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Prayers Frontman Rafael Reyes Talks “Cholo Goth” Rock and How It Saved His Life

“I’d probably be in prison if it wasn’t for music.”

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With a distinct “cholo goth” sound that unabashedly blends electronic rock with street lyrics inspired by singer Rafael Reyes’ gangbanging days, San Diego band Prayers is proof that seemingly disparate things can complement each other perfectly. Since releasing their debut album, 2013’s SD Killwave, Reyes, who performs as Leafar Seyer, and bandmate Dave Parley have enjoyed a steady ascent. Their fusion caught the eye of Travis Barker, who became a mentor and produced their 2015 sophomore effort, Young Gods. So far in 2016 the group has played Coachella, headlined at SXSW, and released a stunning video for “Black Leather,” the first single off the upcoming Baptism of Thieves EP. Filmed with Kat Von D, who sings on the track, it borrows elements of the Romeo and Juliet and Dracula stories and creates another successful and unexpected mashup.

MERRY JANE recently sat down with Reyes to talk about the new EP, how music saved his life, and the role that San Diego plays in Prayers.

MERRY JANE: What does music mean to you?
Rafael Reyes:
Without music, I’d be a close-minded, empty, ignorant individual. Music has opened up my mind, it has liberated my spirit, it has given me my life worth and value. It was my escape. My background is gangs. I come from a Chicano gang, a gangbanging neighborhood and sub-culture that is built on machismo and a certain ideology of what one is and how one should behave. If it wasn’t for music, I would have been stuck in that all my life. But because of music, I always felt there was something else to this world. There were other options for me. Music saved my life. I’d probably be in prison if it wasn’t for music.

How has the local San Diego scene affected Prayers?
San Diego is not known for its music, even though it should be. One of the missions of Prayers is bringing attention to San Diego, and the music scene there by repping SD hard. It’s a gang culture thing. The other bands from SD don’t rep San Diego because they don’t come from gang culture. You don’t have that mentality of repping your city. We rep our city because we come from gang culture. It translates through our music because of the gang influences. It’s just embedded in my being. Even down to the hate that came out of San Diego. I am grateful for it, because that hate influenced me, made me stronger, and made me want to prove everyone wrong and succeed.

What is the meaning behind your EP Baptism of Thieves?
The first band I was ever in was called Baptism of Thieves. I am paying homage to that band. We are also paying homage to New Order, because New Order is a band that influenced David and me a lot. We have never really showcased our influences, we just create the way we create, which is our own sound. Whenever New Order comes on in clubs, we just dance our asses off. So we decided to pay homage to New Order.

We didn’t want to alienate our audience too much, so we have a few songs that are hardcore traditional Prayers sound. We also brought in an old song I wrote three years ago when I first started doing music under the moniker Nite Ritual. I have a song called “Underneath the Stars.”  It’s about a serial killer who feels he’s in love with a girl. He feels if he kills her they will be connected through eternity.

Are you over 18?

You’ve merged disparate ideas, like cholo culture and goth culture to form “cholo goth,” and the Romeo and Juliet and Dracula stories in the music video for “Black Leather.” Is it a conscious method of yours to combine unrelated things?
I’ve been influenced by so many things and so many things inspire me, and I guess in some weird way that is my method. But I never thought about it until now. I guess I do take things that are complete opposites and bring them together. It could be because I am a Mexican-American hybrid. Mexicans in general are hybrid, but we are crossed with indigenous blood and Spanish blood, we have all these mix of cultures. I am just influenced by so many things. I am American, I am Mexican, and I identify with both heavily. It’s in my genetic structure to take things that are completely opposites and turn them into one.

Are you over 18?