What does freedom dreaming sound like amid an unending political nightmare? Weapons of Mass Creation, a seven-piece band from Anaheim, offers an evolving interpretation through song. Not only do they seamlessly weave hip-hop with soul and cumbia, but they do it with musicians who often double as emcees and crooners. The deft, multifaceted approach displayed on Labor of Love, the group’s soon-to-be-released EP, grounds the movement in grooves while delivering soulful sermons bereft of clunky catchphrases.
“This EP isn’t textbook political,” says Julia Franco, rapper and singer. “It’s a manifestation of who we want to be outside of capitalism. We’re making music, not because we’re trying to make money but because it makes us happy.”
That’s been the ethos of the band since it first formed three years ago with Franco’s siblings at its core. Julia, Joseph, Moses, Luis and Jacob joined with family friend Josh Quiñonez to complete the roster. They’ve since added their youngest sibling, Esther, to the group on saxophone. Admittedly, it’s a lot of talent to properly assemble and execute, but Labor of Love found the musicians on the cusp of a creative dialectic primed to do just that.
“Before, we didn’t have set roles,” says Joseph, the band’s producer and keyboardist. “We didn’t know our strong points so we didn’t play to them. Now we pinpointed them and we’re staying in our lane.”
The nine-track collection demonstrates as much. On “Neighborhood Watch,” a trio of rappers rhyme over the infectious bump-worthy beat while Julia handles the chorus with her velvety vocals. A hint of reggae gives “Old Enough” its flavor as Moses does double-duty on drums and rhymes. This time, Julia backs up Jacob’s rich baritone after delivering raps of her own. “Miel” is a soulful In Lak’ech love song that sways to the beat of a relaxed cumbia, and the title track has Quiñonez, an Afro Guatemalan-Venezuelan, exalting a love interest with a comparison to a pantheon of black women freedom fighters.
None of it sounds scattered, chaotic or contrived. The musical blend finds a balance in the eternal tension between discipline and freedom. It took a lot of work to get there. “Last year was the most lucrative year we ever had,” says Luis, guitarist and singer. “We literally invested in each other.” The earnings went back into buying microphones, stands, recording equipment, software, plug-ins, pedals and anything else to elevate their sound. Refining the songs and recording them entailed six months of dedicated effort, five to six days a week.
Weapons of Mass Creation remain hopeful that their stature can level up to meet their sound. That means practical matters such as building a solid team with a manager and booking agent to ease DIY duties.
Far from being stuck in the studio for the time being, the band also learned a lot from the affirmation of its growing fan base. A line stretched around the block when they played at Eastside Luv, a popular bar venue in Boyle Heights. Another peak experience came during a video release show at Long Beach Museum of Art. Fans, family and friends came out especially to see them and knew all their lyrics by heart. “There was oxytocin in there, big time,” says Jacob, rapper, singer and bassist. “Our chemistry at that moment, we were solid.”
The band knows that there’s no better place to return to and celebrate Labor of Love; Long Beach Museum of Art plays host to their Sept. 28 EP release show.
Before readying for rehearsal, everyone has different songs that they like best from the effort, but they find common ground on the track that exemplifies the band at this moment.
“The bop of the album is ‘Old Enough’ and it came together in two weeks,” says Jacob. “It’s a preview of us at our best. I want to be humble, but we can make some lovely shit!”
Weapons of Mass Creation perform at Long Beach Museum of Art, 2300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach, (562) 439-2119; www.lbma.org. Sat., Sept. 28, 5:30 p.m. $18 pre-sale, $20 door.
Gabriel San Román is from Anacrime. He’s a journalist, subversive historian and the tallest Mexican in OC. He also once stood falsely accused of writing articles on Turkish politics in exchange for free food from DönerG’s!