“I was born and raised in New York — we fled to Jersey and I lived there for two years — and I remember sitting at the kitchen table in Jersey and just trying to process and reflect on everything that happened. And I felt like there was this place inside of my mind that I go to…but upon reflection in that moment, that I decided at the table about, basically the last 10 years of abuse that I had witness, there is this place in my brain that I go to where everything seems to just shut down,” explained enrique Jesus Hernandez on his opening track “theBASE.” The tribulations of life cause the majority of humans to bury their own stories, eventually revealing some aspects while none never make it to the “other side” of peace. For the Los Angeles-based artist, now this wasn’t a problem. Not only did Hernandez make it to the other side, but his experiences have created what he has dubbed “tools” for others to take their first step.
Hernandez and his music meshes the heavy mind, heart, and body into an industrial rock, cinematic masterpiece, heard on his debut EP, _HUNGER CITY]. The 5-track compilation is an artistic approach of personifying Hernandez’s stages of life, each crafted with care and precision as they cathartically bleed from their humbling concept. Portraying vivid imagery, from scenes of of a child as Hernandez would watch his mother bartend through the grime, an instant connection is made from listener to artist, as direct lines become more than a moment in time, but a true feat of motivation through Hernandez’s vulnerability.
The EP’s name takes reference from a line of David Bowie’s “Future Legend,” off his 1974 album, Diamond Dogs. Hernandez’s _HUNGER CITY] then bounces from Bowie’s own sentiments that led to a similar stairway within the smallest of details. “There are all of these different sounds, different stories and there’s a great deal of attention that asks of the audience or the listener to get the full vision that Bowie was trying to express, and so I sorta am demanding, and asking, for that same attention with _HUNGER CITY].”
“And I recognize that everybody doesn’t have the time for it,” continued Hernandez, “but this project is really for that person who is alone at night and needs to just put the headphones on and get to to sleep, or put headphones on and not listen to the surrounding, or [just] try to escape.” Through a cold brew on his end and a semi-hot cup of coffee on mine, his charisma and agile personality quickly jumped from concept to dissection of each track. Returning to the EP’s opening track, Hernandez’s structure rightfully came from a written portion that was first created at the age of 16. Seen as the “thought process” of how Hernandez dealt with the trauma, “theBASE” and its crumbling demeanor was simply the start of rebuilding. On the other side of the spectrum, the EP’s closing track, “theWAY,” we see a hopeful and complete version of Hernandez.
“‘I wrote ‘theWAY’ as a way …,” began Hernandez as he caught what he just said and laughed in the midst of his sentence. “I wrote it to really describe a principle — a way of living — that was sorta universal. And I what I did, I thought everyone knows, well not everyone knows, in my experience getting into action is the quickest form of getting towards any sorta solution or healing and as opposed from being in a state of mind that I was in on the first track. ‘theWAY’ is about just moving forward, and the success, and having an effort towards taking each step. And that’s kinda how the record ends and I think a lot of people are afraid of the outcome unless they see the next three steps clearly; they’re stuck. But the point of that track for me was to share an experience of not necessarily knowing what is on the other side of something but just trusting that it has to be better than the circumstance that you’re in.”
Implementing his emotions through fluid movements on stage, Hernandez’s live performances display that there is truly something better on the other side of fear and the unknown. Penned from personal and vulnerable, conceptual stories, Hernandez’s positive influence reaches far beyond music, writing, and performance art. Feeling the need for LGBTQ musicians to express themselves and share stories, Hernandez founded the monthly showcase, Gay Guts, that is hosted the last Sunday of each month at Boardner’s in Los Angeles. With a sharp name that sets a heavy mood, Hernandez’s logic not only stemmed from his own vulnerability but of different exclusions that are seen from various scenes.
“It’s a whole spectrum between people who are from the underground being super authentic, or super expressive from their personal experiences (not having a lot of money just like broke), to the upper-ground, to the WeHo, Beverly Hills area where they’re less intimate,” explained Hernandez as he describes the different scenes he’s played in. “It’s not really about their own personal experience but they have a lot of funding*, and it’s all really face value stuff. And so I find myself a little bit in the middle… and I wanted to create a space with other artists who are not necessarily complete DIY, in terms of they don’t have all the resources, [and] I wanted to bridge the gap, and literally that ended up being Hollywood! So, I really made a place where I wanted to be comfortable and where I can belong. And I knew there were others like me.”
Between some sips of cold brew and a slight delay, Hernandez mediated on his next sentence, muttering to himself the lost thoughts. “Oh, and it takes guts,” added Hernandez as he found the missing words. “Here’s another thing, in my social scene I know there’s sorta a lot of empowerment of queer POC, queer femme, and that is incredible and amazing, but personally, and this might be controversial to share — and it is coming from a place of privilege — I’ve felt that my masculinity hasn’t been welcomed and is looked at as a threat. And I think when causes first start out there’s an extreme point of view, lets just say [in this case] queer poc/femininity, needing to be exposed needing to be welcomed, but there is an element of isolating.
“So, I just wanted to share and have a place to where I can say I am a male. I’m gay. I’m masculine, and I’m sensitive. And this is an all welcoming place and to further break the stereotype… my masculinity is not toxic here. My masculinity is sensitive and there’s a sensitivity to it.”
With the next musical installment being called lovers relapse,’ Hernandez continues implementing his past into conceptual projects. While _HUNGERCITY] showcased a sense of resiliency and hope, Hernandez expressed the next project will not have the same sentiments, yet will not be of hopelessness, adding that the outside cannot save an individual, but simply the strength needs to come from within. “It’s another tool, just how _HUNGERCITY] is a tool, but HC is a bit more straightforward, ‘you got this you can do this, it’s not your fault,’ where ‘lovers relapse’ is ‘this is my shit show, can you relate?,'” laughed Hernandez.
Trailing off into the after effects of caffeine, as Hernandez began pacing back and forth with me on the other end of the phone, the road to hunger city began to make its final stop. As inspiring as his music, Hernandez’s light radiated through the phone and eased each question effortlessly. From his time in Harlem, Jersey, to Los Angeles, to his enjoyment of grunge music — and exceptional taste to the likes of Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead — Hernandez’s life experiences were simply that. Instead of each story using him, Hernandez decided to use each story, genuinely crafting them as his tools for the next step, and for others who come his way.
“I think a part of what my job is to provide tools and creative vessels of honest truth from my own life. And the next step is to hand this off to people so they can hand to others. Listeners need to support art, they need to listen to the people around them, and to suggest and share what has been helpful to them.”
Next Gay Guts event is 8/19. Details here
Correction 8/12/18: Previous quote stated, “It’s not really about their own personal experience but they have a lot of fun being*…” where in fact the sentence should have been, “It’s not really about their own personal experience but they have a lot of funding*.” Correction has been made and marked with an asterisk for indication. Due to the incorrect word from the editor which changed the context, additional clarity from Hernandez has been added.
- This was my first phone interview and I was pretty nervous for it, so I noticed looking back at it that I worded a couple of things poorly, and I sincerely apologize for my mistake. To clarify the above quote, if I booked you for Gay Guts, I see you as an artist of substance who allows yourself to be vulnerable, and you aren’t a part of the WeHo, Beverly Hills funded projects that I mentioned who I believe are less intimate and are about face value.Also, when I said I’m in the middle, I meant in regards to funding. I find myself having more funding than some artists in the underground scene, but in no way being able to compete with the funding of the upper ground that I described.I created Gay Guts to bridge the gap between those worlds – a place that is equal ground for authenticity, regardless of funding and social media followers, so we all end up on the same stage together.