Nelson Hernandez-Espinal of Stuyedeyed discusses in-depth subjects, not only in his music, but also in politics, intent, and the ever-changing face of Brooklyn and how that wholly has impacted the music he creates.
In a world of excess, think of Stuyedeyed as the music which serves as the antithesis to that. Stuyedeyed are a quartet that, unlike most, have members that can boast Brooklyn as their hometown, born and raised. Nelson Hernandez-Espinal, front person and one of two guitarists of Stuyedeyed, has been inspired and enraged by watching New York City undergo a number of troubling changes throughout the years. Having been born out of Section 8 projects in Bed-Stuy, he has seen humanity get lost in gentrification and decadence.
Stuyedeyed are a product of their environment. The music is something that is meant to be heard; heard in a way in which you are present, heard in a way that forcibly removes you from your comfort zone. The band are actively capturing listeners attention with dizzying drum beats, raging guitars, and lyrics to match their feelings on political and social discourse. Their fuzzy, psychedelic sounds are echoed by NYC’s garage and punk underground; the DIY scene that birthed the band.
If you have an opportunity to see Stuyedeyed live, do it. The band puts on a performance that is unlike any other. The live act consists of howling, maniacal laughter, and theatrics. Nelson Hernandez-Espinal doesn’t miss an opportunity to dive into the crowd, while swinging his curls and guitar in a fury, the drummer, Luis Ruelas, is most likely shirtless, sporting only his tattoos and jeans, with Humberto Genao on bass and George Ramirez on guitar.
Nelson is passionate, about not only music, but about everything he puts his energies into. His feelings on music and the platform he is granted as a result of it, especially because of the crowd he so often plays his music to, is one that is hopeful, realistic, and humble. He doesn’t believe he reads enough. He doesn’t believe he has the best vocabulary. Although, upon meeting Nelson, we found that to be absolutely on the contrary. He is well-versed in social and political issues that a majority of us are not. He spoke eloquently and with fire beyond his eyes. What we learned about Brooklyn in this interview, was more than what we ever could’ve imagined.
Atwood Magazine had an opportunity to sit with Stuyedeyed’s Nelson Hernandez-Espinal at Brooklyn’s Maria Hernandez Park. As soon as we met on the park bench he said, “I don’t want to talk about bullshit, so let’s go there.” Well, we went there.
A CONVERSATION WITH STUYEDEYED
Atwood Magazine: Hey, hi, how are you doing on this beautiful day in Brooklyn?
Nelson: I’m doing really good, it’s kind of chilly, there’s a lot of sun in my eyes, I’m going to take out my glasses now. [laughter]
I caught you at a crazy time. Stuyedeyed was on a two month long tour, played SXSW, came back home and now you’re heading back out on another national run.
Nelson: Yeah, so the first run was February and March and now we’re going to go out for April and May and we’ll be back in June.
Sweet, what were you guys jamming on this last tour while you were driving long hours?
Nelson: Lots of Fela Kuti, lots of Cumbia, lots of Combo Chimbita, which is the best band in the United States and probably the world. Just a lot of Hip Hop, was blasting that new Kendrick record hard. Lots of Wu-Tang. Just keeping it to the fucking roots.
New York is a super unique place. It’s full of energy, but it can also be really isolating at times. I find it to be the only place in the world like this. How do you feel when you come home in between tours?
Nelson: To be completely truthful, I don’t really ever get too stoked to come back. This is my home, I was born and raised here, but there’s something very isolating about the city. It can get very clicky, very ‘scenie-weenie’ and I just think that I play well with others, but I play well with others who enjoy being present and being honest and putting love before their fucking wardrobe. But I enjoy coming back to see family. That is grounding and it’s very humbling. It’s super interesting to go to Detroit or Indianapolis and see cities that have been ransacked by…
Nelson: Yeah! Just completely flooded and then ripped apart.
Capitalism at its finest.
