Interview: Downset

Interview: Downset

On your first self-titled album, the first song, ‘Anger’, is a very powerful and descriptive song, with lyrics like ‘true blue’ and ‘my pops was killed by the fucking LAPD’.  Was that an accurate picture of your lifestyle and surroundings before Downset?
Rey: See, I grew up on the street, total Chicano society and culture.

It’s hard for people that don’t grow up in that culture to understand the dynamics of the way it is, that lifestyle.  The racism, the sexism, there’s all this shit.  I grew fucking rough, yeah, and before I was like ‘Fuck it, I’ll wear it on my sleeve.’  But now, I’m not into that as much.  Before, I was pissed because the police abuse on people was disgusting at that time.  The same police station that beat the shit out of (Rodney) King, was the same people who fucked my father up, so I was really pissed off.  I was venting through my music.  It’s not something I really even like to talk about. I never really got a chance.  So, yo, when I said ‘true blue’, I was saying fuck that, there was a lot of fucking suckers around, you know, fools that were trying to play it like they grew up in the rough.  Trying to represent hip hop and graf(fiti).  Catch a late pass kid.  Don’t fucking front!  I hate fronters. I’m not down with people trying to front.  Just ‘cause you wear a pair of Puma’s your hip hop, and fucking baggy pants your some street kid now?  I don’t go around wearing a suit, acting like I’m from Beverly Hills, you know?  I would wear that type of shit on my sleeve, but it’s not a big deal to me anymore, because of my state of consciousness.  I’ve seen a lot of different people from a lot of different places. It’s like, those type of things make our world here in the city, you know (makes a small reference with his hand) fucking that small.  So the things that used to matter don’t matter no more.  I think that I don’t need to push issues like that (as much) no more; it’s not a big deal to me.

Your first album, seemed to describe the streets, not brag about them, which was different than what was out there.  It seemed that you were bragging about it, just pissed off that it exists in general.
If you really grew up living in that that type of lifestyle, if you were really involved, and went to prison, you know, had problems with the police, and went to jail, it’s not something you want to brag about.  Prison ain’t funny, bro. Prison is a place where people get raped and people die all the time.  People are fucking living in boxes.  People that are hurt.  A lot of the people locked up are ex-dope fiends. The people that I know that were addicted to dope… hurt people.  So if you were really living that lifestyle, it’s not funny.  You’re not going to brag about it.  Now that I’m older, I realize, well, some of the shit I talked about in the past, I’m like, “fuck”.  I guess we all do that though, regret some of the shit we said before.

That album shed a whole light to what was going on here, and seemed like a breakthrough in lyrics and music.
I think it was a breakthrough to.  I think that record changed music, and people like Public Enemy changed the face of music.  See, as soon as Public Enemy put out “The Nations of Millions” record, they blew up.  Downset didn’t blow up after our first record, we were still on an underground label.  We sold 275,000, and we were able to go transnational, playing in front of 5,000 kids a night.  That’s the level we’re at now.  Well, we’re a little bigger now, just because of the explosion of this type of music.  It’s always been a moderate level, and I like it like that. There’s a part of me that doesn’t want us to get too big.

Nothing worse then getting too big.
Like, I’ve hung out with rap stars and rock stars before, because I know people who know them.  So I’m hanging out with my homeboys, you know, and they know these people. Wow, like I can feel I can relate with you, that I can hang out with you.  These guys, some of them just try and throw their weight around. Your off stage, bro, you don’t got to fucking front and try to throw your weight around.

So it’s kind of nice, being right at that level…
Right here, bro. I mean, look at this bus! This is kind of flashy.  Look at this bus, it’s all fancy. We’ll see how it works out, and how long we can do it for, keeping it together.

Hopefully for a long time.  All right, when you started, you cracked the door for this type of music.  Now, how do you feel being lumped together with all the Limp Bizkit’s our there?
Well, see the thing is, seven years ago, it wasn’t Limp Bizkit.  Seven years ago it was Rage Against the Machine.  If you’re truly an artist, your not… well, I don’t know anything about contemporary music right now.  I don’t know too much about Limp Bizkit.  I don’t know who they are; I don’t even know their names.  If you’re truly an artist, your content with your art, your music, your painting, whatever you’re doing.  I don’t really give a shit about what the rest of the world is up to. Why should I? I’ve been writing and doing this type of music since the eighties.  People like Run DMC using rock in their music inspired me.  Public Enemy, on the “The Nations of Millions” record sampled a Slayer riff.  Remember fucking Channel Zero?  I was like, damn.  We were fucking around with guitars and busting flows over beats, thinking it sounded sick, and then we heard Public Enemy and we knew that was the sound. Slayer! I used to see Slayer all the time in South LA, at the Balboa Theater.  See, Rev was a graffiti artist, and Ace was one of the first bands to combine rock with beats.  Bands like House of Suffering, Ace, Public Enemy, they were doing this way before Limp Bizkit or Rage Against The Machine, but nobody knows about that.  With music, to me, it comes down to art.  If you can represent your own camp, or your group, with a style, that’s cool.  When we signed to Epitaph, we just wanted off these major labels.  Multi-national conglomerates have a whole different environment than Epitaph.

