Get to Know: Jafé Paulino

Tequila & Denim sat down with Jafé Paulino after catching his band Jafé and the Royals at Brooklyn’s C’Mon Everybody. Jafé gave us the scoop on forming a new band and his musical past, and then gave us his latest track. 

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Tequila & Denim: At your show I really enjoyed the mix of musicians you have playing with you – can you elaborate a little on that, like how you all came together?

Jafé Paulino: Everyone in the band are musicians that I’ve played with in other bands or currently play with in other bands. My sister, Kaila, is the backup vocalist and we grew up playing together in our parents’ groups. Then Danny Rose, the keyboardist, he and I played in a punk band 10 years ago called SHAPES. I actually didn’t play in the band while he was in the band, he was the drummer at the time – he’s great, he plays guitar, drums, bass, keys, anything. Jett Carter, the drummer, I played with in a funk band called Shareef Keyes & The Groove – so that’s how we know each other. Martell Akade, the bass player, he and I have a side project – well my side project, his main project, called The Freaky Baby Daddies.

So I picked my favorite musicians,they all said yes and I’m very honored to have them in the group because they’re all incredible musicians who’ve been contributing to the NYC music scene for a decade each.

TD: Yeah! Well I think it shows in your live performances – you guys can really groove together and I think that is super important – having that band chemistry. I love when you swap off – you’ll hop on the keyboard or your sister will come forward and sing and everyone can kind of rotate around. I thought that was a great dynamic.

JP: Thank you, we got lucky because the band has only been rehearsing since October. I’ve had my own chemistry with everyone separately, when we started playing it together they trusted me so they knew they could trust each other . Making music and playing together is such an intimate thing, it can be more intimate than romantic relationships. Especially when it’s your project, your music – you’re letting them into your world. When you pick up on people’s habits and you can improvise, they know you almost better than you know yourself.

TD: Because you’re the one that everyone knows, you’re the lynchpin of the group. Do you feel that being the frontman informs your performance and your writing process?

JP: Every band I’ve had before this I refused to use my name – would not put my name on anything, even when I first started this endeavor, I wanted to use weird aliases like Quazimodo Jones. I’m very shy actually. I don’t like being center of attention, especially with these musicians that I respect so much. I don’t want them to feel like they’re my backing band.

TD: Yeah.

JP: I want them to feel like it’s theirs, but the flipside of that mentality has held me back from really putting my music out there. I’ve been my own worst enemy for so long. As I started all of this content, I kept throwing ideas around with friends and they were like “just do it, you’re great, you’re gonna be great, own it and believe in yourself as much as everyone else does”. So I think that’s why I moved forward with it the way I did I was the last one to believe in myself, truly.

TD: It’s almost like letting yourself be in charge.

JP: Yeah. And it’s been great taking on  the responsibility. I’ve paid for the rehearsals, I’ve paid my musicians; it feels great and it’s legit. We’re all adults now. I’m in charge of my music career and they play with me whatever I want to play.  For now I’m hoping to build traction and attention towards my name in general and my music, but the goal is to incorporate the band and create music and content collectively.

TD: So when you’re building a performance – we were at your C’mon Everybody show – you have a mix of originals and covers. How do you go about that process? You haven’t really performed live as a group that many times, so how do you start?

JP: Well I just pick songs that I love and want to play and promote. If I release a single then obviously we have to play it live. If we play it live and the crowd likes it then they can go home and go online and hear it. In regards to covers, I feel it’s important to play one song people know. At the end of the day, no matter how good your shit is, not everyone there knows all your content. No matter how much people are enjoying it, nothing hits them the way something they already know does. A lot of bands that I’m in or have been in tend to shove their original content down people’s throats. You gotta do one cover. We actually do two but one is a really old traditional Afro-Peruvian song – the one my sister sings.

TD: Oh yeah I loved that one, I even took a video of it.

