There were so many good releases in 2016, but if I had to choose my top favorite, it would easily be MakeWar‘s Developing a Theory of Integrity.
Toby from Red Scare sent that album my way to check out and after listening to it at my paying gig about six times in a row, I learned that they were playing the Dag House’s final show the next night. I pretty much freaked out like a kid with excitement and was sure to see them play a quick set in the basement of a true punk house. I was so excited that I missed the last step into that basement and ate it into the wall.
After their set, I wanted to support the band and buy some merch off and ran into Jose asking him where their goods were. He told me that all the merch was packed up and the band was about to leave for Omaha, but stopped dead in his tracks, walked out to his tour van, and got me a LP. I felt stupid holding the band up, but was more impressed that Jose postponed leaving.
Jose and the rest of the guys chatted it up with me for a few and I cracked up when they told me they did not realize Omaha was so far from Cleveland and that they probably should not have booked a show that far.
I decided I wanted to do a little interview with Jose and just learn more about him and the band. He was totally down for it and the little interview I intended to do turned into quite a big one. I refuse to cut a lot of it out as I loved chatting with him so much. It’s seriously a great read.
Check out the interview I did with Jose Prieto
What’s up Jose? Thanks for taking a few moments to talk. I know MakeWar used to be Sad and French, but I don’t know the whole story.
Can you just start from the beginning and tell me how Sad and French eventually turned into MakeWar?
Well, Sad and French used to be the name I went by when playing the open mic at this great dive in Miami called Churchill’s. Churchill’s had an open mic every Wednesday and and a great welcoming group of people. It transformed me from doing silly covers to drunkenly showing them some super personal sad songs I was writing at the time about that one that got away.
After I moved to New York, I had a good handful of songs under that name and finally started playing “real” solo shows and made a couple of super low budget home recording EPs. Then my best friend from college, Edwin Santacruz, who I first met back in Florida on our first semester of school, moved to New York, crashed on my couch, and that’s how the real Sad and French began.
It was just Edwin and I, upright bass and an acoustic guitar. We knew we wanted a drummer, but we tried a couple and they just didn’t click with us. So we went ahead and recorded our first LP as a duo. Simple, raw, acoustic. The songs were written that way so why not memorize them in time and space that way. Black Numbers from [New] Jersey helped us put that LP and boom, we were a real band!
The thing is, right after that LP was recorded, I went out on Valentine’s Day trying to find someone or forget about someone and not be alone that night, and thats the night I met Greg Taylor. He was flirting with the girl I was talking to right before I had to go to the bathroom. And it was friendship at first sight!. Greg, who turned out to be another fellow Floridian, also loved Against Me! – which it was the sound Edwin and I were trying to go for with SNF – and also played the drums. After I showed Greg the acoustic LP, he loved it and we tried really hard to keep it that way, You know minimal drums, acoustic instruments, old school Against Me! style, but something was changing. I kept on turning the the acoustic guitar louder to a point of overdriven feedback madness and kept on playing every song faster and faster and it just sounded better. It was way more fun to play. So we switch to electric guitar and bass, and collectively decided that this band was not a solo act named Sad and French anymore. This was a completely different beast. So we changed our name to MakeWar and the rest is history… Well till now at least… haha
Damn dude, I think you answered pretty much everything I needed to know about the history of MakeWar. Thanks! Sounds like you followed suit with Laura Jane Grace in that you started solo and how have a band that pretty much is a powerhouse. How stoked are you about what MakeWar has turned into?
Its truly a dream come true man. I finally have the band I always wanted to have. Who is down to tour?
So why did you initially name yourself Sad and French? Hell, how did you guys come up with the name MakeWar?
hahaha. Sad and French comes from a drunken conversation with a good friend of mine. She used to say that I always look sad. Then she said I look like that French singer Herman Dune. We joked about me being sad and French.
MakeWar comes from a million other names we had when we decided to change our name. I knew it sounded intense. But I also knew it was a great way to describe the “wars” that were going inside my head.
So where do you all originally hail from? I know y’all live in NYC currently and lived in Miami as just previously stated.
