It’s a coffee date at Riverside’s beloved Back to the Grind with frontman Manny Huera and drummer Chris Lara of Hemet, CA rock band Modern Racket to discuss their thoughts on modern music and social media tactics, their Echo Park Rising experience, and not being afraid to let all their feelings out in their work.
Manny Huerta – singer, guitarist, lyricist
Mondo Flores – bassist
Chris Lara – drums
Brandon Biggers- guitarist
To start us off, everybody loves a good, “How we met,” story. How did you and the rest of the band meet up, and how did Modern Racket become the name to define you guys as a band?
Manny Huerta: With the way we met, we all went to high school together except our lead guitarist Brandon [Biggers] because he’s fairly new. But me, Chris [Lara] and Mondo[Flores] all went to high school together, but we never really started a band until we were out of high school. Never Shout Never Had a song called “Modern Racket,” and I just really liked the way that sounded even though I wasn’t a really huge fan of his. Honestly, it came about as a joke. *laughs* I actually tried changing the name a few times, but these guys didn’t want to give it up! I was like, ‘Dude, let’s change our band name,’ but they were just like, ‘No, dude!’ *laughs* I think the name Modern Racket was just so punchy I guess so we kept it.
Besides being inspired by the work of Christopher Drew of course.
Chris Lara: When I joined, I didn’t even know that that was where our name came from. *laughs* I never listened to Never Shout Never, but then they told me that it came from a song and I was like, ‘Well, lots of great bands are named after songs!’ Machine Head for example. That’s the only one that I can think of right now.
Manny: Hellogoodbye too. That was a Beatles song
All Time Low as well.
Manny: Wait, All Time Low as well? I never knew that!
Fun fact of the day! *all laugh*
Chris: To me, the meaning of Modern Racket is ‘a band for the ages.’ I feel like you can show us to any generation, and we would kind of have a song that could fit in. That was kind of the idea of diversity that we were going for.
Manny: Yeah! Exactly! Anyways, that’s how Modern Racket stuck!
So which artists and bands would you say have influenced your style and sound? And what type of experiences and topics would you say you guys draw from for songwriting purposes?
Manny: In the beginning I was really into, like I said before, Never Shout Never, but also The Beatles and a bunch of older rock. Recently, we’ve gotten into The Growlers, The Dead Freights, Fidlar, and other similar stuff. Our writing process is usually about makeups and breakups, but I’m trying write more about positivity and looking at the bright side of things.
But what sells is all the sad stuff! *all laugh*
Manny: You’re right! You’re so right! People want to hear good breakup songs, and that’s what does sell. You know, the ‘my heart aches and so does yours’ kind of songs.
Chris: But we’re not just about only making breakup songs. I kind of wanted to break away from that because our first album is about makeup and breakup songs. I feel like our second album is more aggressive, not in a bad way, but more aggressive in talking about our feelings or being in love. We talk about being put down, or trying to take life by the balls…
Manny: Talking about our depression…
Chris: Talking about our depression and anxiety, yeah. And also, I feel like we also talk a lot about just having a good time, which I think is really important especially in today’s modern society where depression is so huge right now. We want to bring out that image of, ‘Hey. What you’re going through, we’re going through also. But we’re here to have a good time, and we wanna take you with us.’
Manny: Yep, yep, yep!
But it’s good that guys are bringing awareness to depression, because like you said, it’s affecting a lot of people nowadays whether you know it or not.
Chris: Personally, music was a way for us a way to escape.
Manny: Yeah. Sometimes you feel alone even though, in all honesty, you’re really not alone. We all have our days, but we could help each other get better from it, you know?
Yes, mental health awareness!
Manny: Yes, exactly!
So what does your typical songwriting and recording process look like?