JP: Well, musically, the song doesn’t go like that. We took the lyrics and did our own rendition of it. I think it’s super important and it shows the audience what your influences are and what your unique personal touch is by taking this thing they know and flipping it your way. It’s another way of demonstrating your originality through other people’s music.

TD: I also really liked that cover of Black Magic Woman. It gave y’all the chance to improvise in the breakdowns and it’s a really strategic song when you’re selecting what to cover.

What are some of your other musical influences?

JP: The biggest musical influence is literally growing up in New York City. You can get every language, every type of food, every type of culture, every type of skin color, what have you. Everything is here and it’s authentic here. Everything in New York City is legit. You can get the whole world in 12 miles of Manhattan. It’s incredible. I’ve been here my whole life and that’s really what my sound is. But specifically to music, I grew up playing Afro-Dominican ceremonial stuff, very similar to Santeria and Voodoo. That’s the kind of music my parents did.I grew up playing percussion and that just instilled a lot of rhythm in me. I guess music has always been a part of my life because it’s the one thing I knew before I knew anything. I was doing it before I literally knew what life was.

I grew up with my step-dad but my father was a pretty well known reggae musician in the city during the 80s so reggae was also a huge part of my life. I had dreadlocks growing up, I was obsessed with Bob Marley – like obsessed. And my mom was into Jimi Hendrix, so I had a little bit of rock and reggae but as I got into high school I always went to “mixed” schools in the city – I was friends with kids in the projects where I celebrated hip hop culture and then I was friends with a lot of white kids who put me on to The Clash and punk music.  That really changed my life because I was like “these guys suck” but it was so good, if they could do it I literally could too, so I started teaching myself guitar…

TD: Yeah! I don’t want to interrupt but I heard this interesting anecdote about this super early Sex Pistols show where the people at the show ended up being all these future vanguards of punk. Everyone saw them, said “I can do better” and they went off and became fucking musical legends.

JP: I mean The Clash were always out of tune live and playing everything so much faster than they recorded it, but there was something fucking rad about it. There’s something about punk music and culture that speaks to me and that’s the element that it usually is – it makes you feel like you can do it too.

I was always a into soul too, like D’angelo was out at that time and I was just going for everything, but what really did it for me in terms of songwriting and guitar playing was Dispatch.

TD: Oh my god Dispatch!

JP: I got into Dispatch hardcore. I can play and sing every song – I knew every album, I would watch their shit every day.

Dispatch is this thing too, they’re very talented, especially with the harmonies, but the 3 of them are not very good at their instruments. They just come together and it works. As I was like 15 or 16 I started writing my own songs and getting into that. They all sounded like Dispatch songs, it was terrible.

TD: But sometimes you gotta get the bad stuff out.

JP: Everyone said “you’re plagiarizing,” and I was like “I’m just learning!”

TD: You’ve got to build off your influences to find your own style. This is actually something I talk about a lot with people from the art world – how do you parse out what you’re doing with your influences? So many people say “I could do that!” but the idea is already out there.

JP: Exactly, the hardest part is saying “I could do that” and not just doing exactly that.

TD: The reason these things are so inventive and so ground breaking even if they’re not technically difficult is because no one else thought of it. No two people are having the same exact influences. I think you have to go through an era of copy-catting.

I think it’s interesting also – you have so many influences and you play multiple instruments, so when you’re setting up a new band, how do you decide your role in it?

JP: It really depends on the song and what gets in the way of my singing. Doing a melody and having to play a rhythm is  splitting your brain in two and it’s really hard. There are certain things I can’t do at the same time. I like to show and celebrate talent, especially when people in my bands are also multi-instrumental. I like to switch up the instruments with everyone because it’s a great way to show the dynamic. Nothing I do is too much of a conscious effort. I really trust my intuition.

For a show in February we’re working on this song where at the end of it is a huge percussion jam and we all take pieces of the drum set and start playing it.

TD: With your band it doesn’t sound like you have a blueprint necessarily, just an idea of your general sound. It leaves room for moving within that sound and improvising. It’s not a rigid definition, more of a vibe. You have a lot of space to play.

