La Armada’s Paúl Rivera on diversity in Chicago hardcore

Interview and photography by Heriberto Gallegos

On October 22, anti-colonialist hardcore band La Armada headlined a House of Vans showcase featuring Si Dios Quiere, Payasa, and artist Eddaviel. Contributor Heriberto Gallegos photographed the show for Locals Only and sat down with La Armada guitarist Paúl Rivera to talk about the band’s Dominican roots, the importance of diversity in hardcore, and what’s in store for the group in 2023.

Guitarist Paúl Rivera of La Armada
How would you describe La Armada and what the band stands for?

Paúl Rivera: Musically, I like to describe La Armada as a punk rocker’s favorite metal band and a metalhead’s favorite punk band with a Caribbean sauce added to it. Ideologically, we’ve historically associated a lot with the leftist kind of themes; the roots are still in that field but I think that we’ve been, at least for the last two years to three years, on an introspective journey about just being better people in general and just kind of questioning ourselves and the world at large.

La Armada is from the Dominican Republic and is always very vocal about your Afro-Caribbean roots and sound. Has your art and music always been well received here?

I don’t know that it is well received, period. But on a small scale, I guess it is. For the most part, everybody’s been kind and interested and stoked on it. There have definitely been instances where people don’t really want to hear that side of it, like ‘we don’t really care where you’re from” and where musically, maybe it goes over some people’s heads. There have definitely been confrontations at shows at the merch table, people being ignorant. Quite honestly, I’m surprised it never really happened consistently or more often. So for the most part, I think that anywhere we go it’s been accepted and I think a good part of it is that we’ve always strived to be great live, we always wanted to be associated with just being a band that performs at a high level, so if we deliver on that, there’s only so much shit you’re gonna be able to talk.

A lot of punk bands in Chicago are made up of people of color —Los Crudos, Los Eskeletos, La Armada, and many more. What is it about this city that allows bands like that to flourish?

I wish I knew why that is, but it’s incredible. Before I made it here, I did a lot of touring everywhere in this country, and I can safely say I’ve never seen anything like this — not even in Los Angeles. Big ups to Los Crudos and Eskeletos — they made a name for themselves, Los Crudos is a worldwide fucking name — so maybe the fact that so many people caught onto them made Chicago what it is. I don’t know why, but I’m grateful that it is the way it is because it feels different over here from when you tour other places that also have Spanish-speaking bands and Spanish-speaking scenes. In Chicago, it doesn’t feel like an afterthought; it feels like it’s one of the main plates.

Vocalist Ozzy Jimenez of Si Dios Quiere
Did you or House of Vans book the opening bands?

House of Vans booked them, actually. It was a pleasant surprise when they mentioned the other two bands that they had in mind, [Si Dios Quiere and Payasa].

Why is it important, not only for people of color, but for the hardcore scene in general, to continue to support bands like Si Dios Quiere and Payasa?

Diversity in general is important because you gain perspective from another person’s point of view and another person’s way of doing things. Language also makes the culture what it is and informs how people act in pockets of society, and I think that if you’re open to that and you’re open to surrounding yourself with different languages and different cultures your life is going to be enriched by it so long as you have an open mind and an open heart. I think it’s actually pretty altruistic to spring yourself with different kinds of people; it’s very beneficial to anybody, really, because all that’s going to happen is you’re going to learn. Prejudices and biases are just historical things to separate people from one another and when you’re able to move past that, your life will be enriched by just accepting other cultures around you.

Whether it’s bringing out visual artists or nonprofits to your shows, you always shine the light on people and organizations that are important to you. How did that start out and why is it important?

When the band formed in the Dominican Republic, [bassist] Manilo was always very vocal about having people showcase their ideals and their art at La Armada shows. I think that Manilo is a very community-driven person so a lot of it always came from him. When La Armada was in the Dominican Republic, a lot of this stuff that we can take for granted here in the US — like punk, hardcore, abstract art, or alternative art— could be a very taboo thing. Our shows there served as a window for people to be exposed to alternative things, not just the music and the band itself, and I think that just kind of always stuck with the band. It’s a challenge in a lot of ways because sometimes the space is inadequate for it, or if there’s money involved, it’s never enough. But it’s always intentional. It’s ingrained in the philosophy of the band to highlight community, social services, or alternative art.

Eddaviel showcases their art at House of Vans
You recently had Eddaviel, who did the art for the band’s singles, come out and display their art at House of Vans. Tell me about how that idea came up.

I’m a big fan of art, and Anti-Colonial Volume II was an audio/visual project; it wasn’t just audio. There were four or five music videos and Eddaviel’s art accompanied the record. The art is very tied to Taino mysticism and Taino culture, which is the indigenous culture from the Caribbean. We wanted that to be present in the art, and there was always this idea of “man, it would be cool to present it at any one of our shows,” so when the House of Vans opportunity came up, it just made sense. I am very, very happy that we ended up doing it. I think it was a great touch to show. People got to see where themes from the album came from and Eddaviel got to showcase his art and more people know about him now in Chicago. He’s only been here for [a few] years so it’s good for him to also cultivate community and it also enriches the city of Chicago to have an artist like that doing murals around town and [bringing] his own unique perspective on things now as a part of the city.

You’re finishing up the year playing three dates in Mexico. What can we expect from you guys in 2023?

I want to write another album, that’s what I want to do. Play shows when it makes sense, tour when it makes sense, but focus on creating new music. The touring landscape is more difficult than ever right now post-Covid. It’s just insane what a band needs to do to get on the road. There’s so much risk involved in that. So I think in 2023 we’ll tour [when it] makes sense and focus on writing new music.

La Armada closing out their headlining gig at House of Vans
Are there any bands that readers should look out for? Any bands you’d like to work with?

Partywatcher, a local-to-Chicago merengue kind of act. Not that necessarily a project we would play with we would playwith, but a great project to go dance to and hang out. Zeta, who we toured with on the East Coast, is one of the best live bands out there in the DIY circuit right now, definitely pay attention to them. I’m excited to see what else Si Dios Quiere and Payasa are able to do as well.

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