So Greg is straight up from Florida, born and raised. Edwin is from Colombia, born and raised, but moved to the states when he was 17. I was born in Miami, but raised in Venezuela. I lived there with my parents and siblings until I graduated from high school. That’s when I decided I wanted to move to the states. The land of opportunities, shit was easy here right? I was hoping for college to be like an American Pie movie. I was gonna get my Venezuelan band called The Go Go Punkers sign to Epitaph or Fat or something, get the rest of the band to move to Florida, and we were gonna live that punk lifestyle we always dreamed of or saw on VHS tapes like Ten Years of Fucking Up or any of the Kung Fu Records silly movies, or SLC Punk.
But shit wasn’t easy man. I didn’t speak any English, the internet wasn’t really there yet, and the record labels weren’t writing offers back…probably cuz who the fuck names their band The Go Go Punkers? Probably the same guy that came up with Sad and French am I right? haha
Dude, even I thought college was going to be like American Pie. Growing up outside of the states, how were you introduced to punk rock music?
I hated school man. I was an outcast that never, ever had good grades and always failed all his classes. But I had a great handful group of friends I grew up with and all we wanted to do was skateboard and go surfing.
I was probably introduced to punk rock that way. Skateboarding and surfing VHSs. But I remember the day a friend from high school showed me Blink 182 Dude Ranch. That shit blew my mind. But then an older friend introduced me to what he called real punk. Lagwagon, NOFX, Pennywise, Bad Religion, I was hooked man.
We all probably owned 2 or 3 CDs back then, so we used to get together at someone’s house, bring all the CDs, and make mix tapes with them. There was no internet back then, or maybe there was, Napster was a thing, but downloading 1 song took hours. We were the weird kids who didn’t listen to reggaeton, and only went to parties to drink free beers and hit on girls, but hated the popular music down there. Techno and reggaeton was the music everyone used to listen to in Venezuela in the late 90s.
I need to look up Reggaeton, something tells me I am not going to dig it… Kids these days have no idea how good they got it. I remember the days of Napster and remember when CDs were released. I make mixes off of cassettes, I feel old now.
Reggaeton is the worst. I remember having a Walkman that only had a play button. I had to use a pen with tape to rewind the cassettes.
Kids will never know that struggle. Outside of the band, what do you do for a living?
Edwin and I do freelance graphic design. He focuses more on the animation industry and I work mostly on the advertising industry. Greg is a bartender, he makes people happy and drunk, and they give him money. What a great job. I sit in front of a computer all day coming up with ideas that your ad blocker is probably going to erase, or your Hulu account is going to skip, or our XM Radio host is going to talk over. But hey, I can’t complain, [it] pays the bills.
What other projects have you been involved in, or has it only been Sad and French and MakeWar?
So when I was a teen, The Go Go Punkers. It sounded like Lagwagon meets NOFX meets Millencolin. I used to write the lyrics in Spanish down into my Windows 95 shitty computer and translate them into English using probably the first translator ever use on a machine called Power Translator. We didn’t want to sing in Spanish cuz our big plan was to move to the states and get signed. We were so naive.
Then in college, I had a cool post hardcore project called Forthwith. We wanted to sound just like Thrice and I think we did. The thing was, our priorities were kind of shifted then.
After that, Edwin and I joined a new local Miami hardcore band called Zamora Bleeds. This was back in the day when screaming and singing pretty were super cool. We only played two shows. Somehow I got kicked out of the band, and after hearing this, Edwin quit. Edwin forever MVP.
Greg’s repertoire is more impressive. He was part of many Florida bands. To name a few, From First to Last, The Holy Mountain, Party Time. Then in New York he joined Mischief Brew, for a couple of tours and albums before getting hit by a cop car on his bike, He used to be a bike messenger.
Man, I kind of want to hear some Go Go Punkers now. Sounds rad and I absolutely love your plan as a teen. I gotta ask, do you pick on Greg ever for being in a band with Skrillex?
He was in FFTL pre-Skrillex era. Funny thing is that the newest FFTL single in years just came out a couple of months ago and what does Skrillex decides to call it? MAKE WAR. I think Skrillex is fucking with Greg now. Maybe not. But surely was weird. All I know is whatever ownership we had of that MakeWar hashtag we lost it after that song dropped down. #makewar is now about emo kids that love Skrillex and Jesus now.