Manny: Honestly, it all begins just me being alone in my room with my acoustic guitar. For the recording process? Man, that just differs. Lately, I’ve just been going to my best friends Manny’s house in Baldwin Park, and from there, I’ll start with one chord that progresses into an entire song. I’ll bring it back to the band, and will modernize it to make it a band thing instead of an acoustic thing. It really just starts with one idea, like, being sad or happy, or how my day or week has been, and we just go from there. I’ll show my band my lyrics, and they’ll help me out by being like, ‘Oh, I feel like this doesn’t fit in here. Let’s change that verse.’ It’s pretty cool not having to write the lyrics all by myself.
As much as we want to do everything ourselves, sometimes we need other people to help us out in order for the project to be the best that it can be.
Manny: Exactly! I’m really grateful for the guys in the band. They’re awesome!
So, going into a little bit about Today’s Riddle. It totally perfectly fits the time frame for modern albums. But back in the day, you’d have like thirteen, fifteen, or even as much as eighteen songs on an album. So with shorter album lengths, like EPs, and singles-based releases being the norm for the modern music listening experience, do you think it’s becoming more difficult to do full length works? Or do you think that there’s still a market that’s looking for that full complete work?
Manny: Actually, this is something that we’ve been talking about as a band with one of our new producers and our audio engineers. We feel like albums don’t really make big sales because people don’t necessarily take the time to listen to a full-length album anymore. Even with me, sometimes I only go through, like, half the album and then pretty much move on to something else. The next album that we’re going to do will probably be released more like an EP, just one or two singles to start off with. And for Today’s Riddle, we decided on making it an eight-song album. But sometimes less is more, and that way they can consistently re-listen to the entire album again and again. I just feel like not that many people are doing eighteen song albums anymore in general because modern-day society people like songs that are short, sweet, and to the point. It’s the same thing with albums and EPs. It’s pretty sad, because I would love to release all the music that we have at one time. But I feel like people won’t be completely interested in it if it’s too long.
And sometimes an idea can only really last for maybe three songs. But that’s perfectly ok, because you have that concise thought without having all this other filler material.
Manny: Exactly, yeah!
Chris: One of these YouTube bloggers that we were influenced by is very accustomed to talking about these things. His name is Damian Keyes, shout out! Big fan of his content. He talks about how he hates, well, I guess I wouldn’t say ‘hate,’ but dislikes the idea of releasing an EP strictly because it’s not smart marketing-wise if you’re a young band starting out. If you release an album, you have to push the entire album. If you just release a single, you’re completely focused on that one song and making it the best it can be.
Manny: Pretty much, yeah.
Now staying on the topic of YouTube and its combination with social media. Do you feel that social media’s prominent role in music marketing makes it easier or harder for artists to be successful? Do you feel that there is a kind of pressure that’s added on there from these different platforms to always have stuff going on?
Manny: *points to Chris* He’ll explain it. He has a lot to say about social media. *laughs*
*turns to Chris* Tell us your thoughts. *laughs*
Chris: Social media is the greatest thing because it’s free content and everybody has a chance to become somebody. But in this world where it’s so competitive and everybody has access, it does get a little strenuous because you really have to be a dime a dozen. They’re not looking so much at the talent as they are looking more at your followers, your numbers, first. It wasn’t as bad as back in the day where more people were going out and just enjoying music. Everybody was looking forward to that Saturday night at packed out clubs and bars that bands were playing. Nowadays, it’s more about social media. Also, we’re in the modern day and age where hip-hop and rap have kind of taken over the music industry. I mean, good for them, it’s their time! Rock n roll, or any kind of rock, will always have its fluctuation. We’re taking a back seat for a while, but we’re still here. The underground scene’s real huge still, although I don’t even think we can even call it ‘underground’ anymore. Bands like Waves and Fidlar, all these bands that we look up to, were playing in backyards and clubs not too long ago. Now they’re playing at Coachella. Clearly the scene’s still there, it’s just that now we have to take that extra push and take social media a little bit more seriously and really get traffic.
*turns to Manny* You’re just like, ‘He said it! I have nothing else to say!’
Manny: Honestly, he did say everything! I was actually really against social media, like, I actually hated it. I didn’t have a Facebook let alone an Instagram or a Snapchat.
