Graffiti Blues is a multi-genre trio from Long Beach. I met the three AMs (Aaron Monroe, Alonso Moreno, and Argenis Moreno) at Javatini's Espresso in Seal Beach.
You recently changed your name from Aaron and the Morenos. Why the name change?
(Alonso) Because Aaronâ€™s not the only one in the band. Thatâ€™s why. (laughs)
(Aaron) Weâ€™ve been changing it for a while, just trying to find a good name, something we like. Weâ€™ve probably had five names.
(Alonso) The first one was Makaveli. That didnâ€™t work out too well.
(Aaron) Everyone liked it butâ€¦
(Argenis) Too Tupac. It was his [Alonsoâ€™s] idea.
(Aaron) We werenâ€™t even playing together. I was playing acoustic gigs by myself. We were playing this gig and I said, â€œAlonso, come play drums.â€ He [Argenis] was going to play guitar, but he ended up jumping on bass. My acousticâ€¦it turned into us playing â€œFoxy Lady.â€ And we took it from there and started doing ideas. We didnâ€™t really have a name. We were up there and we didnâ€™t know what to call ourselves. So I wrote on the chalkboard Aaron Monroe and the Moreno Family Band. Theyâ€™re cousins. After that we tried to change our name because we wanted it to be all of ours. We all wanted to own it. Itâ€™s a band, not a person.
(Alonso) Itâ€™s family.
Why Graffiti Blues?
(Aaron) I was throwing the idea around with graffiti. I like the idea of graffiti as a public art form sending a message that maybe people donâ€™t respect. Just because itâ€™s called defacing. A lot of graffiti is beautiful. And I like the idea of making some sort of musical graffiti, some sort of message. Itâ€™s hard not to have a social conscience. I think a lot of people donâ€™t realize that graffiti artists do have that social conscience. Theyâ€™re always trying to send some sort of message. It kind of became that idea of music as graffiti. Iâ€™d like to go to other genres than just blues. Blues seems like a part of our history and culture. Just because weâ€™re called blues doesnâ€™t mean we canâ€™t move into other realms of music. It's like emo, emotional music. They're feeling blue. It's a different way of saying it. What is emo? Emo is emotional. What kind of music isnâ€™t emotional? Iâ€™m stealing that from another artist, but itâ€™s true.
If you're not putting emotion into your music, what are you doing it for?
(Aaron) That's right. Blues evokes everything. It's kind of all-encompassing. But it is that kind of art form with a history to it. I think whatever genre of music anybody is doing, they should always have a blues part of their brain.
You look at guys like Steve Earle and Bob Dylan and they have a lot of songs with blues in the title. No one's going to say that they're blues artists, but there is that aspect of it.
(Aaron) It's storytelling, a certain natural telling of stories.
(Alonso) Itâ€™s music that everyone can relate to. Everyone has emotions. Everyone feels down and everyone knows pretty much what you're talking about because everyone at some point has felt that. Maybe not the same exact situation, same exact feeling, but we can all relate.
Describe your music for someone who has never heard it before.
(Alonso) It's fun.
(Alonso) How's that for you?
(Argenis) We're all blues fans, but we try to add more than just that. When we're practicing Aaron might say "Let's be a little bit more funky." We try to mix all the genres into one. Just to make good music.
(Alonso) We try to give off energy to whoever we're playing to. We try to groove, try to improvise. It may not sound that great, but we'll try to improvise and groove. And all the energy that we put into that groove, I'm almost positive everyone feels it. Everyone feels that movement. That's what we're trying to get across. Instead of just standing there listening, we want people to feel a part of it.
(Aaron) I describe it as electric singer-songwriter music. It starts off with me writing music, then taking it to them. Then it becomes something else. It's not mine any more. It becomes ours. Obviously, we play to an audience and it becomes theirs because they interpret it. I would just say it's funky, groovy, electric singer-songwriter music, with a blues backbeat that we want everybody to be a part of. I can't compare us to bands. That's up to whoever listens to us.
I'll say this. Listening to your stuff, for a trio you have that big sound like Grand Funk did. I'm not saying you sound like Grand Funk but they had a big sound. You guys have that big sound, especially for a trio.
(Aaron) There are so many musical genres out there that I feel itâ€™s ridiculous to go â€œGuess what guys. Weâ€™re going to stick to one musical genre and thatâ€™s it.â€ Thereâ€™s so many. Why not try to expand? I saw this band last night called Melting Pot. Thatâ€™s what it was. Itâ€™s a melting pot of jazz, funk, rhythm, blues. Theyâ€™re never probably going to make it, but just to see them in the club setting was pretty amazing. You want to see a band that moves you in a certain way. Right now itâ€™s always blues and it might always be blues in the back of our mind, but it could be Latin, salsa. It could be fuckinâ€™ ragtime, whatever. Funk, hip-hop. Iâ€™d like to incorporate more hip-hop into our shows.
(Aaron) Thereâ€™s a big energy.
(Alonso) Itâ€™s a feeling, dude.
The more you discover, the more you want to experiment with.
