Words and interview by Josue Rawmirez
With their goth post-punk sound and aesthetic, Twin Tribes masterfully transports the listener into a darkwave landscape that is nostalgic yet unfamiliar.
Started in 2017, the Brownsville duo composed of Luis Navarro and Joel Niño Jr. initially came together through Niño’s band, where Navarro played the keyboard shortly. Navarro, from Matamoros, Tamaulipas found inspiration by music like The Cure’s 17 Seconds, Depeche Mode, as well as new bands like Choir Boy and She Past Away.
In his spare time from teaching, Navarro explored similar styles with his guitar and synth to create several demos. He shared them with Niño, an experienced bassist, during a trip to South By SouthWest. Niño was immediately intrigued. They followed through to collaborate that summer with the goal to create an EP. Plans for the collaboration grew from the original 50 cassette run into a full album. It was released in January 2018 titled Shadows.
The album’s introduction, The Path to the Antares, builds the world that Twin Tribes inhabit; a romantic, gothic, and occult one with audio references to electronica, post punk, new wave and cyberpunk. Their title track Shadows has a deep narrative and a layering of sounds that showcases their individual darkwave twist. The hurried beat and bass line are captivating but when sprinkled with moments like the guitar riffs reminiscent of surf rock and the background claps of 80s’ electronica, it is a refreshing yet familiar sound. Navarro’s vocals and the lyrics bring the dark fantasy to the forefront as he sings of the “smell of blood” in his dreams. The song Tower of Glass is carried by the synth, a darkwave staple, and a simple beat, before a fast paced chorus breaks in and echoes out. Only leaving a memory of the catchy lyrics. Portal to the Void and Talisman back to back almost meld together to create gothic auditory bliss, they beckon a swayful trance. The band’s heavy bass, mesmerizing synth, and melodramatic vocals packaged together along with a dramatic presentation (black everything, dishevelled side-parts and heavy makeup), reverberated throughout and caught the attention of the music community and industry.
After such a great initial reception, their US tour, and the audience anticipation building from released singles, the duo debuted their follow up album, Ceremony. Launched in December 2019, their sophomore album reiterated why Twin Tribes are fan favorites and explains their quick rise in the darkwave and goth scenes.
In contrast from Shadows, which is a broad, introductory album into their world, Ceremony is more intimate in lyrical content and instrumentation. While it builds on their auditory repertoire it features more upfront vocals. Heart and Feather, one of the album’s three singles, has everything Twin Tribes is known for; a clean beat, leading guitar, a thick bass line, along with Navarro’s melodic vocals and a memorable chorus. The River, another single, brings back memories of Shadows, particularly the theme of rituals. Avalon is a good follow up because it quickly takes us from the first album nostalgia into something new. The fast pace of the song carried softly by the guitar and the gloomy buried vocals lead to the synth heavy chorus that showcases Navarro’s range and soulfulness. Obsidian brings the tempo down and features Niño’s bass from the beginning, it once again invites the darkness and sets the stage for their last single, Fantasmas.
The song is one of their more commercial and memorable. It establishes the duo as mainstays in the genre. The hooky chorus, “Solo miro fantasmas, estan dentro de ti” in Spanish is an ode to their Mexican culture, their affinity for rock en español and their geography along the US-Mexico border. The background percussion along with the chain sound effect is a perfect way to abruptly end and let Upir, a lyrically short song about a vampiric encounter begin. Relationships and death as well as the relationship to death are heavy themes throughout. In the song, Perdidos, the keyboard, the echoed vocals and drum beat carry into the chorus; a climactic continuance to a seemingly toxic relationship. The last song on the album Shrine, is soft, almost dream-pop like, but interjected with a heavy drum machine and background beats to even it out. A great follow up album that points to a powerful trajectory for the duo.
Unfortunately the complete rollout and fanfare for the album came to a standstill in 2020 due to the beginning of the Covid-19 Pandemic. The band’s plans slowed and halted but it did not bring down their spirits. They took to social media to fill the void of touring and interacting with fans in person. They live-streamed concerts and performed online at the Gothicat Festival. They also took the time to work long-distance with other bands through remixes. They leaned into the idea and in April 2021 they released Altars. It is a collaborative compilation of remixed Twin Tribes tracks from both of their previous albums featuring international musicians and the darlings of goth and dark wave music. It includes remixes by Creux Lies, Wingtips, She Past Away and many others of their genre-defining contemporaries. The album adds to the dance vibe in their songs and presents new perspectives on favorites. More importantly it cements Twin Tribes among their collaborators who are icons and driving the future of the sound, a well deserved honor.
