Meet Chicago’s South Side sad boys

Drummer Gustavo Najera unsuccessfully tries to hold back his smile as he hears the demo of “The Mess You Made,” the latest song by his band, Habitats. With the exception of myself and Najera, everyone else in the room has heard the recording before.

The four other members of Habitats are crowded around their bass player’s phone, eager to hear the initial product of the hard work they put in at Word of Mouth Recordings. The band spent nearly three hours of studio time on this one track; to put that in perspective, the five-piece alternative emo rock group spent just five hours recording their debut nine-song EP, Heavy Heart.

erik recording
Vocalist Erik Salazar lays down vocals for “The Mess You Made”

Fabian Barbar, the band’s guitarist, is singing along to the single more than the group’s vocalist, Erik Salazar. Salazar hums along quietly, and guitarist Elijio Guel and bassist Louie Flores are listening in silence, each forming an opinion about the brief introduction the sound engineer has added to their recording.

“The Mess You Made” is a song I’ve heard live many times; it’s a song that takes on a completely new life as a carefully recorded track. Much of this difference has to do with the change in mindset the group had about recording after reflecting upon their first release, Heavy Heart.

“We were all just stressed, drained and stressed,” Flores said about recording Heavy Heart. “The main issue I have is that this didn’t do [Najera] justice. We didn’t have the proper gear to give him his due justice. I think Heavy Heart is amazing, but I don’t think it will ever be heard in its right production, because it has such a great drum part to it, and that was lost.”

When Habitats recorded Heavy Heart in 2017, it had been four months since they released the demos of “Home” and “Grown,” two songs which also appear as re-recorded tracks on the EP. The group felt pressured to record and release Heavy Heart as quickly as possible, which lead to the entire group having some regrets about their work ethic and the EP’s overall production quality.

“We were working on a certain deadline. And then when it was done, it wasn’t exactly what we wanted, but it was decent,” said Barbar. “But now you go back and listen and there’s some things we could’ve done to change it.”

Despite the band’s harsh self-criticism, Heavy Heart is a melodic, catchy collection of songs that includes “Home,” which is both a fan and band favorite.

“‘Home’ was one of the songs that really got people into us. A lot of people kept on asking me what the name of that song was…that’s ‘Home.’ We always end with that one,” said Salazar.

home lyric
Lyric artwork by Louie Flores

It’s easy to see why fans sing Salazar’s lyrics, particularly the lyrics to “Home,” back at him during the group’s intimate live shows.  Habitats is in your face, with just enough space to allow you to process the lingering melancholy that the band’s sound forces you to feel. Salazar’s lyrics rip at the stitches in your heart that you thought you had worked so hard to heal, and the rest of the group complements his words with echoing sounds of sadness. However, it’s not just on stage that the band complements each other.

One of the most admirable qualities about Habitats is that, despite their diverse personalities and influences, the five members focus on emphasizing each other’s strengths instead of critiquing their weaknesses and never hesitate to praise the successes of their fellow bandmates.

“Working with someone that can hear an idea and make that something bigger, I think that’s really cool,” said Guel.

“We all have something to play,” said Guel. [Najera] has some really good drum parts, I feel a lot of emotion and pain when Erik sings…[Barbar] comes up with a lot of cool stuff. Since Louie just started playing bass not too long ago, I feel like he doesn’t make many new ideas, except for the newest song [“The Mess You Made”]. But he hears everyone else’s idea and can expand on that and make it something important… working with someone that can hear an idea and make that something bigger, I think that’s really cool.”

The band’s diverse influences and musical backgrounds are what allow them to maintain such a unique dynamic and create a sound that’s unparalleled within their scene. They often play shows which feature lineups that boast primarily punk, hardcore, or metal bands. Habitats offers a sweeter, sentimental contrast to the blast beats and eardrum annihilating riffs that often accompany these kinds of shows.

When Salazar and Barbar began jamming together, they bonded over a shared love of bands like Fiddlehead and Have Heart. The two began recording videos of acoustic covers together before they wrote another one of the band’s fan favorites, “Grown.” The pair then recruited Najera, a drummer of nearly 13 years who draws his influences from old school jazz and classic rock groups.

habitats villa
Habitats opens at Villapalooza, Litle Village’s arts & music street festival, this past summer

Flores, who grew up as a metalhead before discovering the new wave of emo rock, had never picked up a bass before he saw Habitats perform. After hearing that the group’s original bassist was moving away, he went with Guel to pick out a bass and the two began jamming on Guel’s front steps. Before long, both Flores and Guel had joined Habitats, completing the band’s current five-man lineup.

28577043_1850549114957963_3776113199302766161_nIf you have yet to see this band live, I have one piece of advice to you: get out to Quencher’s Saloon this Sunday, April 15th. Habitats will be playing with local talent Sawbuck, as well as with touring artists Outside and Worn Spirit. Usually, the group gets added to lineups that largely feature local hardcore or punk bands, but according to Flores, this will be one of the first shows where Habitats will play with bands from a similar genre.

Habitats would like to shout out and give their thanks to Ruben Garza from Through N Through, Death of Self, Alley Slob Service, UGLYBoNES, Jake Adanedhel and The Land Before Tim, Black Mass, XEUTHANIZEDX, 1837, every band they’ve ever had the opportunity to play with, and their own Louie Flores, for keeping the rest of the group in check.

Interested in what the guys in Habitats are currently listening to? Check out this playlist, which includes some of the songs, past and current, that the group has been jamming to lately.

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