Life has been treating Colombian Necktie guitarist and co-founder Juan Hernandez well since the August 2014 release of the L.A. hardcore group’s full-length Twilight Upon Us. He recently got married and has a new job that allows him both day-to-day stability and time for music. The band is gaining momentum and playing live shows around Southern California almost every weekend.
Positive momentum is a relatively new feeling for Hernandez and fellow band co-founder and guitarist Ben Daniel. Since forming the band — named after a particularly gruesome body mutilation popular with South American drug cartels — in 2010, Hernandez and Daniel have weathered a perpetual storm of rotating members and initial struggles to gain footing in Los Angeles, both onstage and off. Daniel lived in a van for a spell. Incarnations of the group released multiple splits and EPs, but constant lineup changes forced them at one point to look for drummers at the McDonald’s near the Musicians Institute.
In 2013, Hernandez and Daniel were among the many local Los Angeles musicians left mourning the death of Behold! The Monolith bassist/vocalist Kevin McDade who was killed in an automobile accident. The duo had befriended McDade while the bands were on tour together, and McDade sat in on bass for a few Colombian Necktie shows.
“2013 was a very emotional year for us,” Hernandez says. “We had a lot of crazy things happen to us. We lost one of our dear friends Kevin. Our singer left the band. We asked ourselves, ‘Damn, can we actually do this?’”
Things started to turn around for Colombian Necktie when Benny Radz joined the group on drums that year. Up to that point, Colombian Necktie had been firmly rooted in an abrasive hardcore sound. Hernandez credits the addition of Radz as the start of “a creative awakening.”
“Radz is one of the best rock ‘n’ roll drummers I’ve ever seen,” Hernandez says. “Once we started playing with him, we discovered that we could still play that hateful grind-y shit we had been doing, but now we could add some killer rock riffs to what we were doing too.”
But the group was still sputtering along without a vocalist. They played live shows with Hernandez and Daniel attempting to fill the vocalist positions themselves.
“It sounded like a crash-test dummy experiment,” Hernandez says. “We were actually listening to a lot of rap at the time, so that was entering the live environment a little bit. We were playing with a drummer that doesn’t really play traditional hardcore. I’m sure to the live audience it came off like a slow-motion accident.”
Hernandez started up a conversation at another local show with vocalist Scott Werren, who had played with McDade in a grindcore project called Rapewhistle. The two were already friends, but after watching video of a live Rapewhistle performance, Hernandez wanted Werren to take over vocal duties.
Now at full strength, Colombian Necktie recorded Twilight Upon Us and released it in August 2014. The struggles of the time leading up to that are definitely evident on tracks like “Guiding Light” and “Drought.” Werren’s tortured screams color the group’s music blood red. Ugly, depressive hardcore remains at the root of their sound, but Hernandez and Daniel have added some rock-inspired swagger on guitars, most notably on the Thin Lizzy-style guitar solo at the end of “Play the Game.” The album ends with a sprawling, 10-minute tribute jam to the band’s fallen friend titled “Kevin’s Song.”
Moving forward, the band is working on a new EP set to be released later this year. In the meantime, the band’s contribution to a split cassette released this month with Virginia hardcore act Pigeon Down reflects the growing influence of Los Angeles as a backdrop for their musical vision. “Pico Union” is a song inspired by a chaotic journey to work Hernandez had a couple of years ago.
“I used to skateboard to work in the Santee Alley district,” Hernandez says. “I’m at Pico Union. At that part a little hill starts. I can hit awesome speed and just cruise. But one day, BOOM! I collide with a car at an intersection.
“The dude comes out of the car, telling me he doesn’t have insurance or a registration card. Dude doesn’t even have license plates on his car. I was just angry and like…’This fucking guy right now!’ I took my skateboard and swung it at his car and broke his taillight. I had the adrenaline going at the time, but then I got to work and I started feeling all sorts of fucked up. That’s what ‘Pico Union’ is about!”