As the vaccine rolled out and quarantine ended, venues opened performances with protective measures. After a year and a half of limited travel, Twin Tribes announced their first month-long European tour starting in London in October 2021. It was Navarro’s and Niño’s first time traveling to Europe where they visited the UK, Poland, Germany, France and other countries.
I caught up with them to see how their 24 show tour went and their latest on their music.
Are you all jetlagged? How was the experience of touring Europe in 3 words?
Luis: I guess the first one would be exhausting.
Joel: Can I use tired again? Or what would you call it when you first experience something new? Honestly, I felt alien, because the language barrier is a big hurdle when you are in Europe. Some people know English, the younger people usually do. Many of them told us they learn English in school. But the older generation might not be so keen on it, we did have a few times when they were like, “Ahh get outta here,” or we would order food and we’d get the wrong order. You feel like an alien and out of place a little bit.
Luis: And just to throw some positivity in, it was also very fulfilling and we felt accomplished at the end. Because it was always a goal of ours, it was always a dream. As soon as we had the band going, it was always like, “We have to play Europe.” We didn’t know when, but it was always in our plans. So being able to play Europe and just being there and having to go through a bunch of legal issues because of being a DACA recipient. So at the end it was just very fulfilling to go to Europe, to play festivals and big shows. To see people singing our songs, taking pictures, buying merch, you know? The whole thing was just amazing.
Did you all expect the reception on the other side of the pond?
Joel: When we were planning this international tour, we had to plan merch and a bunch of other things. So we told our partner over there, Young and Cold Records, “Hey we don’t want to print too many records because we don’t want to be left with a lot”. They responded with, “I don’t think you know, or realize, how big you guys are over here.” And we were just like, “Really?” Because you don’t see it, it’s not like I can go just wherever and say, “Oh I’m really big in Germany.” I can go to Los Angeles and I know, now, that we have a big following. I know that because we’ve seen it. But at the point where we were, before our first international show, you just don’t know. You’re just like, “Fuck we’re going to go over there and no one is going to show up,” and it was really far from the case. All the shows were special in their own way and people showed up and people were singing the lyrics. They were singing in Spanish. I’m the type of person that’s gotta see it to believe it. It’s got to be in front of me, I’m not going to wish for the best and then be let down. Even when we were flying over there I was telling Luis and Eric, “I kinda don’t believe it.” And sure enough once we arrived in England it clicked. That first show in London, it went off. It was packed.
Luis: The reception was insane. The first thing that caught our attention was when we heard people going off, because Fantasmas for the tour was always the last track. So people would really go wild and we’d hear them chanting, or singing in Spanish. I guess I felt, “Wow, that is the power of music.” It brought us all the way over here and there are people singing in Spanish, our native tongue. It was just insane.
What was the most memorable thing you experienced on tour?
Joel: There was a moment in Latvia that I’ll never forget. After the shows we’ll go to the merch table and reminisce and talk, people will take pictures and we’ll sign stuff. In the corner of my eye I saw a woman, younger and I saw her there just hanging out. I felt like she was very cautious. She didn’t know if she wanted to come up to us and I could feel it. I waited till everyone left, we got the autographs done, and she was still there. So I asked her, “Do you want to come? Do you wanna talk?” She came up to us and I asked, “Do you want a signature?” and she was like, “No, I don’t want any of that. I just wanted to tell you that I was in the hospital this past year during the Pandemic and was literally very close to dying. And your music got me through that.” I saw her welling up and I was like, “Oh my God, come here” and I gave her a hug. It was just shocking and then she was gone. She just vanished. I asked Luis and he was like, “I saw that and I almost cried.” But it’s moments like that that stay with you. I don’t know how Luis feels but, I guess it just comes with the territory. If the music is good, if the music can make you feel a certain way, if it can heal you- that is what it comes down to. Music is such a beautiful thing.
What do you think about collaborating with bands you once considered inspirations?
