Cholo Goth? The Fix Q&A with Rafael Reyes

By Amy Dresner 01/29/15

Cholo-goth duo Prayers' songs are about the harsh realities of gang life set over a catchy 80s-type sound of synthesizers and electronic beats.

Rafael Reyes
Rafael Reyes

If you’re not familiar with Prayers, you will be soon. They are a cholo-goth duo from San Diego who are on a rocket-fueled trajectory to the big time. Lyrically, their songs are about the harsh realities of gang life and lead singer’s Rafael Reyes own tortured soul, set over a catchy 80s-type sound of synthesizers and electronic beats. Imagine if Tupac Shakur and Depeche Mode had a Latino-flavored lovechild.

I was turned onto the band by a mutual friend, intrigued that Rafael was sober and impressed that they'd been discovered by the Cult as the opening act for their 2014 tour. I quickly fell in love with their music and after a 45-minute heart-to-heart with Rafael, I was even more smitten.

Rafael, an artist, writer and musician, is a sweet deep man, covered in tattoos, who is happy to reveal anything. “I have no secrets,” he told me. “I’m an open book. If I say something about myself and own it, nobody can say, ’Oooh, I know something about you.’ It’s like, ‘Man, I already said that.'” And you all know how personally I can relate to that philosophy.

How long have you been sober?

Ten glorious years.

Tell me about your spiritual experience in jail.

Well, it's the reason that I am sober today. I'd have to start from the beginning for it to make sense. You see, I started abusing drugs and alcohol because I felt responsible for my father's death. I couldn't face myself so I created distractions. They came in the form of womanizing, fighting, drugs and alcohol. I, at the time, fooled myself into believing that I was just having fun until the good times landed me in jail. Once I was behind bars, I started detoxing from everything, including people. That's when I was forgiven by my father in a dream. It was powerful and more real than this reality that we are living in. I awoke liberated from my misery and that's the day I realized that I have a life that's mine and worth living. I haven't had the need nor the desire to abuse any type of substance since that peaceful morning.

You were court-ordered to AA meetings. What was your take on AA?

Yes, I was. I found it to be nonjudgmental, warm, positive, uplifting, a sanctuary built on unconditional love and kindness. Fortunately, I was already free from my own tyranny. So once I got all my signatures, I stopped going, but I left knowing that I could return and that I would be welcomed with open arms.

I was very impressed with your spirituality when we spoke on the phone. You seem to incorporate many of the AA principles without ever having formally worked a program: acceptance, being present, that your mindset creates heaven or hell for you, etc. What is your spiritual philosophy and how did you get it?

That's a labyrinth of a story, but I'll say this: my mother’s love showed me the way. I used to look for answers in books and I would listen to wise men and women speak... But the more I learned, the more unanswered questions I was left with...Until I realized that God was in front of me the entire time in the form of my mother’s love.

You’ve struggled with depression and suicidal ideation. Tell me what happened when you were going to jump off the bridge at 18.

As I walked towards my suicide, I saw a book on the ground. I kicked it and it turned over and I saw an interesting looking man on the cover. That man was Paramahansa Yogananda  and the book was The Autobiography of a Yogi. Something outside of me forced me to pick up the book and I did. I had never actually read a book before that night and that's also the night that Paramahansa Yogananda saved my life.

You don’t consider yourself an addict or alcoholic so how do you explain the time when you were so out of control with drugs and alcohol and why don’t you drink moderately now?

Tricky question.That's right I don't consider myself an addict. I consider myself a very passionate person and anything that I do is done passionately. I don't drink moderately because I don't need to. I want to experience the experience nude and without buffers.

You’re credited with creating the “Cholo goth” genre of music. What is that?

Yes, I am. Ian Astbury (lead vocalist for The Cult) said that it's "the forefront of the music revolution." Cholo goth breaks stereotypes and it's also my salvation. It's music for outcasts, like myself. It's rebellious and forgiving. We are here to shatter societal preconceptions!

You started writing your book Living Dangerously while in jail. How did that come about?  What is the book about?  What was your experience touring to promote the book when you were released?

Well, it started as an exercise to recover my memories and my sanity. My true essence is that of an artist and everything that I do, even self-destruction, revolves in the realm of creation. The book is a window into a subculture warranted with graffiti, violence and betrayal. It's my story. The tour was a small DIY. It had its ups and downs, but I had fun.

In “From Dog to God” you sing, “I’m alone, I’m alone, I’m alone in this fucking world…My pain can never be measured.”  I think a lot of depressives and addicts can identify with those feelings. Has your success in Prayers helped or made your feelings of isolation worse?

Worse definitely. I have no real friends, just people in my life. My daughter hates me and the more people that I come in contact with, the lonelier I feel. But it's OK because when I'm alone in my room, the loneliness goes away.

You’re with musicians all the time, on the road, around booze, coke, etc. How do you stay sober?  Is it or has it ever been a temptation?

I am, but it doesn't bother nor does it tempt me in any way. Seeing them fucked up actually helps reinforce my sobriety. Plus, my path is different from theirs. I know who I am and what I'm here to do. Internal life through my art is all I desire.

You grew up as a gang kid in Sherman Heights and were also bussed into a white, beach neighborhood. How have both of these things influenced your music?

Immensely. I've become a hybrid because of it. I walk between heaven and hell, true to both. Who else can say that?

You were caring for your ailing father and his sudden death tipped you back into drug use after you’d had a period of abstinence. Tell me about that.

Well, my father was my world and the world can be cold and scary. Yet, it's also beautiful and nourishing. When I lost him, I lost my identity and I lost the one thing I truly wanted: the opportunity to make him proud.

You developed the nonprofit Diamond Dogs. What is that?

Diamond Dogs is a safe haven for artists of all walks of life. Where they can find resources and camaraderie. Diamonds are a girl's best friend and dogs are a man's best friend.

You were clean and sober for some months before these 10 years at the behest of your daughter. Tell me that story.

Well, I love my daughter and I would do anything for her. My daughter at 12 years old noticed that every time I came home from visiting the neighbor I was smelling and acting strange. She pointed it out to me and I told her that it was because the neighbor smoked heavy cigarettes in his home. She then told me, “Well Dad, maybe you shouldn't go to the neighbor's home anymore.” That day I stopped going to the neighbor’s home or smoking weed.

Since putting down drugs and alcohol, you seem to just be a whirlwind of art, music and writing. Do you think there is a connection between an addictive/extremist tendency and creativity?

I don't know how to answer that. I do know that I've always been prolific. I abused drugs because I was unhappy. Not because I needed a muse.

You mentioned that therapy, church, none of that shit has worked to change you and that now you don’t recognize your old self. What has changed you?  And how can other people have the same shift?

Falling in love with myself was what honestly saved me. It might be a difficult task for most and I struggled with it myself. Don't be afraid or ashamed to love yourself unconditionally, you are worth the effort.

What’s next for you and Prayers?


Prayers on FacebookPrayers on iTunesPrayers on InstagramPrayers on CDBaby

Amy Dresner is a columnist at The Fix. She recently wrote about women's safety in AA and about hating Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous.

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Amy Dresner is a recovering drug addict and all around fuck up. She’s been regularly writing for The Fix since 2012. When she isn't humorously chronicling her epic ups and downs for us, she's freelancing for Refinery 29, Alternet, After Party Chat, Salon, The Frisky, Cosmo Latina, Unbound Box, and Psychology Today. Her first book, My Fair Junkie: A Memoir of Getting Dirty and Staying Clean was published in September 2017 by Hachette Books. Follow her on Twitter @amydresner.

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