Xibalba were far from being in my top 10 when they first started. I was pretty much just into Youth Crew / NYHC at that time. But with the years passing I like it and each record got me more excited. Their last one «Tierra Y Libertad» is probably the heaviest record I’ve listen to in years. It’s a perfect blend of hardcore and a few styles I recently started to get into more and more : Doom and Death. With that new direction they took since «Hasta La Muerte» I can’t wait to see a new record drops and bang my head harder than ever before. Brian was kind enough to take a bit of his time to answer a few questions.
[This interview featured in the first issue of the printed fanzine STRAIGHT & ALERT #1 but for those who didn’t scoop a copy I decided to post it all again here]
Not a really extravagant way to start but, please introduce yourself and the band. Who’s who, doing what and give us a little history of XIBALBA?
My name is Brian Ortiz, I play guitar in Xibalba. Nate on vocals, Jason Brunes on Drums, Jensen Hucle on Bass and Smiguel Salazar on guitar.
Are / were some of you in any other bands, running labels or doing any other music related activities?
I was in a straightedge band back in the day called Time for Chance, I played drums. Nate, Jason and Jensen were in a hardcore band called Out of Heart and Mikey was in a band called Colossal. Nate run SOS Booking too.
Could you tell us what XIBALBA means, and why did you name the band like this?
Xibalba’s literal translation means “Place of Fear” it’s the Mayan underworld. It’s also a physical place in Guatemala. When we were trying to come up with names, we were looking up Aztec and Mayan themed names because we are all Latino/Hispanic. We decided to lean more towards Mayan because not everyone was of Mexican decent. Jason’s family is from El Salvador and when Bryan Valdivia was in the band, his family is from Nicaragua. So Xibalba was evil sounding so we used it.
Do you consider yourself as religious or into any spiritual stream?
I can’t speak for everyone, but I’m pretty sure none of us are religious. As for Spiritual, I wouldn’t consider myself to be but I do acknowledge the fact that we all have a soul and there are energies in everything that when released, have to go somewhere. I just don’t know where. I’d like to believe it gets re distributed throughout the earth. But like I said, who the fuck knows? Everyone is a god and a master of themselves.
I’ve read somewhere you started the band in 2007 but put out your first record « Madre Mia Gracia Por Los Dias» 2 years later, in 2009. Why did it take you so long to have a first release out?
When we started we put out a demo called 12.2012 at the end of 2007 and kind of just sat on that because Xibalba was originally a side project. So we all kind of just took our time. We had material written for Madre Mia for a while before we started tracking the record. Plus we didn’t have a place to jam. My parents didn’t let us jam there because we were TOO loud. Nate at the time was in school full time. So it was a combination of shit that kept us lagging on a full length.
We are now in 2015 and you’ve put out two other incredible LPs «Hasta La Muerte» and «Tierra y Libertad». You’ve slowly evolved from crushing 90’s influenced hardcore with heavy breakdowns to pure Doom / Death Metal. In my opinion, from one record to another you kept improving yourself. What are you main influences? Did they change since you’ve started the band?
Thank you! The bands that are always in the back of my head when writing have been Crowbar, Morbid Angel, and Obituary. I won’t say that my taste has changed much since other then discovering new death or doom metal bands. But you are right, I am huge fan of 90’s hardcore! Disembodied, Overcast, Earth Crisis, Excessive Force, Strife, Buried Alive, Hatebreed were bands that had a huge influence on me. As for now, I just write what feels right. I like to take whatever I’m feeling and throw it into a song.
If I’m feeling pissed or extra agro one day I will write some hard shit. The next day I might feel sad then I will throw that into the mix or create something just for that. It just depends. Honestly I don’t know what the fuck I am doing when I write, I just do it and it turns into something cool I guess. But I keep trying to better myself and mix up formulas and structuring. More death/doom coming in the future.
Did you mostly receive bad or good comments about the evolution of your music?
It’s been mixed but I would say overall it has been a great reception. I mean if you go back to Madre Mia, it’s pretty obvious were trying to do some metal shit, if you look at Hasta, it’s even more obvious. Then Tierra came out and everyone was like “this is more death metal” well yea, fool! That’s what we’ve always been trying to do! But yes, the reception has been pretty good. I think it has opened up a lot more windows for us to break through in terms of different kinds of shows.
Your last two records were released by SOUTHERN LORD RECORDS, famous for being ran by guys of SUNN O))) and BROTHERHOOD. I’m a huge BROTHERHOOD fan and youth crew in general.
