Born and raised on the North Side of Chicago, the working class Ledezma brothers of indie art-rock band Allá, were fortunate enough to grow up amidst the rich diversity of the Northside neighborhood of Rogers Park. Across the street from the private Catholic school they attended as kids, “There was a Hare Krishna temple,” Jorge Ledezma (guitar), mentions the sights and sounds they grew up with. “That was pretty wild for us. We’d be in class talking about Jesus and prayer and we’d see a group of Hare Krishna’s chanting down the street. That had an affect on us, seeing all that stuff. I think we got to experience it. We were aware of [religious diversity] earlier. There was definitely a hippie element to Rogers Park too. We were exposed to a lot of different scenes as kids. As we got older it just seemed natural. We didn’t realize [how rare it was] as kids. We thought, ‘doesn’t every neighborhood have a Hari Krishna temple? Doesn’t every neighborhood have a health food store? Doesn’t every neighborhood have a cool used record store and an underground comic books store?’ That’s definitely not the case.”
Not fitting into any scene or category themselves, the Allá brothers’ early exposure to the diversity of such a vast city, opened up the young artists to an ample world of experiences and ideas. It’s no wonder no other indie band in Chicago has been so misunderstood and misrepresented as the schizophrenic art-band, Allá. Thinking their Latino community would rally behind them, it became pretty apparent early on that the rock en español scene wasn’t going to be for them. Even though their early mission was to mark themselves as a distinctly loud and proud, Spanish singing group, their sound defies traditional categories. Early on they did play Fiesta del Sol, Pilsen community events, and other events in Chicago, but they got burned enough times within the scene that they quickly not to let their racial and class demographic pigeonhole them.
Talking about the band’s ambitions, outside of playing the very insular Chicago, rock en español scene, the avant-indie rock band Allá still knows who they are and where they come from. Ledezma notes, “Our parents would always take us to museums and were always trying to expose us to experiences and people outside of our own culture. That sparked our interests outside of being just Mexican-American…that’s what we are, but it’s frustrating. I had a friend who was in an arty band, and he said, ‘the only way you’re going to make it is if you appeal to the white crowd. The Latino’s are not there yet. One day, maybe. But not yet.’ It’s a hard thing to balance. When you think of rock music you think of white people.”
Less reticent to mix their bi-national, bi-cultural identity and lifestyles, first generation immigrant Latinos often stick close to the mainstream musical sounds, the familiar and often conservative sounds pitched and sold to them. This cultural trend may even be a testament to the harshness of assimilating to U.S. American culture, and a contradictory resistance to that assimilation at the same time. Second generation immigrants like brothers Jorge and Angel, begin pushing their boundaries and exploring their role as a truly Chicano band being from ‘neither here nor there.’ Their sound and style, identity and ambition is to unify and play for two segregated cultural crowds, often lumped together as one hegemonous group of people.
Allá’s indie psych-rock sound stands also as a testament to their Chicago roots, Jorge adds, “Having played for so long, Chicago’s a town where you can be yourself. There isn’t the pressure of being a buzz band like in New York, or being a pop band in L.A. or the West Coast. It’s a very working class city but very progressive. You can be yourself but be under the radar for a while in Chicago. You can develop your own style, your own scene, and still play shows and perform in front of a large group of people.” It’s true. Chicago’s polarizing cultural processes, the constant influx of new immigrants, the political plays of gentrification, the racial tensions amongst minority groups and with Anglo-Americans, you name it Chicago’s rife with tensions. The Ledezma brothers stand as a pillar to Chicago’s long history of rock ‘n roll icons and innovators. Allá’s sound is an extended metaphor, capturing the tensions and intense contradictions of urban life, its loud clashes and sly softness.
Jorge recounts how his brother, Angel Ledezma, learned how to play the drums. After being relocated to the suburbs as adolescents like many urban youth pushed out of the their city, Angel sought solace and stimulation in creating music. The isolation and boredom that defeats and pushes a lot of suburban youth into drinking and drugs, didn’t completely absorb the Ledezma’s life. Their punk and DIY approach to music shines through their history, Jorge shares, “My brother wanted to learn the drums so bad that he would go to Christian youth groups. He could care less about the Jesus talk. But when they were done, you know those Christian suburban churches have complete rock kits and rock equipment. He would hang out and jam with this other guy who was also there to use the equipment. They’d go, sit through the bible talk, and learn how to play drums.” It wasn’t for another 10 years that Angel would get his own drum kit, another testament to the brothers tenacity.
Growing up to 80’s top 40’s pop, Weird Al Yankovic, and their parents’ music the Ledezma’s continued searching for a sound that would inspire them. Jorge describes how they discovered the idols and inspirations that would revolutionize their way of listening and understanding music. “Angel’s curiosity for music is astounding. When we were kids there was this tiny record store in the burbs called Hip Cat. And he would just walk in and look at album covers. He was always looking beyond what was available. He just picked up records and was always curious about stuff. He just came home with this Frank Zappa record. And from there, we were like, ‘Wow this weird music is pretty cool.’ Then you get into this band and that band.” Inspired by funky records, sound manipulation and weird conversations, the heavy trip vibe of Frank Zappa motivates much of Allá’s current avant-indie style and art-rock sound.
Allá went to the studio a month ago and cut new songs with Brian Deck, who has produced for Modest Mouse, Iron and Wine, and the Counting Crows. Allá is excited to release a new album shortly. Having been passed up for Pitchfork before, the brothers have maintained a resilient spirit. This year they’re excited to play Pitchfork, “We’re a little surprised to be playing [Pitchfork] now, cus we don’t have anything to promote. We were considered around the time our first album came out. But I guess they just have a bunch of names to choose from. We’re really fortunate we got asked to play. Hundreds of indie bands would love to perform a major festival. We’re also lucky that since we’re from Chicago, the people that promote Pitchfork are from Chicago too. There’s a lot of politics, but it’s a lot of hard work to decide these line ups, I’ve heard.”
With the Pitchfork buzz fueling them, Ledezma wittily describes band mate and lead singer, Lupe Martinez, as “the most down to earth, girl next door. Some people have this impression of her as an ‘avant-garde princess,’ listening to weird records and stuff, but most of the time she’s watching American Idol.” Martinez’s vocal range combined with the Ledezma brothers’ edgy and unpredictable aesthetic, make Allá stand out among the ranks of indie bands across the nation.
Jorge remains optimistic and resolved, strong in his ambition and at ease in his Chicago swag. Tougher than ever, having survived Chicago this long, Ledezma relates, “Like any Chicago band we’re just trying to break national. It’s a difficult thing to do. Even if it’s at a snails pace we’re still going to be doing Allá. We love performing together, expressing ourselves that way. If something happens, something happens.”
Gozamos looks forward to seeing Allá cross the indie rock scene, playing Lollapalooza and other national festivals, playing with heavy hitters like the Flaming Lips in the future.