(Aaron) You can listen to many a different thing. And it can hit you at one moment the way it doesnâ€™t hit you at another. It comes to you at a certain time in your life. If it speaks to you, it speaks to you. If it doesnâ€™t it doesnâ€™t.
(Alonso) Weâ€™re not trying to make it big. We just want to play. Weâ€™re young guys, weâ€™re good at what we do. Our genre, I guess you could say, is not going to go mainstream. Whatâ€™s mainstream, I donâ€™t want to say itâ€™s simple. Itâ€™s really music that doesnâ€™t make you think. You just sit there and you listen to melodies and thatâ€™s cool. But thatâ€™s just about it. Thereâ€™s nothing that makes you think. Thereâ€™s nothing that makes you go, â€œI wonder how he did that.â€
(Aaron) Even the words. Thereâ€™s nothing in the words.
(Alonso) Oh yeah.
(Aaron) My sister and my girlfriend love Justin Timberlake.
(Alonso) I disagree with them on that, but go ahead.
(Aaron) Heâ€™s a good performer. Heâ€™s a good artist, but it doesnâ€™t make you think.
(Alonso) Iâ€™m not giving him all the credit because I know he doesnâ€™t have all the credit. There are guys behind him that are making up these beats, and I give them the credit.
(Aaron) Heâ€™s at the forefront.
(Alonso) Right. The guy with the pretty face who can make all the dance moves.
(Aaron) Yeah. Itâ€™s marketable. Iâ€™ve seen various documentaries about hip-hop and thereâ€™s so much more to hip-hop than weâ€™re being shown. I heard Ice Cube and he was saying that itâ€™s equivalent to the cookie-cutter heavy metal that they were doing in the eighties. Itâ€™s just flashy. Itâ€™s what sells records.
Itâ€™s what sells radio advertisements.
(Alonso) Unfortunately, our society is dumb. Letâ€™s put it that way. Not to say that weâ€™re not educated. Itâ€™s just weâ€™re fed what weâ€™re supposed to think and weâ€™re all just moving along with it.
(Aaron) Graffiti Blues is here to challenge that. Weâ€™re the salmon swimming upstream.
You guys kind of covered this already, but Iâ€™ll throw it out there and see if you have any other thoughts on it. How did you come to your sound? What sort of backgrounds do you have that brought all this together?
(Alonso) If we listed that, weâ€™d be here all day. Iâ€™m Hispanic so Iâ€™ve grown up with all kinds of Latin music. I listened to classic rock.
(Aaron) We all listen to different things. Being in a band, we have to incorporate all our influences that weâ€™re feeling. Blues is like our spine. Weâ€™re building our skeleton right now. Just the other day, we were playing at the Blue CafÃ©. We introduced a funky song and in the middle, we put a hip-hop beat. We broke it down for a little bit. It was just something that happened. We incorporated that. Music is blues-based, at least American music is.
Thatâ€™s the spirit of the blues too. Just throw it all together and see what happens.
(Aaron) There is no one form of blues. There was city blues, rhythm and blues. There was skiffle. Everywhere it traveled it became a different entity. Weâ€™re not trying to revive blues. Itâ€™s fun to play and thereâ€™s a certain element of improvisation that it could all fall apart at a certain time. Thatâ€™s appealing and attractive. Itâ€™s dangerous, I guess. Rather than just like â€œOne, two, three, fourâ€¦ weâ€™re going here. Weâ€™re going there.â€ Blues is a good place to start. Where it goes from there and what elements of music weâ€™ll incorporate into it, who knows.
What would you be doing if you werenâ€™t playing music?
(Alonso) Playing World of Warcraft. (laughter) That would be a factor of our time. Obviously, school. We have to educate ourselves.
(Argenis) Iâ€™ve been playing music since I was in sixth grade. I donâ€™t remember what it was like before. I donâ€™t remember what I was doing. Even before the band started, I would at least play once in a while. I had a piano class. I was playing some kind of music.
(Aaron) Iâ€™d just be working more.
(Alonso) Iâ€™d probably be holding a sign by the side of the road telling people the end is coming.
(Aaron) Thatâ€™s weird. Itâ€™s like imagine your life without your left arm. What would you be doing? Not using my left arm. I donâ€™t know.
(Alonso) Iâ€™m almost sure you can ask an individual and they canâ€™t say they donâ€™t like music. Music is just a part of everyoneâ€™s culture. Itâ€™s how we express ourselves. Itâ€™s an expression.
(Aaron) I was reading about the Aztecs and even the Native Americans and their music was used to call the gods, bring them better game, to thank them. It wasnâ€™t like entertainment to them. It was their life. Iâ€™m taking a music class, and I was reading about African music. It is so much a part of their life that they donâ€™t have a word for it. Itâ€™s the way they communicate. They have work songs, labor songs so people donâ€™t get hurt. Thatâ€™s just how they function. I like the idea that thereâ€™s no word for it. Itâ€™s just a part of life.
For more information about this talented trio, visit http://www.myspace.com/graffitibluesmusic.
WORLD - CULTURE
Copyright © 2010 Gary Schwind
Graffiti Blues: We Just Want to Play
Copyright © 2010 Gary Schwind
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