Skrillex even ripped off the cover of that album from another band. Now, how did you get hooked up with Toby at Red Scare? Did you have to bribe him like I do just to get him to notice me?
Hahaha. I actually knew little about Toby then, I heard he was a mysterious man. Red Scare had and has some of my favorite bands, but we weren’t really ready or even looking for a new label the day I met Brendan Kelly. He had an acoustic show cancelled at The Knitting Factory because of a massive snowstorm that hit New York [in] January of 2016, I had 2 shows cancelled too. Our mutual friend Seth just opened up a bar that terrible icy weekend here in Bushwick and asked Brendan to come play the opening party. Then he asked me last minute if I wanted to open acoustically for Brendan Kelly at his newly opened bar. He promised free drinks all night long.
I liked Brendan, I liked the Lawrence Arms, I even liked that acoustic cover he did of “Kiss the Bottle”, I just never met him before. After I played my set he came up to me and said something like “dude, holy shit, I have to go after you now? fuck! That was awesome!”
After he was done with his set, we got real drunk and he said he wanted to sign my band. I really thought it was just drunk talk because he’s never seen us play., but I guess he really liked me and believed in me. So he texts Toby on the spot and somehow convinced him we were real good. I’m so happy our shows got cancelled and we got to play acoustic together. I’m so happy him and Toby were into the new record, and happy we didn’t suck when Toby saw us for the first time opening for The Falcon 2 months later. The rest is history.
It was destiny for you guys apparently. I think it worked out just fine. Your band is a melodic punk rock favorite of mine. MakeWar’s debut really seemed to have lots and lots of feelings in it whereas the latest MakeWar release, Developing a Theory of Integrity, was about growing up and just taking life as it comes. Was there a certain moment in life that just had you realize life is what you make of it and have fun?
Well I think that “moment” you are talking about was the moment when I had my first panic attack, thinking it was a heart attack, that sent me straight to the ER and a bunch of million dollars later, I learned that I couldn’t keep hiding those feelings with just booze and random hookups. I needed to do something about it. Thats when I wrote Developing a Theory of Integrity. I needed to say goodbye to the old Sad and French memory. I needed to say goodbye to my late grandfather. I needed to focus and cure this new mental illness I was randomly introduced by because I didn’t want to depend on a depressing looking little pill every fucking day. I think Developing a Theory of Integrity is definitely about friendship and growing, not necessarily up but forward, How true friends, family, and babes help you see the party at the end of the tunnel.
Well dude, it sounds like you are on the right track. Thanks for sharing that. Who are some of your inspirations that have more or less built up your style?
Mmmmm, I guess the same as when I was young, Lagwagon is still to this date my favorite band. Anything on the first 3 or 4 Punkoramas or Fat Music for Fat People comps. Or that 90s sound Superdrag, Nada Surf, Built to spill, Appleseed Cast.
That Fat Music For Fat People Volume 2 changed my life. I still listen to it today. What is it about Lagwagon that you dig so much?
You have to understand I didn’t speak any english back then. Punk rock to me was about the feeling I felt when I listened to it. It was about those guitar octaves and solos, the fast drum beats, the vocal melodies. Joey Cape, to me, was so inventive and creative in the way he came up with his vocal melodies in Lagwagon. I didn’t know what he was saying, but I felt that he meant what he was saying and that had some sort of meaning to me. I remember kissing a girl for the first time with “Want” from Let’s Talk About Leftovers was playing in her room. I remember listening to Let’s Talk About Feeling for the first time while watching the waves get better and better from our beach house.
I remember the first time I saw them live at the Warped Tour in Florida back in 2003. I ran really fast from stage to stage because I really didn’t want to miss them. But on the way to their stage somehow lost my wallet, and I had to make a big decision then. Do I miss Lagwagon and go look for my wallet with all the money I had, my student ID, my dad’s credit card for emergencies only or do I stay here first row and watch my favorite band? I decided to stay and watch them. Tears of joy and anger were falling down my stupid teenage face and I was so fucking happy. Never found the wallet but someone mailed all my documents to my dorm a couple of weeks later. No money though.