Chris: *turns to Manny* You’ve only had an Instagram for, what, two years? And our band has been around for almost six years.
Manny: Yeah, I just hated social media. But like he said, it’s free content and we should take advantage of that because it’s a great platform to get your music out there, express yourself, and get viewers and fans. It’s still pretty tough though, because you can you make a video of yourself singing, but then someone can do it ‘better’ because of clout or whatever.
Chris: The other thing too is connections. A lot of people have got connections out there, and that’s why I thank you so much having us do this because it’s one more connection for us. It’s like building a family in a way, while also putting our image out there. We’ve got to start taking it more seriously because every time we put content on the internet we’re branding. And guess what? It’s there forever!
Manny: That’s why I’m trying not to cuss or say anything bad right now. I’m trying to hold it in! *laughs*
Oh, you can totally curse. We don’t censor here. If you feel the need to curse, then go for it! *laughs*
Chris: Son of a biscuit eating bulldog!
Manny: I can’t believe you said that!
Chris: What the French toast?
*laughs* Be free! Why should I tell you how to portray yourself?
Chris: Yeah, you’re right!
That’s our problem with this world! *laughs* So do you feel that there’s an unpublicized competition between the local music scene? Especially with the local rock scene?
Manny: *turns to Chris* Choose your words very carefully.
Chris: I think it’s a friendly competition, but it’s almost like, ‘Man, this band’s doing better than us.’ But at the same time, it’s like, ‘You know what? Good for them!’ Even if they’re not our homey, we still support whether they come from our town or a different local scene because they’re at least trying to do it. We know what it’s like, we know how hard it is. And instead of discouraging us or feeling jealous, we do our best to push past that. You know what I mean? We take the good and the bad. It’s supposed to be a community. We’re supposed to be musicians supporting each other regardless. And, you know, we’re not like the other bands, which is good, but bad in the sense that because we’re not gonna get as much shows. We’ve got this one genre that’s strictly for a specific audience, but we’re also being ourselves. It’s a good way to stand out, and I think a lot of labels kind of look for that. But then again, it goes back to those connections. You’ve gotta have a good following, plus connections, and if some other band’s doing that better than you, then good for them.
Manny: That was really, really, good compared to what he normally says. *laughs*
Chris: Ask me about promoters!
Manny: No, don’t ask him about promoters!
Chris: No, no, no, no! We can get a beer before we talk about promoters!
I mean, we do have beer here.
Manny: Oh shit!
Chris: Holy shnikies, it’s beer thirty!
Beer o’ clock! *all laugh* So we had seen your guys’ performance at last year’s Echo Park Rising, and you guys were awesome!
Chris: Thank you!
Yeah! How did the opportunity come about and how was the experience different from that of any other performances that you’ve done?
Chris: Were you there when we bumped into Tyler Posey?
I was! And I was screaming on the inside. I was like, ‘Omg Tyler!’ *all laugh* Tyler Posey if you’re reading this, let’s be best friends.
Manny: I wanna marry you! I mean, erhm, be your best friend too.
Chris: His band is awesome though! We love you Tyler! *laughs*
Manny: But yeah, so Echo Park Rising. It was very, very difficult to get on. We had some ups and downs with that event. Honestly, the way we got in was just from a bunch of back and forth emails until we finally got in. But the downfall of it was that they double booked our slot, so in reality, we only got to perform half of our set.
But it caught the attention of Tyler Posey!
Manny: Yeah, that is true! We did get him dancing, and he came on stage with us. And for those who don’t know, Tyler Posey was the lead character on Teen Wolf.
Chris: He was also in Maid In Manhattan. And he’s in a new show called Now Apocalypse.
Manny: As you can tell, we’re fans of Tyler Posey. *laughs*
Chris: I honestly had no idea who he was at first! I was treating him like a normal dude. *laughs* I was just like, ‘This guy wants to hang out with us? Cool!’ We love hanging out with people. And then I found out who he was and was like, ‘No, no, no. You wanna hang out with him.’
