I’ve been eating a lot of fideo lately. I started attempting it a few weeks ago out of nowhere, and have failed miserably every time. Some might say it’s the fact that I purchased angel hair pasta instead of vermicelli, some might say that’s it’s because I used tomato bouillon cubes instead of tomato sauce, but if you ask me, I’d say that it’s been too long since I called my mom. She introduced me to fideo, after all, and would surely have the solution to my fideo problems.
Something about getting this particular dish right is important to me. It reminds me of home, of standing behind my mom and staring into a simmering skillet in wonder, blowing on the first spoon (or fork) -full of fideo, hoping it wouldn’t burn my tongue and scatter bright red dots of broth all over the table. Living on my own as an adult has meant finding the comforts of home on my own, and sometimes in new ways. This can be a difficult process, and becomes even harder to do when you don’t get to spend enough time at home to remember what home really means to you. I have the privilege of living a twenty-minute drive away from my parents, but even then I don’t often have the time to make the trip, which on average lasts at least two hours. On nights like these, where I think of home, but can’t be there, I make fideo. It also seems especially important to pick these things up now, and to call my mom now, while I can.
Amaury Lopez is one of the Rio Grande Valley’s loudest voices right now. His band, Yruama (Amaury backwards), has blazed through the local scene at an incredible pace, drawing fans left and right, and leaving a lasting impression on every person who sees them play, myself included. Perhaps it’s the sheer power of the band’s initial form as a math-ish rock quartet-turned-trio that turned heads, or perhaps it’s Amaury’s charismatic stage persona that screams with youthful passion, burning infinite energy even now at the head of its current form as a dream-rock quintet? What truly endears Amaury’s music to me and what I believe endears it to others, is that it also speaks of home. Home in all of the complicated ways we have come to know it, including people.
Amaury talks to me about college with a calm demeanor in stark contrast to the excitement he brings to the stage . He is a student majoring in Fine Arts at the Edinburg branch of the University of Texas – Rio Grande Valley, or UTRGV. Contrary to a common assumption that his being a musician would mean he studied Music, Amaury hopes his decision to study Art will be more beneficial for his long-term goal, which is to make music for a living.
“Like, it’s maybe not about having the fastest solo or the jazziest progression, it’s more like capturing feeling with what I already know, you know? I’m very happy with my major because I’ve been learning a lot about the poetic ideas of, you know, any kind of art. I think choosing Art gave me a sight into the poetic side of music, which is what I’m interested in.” I ask Amaury if he has any plans for after he graduates, he says that he would like to move to New York, but is unsure of when he will be able to do so. For now, he says that he plans to live and make music.
Growing up in Reynosa, a neighboring border city in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, Amaury first discovered his love for music in elementary school where he found himself with a natural ability for playing the recorder, even going as far as to learn songs that weren’t normally taught to students in his grade. This growing interest in music would soon be amplified with the gift of a drum set from his mother at the age of 9, which he had desperately wanted. He excitedly tells me his first inspiration to play the drums came from wanting to learn the beat from the theme song to the Disney show, Hannah Montana, which he proceeds to clap out loud in the coffee shop. “I always wanted to learn how to play it. And then I got the drum set and that was everything that I would play. Like, for the first six months that was all I would play, from Hannah Montana, so that was cool.”
Eventually, Amaury took an interest in guitar as well. He learned songs his older brother would teach him by artists like David Bowie and Led Zeppelin, and play them with his brother’s friends. It gave him his first glimpse of what being in a band could be like. As a teenager Amaury had trouble being taken seriously when he set out to join a band of his own because he was more influenced by bands like Interpol and The Strokes than the classic rock groups of his youth.
“I’d be like ‘hey, I know how to play drums, I have my own drum set, let me play for your band!’ and they would be like ‘how old are you’ and I was like ‘15 but that’s okay cause I’m actually good’ and they would be like ‘oh nah we don’t have time to deal with parents and blah blah blah’ and I was like, bro what the hell. I was super hurt for that.”
