Manifest Destiny’s Child takes to the stage, with the letter "X" written on their hands and instruments bigger than their small frames. The group's name is a clever play on words with the beloved R&B trio and the doctrine that justified colonization. Onstage, guitarist and vocalist Carol Gonzalez, 20, bassist and vocalist Sabrina Tionloc, 20, and drummer Kaylin Martinez, 24, evoke the anger, power and the many intersections crossed by womanhood through noisy, experimental and calculated music — always to the surprise of whatever audience they stand before.
“My favorite thing is to see people's faces," Tionloc says of the crowds' reactions. "Getting that one face is what I want."
The three young musicians play, create and talk with experience beyond their years. Because, for each of them, none of this is new. Gonzalez and Tionloc went to high school together in Frisco and at 16 both joined their local School of Rock, which is known to breed North Texan musicians every academic year. At 17, after freshly learning their instruments, Gonzalez, Tionloc and their then-drummer decided to stop playing covers and create music of their own.
Because many of their instructors were musicians who played in Denton, they followed in the same fashion — quickly becoming a local favorite. Denton favors the stranger side of live music, with noisy, avant-garde acts, and the scene wanted everything to do with this group.
When their drummer had to quit the band, Martinez, who also plays drums in popular Dallas band Luna Luna, was among a handful of friends playing on and off for a year with the band during their hunt for a replacement. She brought something to the group that fit better than the rest.
“Kaylin always just stood out as different, almost felt like a little puzzle piece,” Gonzalez says of Martinez.
Their 2019 album Rio Discotheque is a genuine melange of where they were and where they are going.
“I think if anyone hasn’t seen us play recently, they are missing out,” Martinez says.
And her statement is accurate. The band is not the same as it was at age 17. The group has evolved into a much sharper version of the eclectic and free range babies they were only three years ago.
"When we first started writing, it was just literally in a dark bedroom, on the floor, like 'What if we did this?' Just like the style of music, it's very free and open,” Tionloc says of their writing process. “It was more a collaboration between us and knowing we could have total freedom.”
"We definitely have always wanted to have a noisy sound to us, but I also think we weren't very restricted either," Gonzalez says. "We weren't like we can only do noise music or only play indie music, just let whatever we write happen.”
Even in Manifest Destiny's Child's most hectic moments, every bass line, riff and rhythm feels supremely deliberate. Just when you find the groove, it’s gone. Just when you feel lost, you are swiftly invigorated through occult, witch-like soundscapes.
"It shows the wild side, the energy, the powerful energy, the aggressiveness, the anger," Tionloc says of the band's vibe. "You don't have to be nice, you can get buck wild if you want to. It's a piece of art, just take it."
Despite feeling at a deficit as women in a largely male scene, the group finds the time they spend playing together to be a special experience.
"It's awesome to be playing music for so long with men that just kind of don't see you completely and being able to be in this environment, to being completely trusted in what I'm doing,” Martinez says of her bandmates.
She looks back on a band she used to play drums for and remembers when they started recording music, and asked a guy to play the drums on the track instead of her.
“I had to fight to create with them, and it took a toll on my confidence," Martinez says of the incident. "When I started playing with [MDC] I actually got to create something again.”
Gonzalez felt similarly after being the only female vocalist in an all-male band, with whom she said her ideas weren't taken as seriously.
“I consider us all very equal, we all have equal say," Gonzalez says of her new group. "If I have something to say, or Kaylin or Sabrina has something to say, we take it as seriously as if anyone else were to have said it.”
"With this band, it's so much respect for each other. Anything you say, you know it's going to be received well,” Martinez says. "Even if they don't like it ... it's OK to not like everything. But it's OK to say things."
The comfort and care the members have for each other is evident onstage, where they thoughtfully complement the other’s instrumental direction. Off the stage, they are playful, and dote on each other’s musical talent.
Tionloc thinks Martinez is a rhythmic blessing. Gonzalez thinks Tionloc’s vocal talent and ability to make melodies is beyond her. Martinez thinks Gonzalez is the most experimental one in the group, always creating chords she can’t even name. They each feel challenged and lucky to be in this group pushing for a sound that bends listeners' minds.
The sounds from Martinez’s progressive drumming, to Tionloc’s funky, hefty bass lines to Martinez’s experimental guitar and piercing vocals start in completely different places, always to find each other in the end.
As young women in music, the band says they have visibly flipped audience members’ assumptions as they watch them perform. Crowds will often greet them coldly, they say, until they see they can deem them worthwhile after their set or tell them how "surprised" they were by their music. MDC believes that everywhere they play, they are opening minds to the multidimension of the shared experiences of women who make music.
"It's a male-dominated industry, I understand that," Tionloc says. "That's fine. It's these learning moments that will teach me how to carry myself through whatever comes next. I think we will be fine. We just got to demand respect.”
Gonzalez moved to Austin last year for school while the other members remain in Denton. Because of Gonzalez’s move, MDC was able to make Austin a second home, playing there as regularly as their schedules permit. As a result, they were able to double their opportunities, such as being invited to play at the upcoming South by Southwest.
"It serves as a little pat on the head. Because it's like, 'Hey what you're doing is not going unnoticed," Tionloc says of the interest in the band. "Sometimes when you're an artist and you keep creating, you can somehow feel like, 'Damn, is anyone really listening?' ... But receiving this was like, 'Nah, keep going.'"
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The excitement over the SXSW date has inspired the band to put out an EP and music video before the biggest performance of their career.
"Sometimes I think, Should I be making pop music? Because I know it's kind of hard to listen to sometimes,” Gonzalez says. “It makes me question myself, but I want to be more sure of myself and sure of our music."
The musicians each wish confidence for each other in the future. And to keep pushing each other musically —so the creativity lives on.
"I want to continue creating with that same attitude we have now," Tionloc said. "Uncompromising, writing what we want to hear and not be influenced by what we think the people want.”