Manny: We were invited out to one of his shows, and we got to hang out with him again. Him and his girlfriend were so nice! They remembered us, they still had our CD, and we smoked a few joints with them. *laughs*
Chris: I’d like to add another shout out to his girlfriend Sophia Ali! She was there also, and I feel like if you’re going to talk about Tyler Posey then you’ve gotta bring her up too. She’s a very talented actress, and I feel kind of bad for not shouting her out.
Manny: Sophia, you’re dope! Thank you for supporting Modern Racket as well! Both of you guys are amazing!
Chris: Dude! We saw them at The Roxy, and they said that our CD was in the CD player in the car!
Manny: It’s so cool! His band is pretty awesome, they’re called PVMNTS, you should check them out! But anyways, another downfall from Echo Park Rising was that I got a parking ticket. It was worth the parking ticket though, because we’ve been trying to get on Echo Park Rising for about four years now.
Chris: We’re trying to get on this year’s too. It’s one of those festivals where the day of submissions is like midnight.And it gets booked *snaps* like that. It’s just a hard festival to get on, and I actually cried when we got the news. I’ve been so sick of hitting up all these promoters, hitting up all these venues, hitting up all these shows, pouring my heart out, getting nocturnal, only for nothing to happen.
Manny: We felt discouraged.
Chris: Yeah, we were. I thought Echo Park Rising was the show to get on, and I was just like, ‘If we don’t get on this, then I don’t know what to do.’ I was truly starting to think, ‘Does our band suck? Is that it? Is someone not telling us? Are we really full of it?’
Manny: But we finally got that email…
Chris: Yes! We finally got that email, which was really cool because it was completely out of the blue. The lady asked us ‘Did you guys get a slot?’ and we were like, ‘Umm, no? and she told us to email her personally so she could get us in. She wanted us to perform at the Echoplex originally, but we took the outside stage instead.
Manny: But it’s cool, because that’s where we met Tyler and Sophia! And you guys! So, it all worked out in the end! Because everything happens for a reason, and if we didn’t have that show, then we wouldn’t be at this awesome interview!
Chris: It was a blessing!
Manny: Yeah, it really was a blessing! So overall, Echo Park Rising was a success. We got drunk, we had free passes to walk around, and we were acting like rock stars. Drunk rock stars. *laughs*
Everybody was acting that way because everybody was a performer! *laughs*
Manny: *laughs* Yeah. I think it’s because they had free alcohol for us in the green room.
Chris: Dude, they had free Red Bulls and drumsticks!
Manny: They also had a Wii! We were playing Mario Kart in the green room! *laughs*
Chris: So much Nintendo Wii games!
Manny: Oh, and I took my chess board, so we played chess at some point.
Chris: We left the chess board for anyone else to play in there.
Manny: It was just pretty kick ass over all. I’m very happy with the experience, and I’m really hoping that we can on again this year and get a better slot. And hopefully not get our time slot cut in half. *laughs*
Well we will send you all the good luck vibes! And what other music festivals, like local or global, would you guys like to do in the future?
Manny: Aw man! We’ve been trying to get on Coachella and all of these other big ones. But unfortunately, you need agencies to get on those. It’s pretty tough trying to book ourselves on our own, but we’re not gonna give up! We’re gonna keep trying. We did a festival in Arizona last year, we camped out for two or three days, and that was literally the closest I’ve ever been with my band. Like, four guys in one tent. Actually, it was five guys because we invited one of my friends! And it was so cold! I was like, ‘Dude, please cuddle me!’ *all laugh* So yeah, we’re going to keep on trying to hit up different festivals. We’re not gonna quit! If we’re not on this year, there’s still 2020 and 2021.
I don’t think the world is ending anytime soon so I think there’s plenty of opportunity in the future. *laughs*
Manny: Exactly! *laughs* Wasn’t it supposed to end like in 2000? And we’re still here!
