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The Weirder the Better 

LA's Protect Me on growing old and growing strange

click to enlarge Protect Me: Hard to hear and hard to see.
  • Protect Me: Hard to hear and hard to see.

It’s fitting that Luis Castillo is almost completely impossible to understand on the phone. His band, Protect Me, is kind of the same.

Most of the sounds on the Los Angeles duo’s 2009 album are just out of reach, the aural equivalent of trying to touch falling snowflakes in a 3D movie theater. Vocals are way down in the mix, sounding more like an ambient drone than actual humans singing real words. Even the poppiest track, the dance-punk song “Firebox,” shows Castillo and guitarist Jordan Espino singing different verses over the top of each other before coming together on the chorus. It’s the closest thing the band gets to their old avant-garde punk band, Ima F---ing Gymnast, who toured through Spokane several times.

From what sounds like the inside of a tin can, Castillo, 23, explains over the phone that the longer the two friends have been in bands together, the stranger their music has gotten.

“In [Ima F---ing Gymnast], we were really young and we listened to punk music. Nowadays, we’re getting into different aspects of punk, and more, like, darker stuff and more electronic things,” he says. “We’re punk — I guess more experimental, you’d say.”

Castillo explains that, growing up in the San Fernando Valley, he and Espino found their tribe at a Los Angeles all-ages venue called the Smell.

“There isn’t a lot of venues that are all-ages in downtown, so it’s really good for the community,” he says. The two would volunteer there, run the sound, take money at the door.

“Me and Jordan got kind of addicted to being in bands [then],” he says. “And, yeah, half of the bands, they were really weird, too.”

Weird in a good way. The Smell became famous for producing bands like No Age, a lo-fi pop band that got themselves signed to Sub Pop Records. Noise-rockers Health started there, too, moving on to produce one of music’s strangest videos with Tim and Eric’s Eric Wareheim, for their song “We Are Water.” Those are the people the Protect Me kids found their sound around, and the Smell’s in-house label even produced their first record.

Castillo says that the sound they have with Protect Me, though weird, is finding an audience.

“Other bands have started … popping out that are kind of sounding like us,” he says. “We definitely found the sound that we’re comfortable with now. We kind of, like, act like ourselves more and more,” he says, “and we’re like, ‘Are we weird? Yeah, but in a cool way, not in a negative way.’” But he says that weird-in-a-cool-way is, in some senses, becoming the new cool.

“People are trying to find a new sound. I feel like there’s a new wave of music kind of coming up,” he says. “People are trying to change it up.”

At least that’s what I think he said.

Protect Me with the Soul and the Machine and 66beat • Fri, March 16, at 10 pm • Baby Bar • Donations only • 21+ • 847-1234

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