Are you guys into classic hardcore like the whole NY Youth Crew / Boston 80’s hardcore for instance or are your musical tastes more metal oriented?
You know it! Youth of Today, GB, Sick of it All (not youth crew) were some of the first hardcore bands I got into as a young punk. Then I got into In My Eyes, Ten Yard Fight and other types of youth crew shit. But have always been drawn to heavier shit. I know Nate was pretty big on youth crew shit like me back in the day. And yes, I fucked with Brotherhood extremely hard back in the day too.
«El Vacio», the last song of «Tierra Y Libertad» is a Doom song, becoming even my favorite XIBALBA song. The end reminds me a lot PALLBEARER which is monument in that genre.
Was it hard to write a song in a completely new style? Should we expect your next record to sound more Doom?
Thank you! I love Pallbearer, they seriously put out the best record of the year in 2014. With El Vacio, I had Corrupted’s “El Mundo Frio” an Ahab’s “The Sermon” in my head when writing this. It wasn’t hard at all to write, I’ve been writing shit like that for a while, I just never had the confidence to write just a straight doom song for a Xibalba record. I figured no one would like it. But we said fuck it, it’ll add a whole new dynamic to the band and make us unique and show our versatility. I don’t think we’re going to be writing a straight up doom record but we will incorporate it into our sound/style. It was also the first time I had sang a whole song without Nate on it.
Generally speaking, what are your lyrics dealing with?
They range from streetwise shit to sad shit, revolutionary shit to suicide shit and all types of ill shit. We’re write what we feel and if we’re angry were gonna write some angry shit. It’s all about how we’re feeling in the moment and what’s in our heads. Nate writes a majority of the lyrics. But me and Jason write some too.
You have some songs in both English and Spanish. What’s the purpose of switching from one to another? Does the usage of one idiom rather than another, depend on the topic you want to cover?
This kind of goes along with the last question, it’s all about feeling. If Nate wants to sing in Spanish, that’s what he is going to do. Sometimes the rhythmic patterns are easier for him.
There is a big Hispanic community in the SoCal hardcore scene. Do you think it has an impact on the scene itself? This might sound a bit naïve but, is there in any way more unity or, on the contrary, some rivalry existing like the kind we can observe among gangs?
I don’t think it has a particular impact on the scene. Our scene is like every other scene in this world. I think that the Hispanic vibe my come into affect in terms of how close we are to our families. We use that up bringing and bring it into hardcore. The SoCal scene is very close and tight. As far as rivalry goes, there really isn’t any of that shit no more.
With the style of music you play I assume your shows are pretty violent. What’s your opinion about it? Are you the kind of band to encourage people to mosh harder when you are on stage or you simply do you not give a flying fuck?
We encourage kids to have fun, if that means to bash their friend’s skull in, they by all means, as long as it’s all good. However, we don’t like to see kids hurt at our shows, so as long as it’s all out of fun, we have no problem with it. Everyone is there for the same reason and a good chunk of them want to release some energy and tension. If someone wants to jump on stage and sock me in the face, by all means, go for it. as long as I doesn’t fuck up my playing, I’m all about it.
A lot of metal-head friends of mine are into your band. Do these people come to your gigs or are there only hardcore kids? Are you sometimes playing shows with metal bands only?
Depends on the line-up. But there are a few that show up from time to time. I would honestly like to see a lot more at our shows. We’ve played metal shows before and have gotten good responses from them. I’d like to see us on a lot more metal shows coming up. We have California Death fest we’re palying, so I’m stoked on that.
Who are the artists who are in charge of your artworks? They really fit to your sound and give a strong feeling of chaos and apocalypse. What’s your process when you work on your designs? Do you come to the guy with a specific idea or do you give them carte blanche?
The artwork for «Hasta La Muerte» and «Tierra Y Libertad» have been done by Dan Seagrave. We were stoked to work with him because he’s done so much good cover art for a lot of great death metal bands that we love. So being able to have him do out art work was like a dream come true. I don’t know his process but do know that we would give him the title of the record and a few lyrics and he would then go on to create.
East Coast VS West Coast! According to you, who was the first hardcore band? THE MIDDLE CLASS with their «Out Of Vogue» EP, BLACK FLAG with the «Nervous Breakdown» 7», both records released in 1978 in Cali, or BAD BRAINS with their «Black Dots» demo , in 1978 too ,but on the other side of the country ?
That’s a tough one, but I’d have to say Bad Brains.
Last words, shout outs and everything you want to say
Thank you for the kind words about our music and for the interview. Shout out to California for being badass.
You can find some XIBALBA records on the store !