JP: That’s exactly it, it’s definitely a vibe. They don’t play on the recordings of the songs I’ve released. I collaborate with a producer and play the majority of the instruments. The reason I put the band together is because the songs speak more to me performing them live and feeding off of other musicians energy..

TD: I definitely agree. I came to your show by chance because I lived right by the venue, and I ended up wanting to interview you because I connected with your sound. I felt that y’all had a really good energy on stage.

JP: I like to take the rock outfit and inject it with other genres of music. If you have a guitarist, a bassist, a drummer, a keyboardist, and a backup singer, it’s gonna rock. We literally try our best to not play rock because it’s gonna come across no matter what. Instead we just groove really hard.

TD: The grooving is important! Rock is such a foundation layer of proving key elements, but having those other musical influences you can really find your own footing.

JP: I think what I like to capture more is the rock vibe and dynamic, because it’s an energy. But then everything else is not. Especially when it comes to a drummer and bass player, I usually pick people of color. Culture has a lot to do with it. It’s not even me trying to make it a thing, I’ve played with a lot of white people and a lot of black and brown people and there is a distinct difference. It’s something that is literally inside of you. It cannot be taught.

TD: Especially in that groove heavy style – there are some really fucking good white drummers, like Dave Grohl is awesome but he cannot groove.

JP: I don’t need a rock drummer or bassist, rock for me is the easiest. We capture that right away, we even look like a crazy rock band. What else can we do?

That’s another thing. Growing up in the culture we grew up in, especially as a person of color who was into everything, a lot of my black and brown friends would make fun of me for playing “white music”. Music is Music. We aim to put the nail in the coffin with that mentality as younger generations are learning to love and co-exist.

TD: When I heard the song your sister sang, I was like “this is the coolest fucking thing!!”

JP: Right?! That’s always been my perspective because I’ve always lived in both worlds. I’m aware  and am affected by all of that shit and I’ll never  say color doesn’t exist because clearly it does in the world we live in, but in my personal world it’s not something that I judge people about unless it makes up part of who you are.

I was chastised for all this “white people shit” and what’s come from it is a desire to teach my people that we invented rock and roll, we invented distortion guitar – it happened when Ike Turner dropped his amp and plugged it in anyways and now we can rock out. Blues, classical music, techno, this is stuff black people don’t want to take credit for because they don’t even know that they created it.

People love rock and know what’s up but I didn’t grow up with that. It’s been my purpose and one of my missions to present it as “this is for everybody”.

TD: I think your integration of styles is definitely the best way to approach that because you’re taking punk, afro-punk, etc, and someone may come in on one song and then discover new styles in other music. They may not even know what afro-punk is but they just like the sound.

JP: Music is my life, I have nothing else. I tried to do other shit, normal shit, salaried jobs with benefits, and I was miserable. Literally miserable where I couldn’t live anymore. It’s something that I really still, at this point in my life, I NEED it, I need to be working on something, or I will wither and die. I’m at a point where I’m putting everything I have into making music. It’s time. I’m willing to sacrifice anything because it just makes sense to me. To some people it doesn’t but for me, my life will suck and it will suck for you if I suck. No positive energy. That’s not worth a salary or a cool apartment.

TD: To wrap up, so now that you’re hitting your groove (literally and figuratively) what’s on the horizon?

JP: Basically I’m releasing a single a month for a year, and more content will build as time goes on. I’m just trying to put stuff out there and let people know who I am and who the band is. I’ve booked shows through April for now. I’m also playing some solo shows. I have 3 different outlets for my music – the internet me, the band me, and then me as a solo with a more intimate way of connecting with people. I have so much content, I can’t wait to share it.

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Here’s Jafé’s brand new track, 003: Little Bohemia

If you’re in NYC, catch Jafé and the Royals at Pianos on Friday, February 3rd at 8 PM.