Rafael Reyes says as much with his silence as he does with his words. He's fueled by the momentum of his own speech, pitching volume, climbing in intensity, broadcasting adrenaline with each word -- and then silence. Generous, heavy pauses that he hangs out before you. Let them hang, and you’ll be rewarded with soft confessions so sincere that suddenly you find yourself breathing in bubbles of push-and-pull intimacy.
The frontman of cholo-goth pioneers Prayers will admit to the arrogance in his voice without apologizing for it but can’t explain when that eclipsed the lapdog existence he led for so long -- all he knows is that, at some point, he became a monster. “I’m a monster,” he’ll say before continuing in his melodic tongue, speaking in waves of confidence about Prayers, about success, about the haters, about the massive year ahead -- including a new music video out Wednesday, another celeb-packed one on the way and an album produced by Steve Brown (Elton John, the Cult, the Pogues) -- and most recently, about Coachella.
There's a lot to be read here, but there's also a lot to be heard. Reyes, in his own words:
You know how difficult it was to not tell people for like a year? We knew since we did our record release party at the Roxy [in June 2015]. Our show on Jan. 9 [at El Rey in L.A.] is actually our last California show until after Coachella, and the only reason we can do this show is because it’s promoting Coachella. After that we’re not allowed to play California until after Coachella is done. So it kind of behooves people to go see us because we’re not going to play for awhile here.
This is all we do now. We don’t have jobs. This band Prayers, this all we do. So maybe financially it would be difficult to not play shows if you depended on that. But we sell out shows, and we get paid a really good amount of money to where we don’t have to work for several months if we don’t want to. So once we play Coachella, financially we’ll be able to live well off for a year without having to work. And we’re one of the smallest bands playing. But it’s different for us because we really have put ourselves in a situation where we’re the only type of sound, the only type of band that exists like us, so we’ve become more valuable in that way because we can’t be replaced, because we are the source of that music -- and it’s not ever about the money, but that’s the compromise and the exchange. We love performing, and it is very hard because we love performing -- put the money aside.
On what’s next:
Luckily we’re so busy; we’ve been with designers designing our clothing for Coachella -- custom-made boots, custom-made pants, custom-made jackets, custom-made hats, everything, with this designer for Majesty Black. We have a new music video out Wednesday for “Drugs,” and we’re working on a new music video with celebrities I can’t mention. Our management just bought us a brand new studio in Los Angeles -- all these things are happening that are so amazing for us.
On making San Diego proud:
But this year, San Diego is going to be so proud of us because Coachella may be something that is a big thing, and it is a big thing, but we’ve got even bigger things happening. This year everyone is gonna know who Prayers are because of our new album. The producers we’re working with, flying in from London, Steve Brown -- he’s worked with Sir Elton John -- he’s worked with all the legends, and he wants to work with us. That’s our next focus, our album, but we’re focused on our product, our music, and we want to put something out that’s timeless and make our city extremely proud of who we are and this journey that we’re on. And we want to inspire people who come from nothing, like me and David; we were the underdogs. People thought I was a poser. No one wanted to work with David; they thought he was too eccentric. So we had to join forces, being the outsiders. Now we became the ones that everyone’s paying attention to. And it feels so good.
On Prayers’ success:
I’m gonna tell you something about Prayers. One of the reasons we are so successful is because we invest in Prayers. All the money we made, we put back in Prayers. We’re like underground kings, to be honest with you. We sell out every show that we play, yet we’re not on the radio; we’re not on TV. And I don’t even know, to be honest with you, I am such a person who lives in the present, the only thing that matters to me right now is this conversation I’m having with you because that’s all that I have control over. That doesn’t mean that I don’t dream, but that’s not a place that I dwell in, and I think that’s another reason that we’ve been able to get so far.
It’s so different, you know, because we’re still trying to wrap our heads around it, because I remember when no one even wanted us to play in their venues. I remember when we drove to Oakland to play in a basement for $50. We did whatever we could. We were picking up scraps -- we just wanted to play. And I remember how hard it was, and how people were really mean, and when our first music video came out all the horrible things people would say. So for me, I’m just -- is the word “relishing,” does that work? I really restrain myself from bragging. I really do. Because I just want to brag about everything because people were just so mean. That’s a byproduct, right? When you win, and people were wrong? But I try to keep it classy. Success is our proof. I don’t have to tell people. They already know what they said and what they did. There are signs everywhere that they were wrong. Coachella is a sign.
We’ve only been a band for two years barely. You have to love and support each other in order to get to where you need to be in this business. There has to be unconditional love and support, and [Dave’s] done that for me, and my bandmate has let me be the leader for this from day one -- “You take care of what’s in front of you, and I’ll take care of what’s in back of you.”
On fulfilling destiny:
It’s been our sole mission to dethrone anybody who we get on stage with; we don’t care who you are. We’re there to win. We’re there to do one thing, and that’s to dominate. There’s a lot of fear in this industry. People want to stay relevant, right? And then we come, and we change everything because we’re so unconventional; we’re so unorthodox in the way we do things, and it makes everybody question everything that they’re doing. And we see it every time we perform; we see it in their eyes -- people are just completely spellbound. And the beauty of it is that, you know, it’s already like predestined. It’s like written in our stars -- this is written in our stars. And I know for a fact it has nothing to do with skill, because we don’t know what the f--- we’re doing. It just comes out naturally. It’s like we’re guided by this spiritual source, this god-sent gift that had all of a sudden awaken and was waiting for us to kind of acknowledge it, and since we have, every door has been opened and every road paved in gold. So that tells me that we’re gifted, we’re unique, we’re special. We’re that thing that only happens once in a lifetime. It has nothing to do with skill, has nothing to do with talent. It’s just that we’re like magic.
On becoming “a monster”:
The people I grew up watching and listening to -- David Bowie, Lou Reed -- they’re greater than life. They’re greater than life. So then I’m like, I don’t know what’s changed in me. But I’ve realized that I’m very protective over our art and what we do. I’ve realized that if you don’t fight for the things that you want, no one’s going to fight for you. You have to do all these things for yourself. I never was like that; I got walked on my entire life. No, I have to say what’s right, because if I don’t, people will steal my art. When I’m onstage, and I feel that I was robbed, that I should have won that award, I’m not going to be quiet no more. I’m going to defend myself. I’m going to defend my bandmate. I’m going to defend what Prayers is. I’m not going to be quiet no more. I’m not going to be that shy, humble kid -- that just made me sad and angry, and that’s what created this, and now I’m a monster. And now I’m going to be the biggest thing. I’m going to be the biggest f---ing thing coming out of San Diego. When people think of San Diego, they’re going to think of f---ing Prayers. I’m going to erase the entire history of music in San Diego. [Pause] And they did this to me. [Pause] They made me like this. And this is what happens when you push and push someone. And people either break or they become monsters. [Pause] And I didn’t break.
Hannah Lott-Schwartz, a San Diego native, moved back to the area after working the magazine-publishing scene in Boston. Now she’s straight trolling SD for all the music she missed while away. Want to help? Hit her up with just about anything at all over on Twitter, where -- though not always work-appropriate -- she means well.