Luis: Honestly, it is really a dream come true. When we were recording Shadows, our first album back in the fall of 2017, both of us were in the studio and we would look up posters or flyers online of line ups on Cold Waves Festival and Wave-Gotik-Treffen and other festivals and we’d say, “Man, one day. Imagine? One day.” So going to Europe and meeting She Past Away again, or playing with Lebanon Hanover for the first time, and just getting to know these artists as really, really cool people who are very simple and down to earth that have great advice. That whole interaction, just that on it’s own, was just a “Wow.” moment. This was just another thing to scratch off the list, it was another dream we were able to achieve. Altars also helped us a lot with that. Being able to tie together working with so many talented artists in our scene. All of that is just a dream come true. Things that I never thought would happen, and didn’t see coming.
Joel: It is a bit weird, frankly speaking. You’re right, a lot of the people that we’ve now gotten to work with and gotten to play shows with were huge inspirations of ours. Some of them have even become our friends which is crazy to think about. We would be practicing in our friends living room just daydreaming, “Hey man wouldn’t it be cool to play at this festival? One day we’ll open for She Past Away, imagine?” Slowly these things that we dreamt about, and honestly that we at some point just made goals, they happened. Not just by luck, though, we also had to hustle for it.
What was one of the bigger obstacles y’all have overcome to be where you are today?
Luis: Being undocumented, or having DACA, or just traveling is the biggest issue for me, or the band, because I can’t leave the country. So we tried to tour as much as we could in the US when we started. We did get an offer to play Germany at Wave-Gotik-Treffen, I think in 2019. We were playing a festival in New York and we received an email and that invitation on it’s own was already a dream. It was so cool that they were considering us. Unfortunately, we had to reject the offer because at the time there was just no way for me to travel. But later, we started working with a booking agent who was able to get us contracts and all this paperwork that could give us a little more credibility to file for a very specific permit to leave the country for work reasons. After submitting all proper documentation, fortunately it was approved, and that was the reason we were able to tour Europe. For the future we’re going to continue doing the same but having DACA is always an issue. We already found out that it is not impossible, that it is totally doable and that we can make it happen again. But that was probably the biggest obstacle.
What is it like to represent the 956 in the scene?
Luis: I think it’s fucking cool, it’s awesome. Anywhere we go we bump into people that are from the Valley. When we went to Florida we met a fan that moved there to do video work. He shot some pictures for us and he said, “Even though I don’t know you, it is so cool to see people from the Valley doing cool things over here.” We’ve gone to California and New York and always bump into someone from the Valley. The last show on this tour was in Dallas, actually the one before in Houston, it was the last one with She Past Away. There were so many people right before we hit the stage screaming, “956,” or “Puro Pinche Brownsville!” I think that’s really cool because it’s not just a Brownsville thing, it’s a Valley thing. I feel really, really proud coming from the Valley, coming from Matamoros and offering a project that is accepted and liked. That is amazing. Really, really, happy that people were able to connect with the music, to us and our situation, and hopefully we can continue doing the same thing.
Joel: We get it all the time, the whole, “Texas? Ok where are you from Austin? Houston? Dallas?” Not even San Antonio, they go straight for those and we’ll respond, “Brownsville. At the very bottom, the very tip of Texas, the most south you can get before getting out of the US on the border with Matamoros.” That is a constant, everybody always asks. There is definitely pride in that, where we’re from. We were in Dallas this past time and I hear, “Puro Pinche 956!” It’s cool because you travel, and you’d be surprised how many people from the Valley are out there. Just like anybody from a specific area there is a lot of pride that comes with where we are from. Not everyone feels that way. As a kid, in my rebellious years I always said, “Man I gotta get the fuck out of here.” We had to leave to find success, so it’s true to a point in our case, but I’ve travelled a little bit of the world and I would not like to call any other place home besides the Valley. It is really where our hearts are at. It is a privilege to say where we are from and we don’t take it for granted. Not only the Valley, but us as Latinos when we were out there. Representation matters. In our scene, there are a bunch of talented bands that are Latinx, Latinos, Latinas and they are doing it right. It’s just really cool to be a part of that and at the same time represent the Valley through our music.
Are you all working on anything new?
Luis: The plan was to finish the tour, and take a couple of months off. Just a break to get back in the studio and start writing. Currently that is what we are doing. There is still a lot of material that we have to finish writing and all of it is for the next album.
Joel: That is an official statement now, so there’s an exclusive for ya!