Nelson: Exactly. And there’s just so many beautiful people holding on and making a life with what they have. And then you come here and New York is the example of decadence. It’s a bit of yin and yang. I come back and I understand what’s going on and it’s good to go back out and ground myself in other ways.
So ideally then you would spend a majority of your time touring or would you have a different home base one day?
Nelson: I think a little bit of both. I grew up moving around a lot so I’ve never been used to standing still. Whenever I come home I’m like, ‘Fuck, I’m standing still for a little bit.’ And then I get to go back out. Ideally, I’d find myself in the South.
Nelson: New Orleans probably. That’s probably my favorite city. New Orleans or somewhere in the desert maybe, like Austin or somewhere in Arizona, which I’ve never been to but we’ll find out when I go there.
I love New Orleans. I lived out of my car when I was 24 and traveled the U.S. like a horseshoe and I loved New Orleans but the person I was traveling with couldn’t hang. It’s weird, because it’s such a unique place. I even feel that way when I come back to my neighborhood in Bushwick.
Nelson: New York is interesting because there are so many different worlds that exist here. I think that New Orleans is kind of the same way. Every neighborhood is a little bit different, gentrification and neighborhoods changing, that happens in every city. There was a whole movement of Airbnb free neighborhoods. That’s the fight in New Orleans. You don’t really hear that too much in New York because people are constantly moving out faster anyway. I fucking love New Orleans for that reason. We were at South By and there was all this shit going on and then we pull into New Orleans immediately after and it was like, ‘Oh this is weird, it’s kind of like SXSW but this is how it is everyday.’
Stuyedeyed’s sound is fuzzy, chaotic, loud, dynamic, in your face, and unapologetic. I feel like that might be part of the influence of growing up here in New York, do you think that’s influenced you and your music?
Nelson: Yeah, for sure. I grew up here, but I moved to Florida for a little bit. I was living there for 5 years. I went to high school there. Florida is kind of 10 years behind everywhere else, for the most part in terms of music. When I first moved back [to NYC], I think it was 2012, I was still doing kind of a jangly, indie pop kind of thing. It was kind of the fun of moving back to New York. It was like, ‘Fuck yeah, I’m back. This is so cool. I’m an adult now, sort of.’ Little by little I started meeting people that were like yeah New York is great but look at all of these neighborhoods, look at the transitions of these neighborhoods. I moved back and realized that it was kind of different. I didn’t really understand why. I wasn’t necessarily woke yet. As the years progressed, we’ll call it like 3 or 4 years ago, I started to realize that I was kind of angry about it. Nobody is really talking about it. There’s no real love and focus. I don’t want to call it jaded, I think I just found a way to find my voice and my opinion about it. It stretches far beyond gentrification, it’s the idea of presence and how we fit into that. You walk around and everybody is just on their fucking phone, people are begging for help and people just walk by it, nobody says fucking hello to each other anymore. Humanity is such a beautiful thing that we need to hold onto. You don’t really see that too much here and I caught wind of it and I think it’s our duty to try to pay more attention to it and to correct it. That, at its core, it’s just about being present. Like it says on our tour poster, no one is cool, no one is fucking important. We are all human and that’s the basis of all of our shit. Our music focuses a lot on finding balance through the imbalance. It can be super fucking loud at one point and then honing it in and being really fucking quiet and making sure everybody is there.
There’s quite a bit of political and social messages in your music. Artistically and just individually, do you have any specific movements that you’re really passionate about?