Chris: Well think about it this way, we’ve only taken the social media thing seriously for the last two and a half years. We’ve still got a long way to go, but we will keep submitting and keep getting more connections. The goal in mind right now is to keep doing what we’re doing. Keep pushing for the labels, keep pushing for the festivals, someone’s gonna bite. I truly believe that this band needs to be heard, and we’re better than what we think we are right now. I think we have the potential to really shine a light in this industry, and I absolutely cannot wait for our chance because it’s gonna be so amazing! I’ve never been so ready in my entire life, and it’s the one thing that keeps me going. I’ve struggled so hard for this band. I’ve made so many sacrifices, and I’m just getting started. I take it very seriously, *points to Manny* and I know this guy does too. That’s what makes a band a strong band, being on the same page.
Yes! So well said! How important do you think supporting local events and venues are? I know you guys recently did a fundraiser for Punks in the Park?
Manny: I think it’s very important. I try very hard to stay in the scene, well, not in ‘the scene’ I guess, but stay involved in the local shows. I wanna show my support, because all of them come to Modern Racket shows and it’s only fair that we support them too. And yeah, we played acoustic for a little thing called Punks in the Park. It’s a program where they help feed the homeless, and we donated water because they had most of the food ready. We also played acoustic, but just donating our time and a little bit of water felt really good
Chris: We’ve done a couple of benefits like that over here in Riverside too. And we did a lot of things for the Las Vegas shooter survivors. It’s just such a terrible tragedy, and we really wanted to show our support to the people involved. What makes me angry though was that every time I booked a show, I would get these arrogant people in my own family and friend group, or even just random people, saying like, ‘Oooh, how much are they gonna pay ya?’ When I say that it’s not about money, they’re like, ‘Well, why you do anything if it’s not for money?’ and I go, ‘Well, that’s why I’m doing this and you’re not, because money is the last thing I worried about. I’ve even had that conversation when I booked a charity show. So annoying!
It’s like, you’re doing it because you care. That should be a good enough reason for people.
Chris: Exactly! Never say ‘no’ to a fundraiser. Or a tamale festival! *all laugh*
Manny: You mean a taco festival, fool! But yeah, support those who support you. It’s circle of life.
Hell yeah! So if you could choose three artists to go on world tour with, who would they be and what would you name your tour?
Chris: *turns to Manny* You get one and I get one!
Manny: Let’s see…Cardi B…Lil Pump…
Chris: Lil Uzi [Vert]!
Manny: Yeah! Lil Uzi! And Lil Wayne!
Chris: Live from the state penitentiary! *all laugh*
Manny: Ok, but seriously though…hmm…this is so hard! *turns to Chris* Man, you go first!
Chris: I’ve got a good one!
Manny: Ok good! You only get one!
Chris: I’m being fucking honest here, local band and our friends, The Extrangers.
Manny: Ohhh, shit! Shout out to The Extrangers! That’s a good choice!
Chris: They’re so amazing! If were to do a world tour, I’d take them in a heartbeat. They deserve to be touring the world as much as we deserve to be touring the world. They’re so young and dedicated, like, every time I ask them about a show, they’re like, ‘We’re booked, we’re booked, we’re booked!’ and I’m like, ‘Fuck you! But I’m still happy for you!’ *all laugh* It’s definitely a friendly competition! But if I ever wanted a big band…
Manny: C’mon man! Any band we would want in the entire world dude!
You can totally bring them back as ghosts.
Chris: Ghosts? *laughs* Hmm, I’ll be honest, I’m be half between Surf Curse and, like, The Strokes. Oh! No, no, no! I’ll make it simple,Albert Hammond Junior!
Manny: You should have picked The Strokes because I was about to pick The Strokes! But I would have to say Arctic Monkeys because they are amazing and why not, right? And then let’s see…for our third choice…
Chris: Let’s think outside the box here…
Manny: Outside the box?
Chris: Like, really think about who would incorporate our style. When I saw Metallica and The Sword opened for them, I mean, The Sword’s a good band, but with Metallica? It was definitely interesting to see. Hmm, who do we listen to all the time? Maybe Interpol?
Manny: I was thinking like Tupac.
