Oh man, I’m just hoping our van makes it without any issues,” says Downtown Boys’ Joe DeGeorge. The sax player is discussing the Providence, Rhode Island band’s future, looking ahead to months of hard touring in support of their third album - and first for Sub Pop - Cost Of Living. But these right-on rockers (completed by singer Victoria Ruiz, guitarist Joey L DeFrancesco, bassist Mary Regalado and drummer Norlan Olivo) are far more focused than that, and the comment can only mask their fire and intensity for a second.
DeFrancesco better reflects the power and drive for justice and equality that surges through their brass-smeared noise when he says, “We’ll be out there pushing our music and message as hard as we can on the road.” And what is that message exactly? Fireball vocalist Ruiz, who formed the band with DeFrancesco while working together at a hotel in 2012, explains: “This isn’t about having the license to do whatever we want, it’s about freedom, which will be a constant struggle and will mean winning and losing for everyone involved.
We want people to take away anything they might need from our exposure of our feelings of being erased, confronted and having to confront the past, present, and future simultaneously. “We realise this music will not be liked by everyone,” she continues, “But I think that’s because it doesn’t have one message, it’s relative and there are layers to it.” But the fact is an increasing number of people do like Downtown Boys’ music. Their staunch following and graduation from tiny indie Sister Polygon (operated by the band’s friends and touring buddies Priests), to the slightly bigger Don Giovanni Records and now to Seattle indie stable Sub Pop prove that much.
Cost Of Living is the fiercest example of their craft yet - 12 taut, aggressive tracks that strain constantly on the brink of explosion. Three of them, Somos Chulas (No Somos Pendejas), Tonta and Clara Rancia, are sung in Spanish. Roughly translated, the first two titles mean We’re Elegant/Intelligent (We’re Not Dumb) and Stupid, while the third is a play on ‘rotten clarity’. Alongside the searing likes of A Wall, Violent Complicity and Lips That Bite they create an almighty package.
“There are a lot of themes related to power and what that means as people of colour, women, non-binary people, queer people, and also as people who have privilege,” explains Ruiz. She adds that the record also touches on “how to harvest collective power, knowing when to say yes and no, when something is real, pushing yourself and when something is trying to empty you because you’re a threat to the status quo”. Cost Of Living, she says, is about “no longer trying for a seat at the table, but building your own, fighting to dismantle the status quo while also having to survive within it”.
Downtown Boys combine thematic heft with colossal character (see their brilliant 2015 cover of Bruce Springsteen’s Dancing In The Dark and the viral video of DeFrancesco quitting his hotel job). You can’t help but respond to a band like them. Or, as DeGeorge has it, “I hope people feel momentum, feel empowered and less alone."