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SPINE Merges Fania Salseros, Classic PowerViolence and Grunge on New EP

In the weeks that surrounded the killing of George Floyd, one quote by Stokely Carmichael (later known as Kwame Ture) resonated the loudest and seemed to speak volumes about the fight against injustice: “In order for nonviolence to work, your opponent must have a conscience. The United States has none.”

SPINE might argue that idea expands past the US and to mankind writ large.

With the new EP L.O.V., Midwest hardcore punk band SPINE have created a 12-inch release that echoes classic powerviolence along with the toughest of New York hardcore. And while the intersection of those influences have all the subtlety of blunt force trauma, SPINE follows the lead of punk bands of yesteryear by tackling themes surrounding sociopolitical unrest, the folly of man and how — as sludge favorites Dystopia pronounced so emphatically — “human = garbage.” The result is an urgent, tense and muscular effort that recalls the greats while building a world of its own, all seen through the lens of a first generation Cuban-American living in the Midwest.

With the new EP on deck, we cornered vocalist Antonio Marquez about the new effort, how his heritage as a Cuban-American affected the outcome, his love for Hector Lavoe and Fania salseros of yesteryear, and the effect of the legendary Crudos on a young Midwestern punk. The results of our conversation are below.

SPINE’s new effort L.O.V. hits via Bridge9 Records on December 18th. Order Yours.

HARD NOISE: Let’s start with the new record. When was it written? How much of it was done this year?

ANTONIO MARQUEZ: None of it was done this year. We finished recording the record, I believe, in January. We wrote starting in August, ended in the fall, started recording in December with our guitarist Alex Tunks. So it was our first time going to what most would deem to be a professional studio. So we did that in Chicago and I’ve known Andy for a long time, obviously from Weekend Nachos — John was in that band at the time too.

A lot of your sound and even the art in some ways recalls classic ’90s bands and releases — everything from Capitalist Casualties to Crossed Out and beyond. How did you come to that scene and style of music?

Well, I think a lot of it really started with my trajectory into extreme music in general. So my dad grew up in West New York, New Jersey after they came from Cuba. My grandfather worked for Ford and they got transferred to Kansas City soon thereafter but before he moved, he was running around with a lot of break dancers that were into hip hop and punk. He had a hardcore punk breakdancing group called the Black Knights. Back then, as you can imagine, once you move out of an environment there’s no way to really keep up with it. So in Kansas City there were record stores where you could purchase some of that stuff, but it just wasn’t the same. So he quickly kinda got out of all of that.

By the time I was getting into music, I would see his records and remember seeing Agnostic Front’s Cause for Alarm and SOD’s Speak English or Die, thinking that both of those were racist records. Why did my dad own these two records? He’d just look at me like “you don’t understand.” And it stuck with me forever. I would see Cause for Alarm with the skinheads on it and associate that with being racist. Obviously the title “Speak English or Die” speaks for itself. Of course, I didn’t pay a ton of attention to it at the time and didn’t know the real background.

As I got into metal and then more extreme stuff like death metal and then goth and industrial music — just trying to find anything that I thought was the hardest and most extreme. I went through all different avenues and eventually found myself in hardcore. That is when I started listening to stuff like Youth of Today, Cro-Mags and even like stuff like YDI and SSD. Then I discovered Infest was like “whoa, what the hell is this?”

Infest is such an interesting band because they kind of straddle genres as far as whether they’re just a hardcore punk band or powerviolence or if that even matters. I also didn’t really understand all the stuff that’s involved in each style, so it was more just like “oh, this is great and what is this band Neanderthal” and then No Comment, Crossed Out, Man is the Bastard and it just kind of went from there.

So we discussed the SOD and the Agnostic Front records, but in addition to that, did you ever think that punk was not cool because it was your dad’s music?

You know, I didn’t. My dad and my mom had me when they were 18 and 19. So my dad’s 51 and my mom would have been 50. They were pretty young when they had us. And so for whatever reason, my dad would listen to, like, what I thought at the time was sick as hell —Marilyn Manson or Nine Inch Nails and stuff where I was like “this is like awesome.” Even realizing he liked Agnostic Front and Cro-Mags and saw them back in the day.

He was also really into Poison and Mötley Crüe and all this other stuff that I thought was whack, too. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to appreciate Van Halen and that glam rock from the ’80s, but that was the only stuff that I thought was lame. Everything else I liked. My uncles had massive CD collections and I would just pull CDs left and right, whatever I thought had a cool album cover, and listen to it. That’s where I got into late ’80s, grunge, and alternative movements.

You’re a first-generation American but your family migrated from Cuba. New York City has a pronounced love for salsa music; you’d have to actively avoid it and its strong impact on the city. You have short samples by Hector Lavoe on the record, so clearly you aren’t immune to that. How do you think that music has informed your personal viewpoint and manifested itself on the new LP?

I think it’s super impactful. For people that listen to salsa music but don’t truly dive in, it’s a great example of how people can be surface level with something and not truly understand what it means. Inherently, you would think salsa music is just for dancing but just like hardcore punk, it’s much more layered — you have to really peel it back to understand what is going on.

There is so much social consciousness when it comes to the lyrics, the stories and what they’re actually trying to say. That’s not to say that salsa doesn’t have just straight up party music, like any other genre. But a lot of the good stuff can also talk about drug use, real gangster shit, poverty, inequality, stuff that’s obviously very apparent to this day, yet it doesn’t get the same kind of credit. I think it’s a good example of how society needs to dig a little bit deeper into things that we would think as background music when in our reality, it’s a lot deeper than that.

