Below the radar of L.A.’s bustling music industry, a DIY backyard scene in the Inland Empire has thrived for years. “It was a really big scene,” says Julian Amparo, guitarist and lead singer for Pity Party (Girls Club), who got their start as a backyard band in the I.E. and graduate this weekend to performing at the Tropicália Festival in Long Beach, alongside such bigger local and international names as Chicano Batman and Café Tacvba.
When they started out, based in Rancho Cucamonga, Pity Party were too young to get booked into a proper music venue (all the members are still under 21), so they took their raucous yet melancholy punk/emo songs about suicide, drinking and breakups to the backyards, outside the law or parental supervision. Out in the desert outskirts of nowhere, they found everything they needed to establish themselves as a band — including a devoted group of friends and fans nicknamed the Girls Club, who came to so many shows that the band eventually added Girls Club to their official name and made it the title of their debut cassette, which came out on Lolipop Records in December 2015.
Pity Party (Girls Club) haven’t blazed a trail out of the I.E. alone. Several other bands from the region join them at Tropicália, including The High Curbs (from Chino), The Red Pears (from El Monte) and Beach Bums (originally from the I.E. but now based in L.A.).
Pity Party (Girls Club) are excited to share the stage with so many of their fellow backyard bands, as well as Tropicália’s eclectic headliners. “It’s cool because the Tigres del Norte are there,” says Jose “Juice” Guzman, the drummer. “My dad has a bunch of their CDs out there,” he adds, gesturing toward the living room of his father’s South L.A. home, where the band have gathered for this interview.
“My dad is definitely excited,” Amparo says. “All my friends are still in denial.”
This has been a big year for Pity Party, and not just because of Tropicália. They are preparing to tour the East Coast for the first time and putting the finishing touches on their latest record and a new video for their upcoming single, “Red” (which is about wanting to kill yourself over a breakup).
Pity Party still play backyard shows, which they describe as now being “fucking huge.” However, as far as they’re concerned, the scene has already seen its heyday. “2015 was like the best,” says Amparo, who is the principal songwriter and the sole constant member of the band’s three-year existence.
Playing DIY backyard shows does have its downside. At some point, the cops get called and all hell breaks lose. “That was our life for the longest time,” Amparo says with a chuckle.
But police are the least of their worries. Thieves are an even bigger problem.
“One time someone tried to rob our show and shot a gun,” says Angel Gaxiola, Pity Party’s bassist and sometime drummer (he and Guzman occasionally swap instruments). The band members point to that incident as the pivotal moment when they shifted their focus from backyard parties to more traditional venues.
“It was at the house I was living at, too,” Amparo says. “I was living in my friend’s back garage. Their mom was really cool and they would let us throw shows back there.”
The trio met playing the backyard scene. Amparo and Gaxiola started the band together, but Gaxiola quit for a while to focus on school. He would eventually drop out and rejoin. Drummer Guzman was the final piece of the puzzle.
“I had a band,” Guzman says. “[Julian] had Pity Party. To tell you the truth, we weren’t very close.” But Guzman’s and Amparo’s bands always ended up playing backyard shows together, and when Pity Party’s previous drummer left, Amparo convinced Guzman to take his place.
Pity Party’s sound is primarily an expression of Amparo’s influences, which range from The Cure and Bright Eyes to Alex G and Tyler, the Creator. Guzman adds a more punk influence and Gaxiola serves as the bridge between the two.
In the year since Guzman joined Pity Party, the group’s sound has clicked, and their profile has risen. They’ve begun touring outside Southern California, to places like Vegas, Seattle, Miami and San Antonio. They drive everywhere, smoking weed to pass the time. Sometimes Gaxiola will initiate an impromptu rap session but more often, to Guzman’s consternation, they listen to Amparo’s Cure tapes.
“I don’t even like The Cure, but by the end of the trip I knew all their songs,” Guzman says, laughing.
Despite their different tastes, they all agree that they can’t see themselves playing music with anyone else. “We work really well together,” Amparo says. “We have this sound in our head that we don’t even have to articulate.”
Largely through Amparo’s efforts, Pity Party have successfully used the internet to tap into a national DIY house party circuit, which lets them mostly bypass traditional venues. “We do a lot of house shows on tour,” Amparo says. “I do all the booking through social media, find the local bands there, and follow people and then get to know them. I contact the band and they help us; [in return] we help them book a show in L.A. They’re usually very nice about it.”
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They’ve managed to book shows everywhere from New York basements to rented-out Miami warehouses. Each city has its own DIY music scene, and the band already have some favorites. “The Vegas scene was crazy. I thought I hit a goldmine,” says Amparo, describing the backyard circuit in predominantly Hispanic North Las Vegas.
According to the band, San Antonio has one of the most fertile DIY scenes out there, with an anything-goes attitude that turns even vape stores and boba shops into temporary music venues. “Everyone says Austin is the place for music, [but] San Antonio is way better than Austin,” Guzman says. “Everyone is nice. There is no competition there. Out here [in L.A.], everyone is competing.”
The best thing about San Antonio, according to Pity Party? When the cops show up, they don’t even shut down the party. They just make sure everything is cool.
Pity Party (Girls Club) play the Tropicália Festival this Saturday, Nov. 11. Tickets and more info.