STUYEDEYED ON REDEFINING THE COLLECTIVE POWER OF MUSIC

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Meet Stuyedeyed. The brooklyn-based hardcore punk band destroying any preconceived notion of what a band should be, to reimagine all the innovative things a band could be. In a world where both live music and physical community has suddenly become near extinct, they’re breathing new voltaic life into the state of both music and humanity with a head strong, community oriented and no-fucks-given attitude.

On one hand, Stuyedeyed functions as a bright and promising musical act in the world of modern NYC punk. Press play and you’re instantly met with electrifying guitar riffs, pounding percussion steady beats and a passionate scowl that dances over the heavy bass lines that will make it known punk is not dead, just possibly needed a bit of beauty sleep to prepare for it’s new age reinvention. On the other, the band functions as an artist collective, without self-titling as such. The long time friends and members seem to steer clear of fitting into any form of generalized categories, but remain keen on giving back to the spaces that raised them, their sound and aim to inspire the next generation of potential creative change-makers.

Uniting both facets of their identity? A DIY ethos that sits front and center of everything they do, from pressing their own vinyl, guerilla style flyering around NYC to compiling community resources and providing them prime digital space typically dedicated to many band’s reliance of self-promotion. Yet, there seems to be only one mission in mind when it comes to Stuyedeyed, using their music as a catalyst to incite social engagement and be ready to make the tools accessible for their audiences when they do so in unconventional, but practical ways. A band proving not only to be bold in talking about a range of social issues and collective power, but also selflessly exchanging their creative labor, resources and platform to provide space to be about it too.

LADYGUNN spoke with frontman/guitarist Nelson Espinal, bassist Humberto Genao and honorary member/manager Ricardo Carlota regarding the bands dedication to their punk DIY ethos, the importance using their voice for community empowerment and their recent mini-documentary collaboration with Dr. Marten’s: Music & Film series.

Hey! A few more people than I’m used to but I think the best interviews always come from having some good ol’ friendly conversations. 

RC: Sounds good!

NE: That sounds good to me!

RC: We should also mention this is Bert’s first zoom call. 

 

Ever? 

HG: Ever! 

 

That’s almost unheard of? Congrats on your first zoom call and for avoiding zoom this long too – kind of hope you don’t have to do too many ever again. 

HG: Thank you

RC: Our next call, we’ll take it on Clubhouse!

 

Absolutely. World of interesting rooms on there, which i’m sure is due to us being in a very interesting moment in time overall. How are all of you doing? 

NE: I feel like it’s been a whirlwind, definitely a rollercoaster. Just trying to figure out collectively what it means to be a band at this time. Musicians are already extremely underpaid as is, so now it’s trying to figure out “do i need a course correction? Do I have to completely change my life around to make ends meet? Is this really what I want to do?” I think every creative has had to ask those tough questions. Some of my friends have become electricians and honestly, I get it! For me though, understanding that it’s okay to not be okay right now has been getting me through. That’s where my head is at. 

HG: Needless to say, we find ourselves in a situation nobody expected. I don’t mind staying at home, but one of the things that resonates the most is that it took all of this to refocus a populous, it’s no longer something you can ignore. Something like being underpaid as a musician, or being understaffed in any scenario like the medical field we saw crumble, it’s all being exposed. It’s sad it came down to a global pandemic for us to see that. Things are not not black or white, and it was just a big pill for everyone to swallow. Everything has coalesced. All these things that people were just starting to build the courage to stand up for, this pandemic broke everything. Everybody found out what they’re really standing for and what they really live for. There’s a lot of death and that’s sad. I only now feel comfortable talking about mental health and all of that, because I also finally feel a sense of hope and tranquility because I have a support system. If you go back a year ago to our last show in March, nobody was asking me how my mental health was doing! All of this is hard, but we’re alive now, let’s cherish it. I think that’s something we can all appreciate coming out of this. 

RC: Totally. That’s the sentiment. The pandemic has forced our hands and made it incredibly hard for all of us from a working perspective. Four months of work went out the window right out the gate. Then it’s like, “How do we approach this?” I’ve watched these guys take on hurdles in their own worlds head on. The big hurdle now being “Where do I find work? What am I going to do? And how can I maintain healthy and safe while all of this is going on?” It’s all very much an external crisis, as much as it is an internal one. It’s been tough but it’s been going. 

