No Passengers: No limits, no holding back
By Julie Cortez, El Hispanic News
Portland, OR — Bands are often like families — some are dysfunctional and toxic, others are healthy and supportive. But even happy, loving relatives are known to bicker and make jokes at each other’s expense every now and then.
No Passengers is no exception. The love and respect among these band mates — Edgar Baltazar (guitar), Eddie Esparza (drums), Jorge Rodríguez (bass), and Edna Vázquez (lead vocals, rhythm guitar) — is abundantly obvious, but they are certainly not immune to squabbling like siblings from time to time.
“As a band, we’ve had more problems than gigs,” Edgar says with a smile, prompting a laugh from Edna. “Everybody has left the band,” he adds, “except me. I’m the glue.”
“Edgar Baltazar, mediation services,” Eddie interjects, adding that his own short-lived exit from the band was “one of the stupidest mistakes I ever made.”
Eddie has found in this foursome a level of friendship, support, and willingness to share feelings that has been rare in his musical experience. No Passengers — which performs rock in both Spanish and English tinged with a variety of influences, including traditional Mexican music — also serves as a connection to culture for Eddie, the only band member not born in Mexico. While being separated from his father at a young age distanced him somewhat from his Mexican heritage, playing with Edgar, Jorge, and Edna has triggered flashbacks to a childhood memory of lying on his back and looking at the stars as his grandmother sang “Cielito Lindo.”
“It’s kind of like a homecoming for me,” he says of the band. “It’s my favorite place to be.”
Well-known locally for singing with Mariachi Los Palmeros, Edna’s involvement with No Passengers provides her the opportunity to flex her song-writing muscles in an environment relatively free of the machismo she encounters in mariachi.
“We create a song that is whole, and each of us brings a different piece of the song,” she says of No Passengers’ creative process. For Edna’s part, writing lyrics is “my way of releasing some frustrations” — be they about love or social justice issues, such as immigration.
Each member’s years of diverse musical experience — and their shared sense of culture — contributes to the ease with which the band incorporates two languages as well as a multitude of styles and influences.
“We’ve all been doing this basically since we were kids,” Eddie says. “It’s cool because it makes it sound really distinct and original.”
“It’s just so comforting knowing that all the genres you’ve done in the past, they know them, too,” Edgar adds. “Knowing you’re not alone — it’s just reassuring.”
Their level of respect for each other’s talent and their sense of friendship and kinship came in handy during their recent experience on the television show “Tengo Talento, Mucho Talento,” for which they scraped together funds to travel to Los Angeles, but ultimately encountered subpar equipment and a sense that the show is more interested in selling something than celebrating talent.
Despite their disappointment — and not winning any prize money — Edna says the trip and their performance at the taping allowed them to “show the band as a team.”
“We have to experience and experiment,” she says, “[and] be willing to challenge ourselves.”
Their closeness also proves useful on those inevitable occasions when they have disagreements, or merely start to get on each other’s nerves.
As the sole band member unable to make it to the in-person interview for this article, Jorge— like the missing relative at a family reunion — was the primary target for everyone else’s rants and ribbings.
“He’s the dream killer,” Edna deadpans.
“He’s got vision, he’s got talent — so much talent,” Eddie says more diplomatically. “He knows what he wants to do. I don’t understand half the [expletive] he says. He’s just really literal and says exactly what he means.”
Eddie likens Jorge to another friend of his who will pick his nose right in front of you — but then adds that this level of openness is what he cherishes about all his band mates.
“I think that’s what’s great about these guys,” Eddie says. “It’s just Jorge takes it to another level.”
Later given the chance to defend himself via email, Jorge admits that his directness has “at times caused me problems, because normally we like it when we’re told what we want to hear. We don’t like people to tell it like it is, and occasionally the kids are disappointed when I say really direct things, but that has also been part of our shared philosophy — to tell it like it is.”
Jorge’s compañeros confess that once they get past their annoyance at his bluntness, they generally realize his points are valid and useful. When he’s not completely pissed off at Jorge, Edgar can even admit that his straight-talking band mate’s pushing has made him a better musician.
“He’s the idea man,” Edna says of Jorge, “and sometimes we don’t agree with him.”
“But God bless him,” Eddie adds, grinning widely.
“God bless his heart,” Edna responds.
“I think what’s good is we can tell each other to shove off, but we still want to be together,” Eddie reflects. “I believe in this band so much.”
No Passengers will perform at a Holocene’s second annual Día de los Muertos show on Nov. 1 in Portland. The $5 show, beginning at 6:30 p.m. also features live music by Orquestra Pacífico Tropical, Death Songs, and DJ Sesqui, as well as Aztec dance by Ollin Yolliztli and a performance of the play “The Ancestors.” No Passengers are scheduled to go on at about 8 p.m. and the show is all ages until 9 p.m. Visit www.holocene.org for full details.
Other shows in No Passengers’ immediate future:
• Nov. 23, 8 p.m.-11 p.m., at Vino Vixens (2929 SE Powell Blvd., Portland), 21+, $5; Details: No Passengers Friday, November 23rd Shaker and Vine 8pm to 11pm 21+ $5.
• Nov. 28, 9 p.m.-11 p.m., Mississippi Pizza Pub (3552 N. Mississippi Ave., Portland), 21+, $5.
Este artículo también está disponible en / This post is also available in: Spanish
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