So what the hell happened at Mercury?
Actually, we weren’t on Mercury, we were on DefJam.

Oh. Weird, I thought you were signed on Mercury to begin with.
See, this is what happened, bro.  Mercury went bankrupt, and was bought out by Universal.  Then Universal switched us to DefJam.  See, at Mercury, they had two people left. It was stupid. How are they going to carry out selling records with two people?  So Universal transferred to Def Jam, which my manager was pretty tight with.  Remember that party in the Right to Fight video?  He’s in that video!  We always clown that fool about that.  So he was really good friends with DefJam.  Then they released a Biohazard record, and we saw how they treated it. When you have a band, it’s a cheap and weak work ethic to just sign them and shelve them. When you work, work hard! You can’t just throw something against the wall and expect for it to stick.  So they let us go to Epitaph, and we worked out a deal. With Epitaph, there were so many bridges I could make.  There were so many personal friends of ours there.  There was a guy in the postal room that knew James.  Little Roy, who plays guitar in our band, was a studio assistant where Brett was mixing the Rancid record.  So Tim from Rancid was hanging out with Roy, and Tim and Brett didn’t even know he was in Downset until Roy mentioned it.  Tim had been listening to the Downset record for a like a month, when he got it from the postal room, but didn’t even know Roy was in it.  So Brett was down, and they brought a plan to us, and we were cool with it.  Then the Tattoo the Earth tour came up, and they wanted to work together for this tour, and then the shit came together like a fucking fairy tale.

So how is it being on Epitaph, surrounded by punk?
I think that all you really need to do is to relate to the people in the band, and the music.  As long as they’re going to be cool with us, we don’t have a problem with whatever other music’s on the label.

All right, here’s a non-music question.  Everyone in Downset, at one time, was into the graf (fiti) scene.  Do you ever slip out at night and go bombing?
I can’t do that right now, bro.  Not really ‘cause I’m in a band and shit, just ‘cause I don’t want to go to jail.  If you go to jail and you’re a writer, you’re fucked.  Cholo’s don’t fucking like you.  When I go in there (jail) and tell them I’m into hip-hop and a writer, they say, “Why you trying to act like a nigger, fool.  Your not a nigger you’re a fucking Chicano”.  The Chicano’s are hanging out with the Aryan brotherhood, and they’re like “Hey that Mexican is acting like a fucking nigger, fuck him”.  You really want to go to jail for that shit, and live in that environment?  Fuck no.  But that’s prison lifestyle, yo.  I can’t go to jail for being a writer.  People are in there for burglary and rape and murder, and I come in saying, “Hi, I’m a graffiti tagger”, fuck no.  I still hang with my crew, UTI.  I’m one of the original five guys from that crew.  Those are my homeboys.  I love ‘em.  I do what I can for them, and push them everywhere.  I do paint when I can, and lately, have been studying the human anatomy.

You still have a sketchbook?
Oh hell yeah.  I haven’t really been focusing too much on graf, just raw shit.  Like human anatomy. It’s challenging to do face’s, to do shit like, well, like muscles and shit. Ultimately, I just want to be able to have skills, like, to just go up to a wall and write.  Not graf shit, just crazy.

That’s a sick piece on your poster.
 Skill did that. That shit rocks. The first time I saw that shit, I was like, damn.

So what does Downset do on their downtime? On the bus, waiting for shows.
I write, I draw, bust rhymes, anything.

What kind of music do you play on the road?
I listen to shit like Earth, Wind, and Fire, Chicago, Fleetwood Mac, Bob Marley, all kinds of shit.  I don’t listen to rap, or rap-metal, or whatever the hell it’s called this week.

(laughs) Rap-core. That’s some funny shit.

What do you think about bands like Limp Bizkit and Pearl Jam being cited for starting riots and violence?
I think at some point, yeah, the band is responsible.  If I’m on stage and I start saying “Fuck security, bunch of bitches. You don’t want me to turn this fucking crowd on you.” Bands have to be responsible for what they say. People, YOU are responsible for what you say in Modern Fix, and you better be prepared to back it up.  When I heard about the rapes at Woodstock, I wasn’t surprised, because there are tons of dope, and people are tweaking or on ecstasy.  You don’t think logical when your fucked up or drunk.  Concerts are never a moral environment. Like tonight, I know there will be a fight. I hope people don’t get hurt.  But that shit is out of our control.  It bums me out.  I like to bring people together.

