“We’re not mellow guys,” confesses Dios (Malos) bassist J.P. Caballero, though he knows that might sound like heresy to fans of the band’s laid-back, ’60s-based pop songcraft. “We’re actually angry people. I just wanted to clarify that: We’re not mellow California beach-pop. We’re actually degenerate intellectual symphonic rock. Actually, strike that. Just say we’re degenerate.”
Lyrically, that’s true. Their new, self-titled LP, follow-up to their easygoing 2004 debut, is filled with songs touching on issues dear to mall rats and grad students alike: drugs, desire and all the bad news that comes with them. And more drugs. But there’s more to Dios (Malos) than singer Joel Morales’ smart-ass lines like “I take drugs but I can’t afford them,” no matter how much of a laugh they are. “Joel always writes songs that are deceptively simple and basic,” adds Caballero. “But they’re very profound.”
They’re also more energetic than those that appeared on Dios’ last release. Where previously placid and plaintive tunes like “You Make Me Feel Uncomfortable” and “All Said + Done” were mellow to the max, treading territory explored equally by Neil Young and the Alan Parsons Project, the new tunes have a bit more blood in their veins.
“We tried to get a bit more rocking on this record,” Caballero explains. “It’s a little more thuggish. We pulled out the switchblades.” (Yes, he’s joking. Sort of.)
And while we’re setting the record straight: Dios (Malos), who come from Hawthorne, are bored with continually being compared to fellow Hawthornites the Beach Boys and no one else — which is not to say that Caballero entirely rejects the link. “We’ve definitely taken from them,” he explains, “especially in our approach and atmosphere. The Beach Boys were just regular guys from a regular city who happened to get bored and make something that was inspired as a result.”
What’s most surprising about talking to Caballero over the phone is how funny he is — especially when asked about pintsize metal washout Ronnie James Dio, who sued the former Dios over a single letter in their name.
“Yeah, he’s tiny,” Caballero agrees when I offer the absolute lie that Dio landed a Guinness World Record for shortest headbanger on Earth. “He’s like Verne Troyer, right? And his real last name is Padanova! We were thinking for a while about changing our name to that. It sounds a lot less dramatic and evil than Dios.”
The addition of “Malos” in parentheses speaks to its complete superfluity — plus, in the spirit of fuck-up revelry, it’s not even conjugated correctly. “Malos is not supposed to have an S on the end of it when it occurs next to Dios,” Caballero explains. “We’re into poor grammar too. But it’s an intentional play on words, so we’re actually geniuses. Let me know when you want to slip us a Peabody. Or Pulitzer. Something that starts with a P.”
Ever since they appeared on an influential New Musical Express watch list following the release of their EP Los Arboles (Dim Mak, 2004), people have been slipping Dios one good thing after another: Their eponymous ’04 debut on Star Time garnered critical acclaim and a following in the U.K.; they landed decorated indie producer Phil Ek (Built To Spill, Modest Mouse, et al.) for their recently released sophomore effort. And now, like so many melancholy poppers before them, they’re headed for The O.C: The catchy soft-loud-soft nugget “Everyday,” from Los Arboles, has made it onto an episode airing December 1.
Dios’ new LP is also a perfect match for The O.C.’s postmodern teen soap. Take first single “I Want It All,” for example (whose surreal animated video was made by a friend who works on South Park). It’s a straight-ahead jangly pop morsel as soft as butter, lamenting and celebrating the hunger that comes with a taste of la dolce vita. “EPK” recalls Coldplay and Yoshimi-era Flaming Lips (who once showed up on Beverly Hills, 90210, by the by) — right down to the honeyed crescendos and heartstring balladry. “You don’t want it anymore,” Morales sings, expressing a sense of longing that runs throughout the album in different forms. “Feels Good Being Somebody” is an upbeat bouncer that takes the slacker ethic to its endgame with snarky asides like “I’m self-absorbed and I’m lazy/It feels good being somebody else.” Somewhere, Malkmus is grinning, and Cobain is laughing. McCartney may be flattered or annoyed: The song’s chorus, “See how they run/Under the gun” channels “Lady Madonna” a bit too ably.
Some have already used the O.C. placement — a coup that’s famously helped Death Cab for Cutie, Pinback and many more deserving and undeserving bands — to subtly deride Dios in their sophomore phase. They’re not having any of it. A track from their debut album called (what else?) “You Got Me All Wrong” already made it onto The O.C. Mix 2: The Soundtrack. Indie idiots have called them sellouts before.
“I’ll say this,” Caballero offers, in what passes for our only serious exchange: “We just made a record. No one told us how to make it. No one told us what songs to put on it. No one told us what the artwork had to look like. No one told us what the lyrics had to be about, or what the first single was going to be. No one told us to do anything. If someone makes you do something, then you’re a sellout. If someone wants to put something we made ourselves in a TV show and give us money and exposure, I’ve got no qualms with that. I never knew so many 15-year-old girls liked our band. But it’s definitely nice.”
Anyway, for all their indie cred, Dios (Malos) have always been outsiders, in a sense, to the Silver Lake scene. “As far as playing a Silver Lake club or something like that, having a 310 area code has never really helped us,” Caballero says. “We’ve always had a lot of uphill resistance from those people, which is kind of a bummer. But ultimately, we’re going to do what we do no matter what. If people want to be into it, that’s radical. Shower us with money, attention and affection. And airplay, if they want. We’re not going to stop making our music. And hustling.
“We came up playing to nobody,” Caballero continues. “Playing arcades on Tuesday nights, with no one giving a shit about us or wanting to do anything for us. Then we had that write-up in NME, and everything blew up. All of a sudden everyone was asking us to do things. But that’s always been the deal with this band. It’s always been about thinking that things are a lot less complicated than they really are. Maybe when you start dating us, you’ll see.”
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