“One, two, one, two, three, four” — like fire to a wick, a house off Tecumseh road erupts into electric sound. Manhattan townies bounce to the beat of the drum, enveloped in energy as local bands, The Spanish Girls and Impersonalities, take the stage.
“Sometimes I do it in a different language, like in French I’ll go un, deux, trois, quatre,” lead singer for The Spanish Girls, Gavin Larios said. “Probably no one knows what I’m saying, but that’s our cue. It’s time to get shit started, let’s get this shit goin.’ Let’s get this party riled up!”
Larios is the lead singer for The Spanish Girls, a band he created with drummer Jack Mathews and guitarists Marcel Chlupsa and Eric Echegaray. The musicians have the Manhattan school buses to thank for their friendship, where they met years ago.
“Shout out to public transportation,” Chlupsa, junior in chemistry and chemical engineering, said with a laugh.
They claim to have had nothing in common but their passion for music, yet from this bond a band was born.
“I think we bonded a lot on music,” said Echegaray, sophomore in political science. “We were all kind of more alternative kids and had a different culture about us, I think.”
The Spanish Girls kicked off in 2015, when the boys were in high school. They jammed together for years, making music until graduation when the band took a hiatus as Larios left town on a full-ride scholarship to study vocal music education in college. During this break, Echegaray and Matthews met Aeron Julian from New Mexico and Chris Compton from Derby, Kansas. With Julian as their lead singer and Compton as their bassist, Impersonalities was created nine months ago.
“We’re a newborn child,” Julian said, inciting laughter from his friends.
In the fall of 2019, The Spanish Girls found themselves together again in Manhattan and today they are back and better than ever. Rehearsing every Monday together, the two bands share Matthews on the drums and Echegaray on the guitar, but each group maintains their own original style and sound.
“I would say Impersonalities is influenced by a lot of indie, rock and punk,” Echegaray said. “There is definitely some grunge as well.”
Originally from Cusco, Peru, Echegaray brings elements of Latin American music into the band’s sound. To Julian, the band’s style is a mix of early 2000s rock with indie-punk vibes.
On the other hand, the Spanish Girls do more pop rock, “with a little bit of a folky twist”, Larios and Matthews said. The young artists occasionally mix in punk and surf-rock covers, as well.
“What we’ve been doing recently is “Bad Reputation” by Joan Jett and that usually gets the crowd bouncin’,” Larios said, describing how their concerts can quickly transform a pack of dancing people into a raging mosh pit.
“We go into a head-banger vibe, and then it just… I don’t know how to explain why people mosh pit, but they feel it,” Larios said. “They’re feeling it through us, and we just allow it. Let the people have their time and have their fun. We just encourage them to lose themselves and let go.
For these guys, music is far beyond a few beats and words strung together. Music is their passion and their dreams — a way to relish in the good of life and a remedy for the hard times.
“Sometimes, life hits us all with curve balls, you know what I mean?” Larios said, as his friends became quiet with understanding.
He went on to share that both of his parents passed away within the last couple of years, leading him to leave college and return home to Manhattan.
“That just kind of broke me in a sense,” he said. “I felt like a broken toy from Toy Story. But an old choir teacher, named Mr. Poppy, told me, ‘Well there are a lot of other broken people out there, too. So, you can be a broken person that helps other broken people.’”
Larios said this message inspires him to continue making music.
“That’s just kind of what I like to go by,” he said. “No matter what I make, it’s helping someone somewhere. And if it’s not, I’m enjoying it. It’s helping me.”
Compton, Mathews and Julian agree that music is medicine.
Playing shows with his friends and seeing the audience’s reaction to songs Compton put a lot of time and work into is “one of the highlights of his life” he said.
With every song, beat and note, they believe performing is a pleasure.
“I feel like music, and especially performing music with your friends, is one of the most rewarding things there is,” Mathews said. Julian agreed and described music as a way to express his feelings to others and find meaning in life.
For six twenty-somethings with packed schedules, the musicians admitted that the time commitment of developing two bands can be a lot — but all agreed that it’s worth it.
“We can express our ideas to people who receive them and maybe in some way think the same way about things that we do,” Echegaray said. “That’s really special. We can build relationships through that, and I think that’s priceless.”
United by a rich history of memories, these artists each have a different dream for their future, but they all aim to include music and each other.
To Chlupsa, music is a way to spend time with the people who are most important to him while he can. He plans to graduate in May of 2021 and possibly leave Manhattan for graduate school. In the time he has left, he wants to soak up each moment.
“Really my big goal is just to create memories — to make a few things that I can keep forever in memories,” he said. Echegaray agreed, saying, “Memories and good times.”
When it comes to this tight-knit group, Manhattan is home. It’s the place where their story together began, it’s the place that brought them back together, and for the foreseeable future, it’s the place they’ll continue to be — making music and memories.
“The wonderful people in this room are my best friends,” said Matthews, looking around at his band members.
“We’re the homies! Ya know?” Larios added with a big smile, proud of his crew and their story of two bands, six friends, and a whole lot of great music.
To hear about their music, follow them on Instagram at @the.spanishgirls and @impersonalities_, and come to their shows. They regularly play new music and hope to drop new beats this summer. Check out their single, Strange Plains on Sound Cloud at https://soundcloud.com/user-334158661/strange-plains