This wouldn’t stop him from going to see bands play, though, as he would often get taken to concerts by either his mother, brother, or friends his mother approved of, as she would be sure to clarify for me while preparing jamón con huevo y frijoles for us one afternoon. Amaury says that his mother has been nothing but supportive of his journey in music, even going as far as to ask that he put his music on her iPod. “I’ll show her my music and she’ll be like ‘I like that one’ and then she’ll tell me ‘why don’t you sing in Spanish’ and then I sing in Spanish and she says ‘okay, I like it’.”
While Amaury was able to see plenty of live music growing up, he says that he was still too young to become involved in the Reynosa music scene, which relied heavily on bars as venue spaces, and had a different vibe. It wasn’t until he came to the Rio Grande Valley that he would find a sense of community in a music scene, though he admits that this discovery took time. The first two bands he joined, a jam rock group called Quiet Intensity and an indie rock band named Five Before Midnight, played a handful of shows around town. But it did not draw Amaury closer to the scene in the manner that he was looking for. It was not until he met Andrew James, vocalist and guitarist for indie rock darlings, The Shakes, who was in need of a drummer.
“When I got asked to play with the Shakes, I was psyched about it because I thought they were like, big in the scene, because I would go to their shows and people would go, so it was like ‘oh, this was the situation for me’. So I started playing with the Shakes and that’s when I got the idea of the local scene.”
By 2016, Amaury went from not having a band at all to drumming for three different bands. The musician says he began to set his sights on a new goal. He had worked on some songs of his own at home and uploaded them to his SoundCloud page. He began playing the new music at local open-mics where he drew the attention of Jorge Tichbon, mastermind behind popular local psych-surf group Wax Pink, who asked if he would be interested in playing a show with this new material. Of course, Amaury said yes.
102 by Yruama
Intent on giving his songs the best foot forward at this show, Amaury decided to form a band that could do his ideas justice. He recruited his Quiet Intensity bandmate, Kolade Adjibi on bass, Five Before Midnight bandmate Michael Zavala on guitar, and newcomer Brendan Sandoval on drums to form the first full-band version of the project he’d been writing these new songs under, Yruama. As you might expect, this “shred party” as Amaury calls it, would go on to have a successful first show. “It was awesome, everyone felt super good about it. I invited all my friends and they ended up showing up, and I was like ‘okay, this is cool, I want to keep doing it’, so we started playing more shows and more shows and that’s how it went.”
Indeed, Yruama began playing shows all over the Valley, eventually making it onto lineups for both music festivals organized by local promoter Tigersblood.org: Galax Z Fair and most recently, Dreams. Last year, the band’s released a stellar debut EP, 102(named after Amaury’s apartment number), which now serves as an archive of the band’s first powerful phase. The group’s new form, features several Shakes members and sets a new sonic course that follows Amaury’s original musical intentions with the group. It is with this new lineup that Yruama was booked to close the Dreams festival last month.
“It was super cool, because I had just disbanded the old Yruama and I wasn’t really sure what I was gonna do. We had shows lined up and I just cancelled all of them to focus on myself and what I wanted to do. I think two weeks or three weeks had passed and Patrick Garcia from Tigersblood.org reached out to me. He was like ‘hey bro is Yruama still a thing, are you guys still playing shows?’ and I said ‘uh, not really, why what do you have in mind?’ and he’s like ‘okay, well I have Dreams coming up and I would like for Yruama to play’ and I was like ‘okay, sure…damn…hell yeah’ and that gave me an opportunity to get my shit together and ask my friends to play for me, and kind of feel revived again.”
Following the dissolve of Yruama, Amaury said he felt lost, unsure of what move to make next, or whether there would be another. I knew what he was describing all too well; it’s the kind of abyss that has claimed countless Valley artists’ ambitions. One moment, everything is in its place, everything makes sense, and then something changes, and it’s all fallen apart, or worse, disappeared. Maybe you no longer trust your bandmates the way you once did, maybe they’ve done things that warrant their expulsion not just from your group, but from your community as well. Sometimes, like in the case of Yruama, your creative pursuits simply pull you in different directions. These obstacles can be difficult to overcome, and like most of life’s puzzles, there is no easy path to do so. I should clarify, there is almost never an easy path to do so.
