Moises Baquiero grew up in Mexico City in an L-shaped house, smack in between his aunt and brother’s rooms. It was there, in his own room, that the bassist developed his wide-ranging musical palette.
“Every Sunday was the battle of the sound systems,” he says. “My aunt used to complain that my brother’s music was too loud, but she would always play the danzón [the official music of Cuba] and [legendary Cuban singer] Beny Moré and all kinds of Latin American folk music. And my brother was like the disco-head. So those two sounds combined. When I started playing music, I would play a disco bass line on top of a folkloric kind of thing, and it was backward when it was a disco thing. It’s just kind of my upbringing.”
Luckily for Baquiero, he would find years later that in the multicultural potpourri of Los Angeles, there are others who share his eclectic taste. Two, specifically: Pilar Diaz, aka Lady P, and Dave Green, aka Don Verde, the singer and guitarist for rising cult group Los Abandoned. Influenced in equal measure by spiky New Wave pop and the freewheeling genre-blending of Mexican alt-rock heavyweights Café Tacuba, the band represents a brand of music that is distinctly LA. Their fans are exposed to and appreciate a diverse array of sounds and cultures. In their seven-year career, the band’s far-reaching appeal has allowed them to share stages with everyone from Cake, Garbage and Miho Hatori to rock en español stars like Molotov, Maldita Vecindad, El Gran Silencio and Zoé, with whom they will perform at Soho in Santa Barbara on March 4.
But it’s not just about style. With lyrics sung in both Spanish and English, Los Abandoned also represent the duality of the Latin American experience, something that has earned them a devoted fan base and got some people tossing around the “c” word: crossover.
“It’s a voice people wanted to hear, but not a lot of people were willing to say it, this whole bilingual thing,” Baquiero says. “There are people who really identify with it and live their life like that. They live their life in two languages, and when there’s a soundtrack to that, they really grab onto it.”
Baquiero met Diaz and Green in the same place where he met a lot of the members of the so-called “Latin Alternative” scene: the parking lot of Salon Corona, a Hollywood nightclub where Baquiero used to book bands one night a week. Diaz and Green had also connected there, and after their respective groups disbanded, they formed Los Abandoned and recorded a demo. When it came time for them to take the project to the stage a year later, they enlisted Baquiero (who rechristened himself Vira Lata, a Portuguese phrase referring to stray dogs in Brazil) to play bass. In converting the songs for a live setting, the newly formed four-piece — which included the first of three drummers to pass through the band — was saddled with the responsibility of maintaining the mechanical, two-people-plus-programmed-beats feel of the demo which had already earned them a following in LA.
“That is the charm of that demo tape. It’s very cut-and-paste,” Baquiero says. “The intention was to make it sound like that live, which is really hard to do.”
In 2004, the band released a self-titled EP, its first record as a quartet. By that point, the four members had begun to learn to bounce ideas off each other and play as a group. And when it came time to make their debut full-length, for Neil Young’s Vapor Records, the band had performed itself into a fully-functional unit. It shows on 2006’s Mix Tape, an appropriately-named collection that leaps from the kinetic pop-punk of “Stalk U” and “Van Nuys” to the ukulele-infused “Me Quiren en Chile” to hard-to-define tracks like “A La Mode” and “Conquistarte Bien,” both of which evolved from in-studio experiments.
Since the album’s release, Los Abandoned’s name has extended beyond their LA home base and into places like Austin, Chicago and even Mexico, where the single “Van Nuys” has become a surprise radio hit. But the biggest moment for the band came last November, when the group was hand-picked to appear on Late Night With Conan O’Brien, following a legacy of Latin alternative bands that includes Ozomatli and their idols, Café Tacuba.
“If you’re in this business, expectations are your worst enemy,” Baquiero says. “We don’t really think about things, we just kind of go and go and go, and when things like that happen … as soon as I heard it, just for a second, I went, ‘I’m not going to believe it until I’m there.’ ” Since the national television appearance, new doors have been opening for Los Abandoned — but there are still more accomplishments left to knock off the checklist. “It was actually one of Don Verde’s three goals in life, and he thought that would be the hardest one. His next one is to be on [National Public Radio show Fresh Air] and then be in The Jewish Journal. I think those two will happen eventually. But Conan was the hardest one, and it happened, so now, anything can happen.”