In between jokes about raucous rock orgies, memories of “mystical,” mushroom-fueled adventures and stories about onstage “fuck-ups,” the men of Kyoto Lo-Fi reflect on the peaks and valleys of the last few years.
The late summer sun has descended on Bishop Manor, and the band is taking a break from rehearsal to reflect on the release of their recent single, “Flowering Boulder.” The song was a few years in the making, the product of a multiyear search for a full-time lineup that boasted strong chemistry on and off stage.
As lead singer Nico Caruso puts it, “We wanted to find guys that fit in right, because we all have messed-up humor in our own ways. We’re kind of rated R.”
In addition to their crass chemistry, Caruso, drummer Nehuen Erazo and guitarist Gabriel Santana had a distinctive vision for the band they wanted to be. While they prefer to be called “post-indie,” their influences range from OutKast to Joy Division, resulting in songs that can traverse several genres in under four minutes.
Musicians would join, then jump ship when their schedule could not accommodate what the band envisioned, a problem not unique to Kyoto Lo-Fi.
"Being in a band in the early stages does not pay the bills,” the band’s frequent producer Greg Muzljakovich says. “You have to get down the road to start seeing some money come in, and a lot of musicians, especially when you get older, don’t want to do the original thing because it doesn’t pay.”
But Kyoto Lo-Fi had a very specific challenge: finding a bassist.
“Every time we lost a guy, we would have to start from zero all over again,” Caruso says.
Caruso and Erazo founded the band in late 2015 after bonding over a mutual love of the prolific Argentinian trio Soda Stereo, whom the band still cites as one of their prime influences. Caruso and Erazo enlisted guitarist Gabriel Santana after meeting at a punk show, and for a while, the group made do with being a three-man set like their Argentinian inspiration. They employed a revolving door of temporary bassists, appearing at gigs in Deep Ellum or house shows in Denton with a different man on bass each week. Eventually, the band started worrying about fans’ short memories.
“We had to put something tangible out just to survive,” Caruso says. “We thought people would forget about us if they couldn’t find our music somewhere.”
So the band released a four-song debut called Black Rainbow in 2016. The record rotates between indie rock and '90s alternative sounds, with explosive, grunge-y instrumentals and even a dash of surf.
Muzljakovich believes the EP showed promise, even if it was rushed.
“It’s hard to write songs and get studio time booked when you don’t have a permanent set,” he says. “You can’t move forward without setting your lineup.”
But Muzljakovich had confidence in the material.
“Some of the early stuff was a little rough, but I knew if they worked on it, they’d get there,” he says.
In 2017, an upcoming gig at SXSW and an impending weeklong tour kicked their bassist search into overdrive. Enter Paul Arevalo, a local bassist searching for a band. He met Santana after a Kyoto Lo-Fi show, where the guitarist mentioned his band was looking for a permanent musician to end the recent stream of bass fill-ins. Arevalo wanted in.
“I told him to give it a day or so to think it over before committing to us,” Caruso recalls.
“But I was ready to go right then,” Arevalo adds. “I told him, ‘The answer will be the same a day or two from now.’”
With Arevalo on board, the band headed to Austin for SXSW. But they had a show in Denton the same day, so after wrapping up an afternoon set in the capital, they hightailed up I-35 for the nighttime gig.
“I think we made it to Denton about 20 minutes before the show,” Erazo says. “But hey, that was one of our best shows yet.”
Arevalo also joined the band on their first tour, a weeklong odyssey with stops in Nashville, Chicago, New York and Philadelphia. For the trek, the band bought a van for $1,000, stripped it out to make more room and added makeshift seats.
“That experience involved every emotion,” Arevalo says. “It was like a family moment.”
The band dropped a single, “Godot,” in 2018, and later found their way back to “Flowering Boulder.” The latter song, released earlier this month, had been shelved during the band’s search for a bassist. Caruso revisited it, and along with “Godot,” the song is one of the first examples of the completed Kyoto Lo-Fi.
As they trade barbs and stories at Bishop Manor, the camaraderie between Caruso, Erazo, Santana and Arevalo is palpable. They beam with pride remembering the haul from Austin to Denton, and talk with equal rapture about the mushroom trip they took together at a friend’s house.
“These guys do have that chemistry, and that’s one of those things you can’t teach,” Muzljakovich says. “You can see them coming into their own at shows, really finding a rhythm because they vibe so well.”
Erazo remembers one such show, even though Caruso would prefer to forget it. Soon after releasing “Godot,” the band played Main at South Side.
“It was our first time playing that song live, and it opens with Nico playing guitar riffs.”
But Caruso was in the wrong key.
“In the moment, it was mortifying,” Caruso recalls. “It was a major fuck-up.” Yet as he thinks about it, he laughs.
“Me and Paul are looking at each other like, ‘Do we go in?’” Erazo says. “Then we do it. We just go in together.”
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