The cure for Spanish rock
Diciembre Gris sounds British, sings en español and is as American as Woodland, Calif.
Language is one of the most defining characteristics of culture. The way we express ourselves, and the very thoughts we have the ability to express, are fundamentally wrapped up in our use of language—particularly in terms of our own language or discourse communities. This is one reason why a taxi driver, for example, talks differently from a stock broker: In each of their worlds, language is used differently.
Given these issues, the presence of Diciembre Gris (DG) on the Sacramento music scene is somewhat complicated. After all, DG performs in Spanish, but, like fellow Spanish-language rock band Raigambre, it does so almost exclusively to English-speaking audiences. Furthermore, DG sounds much more like a British goth-tinged rock band than anything stereotypically Latin or American.
Formed in 1997, DG has been on the Sacramento music scene for seven years. The core of the band is formed by singer and guitarist Daniel Villegas and his brother Erick, the band’s bassist, who were born and raised in Woodland. That upbringing, by Villegas’ reckoning, was instrumental to the band’s ability to survive. “Growing up in Woodland was odd because people from there are either cholo-vatos or rednecks,” Villegas said via cell phone from Los Angeles, where he was busy promoting upcoming Southern California DG shows. “We used to catch a lot of shit at school for our hair or wearing makeup or whatever. But it worked out well, because it toughened us up for the road.”
The brothers formed an initial band called the Cold, a goth rock band with rhythm provided by drum machine. Later, when the electronic percussion became too limiting, drummer Alex Reyes and keyboardist Daniel Ward (the only member of the group not, by Villegas’ definition, Mexican) were added to the mix. The band recast its name as Diciembre Gris (“gray December”) and hit area stages.
One of the most interesting aspects of DG’s sound is that many of the band’s lyrics are in Spanish. It’s worth mentioning because there are far too few Spanish-language bands in Sacramento and also because DG tries hard to de-emphasize this part of its performance. In fact, DG will be the first to tell you that it isn’t really a “Spanish rock band.” Instead, it prefers to be called, simply, a rock band—one that happens to sing lyrics in Spanish. “The lyrics are in Spanish, but the music is just rock,” said Villegas. “It’s not Spanish rock; it’s just fucking rock and roll.”
Indeed, today the band performs an interesting blend of mostly British-influenced rock, with its Web site (www.diciembregris.com) citing My Bloody Valentine, the Cure and Coldplay as significant influences. The Cure reference seems the most important to the band’s sound, because both Villegas’ vocals and guitar work seem to come directly from the Robert Smith songbook (particularly in relation to the Cure’s noisier work). But DG itself is purposefully distancing itself from that comparison in order to expand its musical palette. “A lot of people say that we sound like the Cure, especially live. When we were the Cold, we sounded too much like the Cure, I think. So, we’re trying to get away from that now.”
So, what we have with Diciembre Gris is a British-sounding, American, Spanish-language rock band—playing for predominantly English-speaking audiences—that would rather not be known as a Spanish rock band and, for that matter, doesn’t want to sound British and yet is going down to Mexico this summer to play some shows to Spanish-speaking audiences. Complicated? Sure, but DG has a solution: “We’re fucking heavy drinkers,” said Villegas. “None of this beer shit, either. We drink whiskey and tequila.” Villegas paused for a moment and then added, “A lot of bands these days should drink more.”
Presumably, drinking more (and playing) will be what the band will do when it performs at the UC Davis Coffee House, on a bill with Bellstar and Breva.