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Playa Boys

Photo by Aaron Farley

The miniature-golf course at Redondo’s Malibu Castle is a cold and lonely place on a Tuesday afternoon, and without most of the Hawthorne band Dios puttering around the ratty back nine, the place would be deserted — except for the harried men hustling their sons through each hole.

Guitarist-singer Joel Morales susses them in a second. “Divorcé-dad haven,” he says, broad-shouldered and shaggy, squinting under his cap to gauge a tricky par 3. “Gotta squeeze the kid in on lunch hour.”

But Dios would never squeeze their mini-golf game. They savor these lazy days: As the freeway commuters drone past a blur of stucco and lawns, Dios drive slow down the surface streets — to recognize faces, to remember which story goes with what intersection. They’re patient in the bushes off Route 107, where all the members of Dios met at various local schools. Joel works at a daycare, his brother (and guitarist-singer) Kevin at a nursing home; one Morales brother guides Hawthorners into life and the other eases them out.

“For me, Hawthorne is the Liverpool of this area,” says Joel, observing that the community spawned the Beach Boys and Emitt Rhodes. “To know that that musical legacy could have come from anywhere, but it’s from the same goddamn town I’m from . . . I just really want to do something.”

The Beach Boys felt the same way, he says — he calls it a “thirst for life.” Or maybe a hunger, he amends — as a kid, he bought his first guitar by misappropriating a month’s worth of household grocery money and then rationing out the breakfast cereal. But he finds satisfaction for “very . . . um . . . basic needs” in knowing that some of the most ambitious, most historic American pop music shared the same sunsets, trees, schools — “The same Foster’s Freeze,” adds keyboardist Jimmy Camaro. “You been there? We gotta go!” “There’s definitely a culture here,” says Kevin, slight and reserved against Joel’s casual charisma. Dios’ loopy but catholic tastes — The Chronic to Jimi Hendrix to Os Mutantes to old bolero music — are a happy reflection of matter-of-fact latchkey diversity: Dios know bad words in five languages, Camaro laughs.

They record everything themselves — like Rhodes — and they carefully, instinctively sift their schizo channel-surfer creativity into songs so natural and measured and resonant that Dios’ home-recorded CDR demos could bounce anything up to Astral Weeks out of the stereo.

Two New Year’s ago, Dios played a Silver Lake party. Last New Year’s, with new drummer Jackie Monzon, they played El Rey. A week later, NME picked them as seventh out of 50 bands to watch this year, and a week after that, their debut EP, Los Arboles, came out on the heavy-gun indie Dim Mak; a revelatory full-length on the heavier New York label Star Time is moments away. NME can’t get over calling them slackers — true, today flannel-clad bassist J.P. Cabellero is flapping around a windy mini-golf course while everyone else he knows is campus- or cubicle-bound — but Dios, says Joel, are smart and serious.

Last spring, Cabellero dropped out of college, scared as hell, walking out of the registrar’s office and right to the practice space. Now, Dios are putting for free at the mini-golf course some of them used to work at, and the disc Cabellero engineered in his basement is at the record store. The cover is a rocket ship from a Hawthorne playground — at sunset, of course — and friends say they drive around Hawthorne listening. Joel sees that as a start toward the timelessness he strives for: The soul of the suburbs is the car on the cruise, and all the Dios songs glide easily over Hawthorne’s wide and empty streets, pointing from the Pacific into the eastern horizon. Like the Beach Boys, you think? Because they were all born there, all saw the same sunsets, and — as Joel finishes the 18th hole with a par 4 — they probably played on the same mini-golf courses, too.

Dios perform at House of Blues on Thursday, March 4, and Friday, March 5.


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