Just a natural thing

by Dan Haugen

Speaking via telephone from his home in San Diego, Calif., B-Side Players frontman Karlos Paez sounded down and despondent. It was Friday morning, three days since the tragedies of last week unfolded on the opposite coast, and Paez is anxious to rejoin his bandmates on tour after missing three straight shows. With all the nation’s airports still shut down, the singer sat stranded miles from their next gig, after flying home last Monday to spend the band’s off-day with his family.

“We just need a flight,” Paez said. “It’s too far to drive. There’s just no way to get out there.”

Through his conversation, it becomes clear that Paez’s frustration is not self-absorbed or egotistic. One band’s plight pales in comparison to the thousands of lives more directly affected by last Tuesday’s terrorist acts, but Paez wants to return to routine.

“The people are still going to represent music,” Paez said. “It’s not going to affect us as far as us doing our job.”

Five of Paez’s six bandmates were in Austin, Texas the day the explosions occurred (Saxophonist Regan Branch was also home visiting family). Despite having their show that evening at the Mercury canceled, the group still made a stop to drop off some promotional materials. To their surprise, a crowd of people was still gathered outside the venue, and the Players wound up putting on an impromptu concert anyway to a sold-out crowd, said Paez.

One of the last times the B-Side Players did miss a show was after a near-death experience of their own. On tour and driving on a cliff-side interstate in northern Oregon, Paez recalled: “We got some bad weather and hit a curve going a little too fast. We lost control and the trailer flipped. Luckily, the dragging of the trailer slowed us down.”

Though they lost some equipment and totaled their trailer, remarkably no one in the band was seriously injured. Perhaps even more extraordinary, the band only missed one show. In relating the accident with last week’s tragedies, Paez said “it’s just times of revelation.”

Paez said “there is definitely going to be new inspiration for new songs.” For now, after meeting up with the rest of his band on Friday evening in New Orleans, La., Paez will focus on touring songs from the Players’ new national debut, Movement (Surfdog Records).

“Most of the songs are dealing with issues that are still going on,” he said. Paez’s lyrics are a mix of left-wing political raps and one-love, utopian dreaming. He denounces police brutality, criticizes U.S. immigration policy and blazons the struggles and injustices of political prisoners.

His strongest verses come in the album’s opener, “Souldier,” in which his images include: “Ghettos are brown and black/infected with AIDS and crack/and Bush needs to know we gonna bring the power to the people back/cause ignorance still exists/and racism still prevents/the basic human right to pursue peace, love and happiness.”

Fluent in both English and Spanish, Paez jumps freely from one language to the other on Movement. Having grown-up and lived on both sides of the Mexican/U.S. border, Paez said he sees a kind of discrimination against both languages. English-only advocates in the U.S. are paralleled by “a lot of Mexicans who just speak Spanish and are really against a lot of Americans. To them it’s like ‘Speak one language. Don’t mix it up’.” In an attempt to break down this language barrier, Paez and the Players perform a bilingual interpretation of War’s “Spill the Wine,” trading English for Spanish every other line. With the exception of the chorus, Paez never repeats or translates himself.

“It’s just a natural thing,” said Paez. “Living on the border as a child, naturally, you speak both languages. That’s Chicano culture.”

The B-Side Players also blend genres on Movement, fusing Latin funk with elements of hip-hop, reggae and soul. The seven-member, multi-cultural combo creates a big sound, utilizing standard rock instruments with traditional Latin instruments such as timbales, shekere and cajon.

“Music is the most powerful thing on this planet that we have. It’s sacred,” said Paez. “There’s always going to be tragedies everywhere, whether it’s nature or man, but music keeps going on. We seek troubled times and bad energy so that we can go make a positive influence. A lot of people need an uplift right now. [Our] music is definitely positive, and it has a strong message. It’s to unite people, and that’s what’s going on right now.”

The B-Side Players play tomorrow at The Cabooze (917 Cedar Ave. S., Mpls., 612-338-6425). Opening for Mike Clark’s Prescription Renewal and Alex Flamer. 8 p.m. $15/17. 21+. Listen to B-Side Players audio samples at www.sdog.com/cd_bside.html.