I can only imagine what it’s like when creating art is the center of your livelihood. COVID has changed people’s lives rather quickly, which is not a strange concept for people who live in major cities. Being from New York City, do you feel like growing up in a chaotically rapid environment helped prep you for the changes going on now?

NE : I remember having cousins visit from Florida when I was a kid living in section 8 housing where my family has lived for years. We were playing tag in the “backyard” of the complex in broad daylight and at 2 in the afternoon gunshots go off. People are freaking out, my cousins get on the floor. I’m still standing and they’re just like “Dude! What are you doing!” So to contextualize that story, I don’t think people not from here, understand what it’s like growing up in my version of NYC. I think having an understanding that the world can be so ugly, so intense, so harsh and just so unforgiving, has prepared me in the sense that no matter what happens, I have to make it through. I have to survive. The city is constantly evolving, changing and fighting back. If there’s anything to say about how it’s influenced our work is that we don’t have any choice but to say the things we choose to say, no choice but to go on another day. Now I’m rhyming like Dr. Seuss. A pandemic hits and now everyone is brought back down to a similar level, unless you’re a billionaire. It’s now “ok, how do I survive?” That kind of perseverance and resilience is something that’d be hard to find anywhere else, but we already have that survival mentality. NYC is NYC for a reason. 

RC: I would like to add, there are issues here that are systemic issues. These are things that we have all dealt with and seen, some more than others. This is a hyper-dense place not built to house this many people, so there are things that fall by the wayside routinely and make for really horrible experiences for many. With the pandemic, we’ve just seen a lot of that become amplified. Everything has always been there, all these wrongdoings and shortcomings of institutionalized scenarios. The problem is that now they’re exacerbated. They’re inflated, inflamed and they’re provoked. It’s created some real hurdles for people who have been in these scenarios, but it’s also created a real opportunity for people to organize around them, and we’re seeing a lot of great organizing.

HG: I moved around a lot when I was younger and I think that helped me prepare and cope with the realities of socio-economic situations. When I read James Baldwin, I felt like that Native Son. Too black to be white and too white to be black, but that juxtaposition also allows me to infiltrate different spaces and experience things in different ways. But I still experience the bullshit. I’ve had it hard, but as a result, it’s prepared me the most to deal with hard situations now. I like to think how would Nina Simone deal with that? Just learning to deal with situations in the most graceful way. It’s not geographical, I can take you anywhere I’ve lived and show you corrupt things or people that get to get away with doing bad things. It’s not geographically locked, but it is locked to the human heart. I use that to propel me forward, being more empathetic. How can I as an Afro-Latino go through life thinking no one else gets it too? That’d be naive. It’s also something I think is lacking so much today, that empathy. A lot of people don’t get it and think they can’t create any change or think they will resolve centuries of oppression on their own. It’s naive, we all have to our little bit of work to do. 

Often times, people with creative platforms can be afraid to make bold statements in fear of polarizing people, losing audiences or turning off potential opportunities. You all don’t seem to shy away from making a statement. 

NE : If no one is saying any of the things that we’re talking about, we need to talk about what we do. I mean, I’m Latino, but I am White and when I don’t hear people talk about police brutality, racism or systemic poverty, it’s definitely easier for me to infiltrate those spaces. We play these rock shows and we don’t see anyone that looks like us, where’s the representation? Imagine the rest of my brothers?

 

Where do you draw inspiration from in making the choice to be so transparent about your experiences and so vocal on issues that matter to you? 

NE: It’s out of the necessity to survive, to do the work and say the things that no one else around us is saying. As a band, I don’t think we’re political by any means, we just say the things that need to be said. We advocate for work to be done, rather than advocate for policy or any form of political move. Our inspiration is what makes us unique because the inspiration for us, comes from us. From the lives we lived. Maybe it’s just a personal characteristic of mine to put the mic up to the bullshit. No human is perfect but we champion the people who can step back and look inwards to make significant change.

HG : We’re a bunch of brown kids right? We get a platform and everyone is suddenly like “Why aren’t you talking about this or speaking up about this?” But I don’t see my white colleagues having the same kind of expectations to speak up. I think we need more of these open conversations so that we, like them a lot of the time, can just play music. Calling out racism isn’t my sole identity. What if I just wanted to play music to have fun? The visibility of just having people up on a stage presenting themselves boldly is important alone. To show others that they can do this too, regardless of skin color or identity, just a love of good music. Opera houses are gilded in gold, because gold is more important than entertainment. All the flashes are important but the entertainment and experience being exchanged, is what’s really the most important. It’s hard to find that cadence in a world that’s always telling you to back down. 

