SPINE Vocalist Antonio Marquez on Growing Up a Latino in Hardcore, Their New LP & More

Photo courtesy of Convulse Records

Later this month, SPINE will be releasing Raíces, their third and best album to date.

For the uninitiated, the Kansas City, Missouri-based quartet's sound mostly leans into the power violence corner of the hardcore sonic spectrum, and the band has been around for well over a decade now. But as strong as their earlier output has been (for labels like Bridge Nine and Bad Teeth Recordings), there's a potency to Raíces that crystalizes their approach—both musically and lyrically—perfectly.

Tracked in a steel storage unit that SPINE converted into a practice space, Raíces steamrolls forward with speed and fury. But it's vocalist Antonio Marquez's lyrics that seal the deal here. On the album, the singer writes through his lens of growing up a Cuban-American and his world outlook. It's a compelling piece of work that deserves the lyric sheet attention (especially since Antonio sings in both English and Spanish).

I chatted with Antonio about Raíces, the influence of his father's record collection, and his experience growing up a Latino kid in the hardcore scene.

When did you start listening to heavy music and how did your parents respond to that? Speaking from my experience (Colombian dad, Ecuadorian mom), they were never fond of it, but they also never really got in the way of it.

I started listening to heavy music at a young age. I started listening to a lot of nu-metal and just “normal” heavy music of the times. It led me down two paths. One which was more industrial/goth music (via stuff like Pigface, NIN, Cleopatra Records stuff) and the other was to find what influenced all of the stuff I liked at that time. This was also around this time I found my dad’s record collection which included Agnostic Front’s Cause for Alarm, which he raved about.

Being young (late '90s/early '00s) my idea of skinheads was very different (having only been exposed to things like American History X). I was so confused by this I just passed on it and didn’t listen to it.

A few years later, Napster was taking off and my dad downloaded tracks by Cro-Mags, S.O.D., and Agnostic Front. By this time, I was starting to put things together and it was starting to click for me. With nu-metal being less interesting to me, metalcore and hardcore were really grabbing me. Having those tracks as a basis really informed a lot of what I would eventually get into.

Needless to say, my dad was all good with it. Coming from West New York, New Jersey in the '80s (first stop from Cuba) he was exposed to a lot of cool stuff at the time by a childhood friend (Willie Medina who ended up playing in a few SFLA hardcore bands, La Vieja Guardia being one of them).

By the time he ended up in Kansas City, he had thought none of that stuff existed anymore and went down the path of listening to more “normie” music. I think he really got a kick out of the fact that I was really into those bands he once loved. As far as the rest of the family? Yeah, that stuff didn’t fly at all [laughs]. "Musica del demonio!"

Since your family is from Cuba, did politics always have a presence in your home growing up? Did they talk to you about that kind of stuff as a kid, or did they shield you from it till you were old enough to understand it?

Politics were front in center the day I was born. It was always reminded to you why we are here and what we had to go through to get here. Now mind you, this really didn’t hit me until middle school. As I outlined before, I had got into music at a young age, and specifically alternative/nu-metal stuff. Anything I thought was “heavy” at the time.

One of the biggest bands from the '90s was Rage Against the Machine. I had purchased (via mailing a money order to the Rockabillia catalog) a RATM shirt. This specific design meant nothing to me at the time other than a cool design. To this day, I’m not sure if the image is of Fidel Castro, Camilo Cienfuegos, or someone else. But I wore it to a family get together and people absolutely lost their minds.

I think all my older cousins pulled me to the side and questioned me on the shirt and spoke to me of the importance of understanding what you wear on your body. I had no idea, truly. But it was then when I realized, not only how much of a sensitive subject it was but also how wrong people could be about this. It almost felt like, “why would anyone want people to wear a shirt with someone like that on it?” It just didn’t connect with me as to how something like this could exist and how people could just wear stuff like that with no regard to the gravity of its meaning.

I was later exposed to the flagship Che shirt that Rage had and that was really that [laughs]. Being proud of being Cuban and living in America was always the standard. To this day, family gatherings always consist of the current turmoil in Cuba as well as keeping up with our family still back there. What is always ingrained in everyone is to never forget and to hopefully return one day.

Photo: Maxwell Trelstad 

What was your family’s reaction when you told them about Raíces and the entire concept around it?

When I was brainstorming ideas on the imagery for this record, I decided to incorporate old photography that I thought would be interesting and a contrast to the music on the record. No one in my family knew about the records imagery or songs until we announced it a few weeks back. My dad immediately called me and asked why I’d put a picture of him on the record.

Both my uncles asked about the video that was cut that they were in. Several cousins reached out about the first single’s photo which includes pictures of my grandmother and both her brothers on a horse in Cuba. It was cool, especially because they don’t understand what’s going on musically. But they appreciated the concept and the inclusion.

There are more pieces they haven’t seen or heard yet (more photos and voice recordings) that they’ll be exposed to once the record is out. That’ll be the true test on how they feel about it haha!  

Coming up through the hardcore scene in Kansas City, did you truly feel included as a Latino kid? Tell me about that aspect of your experience before and since starting SPINE in that community.

I felt included but not seen as Latino. They just saw me as Antonio and during the time I was coming up in hardcore it wasn’t like it’s been in the last 8-10 years. Uniformity seemed to be what the scene was like at the time. Not to say people weren’t individuals but who you are wasn’t taken into account as much as what you liked (musically).

When SPINE started, I really wanted to write music in Spanish. But I didn’t feel like people would connect to it and ultimately waited until our first LP to do a song ("Se Acabe"). One of the biggest pushes for that was the fact that I wasn’t seen as being anything other than Antonio. But it’s important for you to also see me as a proud Latino, Cuban American. Especially with all the issues/misunderstandings that happens when trying to rationalize the current issues in Cuba, it was important to plant that flag for myself.

There aren’t many of us in the scene and there also aren’t many of us interested in speaking out. But I did want to make sure what I spoke about on the 'Raíces' album was less on the nose about Cuba and more open to the issues in Latino America. I think there’s a lot of common threads to what a lot of Latinos face in the US that’s worth illuminating. As proud as I am of being a Cuban American, I’m just as proud to be Latino. Which means it’s important to support and stand in solidarity with fellow Latinos, especially in the scene.

Photo: Pat Ard 

If the opportunity presented itself, would SPINE be open to play in Cuba?

I would love to play Cuba one day. I’d love to be able to take my kids and show them the places their family is from. I’d love to be able to see my family that’s still there regularly. But I couldn’t go and play music in Cuba until there was a change in government. And a serious effort to not limit freedom of speech/expression, the ability to freely leave the country, and a huge improvement in human rights.

I know it would mean a lot to my friends in Cuba and it would create a lot of hope, but I also know all it would do is put money in the pockets of their oppressors. That is something I couldn’t do. I have, and would, do that to take supplies to my family.

But doing something for “fun” when I can’t take my loved ones with me back would be a hard thing to do. One day though, I hope. 


Ra​í​ces will be out on June 30th via Convulse Records (pre-order).


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