Grammy winner Quetzal Flores recalls his rocking Pasadena past and how he came to write songs for ‘The Crumbles’
By Victor Payan 04/25/2013
Grammy Award-winning musician Quetzal Flores looks back at the Pasadena of yesterday through the lens of an idealistic teenager searching for an alternative to the LA scene.
For Flores, who lives in Pasadena and is one of the leading figures of the son jarocho-infused politically conscious music that burst out of East LA in the early 1990s, creating alternatives is important work.
His band, Quetzal, received a Grammy Award this year in the Best Latin Alternative, Urban or Rock Album category for its new album, “Imaginaries.”
Recently, Flores was given a chance to hearken back to his musical roots of the 1980s when friend and filmmaker Akira Boch asked him to write the songs for his indie rock feature, “The Crumbles,” which is booked for a one-week run beginning Friday at Pasadena’s Laemmle Playhouse 7.
“I spent a lot of time in Pasadena as a young kid,” says Flores. “I used to go to Marilyn’s. It was an 18-and-under club, the only one in LA, if I remember, and we used to go there and dance all the time on KROQ night. Richard Blade would go and pass out condoms and play ‘Sex Dwarf’ or whatever.”
Flores is talking about Marilyn’s Backstreet Disco, a South Lake Avenue club that provided a safe, alcohol-free space for youth to gather until it closed in 1992.
After graduating from Marilyn’s, Flores and other Chicano musicians, inspired by the Zapatistas and the dialogues around the 1992 500-year anniversary of Columbus’ “discovery” of America, started organizing backyard concerts in El Sereno. These shows, which drew crowds in the hundreds, were the proving ground for bands such as Ozomatli, Ollin and Quetzal.
“For us, it was this whole network of backyards and parents enabling us to do this,” he says. “And nobody ever got hurt.”
Known for their energetic and political music, Quetzal’s Grammy nomination was unexpected, as the band generally sings about fighting the very system that awards the Grammys.
Their album’s title was inspired by scholar Emma Perez’s book “The Decolonial Imaginary: Writing Chicanas into History,” which partner and band mate Martha Gonzales was reading as part of her graduate school studies in Seattle.
For the soft-spoken Flores, a dedicated community activist who sees culture and music as important tools for social justice, the nomination provided an opportunity to create some positive dialogue.
After making a few calls, Flores organized a discussion in Boyle Heights between LA Times writer Reed Johnson and other Grammy-nominated musicians about son jarocho, the music which has served as an inspiration to Chicano rockers since Ritchie Valens recorded “La Bamba,” a traditional jarocho song, in 1957.
He also helped organize a pre-Grammy concert and community discussion at Boyle Heights’ Breed Street Shul, featuring Quetzal, fellow award nominees Los Cojolitos and several other bands.
Flores is a proponent of transnational and translocal work, which he identifies with the new definition of being a Chicano.
“I don’t have a bandera (flag),” he says. “I have an undying love for human beings. I’m committed to working as hard as I can as a father, as a musician and as a songwriter to promote the idea that we’re one world where many worlds fit.
“We’ve worked so hard to build our own set of rules and sets of legitimacy and they work,” says Flores. “They motivate us. They inspire us, and they inspire other people. They’re beautiful.”
In addition to being a musician, Flores is also program manager for the Association of California Traditional Artists (ACTA) and is currently working on a project mapping cultural assets with high school youth in Boyle Heights.
“Kids are very smart. They don’t get enough credit. If you give young people information, they know what to do with it,” says Flores. “The stakes are so much higher for them than they were for us. This is a different age. We’re witnessing the shift from neo-colonialism to something different, something better.”
“The Crumbles,” which features a quirky multicultural cast and a refreshing DIY attitude, is propelled by catchy, ’80s-inspired songs that stand on their own. A love letter to being young and starting a band, “The Crumbles” has been screening across the country as part of its Awkward and Awesome Tour.
Writing songs for “The Crumbles” was a change of pace for Flores, but it did allow him to revisit and re-imagine the kind of music he listened to as a youth, which sounds like fun.
The film’s signature song, “Everyday Girl,” is available for free download on the film’s Web site.
Fans yearning for a taste of Pasadena’s bygone edginess will have a chance to rock with Quetzal and the band that Flores assembled for “The Crumbles,” which will be performing songs from the film live at La Zona Rosa Caffe after the 7:30 p.m. Saturday screening.
Laemmle’s Playhouse 7 is at 673 E. Colorado Blvd. Call (626) 844-6500 or visit laemmle.com.
La Zona Rosa Caffe is at 15 S. El Molino Ave. in Pasadena. Call (626) 793-2334 or visit. zonarosacaffe.com.
For more information on “The Crumbles,” visit thecrumbles.com. n
Victor Payan is a cultural critic and multidisciplinary artist. Visit his Web site, victorpayan.com