NE: Adding to that, it’s also not our responsibility to be like “Y’all need to be talking about this!” To piggyback, we talk about what we do because they’re extensions of our stories but it ain’t our responsibility to say shit to nobody, but I like to think of us as jesters almost. I find it important to point the finger at ourselves, but also to do it to everyone else out there. I’m actually surprised people still show up to our shows to be honest because I’m up there doing nothing but talking shit the entire time.

 

I would think people still show up to your shows is because of your authenticity. A marker of a good artist is being unafraid of doing what you want, and in a way thats true to yourself that people relate too. I find in an era of “wokeness,” people read through bullshit quickly. 

NE: Everything we’ve just spoken about influences us, but that’s us. It’s not our burden to try and convert people to talk about all this. But if we talk about it because we want too and some younger, Latino kids are like “Yo, I fuck with that band! I want to say that or act upon it because they showed me that I can,” then that’s success to me.

I never got a chance to catch this action live before the shutdown but have caught some footage online which really radiate a lot of energy and hard hitting music. You mentioned your last show being almost a year ago, what do you remember about that night?

NE: It was a show at Saint Vitus. We were in contact with the venue hour by hour like “…Is this still on?” I remember some friends were playing Bowery Ballroom, and sometime before we went on, the order to close venues that were 500 capacity and up came out. I was like “Oh shit! Well at least our show is still on. Ha.” We showed up to the venue and it just feels weird. Everyone was on edge. I took the amp out of the van and broke some things because we were all packed and ready to head to SXSW. I was like this is not a good start, I don’t like this. That was our kickoff show. We were going to play, get in the van and drive straight down to Waco. We all felt this calm before the storm, but there was a lot of anxiety around it. We played, it wasn’t a particularly great set because our heads were kind of everywhere. I remember, well, I’m known to run out into the audience during our sets. I remember grabbing the microphone and walking into the crowd yelling “Don’t fucking touch me! Don’t fucking touch me!” I mean our whole set is usually just me playing around and touching the crowd. It was funny because I was just joking and didn’t really know what was going on and didn’t really care. Turns out now I absolutely care! Now I’m like “I’ve got asthma! Please don’t touch me!” I just remember a sense of calm and devastation. We were all in agreement that we weren’t going on the road that night. It’s crazy to think I was just like “Maybe this is the last one for a little bit…,” but i didn’t know it would be the last one for a year. 

 

Music tends to be such a safe space for people to escape those strange feelings and find release. I remember feeling really strange at my last show I went to as well. 

HG: I think he covered it pretty well. But yeah, that night was just all around anxious. And with the crowd, you could just feel it. It was this inexplicable feeling of human emotion, that when it congregates like that, it’s like a monolith of anxiety. 

 

Your live performances carry so much energy and a very eclectic presence. With touring on pause, where do you feel that energy has gone?

NE: Boxing! MUAY THAI! I’m beating the shit out of things so that I don’t go nuts. Shout out to Bill at Thunderstrike Boxing for coaching us. In the beginning, I was also still in therapy too, which definitely helped. For me, that was the biggest thing, my safety net. Being able to get it out here (motions to mind) and not get it out here (motions to fists). Now that I’m boxing, it’s gotten the physical energy out. And still playing with the guys, we have our rehearsal space and we’ve been working on a record. A collection of songs rather, we’re readjusting and making it free. A way that we’ve gotten our collective energy out is to rethink how we’re approaching the next steps. So yeah, boxing, therapy, and turning the whole band on its head. 

HG: For me, I don’t think there were too many lifestyle changes…I’m a pretty mellow dude.

NE: Stop playing! You’re still at home playing video games!

HG: Yo! Stop it now, you know that’s how I get my historical data! I mean I love boxing too, Nelson knows. That’s one of my home sports. I actually had a couple of amateur fights. Like 25?

 

Do you guys box against each other now? 

HG: All of us do, yeah. We did some training together.

RC: That’s what rehearsal really is! We just box each other. Have you ever seen somebody play the bass with boxing gloves on? That’s Bert.

 

I think we need to move on this idea when things open back up. Maybe a 2 for 1 show? A boxing match and then a musical gig after. 

NE: Yoo! I’m going to credit you with that idea because, personally, I would fucking love that! 

 

Just credit me on the bottom of the flyer or something. 