Amaury chance to play the Dreams festival last month not only gave his band a new lease on life, but provided him with the opportunity to be the band leader he’s always wanted to be. “I’m glad Patrick asked me, because it kind of pushed me”, he said. “Te pusiste pilas”, I told him, a phrase in Spanish that uses the metaphor of replacing one’s batteries to mean they are working harder than before. “Yeah”, Amaury said, “me puse bien pilas! To have a good show, to work, to get a little bit of discipline to get myself ready for a show, you know? Cause you need to practice and meet up and be with people for three hours, and teach them songs, it’s a very, uh…I don’t know if ‘dubious’ is the right word. Maybe it is not. It’s just really meticulous, because I have all these basslines and guitars that I need to teach to everyone. I liked it, because it was a lot of work, and it was very helpful for me to understand how to work with people, how to teach them my stuff, how to explain my art to them, you know? I’ve been really fortunate, like so glad to the universe, that I could play with such good musicians. We’re all a super group.”
Talking about his experience at Dreams, Amaury likens it to being on vacation. “You’re just enjoying yourself and not really thinking about anything cause you’re away from home, and that’s kind of how it felt.” He talks about watching all the bands, and being especially taken with the performances by most of the local bands, and recalls the nerves that built at the thought of following a performance by what is arguably the Valley’s most popular and powerful export in the band business, Dezorah. “I remember getting ready and being like ‘damn’ like ‘sss, I’m playing after that?’”
Despite his nerves, the energy level that Yruama would gather that night was a rare one, found only when bands and audiences truly click. “All my friends were enjoying the music, I saw people dancing, and the songs were rehearsed, so nothing went wrong. It was just like…a vacation in Cancun. Yeah, partying in Cancun with everything paid”, he says laughing. The same Yerberia Cultura patio in which Amaury played these songs alone just a couple of years before was now filled with people dancing to his music, and laughing at his jokes between songs, many of which played off of stereotypical Mexican radio banter, which is in Spanish and absolutely killed with the crowd. This was something I had not seen at a local rock show before.
I ask Amaury if he’s aware of the connection his music, and especially his humor, has with his audiences. I make sure to note how unique it is for a rock musician in the Valley to have a bilingual stage persona and sense of humor like his, a juxtaposition that is both incredibly uncommon and yet deeply familiar. “I was thinking about it the other day, something along those lines. I wonder if speaking Spanish, joking around in Spanish, and saying all the radio stuff—cause I do it a lot with my friends—I wonder if it will become annoying, or if people will only see me as like ‘oh yeah, he makes a lot of jokes like that’ or with like a bad connotation. Like, maybe this is an exaggeration but maybe like ‘why doesn’t he just go back to be like that, why is he being like this, here, in the Valley’ you know?”
When I ask what he means by “go back” he tells me he means Mexico. His concern is that he may encounter a racist response to his sense of humor at a show, since he’s performing in the United States. I assure him that while that does happen to people in other parts of the country, the likelihood of that happening in the Valley is next to none, and that from my observation, his humor (in whichever language) is deeply appreciated and valuable for the connections it makes with audiences on different cultural levels. I ask if he’s aware of the dual identity that comes with living on the border.
“Yeah, I recently became aware of it. As I grew up I started realizing what things were different from here than over there and what things I was picking up from over here, and how I slowly started feeling like this was my home, when I felt like a total outsider. All of a sudden, I have friends who don’t speak Spanish, and we’re friends and we’re connecting on a deep friendship level, you know? So that’s when I started to feel like I was part of the Valley, like I actually do feel like I’m part of this place. But, at the same time, I grew up over there and I may not feel as familiarized anymore with Reynosa, but I still have like, the learnings that I got, you know? Like, the joking around and stuff like that. But yeah, I recently was aware of it, and that’s when I started thinking about the bad connotations or whatever. But now that you tell me that the audience might have felt something like that while I was joking around—cause that’s how I joke around with my friends and my friends were in the audience—so, for other people who I may not have joked around with but felt that, I think that’s pretty cool. It’s like making a painting and then knowing that someone felt something with it. I think that’s a big accomplishment, you know?”
I agree with him.