’s Pat Geiger was joined by Victoria Ruiz and Joey La Neve DeFrancesco from Downtown Boys for a phone interview in anticipation of their upcoming show at the Black Cat. A transcription of the interview is below. The full audio from the interview can be found here.
WRGW: You are playing at Art Takes Action’s Freedom Fair tomorrow night at the Black Cat which will be raising money for the ACLU. How did Downtown Boys get involved with that?
Joey: We got an email from the organizers very shortly after the inauguration, and it was going to be a regular rock and roll show beforehand, but after the inauguration, the mission of the show changed which I think is good… it being in DC and it being so shortly after the inauguration, and we as a band were unable to make it to DC to play any of the initial protest shows on the day. But obviously this is a much longer fight so we are happy to come down there to play music and do that usual kind of community building and use of music that we do but also to specifically raise money for that organization is great.
WRGW: You mentioned the inauguration, I saw that you guys did a show in Providence that day. What was it like to be playing live on that day?
Victoria: I think that that day was such a bad day in the United States’ history, and the night before had felt like a sort of evil Christmas Eve. So that day, the idea of having to celebrate a white supremacist, despot coming in to power was really bad. And also thinking about the Obama Administration not being the greatest administration at all and possibly being historicized as some sort of angelic administration. I think we all had a lot of steam by the night time, but were also really exhausted. In Providence, there had been this incredible action by high school students. They walked out and marched to the state capital, and it was mostly young students of color. There were probably like 500 people which is huge for a state so small like ours. I think people were really inspired by that. To play a show that night involved a lot of mixed feelings because there was so much anger about the inauguration and then there was this really amazing active resistance locally. I think that tension and those contradictions are going to be the description of a lot of what we feel over the next four years. It was really powerful for better or for worse.
Also, playing an inauguration protest show was so great because so many people came who were mad at President Trump, but then two community groups really took over the space. One was a group of youths who are organizing against a white police officer in Providence who we call the “son of Trump” who has brutalized communities of color. The other was a group that fights against DAPL and similar projects in Rhode Island, and they collected a lot of money and signatures and totally took over the space. I think it made people realize that if you want to stand against Trump, you have to stand against these acts in your local community.
WRGW: Your band sort of has its roots in activism with your work organizing in Providence before Downtown Boys was formed. Can you talk about how that drives your music or affects your artistic process?
Joey: I think it works a lot different now then when we first started as a band. Initially, the band had two origin points. One was a brass band that would often play at protests. And then Victoria and I met working at a hotel, and we both got involved in a union. So a lot of the initial waves of songs were inspired by those fights that were involved in there.
Now we are drawing from so many sources both in terms of collective involvements in things and also personal struggles and interactions with the world. But from the very beginning that spirit is what has driven us to write songs. Sometimes when people ask us questions like, “why are you political?” I’m just like, “what else would we write songs about?”
WRGW: What has it been like recording now in the post-election era and can we expect to hear any new stuff on Friday?
Joey: It’s been very intense because we have been in the studio the past 9 days, so all of these executive orders have been coming out while we are in the studio for 12 hours a day. So I think we’ve been feeling very anxious like the rest of the country and angry and frustrated and searching for what we can do. So it is definitely a very intense and terrifying time to be making this record. I think some of it has been trying to just focus and know that we are doing something. I think whatever your vocation is you have to find however you can be resisting in in that vocation. So tomorrow we will probably play most of the new record we have been working on.
WRGW: Do you have any favorite memories of being in DC or playing here?
Joey: We’ve had a really special time in DC from the beginning of our band. DC was one of the first places we toured to and formed a relationship very earlier on with Priests and put out a 7″ on Sister Polygon Records. It was the first time we had done something with a label. So in my mind, the first time we played in DC in an Ethiopian restaurant with Priests that is a very special memory.
Victoria: I also want to give a big shout out to people who come to our shows in DC. I saw a photo the other day of one of our DC shows. There are so many people of color who come out to our DC shows, and I think they speak against a lot of the gentrification or sanitation of DC as a corporate monster. There are a lot of people there from a lot of places, and they come through.
WRGW: Victoria, your performances are incredibly energetic. You’ve even mentioned Bruce Springsteen as an inspiration. Obviously, Downtown Boys are a bit more punk. How do you channel that energy while playing?
Victoria: I think channeling so much of our music and his music too by itself is so great but I think the feeling it gives you is what draws me to it. So I think trying to feel what’s going on both from the audience and on the stage is how I do it. Also, just realizing all the time that you put into these 30 minute performances… you spend so much more time running around or sending emails. So performing is an outlet. Mitski has a quote saying, “you spend 90% of your time doing everything else to get to spend 10% of your time doing what you want.” I think Bruce embodies that as well. I bring him out through that emotion and feeling. It’s my moment, my opportunity to use the space.