NE: Yes! 

 

What other things have you all picked up during this time individually or collectively? 

HG: I’ve learned how to redirect  attention. Instead of spreading ideas out, I now just really focus on one thing. If I pick up a book, I’m really focused on the book. If I’m picking up any instrument, I’m really learning it. You have this immense amount of time now, so there’s no other way for me. I spent most of my 20’s working and touring so it’s a different change of gears, but it feels good!


RC:  We’ve also taken to the community aspect and building on that. I’ve been close friends with these guys for a long time, but have only managed them a bit over a year. It’s been interesting taking the same visceral effect that comes with the music and trying to apply it to everything else that the band touches that’s on a level of bringing people together. Creating events, products or things made with intention for the purpose of speaking directly to our audience. We’ve worked on a couple public access campaigns that provide people with signage around the neighborhood for people to scan QR codes to access resources like making donations to organizations we support. The idea is there’s this band that’s creating impact in the community through musics’ visceral nature and translating it into something accessible and actionable. There’s a lot that’s happening on this emotional level as you ingest it, but also there’s a lot of reprieve that comes after. 

Thats amazing. A lot of the good that has come from the chaos is, time. Something creatives didn’t always get pre-COVID with a very hustle culture. Now you have time to stop and reinvest in yourself in new ways you may not have had the chance to do if you were always on tour. 

NE: Absolutely. This time afforded me space to work with my mentor, Jeff Berner, a producer at Studio G. With all this time, I wanted to get better at recording. So I called Jeff, like “Hey! I think i want to go back to school.” And he was just like “Fuck that! Come intern at the studio.” So I started back in August, began picking up sessions and now I’m producing for other bands. Gaining that knowledge has given me a new workflow to bring into our rehearsal space and ultimately, the universe of the band. Big shoutout to my family at Studio G!

 

The rehearsal space, as well as new music, is a prevalent theme. Do you feel like now having additional time, what’s feeling different about your music this time around? 

NE: Off the bat, the music industry is the music industry and is it’s own beast but I think we were trying to mold ourselves to this system of creating that just didn’t make sense to us or how we best work. Creating songs one by one and looking at them under a lens. Now we have the time to sit down and change our songwriting process. Between time and the resources we now have, the quality of the songs is now just better because time gave us a new perspective. With our first EP Funeral and Moments of Terribleness, I wrote them and everyone put their piece on it. Since COVID, I went hands off and wanted the band to be more of a collective. There’s a much more tribal element to our stuff coming out, like it’s coming from a family with a lot of love that’s going into it. Even if it’s as simple as us flipping our usual instruments or trying new sounds, it’s just been us rethinking what our music can sound like. We’re doing some really incredible stuff together that is even more honest than before because now it’s coming from all of us. Collectively. Equally. It’s a shame because 500,000 people have died as a result from COVID. Being the most awful part about it, the flip-side is the time gained by everyone. We get to go back to the drawing board and do it all on our terms. Reevaluating the timeline, our work process, what we want to see and hear out of the music we make. That is invaluable. I will cherish that forever.

 

So what can we expect next from Stuyedeyed musically?

NE: As a result of rethinking how we’re going to do things, we put together a song called “All I Know Is Fear.” It will be released alongside our Dr. Martens episode as it includes clips of us playing it live. It touches base on the school-to-prison pipeline, police brutality, how Jesus is white, stuff like that.

 

That sounds like quite a lot to pack into two and a half minutes…

NE: Let’s get it! 

 

In what ways is your reinvention changing the ways you’re bringing music out into the world during this time? 

NE: The ideas behind changing the way we release the song were: I don’t want to give my money to Spotify for four cents in return and how to connect it to our ethos of giving back. What we’ll be doing is releasing the single on BandCamp and our website with all the proceeds in perpetuity going to Young New Yorkers, a great foundation that serves as a youth prison diversion program through the arts. It’s something important for us because we know people who have been put through the system, or have had a hard time getting out. In our DIY faith, we are also hand making cassette tapes that we will be paired with USB drives that have all the resources we’ve compiled plus some more exclusive stuff like zines and audio soundbites. Oh, and they will also come with a universal handcuff key for people who need to get themselves out of a shitty situation.

HG: Or a fun night! 