Nelson: For starters, I would definitely say the Black Lives Matter movement. I was living in Florida when the whole Trayvon Martin thing happened. That was fucking wild to be down there. Florida is a swing state. The thing that people don’t understand about Florida is that it’s a swing state because there’s Miami which has a shit ton of people, there’s a large population base, and then we have Northern Florida. There’s a lot of pockets and there’s tons of opposing ideas in Florida, so when that happened, it kind of split Florida in two. I lived an hour, maybe 45 minutes, from where all that shit was going down and that was the beginning of the end. My mother’s an immigrant, she came here from Dominican Republic, my dad is Puerto Rican. There’s this really great festival called Punks Of Color that Gayla from Fat Heaven put together and that was the first time I was introduced to this organization called Make The Road. Make The Road is just about helping the Latino community, making the road for them to become permanent residents. I’m actually reading this really great book, it was written by Angela Davis, to be more specific Angela J. Davis not Angela Y. Davis. This book is called “Policing The Black Man.” This is one of the most powerful books that I’ve ever read. It’s a series of essays that discusses, specifically, police brutality and how we’ve gotten to the point that we’re in right now with policing the African American male.
That brings me to ‘Mr. Policeman,’ obviously there’s roots in that song for Stuyedeyed coming from this.
Nelson: That was directly influenced by the Eric Garner situation that happened. The Eric Garner murder, actually. When it comes to cop shit it’s tough because I have a bunch of family whose on the police force. There are some good cops and some cops are fucking assholes. I think that that song is about the bad ones and the good ones who don’t speak up. Last year was strictly about accountability, at least, that was a theme in my life. That song was the first point where I was like, ‘mother fuckers need to start being held accountable.’ And for fucking everything, you hold yourself accountable. This year’s theme is intent. What do you intend to do with that accountability? You gotta do work. I’m not sure if he’s a super well known philosopher but this guy Manly P. Hall, he said very simply that we’re not here to live lavish lives, we’re here for a very simple thing: we’re here to do the work. Doing the work means just leaving here better than when we got here. It’s the most simple fucking idea but it’s pretty silly that nobody thinks that way anymore.
Was this Valentine’s Day your best Valentine’s Day yet because you were in the studio at Audiotree?
Nelson: I would say so! That shit was lit! It was really cool. I think as a band we needed that. Not just the Audiotree thing, but I think we needed that experience. I thought it went over really well and it was weird and we were saying some funny shit and it was kind of incoherent but coherent at the same time.
I got a great vibe of what you guys are about as a band and what your message is from that. A song really stuck out to me called “Woof,” and you sing, “everyone’s got bills for their parents to pay.” That resonated with me, that line right there, and I felt like that song was super inspirational to me.
Nelson: My parents had me super young. My dad wasn’t necessarily well off and my grandfather busted his ass to make sure that his kids had a house to live in. That was the first place I was brought back to, my grandparents house, so my grandparents raised me because they had the means to. My dad was a doorman, his first job was at a textile factory then he had to file for bankruptcy. He had me when he was 20, so this all happened by the time he was 26/27. Just in the fucking hole and my mom still had custody of me at the time, so I was about 10. My mom raised me until I was about 10 and that wasn’t easy. We grew up in Bed Stuy and we moved around a lot, but most of my time living with her was in Bed Stuy. That’s where I got my first apartment. My last job was there. My mom still lives in the same fucking projects that we lived in growing up. She lives right back in the same building, Section 8 housing. All that shit aside, the idea of that song simply stems from how oblivious people are to the human experience of others and how they’ll sit there and bitch about dumbass shit. Maybe they don’t bitch but they have these platforms, they have this privilege and what do people do with that? I’m not saying that it’s people’s responsibility and everybody has to help everybody out, but is that not humanity? It takes a village to raise em up and that song might be a little jaded, but fuck it.
Absolutely. A lot of people can’t see outside their own sense of self. In the music industry you probably see it a lot and in New York you probably see it a lot. A lot of people are probably getting their rent paid for.
Nelson: This is the hub! I will say, I never went to fucking college. I graduated when I was 17. I didn’t pick up as many books as I should have. I don’t have the best vocabulary in the world, but I do have intent behind the words that I’m saying. That song is maybe not the most eloquent song, none of my fucking songs are, but I think the idea is there. It all just stems back to being present and being aware that not everybody is blessed like some people are. My life was hard but there are people that have gone through way worse shit. That goes for everybody. Understanding the human experience and understanding the language and how we communicate these things. “Woof” comes from me working in bars my entire life and listening to the ‘bochinche’ as my Grandmother would say, and just me saying, “oh woof.”
