Revíva, Albuquerque’s premier New Mexican reggae and ranchera outfit, has a gig planned for Valentine’s Day. The 11-year-old local incarnation of groove and danceably upbeat tunes performs on Friday, Feb. 14 at Launchpad (618 Central Ave. SW) with hip El Paso Latinx combo Sol de la Noche in an event aptly titled Noche De Amor.
Weekly Alibi gave Revíva band leader Chris Brennan a ring to find out more. The band it turned out, was playing a matanza in Jarales, New Mexico when the phone rang. Between bites of chicharrones drenched in green chile, Brennan told our correspondent that they’d be back in town later that afternoon and would love to talk.
All five members of Revíva would be at Slice Parlor, a pizza parlor in Nob Hill around 6pm, and would love it if Weekly Alibi’s music critic would join them there, Brennan said invitingly.
Half an hour later, the five members of the ensemble—including Brennan, lead guitarist Brian Shonerd, drummer Ragon Espinoza, bassist Adam Moffett and keyboardist Rick Gonzalez—gathered at a big table in a warm pizza parlor to talk about their history and future, music in Albuquerque and what it really means to play on the upbeat.
Our reporter received a warm welcome, sitting down among the group of enthused Burqueño musicians. Their manager, the inimitable Alex Paramo, sat at the head of the table and our correspondent took a seat in the middle. He sat next to the drummer and his wife while on the other side, the keyboard player perused the menu. Everyone else in the band, including the leader, sat across from him.
Handshakes and compliments were exchanged, a jumbo pizza with white sauce was ordered. Our writer passed on the beer and ordered a Diet Coke as Shonerd began discoursing on the band.
Shonerd began his part of the Revíva story by noting that the word “nerd” is naturally part of his last name. Besides that, he remembers being involved with music since he was a young child. There were a bevy of bluegrass musicians in his South Valley neighborhood, he recalled. “I grew up around bluegrass guitarists and Jewish folk musicians.” He learned those styles of playing and they influence his work even now. He’s even recorded an album of klezmer music.
Shonerd has a deep understanding of the music theory that styles like klezmer music involve. “It’s built on a harmonic minor scale. It has an augmented second. It’s really the same as a minor third but when you run the harmony in perfect thirds, it becomes a second.” Shonerd then sings the interval he’s talking about—clearly and precisely in tune—using a deep, resonating voice that is passionate yet humble. The brief musical display causes the band’s drummer, Ragon Espinoza, to laugh heartily and interject.
Now that the reporter knows what sort of music is at the heart of Shonerd’s guitar playing, Ragon Espinoza wants to know what the journalist fancies; he also tells about his myriad influences and history with the band.
The name Frank Zappa comes up and then a brief discussion of Captain Beefheart follows. Ragon reveals that he’s a proud graduate of UNM’s most awesome percussion studies program at the Department of Music. After a couple of woof-woofs, hearty fistbumps and mention of professors Christopher Shultis and Scott Ney, the drummer moves on to talk about his experience in the scene and with Reviva in particular.
“I came up playing in hardcore bands. A lot of metal bands, too. I think everybody starts out—when they’re younger, they played more metal stuff, harder stuff—but everyone on the scene is like, ‘I used to play in this grunge thing or I was in a punk band. But now they’re playing stuff like jazz, hip-hop, reggae.”
Espinoza wants to know if Weekly Alibi’s music critic plays out. After fiddling with the question for a few seconds, our reporter mentions his connection to longtime Burque rocker Jimmy Stallings. Shonerd chimes in and reminds the expectant pizza-eaters at the table that he recently jammed with Stallings and says he “has a great voice,” adding that “Stallings has been playing all around the brewery circuit lately and he’s ripping it up.”
“That’s pretty badass,” Espinoza notes as bandleader Chris Brennan steps up to the microphone.
Brennan is a founding member of Revíva and the outfit’s primary songwriter. He points to the strength of the ensemble and its players as the main reason Reviva still continues to find success on the local popular music scene and beyond.
“Adam and Ragon do really well together. The rhythm section is really important in reggae. And Rick Gonzalez, our keyboard and melodica player, has been a real staple in the band in terms of creativity and influence. We’re working on some cumbias and some dance songs, expanding our musical reach because of Rick. He’s such a cool songwriter and he’s very important to Revíva’s sound. He could have his own band, but he writes his best songs for us.”
Brennan’s affection and respect for his bandmates comes through in his quiet, almost intense demeanor. He’s clearly not so much interested in talking about himself as he is about the other members of the band, their accomplishments and how Revíva builds on a sense of community to make great music.
Gonzalez says that his background is in guitar playing, keyboard wrestling and the sort of songwriting that comes from being a wandering yet very capable multi-
When asked what he liked about his current arrangement, Gonzalez throws some sly humor into the conversation, saying with a determinedly stoic tone, “I like singing backup vocals.” Before our reporter can reply, two of the other band members chime in, shouting, “You don’t just sing backup, you sing a lot of leads!”
Gonzalez corrects himself, smiling and telling those present, “I sing the leads on the songs that I write.” Espinoza interjects again with comic effect, commenting that he can’t sing lead with “a mustache like that.”
Moffett is the newest member of Revíva, and probably one of its most important. As noted above, the rhythm section of a reggae band is an essential part of its overall grooviness and Moffett represents the heart of the band.
“Our music represents New Mexico through the spirit of love. Today, for example, there was this much older, disabled couple in the audience and we got them up and dancing. There were senior citizens, numerous older folks, at our last gig. They get to smile and dance. I think New Mexicans can relate to that, and to our music; it’s joyful, danceable music.”
Brennan says that the band’s current focus is on creating new music and mounting a tour this spring. The band will be hitting select cities in northern California later this year. “We’re really into rancheras right now,” he told us. “We learned a couple of those this week and premiered them at the matanza in Jarales. It feels so natural, and these are the roots of New Mexican music.”
Moffett agrees and said that after today’s gig down south, he urged Gonzalez to write more in that traditional New Mexican style that draws upon polkas and love ballads for its inspiration. “Rick told me that’s been a part of Revíva the whole time. We’re not a traditional reggae band, we’re a New Mexican reggae band, and what makes us unique is that folk influence.”
Shonerd added “Revíva is also based on the music that came through and took root in New Mexico in the ’80s and ’90s, like grunge music and California reggae. So we were influenced by SoCal music. I think that when you’re studying music, knowing the story is just as important as understanding the theoretical elements. It’s good to know about the history and lives of the people who make the music.”
Asked to sum it all up for Alibi readers, Brennan is succinct and focused in this conclusion. “I would say that Revíva is love. And love is a universal and intergalactic thing that we call all experience through music.”
“Or pizza!” exclaimed Espinoza.
At that precise moment, a huge, steaming New York-style pie arrived, proving Brennan right but ending any more serious musical discourse for the evening.