NE: …Or a fun night! Well, that’s our tape package, a limited edition of 50 tapes. I’m going to sit at this desk and make each copy. Our whole belief has always been doing everything ourselves, doing everything with love but mostly always giving back what we can. I think in the history of our band, even before shit was going nuts, has always been giving back with our music. That’s very important to us. This is just an extension of doing things our way during all of this and not buying into the system. It’s a way of having direct contact with our people. 

HG: This is really important for me you know because I drew inspiration from a lot of different music, Wu-Tang, Sade, that spoke about a lot of these different things. Sometimes you get these inspirations as a myriad of things that music can provide. As a young kid, I would’ve loved to have someone who looked like me say the things that I wanted to say, loudly and proudly. And then have a pamphlet ready on how to create change from that inspiration. Imagine if Maya Angelou had a usb stick with all the books that she likes? Then she’s just like, “You like poetry? Here you go.” This is a great way for us to connect back with people during this time and be able to contextualize the things we talk about for our audience. Information is fucking great!

RC: We also have a few more things with this capsule release. Ten megaphones will be customized and auctioned on our instagram, a balaclava stamp and a t-shirt that will be screen-printed by Nelly and I that has an embedded QR code leading to the resources on our site. When people try to take a selfie with their merch, which they tend to do, it’ll take them right to the website with resources. 

That’s some of the most creative use of merch I feel I’ve come across. To have merch that does something beyond sitting in your drawer is a really refreshing concept, especially when it’s giving back to the community in such a positive way. 

RC: We’re just trying to pull these concepts and put them into tangible, impactful things. And of course, all of the proceeds will be donated. We’re independent, and have operated this better half of the year that way, we’re not backed by a label or anything. We cherish the DIY ethos and think it’s an important part of the band’s identity. When we release something, we want to make sure there’s a message that’s clear, concise and allows people to apply it to their life. We’ve all been there with typical band stuff, but we want to create more than something you’ll just throw away. We want to attach it to something, to an idea, to an organization we believe in and find a way to support it and allow our audience to help in that process. 

 

Believing in that ethos, you  were selected to partner with Dr. Martens and their filmmaker series highlighting resign artists who are standing out in their communities. I think this series is important in letting people see what life is really life right now for artists and what it means to be creative during this time. Can you talk about your involvement and how being a part of this fits into your realignment of what it means to be a band? 

NE: I think you said it best, just having that insight to what it means to be a band right now. That perspective is so beautiful, and so often lost. It’s easy to get a notification from Spotify telling you someone has new music, but it’s not easy learning what goes into making that happen, especially with a world on lockdown. Everything is now too easily obtained or digestible, so I’m happy to be apart of something that showcases that work. And also showcases where we are and how we’re surviving. That insight is so important. There’s so much work that goes into making music you never get to see. In my quest for doing the work honestly, and committing myself to it, I think it’s beautiful to be able to share that process with the world. It helps educate people and like everything, that’s crucial. 

HG: The most important thing I’ve learned through all this is that our perseverance and resilience, as a collective, has always been there. It was the outlet that became important too. Having a conversation isn’t always enough, so if you can find new ways to redirect someone into a position of knowledge, then I think you are doing something that is a duty to each other. 

NE: We are definitely grateful to be able to do this collaboration with Dr. Martens, but at the end of the day, they are choosing to elevate our voice and give us a bigger platform for the things that we are saying. So it’s all really all about joining forces and reaching more people with the work that we’re doing. 

RC: To put it bluntly we don’t really have any super allegiance to a brand, but there’s an important exchange that Dr. Martens is providing for us, and that is providing a platform to continue to spread our gospel. As a band we have a lot to say, and we’re going to have a lot more to say.

Any final words?

HG: Maybe we don’t have the water but we can direct you towards the stream. A lot of the time, it’s naive to think that we can abolish anything alone as one person. So it’s like let’s find the stream together. The more heads you put on a topic, the better the answer. In any situation that is overwhelming, you allow room for a plethora of choices to happen when more people are involved. Music is powerful in allowing you to really feel something beyond words, so put those two things together and that’s powerful. To be able to do the thing I love, with these cats, and express ourselves in a way that can create a product to be released to people who are then impacted by it and use it in their own way? That’s the catalyst! It all goes hand in hand, if you’re going to say something, you might want to do something about it. 

 

 

CONNECT WITH STUYEDEYED

INSTAGRAM // TWITTER // SPOTIFY // BANDCAMP

photos / Alice Plati

  video / courtesy of Dr. Martens

director / Gabriel Gomez

story / Jeanette Diaz

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