In a time that is starved for activism, we, fortunately, have bands like downset. ready to step up with their infectious militance. The old school, Los Angeles hardcore innovators have been shaking things up now for over three decades, and they are once again gracing our presence, this time with the release of their new album Maintain. Due out on June 10th through Nuclear Blast Records, the group’s sixth album is their first in eight years. Dually produced by the band and Terror drummer Nick Jett, the record is filled with socio-political outspokenness that one would expect from this groundbreaking quartet. Singer Rey Oropeza flourishes here with reflections on his life, the societal problems he has identified in his own experiences, and openly muses on the questionable aspects of society.
Maintain is Downset’s first new studio album since signing to Nuclear Blast. Through writing the album, the band was heavily inspired by their early hardcore and hip-hop days and that energy, and fury, that propelled them forward. The sound of the album is something of a throwback to their early days when they recorded a lot of their material in drop C tuning. It makes things a little heavier, and more true to the roots of this great group.
In light of the upcoming release of Maintain, we recently spoke with guitarist Rogelio Lozano about the record, reflections on his career as a musician, touring, and what the local LA scene is like these days.
For those not familiar with your band can you tell us a little bit about yourselves?
Rogelio Lozano: “Downset was first formed in 1991, a hybrid influence band consisting of rap heavy-metal trash and punk rock. We evolved from a band called Social Justice which was a straight edge band that was formed in 1989.”
What is your writing process like?
“As far as our writing process goes, every album was approached differently because of the circumstances at the time of each album. We have explored so many ways of writing, as a band individually bringing songs to the table, writing songs together as a whole at a rehearsal room, writing songs in the recording studio during a spontaneous moment. A song can develop by a simple rhythmic voice hum, or a fully recorded demo done individually or together from a home recording setup. Songs can be hatched in many ways.
“During the Maintain album, it was a whole different set of circumstances. COVID-19 interrupted our demo process. Before signing to Nuclear Blast, we were recording a four-song demo in March, two years ago. When the pandemic hit, the studio closed. All of our recorded files were stuck in there for three months before we could come back and finish. Once we finished it, Scott Koenig our manager at the time, rest in peace, received the demos and shopped it to Nuclear Blast Records. Scott was able to get us a great deal on an awesome label. Working with Tommy Jones with Monte Conner overseeing has been a wonderful experience. Everyone at Nuclear Blast, Princess McCain, Austin Griswold, all pros!
We then got together with producer Nick Jett and between the new band members, Phillip Gonzales, Bobby Ponte, Rey Oropeza and myself locked out a rehearsal room for pre-production called Downtown LA Rehearsal Studios, owned by the legend himself Chris Poland (ex-Megadeth guitarist). We were there for three months and banged out a whole album, refined the songs, got all the arrangements in order and as soon as the songs were ready, we then went into the recording studio with Nick Jett engineering and recorded Maintain.
Recording music, albums, and demos these days, with today’s technology, is definitely a lot faster as far as tracking, mixing and overdubbing is concerned. Back in the day I was used to recording with two-inch tape. The tape machines were fast, but you had to rewind every take, fast forward, rewind and cut tape to edit. It was a long process. I definitely take advantage of what technology today has to offer and it enables me to write ideas down, record them, turn them into an MP3, and email to my phone or I can hear the demos of the recordings that same day after a session when I’m on my way home in the car. I would receive the email and then listen. Back in the day you’d have to wait for your CD to be burned or your tape to be bounced, it took hours… New recording technology has definitely changed and evolved for the better.”
What’s the story behind the name of the band?
“The meaning of the band named Downset has a dual meaning, ‘underprivileged’ and also being ‘down for your set,’ ‘your crew,’ ‘your family,’ ‘your team,’ ‘Your Club,’ etc… Be there for one another like a brotherhood.”
What is the story behind the name of the new record?
“It was inspired by the pandemic where we had no other choice but maintaining and holding fast to the very moment with courage and faith. Staying strong and holding it down.”
You have toured the world extensively. It there anywhere you would like to go that you have not been?
“I’ve toured extensively for many years with all the bands that I played in. Twenty-five countries, 48 U.S. states, countless amount of cities, but I’ve never been to Brazil. Someday I hope to play and visit Sau Paulo and Rio.”
What are some of the newer bands that you are listening to or enjoy?
“As far as new bands that I’ve currently been listening to, Berthold City, Terror, Cycotic Youth, and No Warning.”
What is the heavy metal scene like over there in Los Angeles?
“I’m very happy and proud to say that the Los Angeles heavy metal, hardcore, punk, and trash scenes are all at high active levels. I see the scene is at a very high point of involvement these days. There are a lot of bands getting together and doing a lot of shows in new local venues in downtown LA, in the east side of LA, in the San Fernando Valley, in the west side of LA, and in Orange, Riverside, Ventura, Antelope, Santa Clarita, High Desert, and San Gabriel County’s. It’s live these days.”
Do you receive a lot of support from your local scene and fans in general?
“I’m very thankful that the Downset local and foreign followings that we have had for a long time have stuck with us throughout the different formations of the band’s story. We have been receiving very good feedback from our latest video of ‘The Place To Be.’ And the intense anticipation and patience of our following, their energy and response for this album has been exciting to see.”
If you were stranded on a deserted island and could only take three CDs with you for eternity, assuming there was a solar-powered CD player, what would they be?
“The three CDs that I would have with me if I were stranded on an island would be: Black Sabbath’s Never Say Die, Sick of it All’s Blood Sweat and No Tears, and Sepultura’s Beneath the Remains.”
What has been the most memorable moment of your career so far?
“My most memorable performance with Downset was opening up for Slipknot, Sepultura, and Slayer at Red Rocks Amphitheater in Denver, Colorado. While I was performing someone threw a CD at stage from the top of the amphitheater’s seating. The CD flew from the top making its way to the stage and cutting my guitar chord in half, completely shutting off my guitar sound. My guitar tech and I were in amazement and awe because things could’ve been a lot worse if you think about it.”
What is the strangest thing that has happened to you on tour, or at one of your shows?
“The strangest thing that occurred for me on a tour was in 1994 we were on a headlining small club U.S. tour. As we were making our way through middle of America, we had played a show in Chicago and stayed at the local Hilton hotel. The following morning, our hungry crew and band rushed the continental breakfast and began to devour all the breakfast settings. As we were doing it, there was a man behind us in line waiting his turn when all of a sudden he decides to let us know what was on his mind with a bit of profanity. This man was clearly in his 70s and by himself and we thought to ourselves, this guys has got a lot of guts to mouth off to ten of us young punk kids from Los Angeles.
“At one point it look like the guy was going to hit us, when all of a sudden my guitar tech Jason Lopez says, ‘hey guys, wait, stop, that’s Dick Dale! We can’t beat up Dick Dale!’ We were completely apologetic, and honoured to meet Dick Dale, the king of surf rock. We shook hands and introduced one another to each other. We gave him a copy of our album, he gave us his autograph, shook hands, took a picture, and became new friends for the day.”
Politics and Music. Yay, nay or what the hay?
“I believe there is room for politics in music if it’s done with class, respect, responsibility, accountability, and with as much empathy as possible. Music allows you to have several platforms, sonically and lyrically. Politically, you can express yourself in any form you choose, because you own it. That’s the beauty of it. No limits…”