That is the ultimate Warped story. Seriously, I could imagine that happening to myself. I did not event think of the language barrier for you growing up. So upon hearing the music, you probably liked what you heard without understanding what they were singing about, right?
Yeah man, I dont know how to explain it. Like I felt the music and vocal melodies before knowing what they were about.
You should really look into working with Cape in the future with his One Week project. With your Sad and French past, I could totally see you doing something that route, plus the dude is your fracking hero. That would be bad ass.
I know man. Joey and I actually played some shows together back in the Sad and French days. He doesn’t really know how much I admire him because I just don’t wanna be that weird fan boy. I rather be his friend. All I hope is that One week project happens and happens naturally. Then maybe I can tell him about all my Lagwagon tattoos. hahaha.
Well maybe he will read this. I have featured him on a site a few times now. Aside from Cape, who are some of your favorite artists out there today?
I’ve been listening to that new Menzingers record non stop. Before that it was Pup The Dream is Over. I really like that new Meat Wave record too! The new Nothington is perfect. I got big hopes on that new Flats record. Red City Radio is a great looking band with great catchy songs. Oh let’s not forget about Arms Aloft and Good Friend from Red Scare. We triple signed with the label at the same time. Their records are incredible. I really hope to do something with those boys soon.
Both Arms Aloft and Good Friend rule! So does pretty much everyone else you just mentioned. You are hitting the road with my pals Worship This! for a quick tour. How did you hook up with these guys?
Our friend Rob ‘Good Time” Peters introduced me to them by asking me to book them a show here in New York. I booked the back room of Legion in Brooklyn and had a great time. We hung out and drank a ton of whiskey. We bonded. Also I liked Aaron’s beard.
Only because I know of his excellence, I need to ask, how did you meet Rob? Also, Aaron’s beard is a glorious.
Rob saw me at one of my highest moments in life. I was on tour with Sad and French (pre Greg) in Fort Collins, Colorado. We played the famous Surfside 7. After the show, Jon Snodgrass, who is one of my favorite humans of all time, asked me if I wanted to stick around an extra day and maybe sing a song with the Descendents at the annual Descendents Live Karaoke they do there. I was speechless.
If I ever have kids or dogs one day, I’ll be so proud of telling them I got to sing “Cheer” with the Descendents at Surfside 7 one day, and in Rob’s words, I killed it! He posted the video of me doing that and sent me the link. So fucking glad someone taped that! Somehow in the next year or so he moved to New York and hit me up and we’ve been friends since. We both have a really good appreciation of hot wings. We like go out of our way to find the best wings. Im so happy he is coming with us on this tour. Rob knows how to have a good time.
So I’ve heard. So, what has the response been like to anyone who as not seen/heard of you while on tour?
New fans really like the energy we have. And they are all in love with Edwin, he is the best looking member. That’s until they smell Greg. Then they are in love with Greg. Greg has this weird after-drumming-never-shower pheromones that I don’t really understand.
Personal question: Are you still cool with me since i shorted you a dollar at the Dag House last Fall? I promise I will pay it back one day. I seriously felt like a jackass for that one.
You did? I don’t remember… that is the problem about the dag house. it’s a black hole. You should buy me a dollar scratcher instead. if I win, we’ll split it.
Deal. If you win it’ll be like that Nicolas Cage and Bridget Fonda movie from the 90s.
You know Greg hates Nic Cage… Who hates Nic Cage?!? He is such a great actor. That was It Could Happen To You. Great movie. Raising Arizona, Amazing movie. Face Off... speechless… Adaptation is perfect.
What about Con-Air or The Rock? Both are guilty pleasures of mine. That is though, hilarious Greg hates Nic.
I havent seen those two in yeeeeearrrrrs… I’ll have to re-watch those!
What is next for MakeWar? I hope there is new material out there.
We are writing non stop. There’s definitely new music coming. Maybe next year. We are playing Pouzza Fest in Montreal. That should be tons of fun! We are planning a super cool tour in June that I don’t think I can talk about? Maybe ask me this question again in May, yeah?
Sounds like a plan dude, thanks for chatting it up! Good luck on your upcoming tour.
MakeWar is heading out on tour with Worship This! next week. If they are playing your town, make sure you check them out.