Your first album was slower, more beats.  Second album was faster with a little of the punk rawness. This third album is a mix of that. Which is Downset’s favorite?
It’s really just a matter of what it is.  I can’t really explain it, we just like playing anything.

What do you think of all the media whores in the metal/rap area, like Kid Rock and Insane Clown Posse?  Do you see an end to these guys, who’ll jump any style and do anything for money?
Well, I don’t really even know.  I mean, I’m not into mainstream music, so I don’t even know Chris Rock, or Kid Rock’s music. (laughs) I feel out of touch when people ask me shit like that.  I remember people listening to Rage Against the Machine, telling me that rap-metal just blew up, and that surprised me, because for me it’s been around for a while. I don’t know nothing about these people.  I’ve seen pictures of Insane Clown Posse, with makeup and shit.  On Tattoo the Earth, I saw Slipknot, same type of look I guess.  First time I saw Slipknot, it was inNew York, and I can see why kids are into that. Have you seen that shit? (laughs) Fools in these jumpsuits, jumping around, shit moving around on hydraulics?  I was rolling!  They’re insane!  When we were on tour, I didn’t really get to see them. I wanted to.  I’m into Slayer and Sepultura, I like that type of music.  It’s funny!  I don’t even know what they look like without their masks. Like I walked up to a table, and I was just talking to them, and they said “So Rey,” and they kind of point to the dude, and I’m like “oh what’s up, fool”, ‘cause I didn’t know who the fuck he was.  Once I found out I told him thanks for letting us on the tour, and I was just very appreciative of the opportunity.

Must be nice, being in a band like Slipknot, and not being recognized by fans.  You walk by people, and they’ll whisper “Hey that’s Rey from Downset”, and they can walk by and nobody will notice.

On your last album, you had a song sung completely in Spanish.  Again, on this album, another Spanish song.  Do you only include one on each album for a reason? Have you thought of making a Spanish-only version of an album, like VoodooGlowSkulls?
No, I don’t think so.  Another question people ask me about that song, is if I’m trying to promote Spanish music.  We just write songs.  I’ve never really thought about it.  I have thought about learning other languages, and busting out in songs, trippy shit like that. That would be crazy.  Four different languages in one song.  Language, to me, is another different type of style.  It’s different.  Your perception and grasp is different.

What’s the best show you’ve ever played?
Normally, I wouldn’t know, but when you asked me, I thought of a show. We played a small show in Vancouver, Canada.  This was in 1996.  The thing I remember about it was like forty kids were there for us.  Remember the Kottonmouth Kings?  They were on tour with us, and attracted a different crowd. Well, these forty kids that were there knew all the lyrics.  It was a small place, a tiny bar, and all these kids were just singing along. It was cool.  We played the Dynamo festival in Holland.  Like 150,000 people there.  When we played that, man, it was fucking crazy. That was the most fucked up show.  Just crazy.

(Someone knocks on the door) Fuck.  (talking with person on the other side of the door) Yeah?

Person:  Hey, she said it’s time to meet with someone else.

Well, shit, tell her I’ll be finished when I finish. (closes the door and locks it)  You don’t have to hurry up or anything, don’t sweat that shit.

Cool. What’s the worst show experience?
Fights, bro. Fights.  The fights at shows. I’ve walked off stage before, when it gets crazy.  I’m like, if you guys want to beat the shit out of each other, fine, I’m leaving. When we were playing with Earth Crisis, there were all these fights. So many people fighting. I’ve seen enough fights in my lifetime.

You had a band before Downset called Social Justice.  How did they sound?
In ‘87, 88, we started putting together music. House of Suffering, Outspoken, Amenity, they were from San Diego, man, from Chula Vista.  Those guys were sick.  At first, we sounded more like Suicidal Tendendencies. When we went to a major label, we changed our name to Downset. It’s good shit, and you can probably find it on the Internet.

My final question:  What do you think about the whole Napster deal?  Before I came, I looked up Downset, and found three songs from your first album.
Look, when I was a kid, all my friends bought the Zappa record, and I recorded it off onto a tape.  That didn’t stop me from buying the record later. I’m not worried about it.

Do you think Metallica and Blink-182, among others who are against Napster, are doing the right thing?
I think they will do what they think is right. I don’t think it’s wrong, really, they feel about their music the way they do.  It’s going to happen, you can’t just stop technology.

1994 4 Track E.P.
1994 No More Freedom in a Cage
1994 Downset
1995 Generation of Hope
1996 Live Paris-Bercy 9 Juillet 1996
1996 Do We Speak a Dead Language?
1997 Eyes Shut Tight + Live Tracks Recorded at CBGB’s
2000 Downset – Straightfaced
2000 Check Your People
2004 Universal