If you are looking for the next promising rock ‘n’ roll scene in 2016, North America might not be where it’s at. You’ll need to take a trip to Madrid, Spain, if you really want to find a true budding sonic metropolis that appears to be as robust with talent as Williamsburg, Brooklyn, was in the early ‘00s. And one of the most talented acts to emerge from the fabled European city today is The Parrots, a trio of university students who fully embody the artistic community from which they’ve derived.
“When we started out, we were not so much a band as we were just friends trying to make a little music together,” explains frontman/guitarist Diego Garcia. “Even just yesterday, we all went out drinking in the big square in Madrid and hung out with Hinds. It doesn’t seem real what is happening [in regards to the booming rock scene in the city], because for us we’re all still just friends who like to get together and have fun. Here in Madrid, they call us ‘cats,’ because we are like street people. Most of us, instead of going to clubs and bars, we go to squares and buy some cans of beer and enjoy relaxing in the streets with our friends.”
A brother act to fellow Madrid group Hinds (whose latest album Leave Me Alone was produced by Garcia), the trio—rounded out by bassist Alex de Lucas and drummer Larry Balboa—mine from the same primordial ‘60s garage rock as their female counterparts. But as they showcase on their explosive Heavenly Recordings debut Los Niños Sin Miedo (or Children Without Fear), The Parrots come from a place of visceral purism for the art of cavestomp. You listen to this album, and you just might think you discovered a lost private press album from 1967 instead of a collection of songs written by young millennials.
For Garcia, it was the opportunities he enjoyed in the company of both his parents and his peers that helped shape his direction as a songwriter.
“My parents are really big music fans, and growing up they played a lot of old ‘60s rock ‘n’ roll stuff, and even more psychedelic music,” he explains. “My father was a really big fan of the no wave movement in New York City, and he showed me lots of records, and there were things that I loved, things that I hated. And both my parents were big Marc Bolan and David Bowie fans. But for me, my big turn was when I was 15. I moved to a place near Chicago. My godparents used to work at the university, and they just decided—nobody asked me—that one of the best things I could do was to go to America for one year and learn some English. And the people I met there and made friends with, a lot of them had bands, and I was like, ‘Fuck, if these guys can do this here, I can do this back home.’ So when I came back to Madrid, I started playing in bands and doing shows, because I saw these young people in Chicago have this power to start their own scene.”
The 10 songs on Los Niños are sung by Garcia in a mangled hybrid of English and Spanish that proves to be a nod to one of his heroes, Jonathan Richman, taken by the charm of the former Modern Lovers leader’s jumbled Spanglish. But whether or not you can fully cognate the words of such songs as “Let’s Do It Again,” “No Me Gustas Te Quiero” and “Windows 98,” there is no denying the passion with which Garcia and the boys express themselves musically. Especially when you consider a track like “Jame Gumb,” which takes its name from the creepy serial killer in Silence of the Lambs and utilizes it as a metaphor for a very scary time in Garcia’s own life.
“I used to have this problem—right now I don’t have it, thank God—where I used to have something called interrupted sleep,” he reveals. “It’s something that happens to you when you fall asleep with your eyes open and functioning. I used to have that a lot. It’s called sleep paralysis. I used to have really bad stress, and sometimes during this state I would see shadows of people who were trying to get into my room and sometimes even touching me. It reminded me a lot of dealing with someone like a Jame Gumb. I would feel kind of raped by this every night, like if I was completely paralyzed then the shadows could do anything they wanted to me. So when I wrote this song about it, I thought about that character and how this paralysis instilled a fear in me like he did watching the film. I wrote it during a very, very stressful time, after I had just come out of a really long relationship with the only girlfriend I ever had in my life. We were together for like seven years. I was having a hard time trying to pay my bills. Everything felt really out of control. I got kicked out of my job, because I was in a band. And during that time, I actually felt scared to fall asleep.”
And while this group’s roots are indeed firmly planted in the artistry of such classic acts as The Monks, The Seeds and early T. Rex, fans of California surf rock can also very much hear a reverence for the genre’s heyday in the driving rhythms that imbue Los Niños Sin Miedo’s 25 minutes.
“We’ve always gotten a lot of inspiration from the bands who came from California,” admits Garcia. “American music has always been a huge, huge inspiration to us. For example, there are great guitarists like Nokie Edwards of The Ventures and Dick Dale who play such amazing surf guitar, which we always associate with California. We always felt related to that area in a way, especially through the movies that we’ve seen and the music that we’ve heard. It felt like a pretty cool place to stay. We’ve always seen it with a sense of romanticism. It just felt right to incorporate this music that we felt so close to but was so completely far away.”
Yet while much of the music created by The Parrots is, in fact, rooted in a past that predates them by a good couple of generations, there is no denying the way by which Garcia, de Lucas and Balboa modify their visceral, distinctive style with a modern edge that perfectly sets them up to have the proverbial baton passed to them by such current faves as Ty Segall and Thee Oh Sees to secure a promising future for the state of global garage punk.
“I’m lucky we’ve been able to become friends with some of those acts we admire, like Black Lips, Thee Oh Sees, Ty Segall and then all these older California bands like The Memories and The Blank Tapes,” he states. “But everything I’ve heard from Ty Segall is great. A couple of years ago, I broke my foot and, with crutches and everything, I went to Paris to go see him perform. The funny thing is they saw me with my crutches and invited me to enjoy the show from onstage. It was crazy. I’ve said it before; the moment Jack White retires, Ty is going to be the top guy in rock ‘n’ roll.”
And while they live in a city still very much struggling to recover from Spain’s economic collapse in the late aughts, like the title of their album proclaims, these Parrots are ready to venture forth into the world without fear, carrying the torch for an age-old stomp that’s been part of rock’s heartbeat since Link Wray peeled off that indelible riff to “Rumble.”
“We haven’t really recovered like the news may suggest. They want to make it out like the situation here has righted itself, but in actuality it’s still pretty bad here,” Garcia explains of Spain. “And with that said, it’s very difficult for a Spanish band to tour Europe, or to even go to America. Having a band here is not an easy path. We’ve slept on the ground, slept in our car, just for the joy of playing music and revel in the experience. But if it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger, man.”