I’ve seen Stuyedeyed perform a couple times and I feel like you go somewhere else when you perform, where do you go?
Nelson: I am a pretty outgoing dude, but I’m also so shy. I always feel a little bit out of control. I think that stems from my upbringing and never really being in control, just being dragged around places and being told, “this is what you’re doing now.” I think music was the first time, more specifically Stuyedeyed, where I felt in control. I think when we perform I’m allowed to be my fully realized self. Where I go is to a complete state of control. I become the most present I possibly can. I think off stage I’m more of an observer. When we’re playing I have a platform that a lot of people with my heritage, we’re all fucking hispanic dudes, that in any other given situation would not be allowed to say the shit that we say. I get to go up on stage and say, “Fuck cops,” but with reason. I go up there with the full understanding that I have a platform that not a lot of people do. I get to talk to the people who, in reality, help control how things are going. The kids who are coming to see us, in Brooklyn specifically, are kids who can afford to. Kids who have time to be there. Not kids, but fucking adults, who are there because they want to be. It’s my chance to be like, “Yo, were here now. We’re all here now. Pay attention. When you leave here, pay a little bit more attention.” So where I go to, my head space, I’m the same person but it’s just like a switch gets flicked. This is my time, you’re in my playhouse, so let’s fucking hang out. I like to shake people up a little bit, because nobody grows from being comfortable.
Absolutely! I totally fucking agree. I kind of finished this off with some easy ones (questions) because I knew I was going to go tough on you from the beginning, but you slayed that.
Nelson: [laughter] Let’s go through all the dumb questions, let’s do it.
What’s your go-to on tour food?
Nelson: It depends on destination. If we’re in New Orleans Shrimp Po’ Boy is the thing I have to get. We were in Austin, I for the most part have tried to maintain a vegetarian diet for awhile, but in Austin we definitely cheated and got some BBQ, had to get some brisket. We got In And Out, but when I’m broke, which is most of the fucking time, bread and hummus is the way to go.
On this next tour, where are you most excited to go or to return to?
Nelson: Canada for sure, because I’ve never been to Canada. I’ve never been out of the country, I just got my passport the other day. I’m excited to go tour the West Coast because I’ve only ever been to LA. I went for a girl when I was 19. I backpacked there and I didn’t know anybody so I was homeless in LA for like two weeks. I had my little rolly bookbag and I had my skateboard and I jerry rigged it all together, so I was just walking around downtown LA. It’s going to be cool in LA under a much different circumstance.
What’s to come for Stuyedeyed after this tour?
Nelson: We’re working on our full length. There’s a couple of good ones on there, similar to a lot of the shit that we normally talk. There’s a song on the record called “Your Parents Don’t Love You, They Just Give You Money For Free.” We’ll leave it at that, but the records going to be called Consume and Conceive. We recorded it mostly at my grandmother’s house, which is cool. There is going to be a zine coming out about that. Rachel Cabott did the zine from Pond. We documented it too, so there’s going to be some footage released. But yeah, just the record, some more touring, we’re going to take June off, except for one show June 15 at Mercury Lounge. Lots of touring, lots of introspective work.
Are you releasing the new record through King Pizza or Greenway Records?
Nelson: Not sure yet. We’re not done with the record yet. I just want to finish the record and then figure out a home for it. And then see what makes the most sense. It’s just about getting the whole shit done.
Any final thoughts?
Nelson: To repeat, nobody’s cool, nobody’s important, delete yourself, rebuild yourself. Nobody thinks you’re as cool as you think you are, ever.
Agreed. Thanks Nelson!
? © Alexandra Graber