I think in a more modern sense, the same thing goes for reggaeton. I grew up with reggaeton but there is a stark difference between what it’s become and where it started. There’s still some artists that try to carry on that early mindset but it’s lost so much of that sentiment at this point. I think there’s people that could argue the same thing with hip hop and rap — when it infiltrates pop culture, it becomes something else.

You use two Hector Lavoe tracks on the LP, “Hacha y Machete” and “Todo Tiene Su Final.” Why those tracks?

I wouldn’t say that Hector Lavoe is my favorite salsero but he embodies the complexities of a human being. This was a guy that suffered from broken hearts, drug abuse, suicide, depression and he tried to funnel that into his art to share those highs and lows with the audience. He did it live too, because he was so much of a live artist. So I think that including his tracks was important because of that.

The first piece that’s used talks about preventing yourself from making bad choices. I think it was very indicative and even though it’s not necessarily what the song is about, that specific piece of the song is really just to play to that script. As far as the second track that I used, I thought it would be kind of cool to include because it translates to “everything has its end.” When you hear it out of context, which it is here to some degree, the horns are crying a little bit, and it almost sounds haunting. For us, I thought it was very appropriate to include at the end.

So as a Latino who grew up with punk in the Midwest, I’m sure that Martin Sorrondeguy must have cast a large shadow. How did you feel about Crudos and how did you come across them?

Crudos to me was sort of the pinnacle in a lot of ways. I remember a friend basically being like, “Hey, you should check these guys out” and being like, “Whoa these songs are in Spanish, this is incredible.” Obviously from a lyrical standpoint, it made a ton of sense.

It really resonated because there wasn’t a lot of them for me growing up. So for the culture being as important that it was, it was really the end all be all for me, outside of Freddy from Madball, and Roger from AF is Cuban-American. From a relatability standpoint, Crudos was the closest thing that I had. Freddie and Roger obviously talk about issues and the struggle, but less so from the point of view of someone of color specifically. That’s not anything against them or either of their bands — AF is a top five band for me overall. But seeing someone like Crudos talk about those things, I think, was important. I will say there’s a little bit of a disconnect to a certain extent because Ebro is I believe of Spanish descent, Martin is from Uraguay, and think a few of the other guys might be either Mexican or Central American. So some of the things that they would speak about wasn’t relatable for me but it still made a major impact.

It’s funny, I talked to Ebro maybe like six months ago because he got involved with a play that was going to be going on in Chicago called Los Frikis, which is about some Cubans who were into punk and extreme music in the ’80s and injected themselves with HIV in order to be sent to the United States and away from the Castro regime. Ebro was working with the playwright on it, and I found out about it through him. It was really cool to discuss some of the struggles that exist across Latino / LatinX / Hispanic groups, because it’s just so vast, and for a band like Crudos to get involved with those causes which I think are hugely important and influential, especially within punk.

Based on the lyrics, I feel like the new effort reflects our current sociopolitical environment, but like any good song, there is room for interpretation. Do you consider SPINE to be a sociopolitical band or is this more your personal struggle?

You bring up a good point and I would say it’s both right. Our last record Faith is more of dealing with macro issues that I personally felt and seen in the world. The first track is really just about being torn from reality and living in a fantasy, not having any grasp on what’s actually moving and shaking in the world. Basically surrounding yourself with people that serve as echo chambers. “L.O.V.” stands for land of violence and “L.O.H.” stands for land of honey, and the idea on those tracks was to paint the picture of how, when there are no more resources, it becomes harder and harder to look out for each other, eventually devolving into a land of violence.

These things were written before all this stuff happened this year, but it was pretty pertinent to how people reacted to COVID. Think about when people couldn’t find toilet paper for weeks on end because of hoarding. I think it just goes back to as humans, we’re trash. We are so terrible to each other and to this world. And eventually, we’re our own worst enemy. So the record deals with a these micro issues that I see not only in the world but also within myself.

How does this release differ from previous as far as approach?

We’ve been a band for 10 years next year. This is the first record that I have had the heaviest hand in — every record before this, me and John Hoffman who was in Weekend Nachos basically did together, with him handling the music and me doing everything else. We would collaborate on certain pieces, but that’s kind of how the band moved.

But on this record, the direction I really wanted to go in was a return to form, if that makes sense. So we tried to inject more late ’80s New York Hardcore into our sound while still keeping with the blast beats and stuff. I think the goal for us is to continue on that trajectory because there’s a lot of different influences on this release. I feel like that’s a little bit more in line with where I want to go.

Outside of Hector Lavoe, what influences appear on the record that may be a little left field with respect to this genre?

I will say that almost on every release that I do, I kind of pay some homage to grunge or late ’80s/early ’90s alternative music. I’ve nodded either to Pearl Jam or Soundgarden in some way in song titles or in lyrics. So with this, we definitely nod to Temple of the Dog. It’s just a little thing that I put in. I don’t think anybody’s ever picked up on it before, but if people know me and know how much I love that era of, and what I consider to be, the last rock and roll revolution, I think they’d appreciate that.

Going back on ’90s powerviolence, what do you think is your favorite release?

Probably the Man is the Bastard / Capitalist Casualties split? I revisit that one a lot. I revisit Neanderthal’s Fighting Music pretty regularly too, but if I had to pick one it would be that split.