Feature Stories

SuperSonic Lips Are Far Too Worldly to Be Pigeonholed as Latin Rock

When SuperSonic Lips took the stage at the Dallas Observer Music Awards showcase this past December, they soaked up every bit of spotlight at the dark Deep Ellum metal bar Reno's Chop Shop. As singer Yaya Lion jumped up and down in a hoodie like a non-pregnant Juno, they became one of the indisputable highlights of the night.

The rest of the band is made up of drummer Jawdat Anguiano, bassist Miguel Santana and guitarist Saulo Ramon, and it's the kind of group you want to stalk and hope to join. SuperSonic Lips was nominated for a DOMA for its third consecutive year in the best Latin/Tejano category. They state adamantly that they're grateful for the recognition — which otherwise consists of autographs requested of Santana, who they say is mistaken for the Mars Volta guitarist with unusual frequency. Yet they don't consider themselves as belonging to that particular genre, as they've previously discussed with Mollie Mollotova

In fact, SuperSonic Lips' sound is genre-fluid and would take an imaginative sentence to describe adequately. Just when you're satisfied that you've correctly identified their music as a moody punk/rock/pop hybrid, Ramon's guitar psychs the crap out of you. Though there's a Latin influence to tracks like "Affliction Sweetness," they have a joyfully dark aesthetic, like a happy band that's caught an (un-alarming) case of '90s depression. Lion and her group describe the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Metric as their biggest influences, while Ramon offers a clever description: "I call it omnivore rock, because it feeds off everything."

The band came together after being part of the "Spanish rock scene," which they say is comprised of no more than 30 people, and where they all played covers with other bands. "That's what the Spanish crowd wants," says Santana. Dissatisfied with doing covers, Ramon and Lion started their own project in 2010, first by quietly absorbing each other's musical libraries, later by recruiting Anguiano and going through an impressive six bassists. They refer to those members as "the bass player hall of fame," until Santana officially agreed to join after playing their first DOMA. "We were passing around a bottle of Captain Morgan onstage and popped the question after that show," Ramon says. "But we had to get him drunk first."

They named the band SuperSonic Lips to represent the "catchy, in your face" sound they were aspiring toward, and switched from Spanish to English. They describe a slight feeling of backlash upon breaking from that scene, like it was some crossover move like Shakira's. "It was hard to get the Spanish crowds to come to our shows. We don't claim to be a Latin band, we're Hispanic and we have a rock band," Santana states. "We are influenced by 70's salsa bass lines, though."

Ramon was born in Monterey; Santana in Bogota, Colombia. Lion is American of Mexican descent and Anguiano was born in Oregon but raised in Mexico. They say that, privately, they switch back and forth in near-schizophrenic Spanglish. "None of us are politically involved, just informed, in the Latin community," Anguiano says. "We still play Latin shows today." Those include the Indie Rock Latin America mini-fest, and shows with other touring Latin bands like Making Movies and AJ Davila. Still, Anguiano describes some difficulty getting on local bills and festivals. "It's easier to get connected to the Latin shows," he admits.
SuperSonic Lips are very much the golden embryos in the music scene's womb, emerging full of promise and with expectations from their elders, and they've been championed by the local pop beau monde. Their first EP, released this past December, was produced by Son of Stan leader and Grammy winner Jordan Richardson, who raves about them. "I think the results are a great expression of a really relaxed environment. Combining all the styles ... be it modern rock or classic Western-influenced stuff that meets Yaya's incredible sense of melody and being an amazing front woman ... all of this combined with a focus on ass-shaking rhythm, I think made one of the most unique and dynamic releases in all of North Texas."

"That was a turning point," Anguiano says of recording at Electric Barryland Studios with Richardson. "He twisted our minds a little bit and pulled out the best of us."

Ramon says the EP's title, Grey Space, symbolizes the range within the album's themes: "The songs are an eclectic collection of feelings. Like humans have," he says with a laugh. This last New Year's Eve they joined an enviable bill for Ishi's yearly show at Trees, along with Dezi 5 and True Def. They say they're honored "to play with a band with nationwide recognition" and, in turn, Ishi frontman JT Mudd has his expert eye on them. "This is an up-and-coming band I've enjoyed watching progress," Mudd says. "Their raw energy and sound is key. I look forward to seeing what they bring to the music scene."

They've spoken of relocating but are too drawn by the diversity and mixed genres across Dallas shows. "We're really impressed with all the shows with mixed genres. I talk to a lot of people in other states and they don't do that," Anguiano says. Santana concurs: "There's something going on here in Dallas, a good sense of camaraderie," he says. "It's very cool that we are able to play on disparate bills. We play with rap, rock, punk, it's really special. There's so much talent here and it's so awesome to be a part of it right now."

For now, though, the SuperSonic Lips' biggest ambition for the immediate future, other than going on their first tour, is getting nominated again for a DOMA award, but this time in the correct category. Not that there's a category for "Omnivore Rock" — at least not yet.
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Eva Raggio is the Dallas Observer's music and arts editor, a job she took after several years of writing about local culture and music for the paper. Eva supports the arts by rarely asking to be put on "the list" and always replies to emails, unless the word "pimp" makes up part of the artist's name.
Contact: Eva Raggio