Chris: Tupac, yeah! Actually, you know what? The Killers! Final answer!
Manny: There you go! And the tour would be called the ‘This Makes No Sense’ Tour! *laughs* That was tough! That was, like, the toughest question you asked all day!
Chris: I thought you were gonna ask us easy questions like, ‘What do you think about the Dewey Decimal System and how it’s affecting our economy?’ But instead you’re asking us who we’d want to your with! *laughs*
Manny: My heart’s, like, racing right now! That was the hardest question out of all these!
Chris: I think like all of the other bands that we didn’t choose would be like, ‘Wow man…’
Manny: Never Shout Never’s gonna be like, ‘Well, I was gonna let you guys tour with me, but I guess not now!’
Chris: The one influential band that we’ve been talking about since we’ve begun this interview and we didn’t even choose them. You know why? Because they’re not together anymore, that’s why.
Manny: Aw, rest in peace.
*laughs* I’m sure one day they’ll get back together for some like anniversary thing.
Manny: Yeah, probably.
And on to more hard questions, how do you guys balance your personal and professional lives?
Chris: We don’t. I’m waking up playing drums. I’m waking up doing interviews.
Manny: I think that’s a battle that we have every day. I mean, we always try to keep in contact through Facebook messenger like, ‘Hey, what’s your schedule this week? What are you doing tomorrow?’ and this and that. It’s very, very difficult, but we try our hardest not to give up, you know? We all grow up, we all have jobs, we all have families that we wanna see. It’s just something we struggle with every day.
Chris: We try to make a priority, like, at least once a day, every day, try to do something. Send out emails, post on Instagram or Facebook, do a blog, make some phone calls, put on some shows, just try to do something every day. You’ve got 24 hours in a day, right?
It’s still not enough.
Chris: Not with that attitude! *all laugh*
Manny: It’s very difficult to balance everything, but we’re not gonna give up. We can totally mix them too, like, make our business our personal life and our personal our business life.
Or we could just figure out a way to clone ourselves so the other one can be sent off to do the things we don’t wanna do.
Chris: Aww man! That would seriously make life so much easier!
Seriously though! *laughs* And if you could give your younger self any advice as to where you are in your musical endeavors, what kind of advice would you give him?
Manny: All I can say is, ‘Young Manny, stop being a pussy’ I still get butterflies, I don’t like performing by myself, I still get stage fright. That’s why I started a band.
Chris: ‘Lose weight Chris! You can’t eat that Fatty McFat Fat!’ Nah, honestly, I think I should have been more careful of who I chose to spend my time when it came to bands. I’ve been through so many bands. I also probably would have gone straight to MI (Musician’s Institute) or had taken the opportunity and gone to AMDA (American Musical and Dramatic Academy). Start thinking about my career a little bit more seriously at a younger age.
And what do you hope that your audience will take away from your music?
Manny: Honestly, I hope that they just realize that what they’ve been through, we’ve been through too. What I want people to understand is that you’re not going through whatever you’re going through completely alone. It’s not the end of the world. There are friends you can talk to if you’re sad or feeling lonely. And shit, if you don’t have friends, hi, my name’s Manny, I’ll be your fucking friend. Talk to me! Don’t be sad! Find me on social media! Find Chris! He’s a comedian, he’ll make you laugh if you’re having a bad day!
Very well said. And to end us off, what big exciting thing should we be looking forward from you guys in the near future, apart from new music of course?
Manny: Besides new music and new music videos for the new music, we’re just going to be playing a lot more shows to try to expand towards San Diego and L.A. Also trying to communicate with a couple of record labels to try to get a foot in the door and move forward.
Chris: Yeah. We’re in the studio next month, recording some new stuff. We haven’t decided if we’re doing a single or a two-song EP, but hopefully whatever it is will be out before summer. That’s the goal.
Manny: Summer tunes.
We all need those. Especially since it’s coming up so fast.
Chris: We’ll have workout tunes too!
Manny: Oh my god, we don’t have workout tunes, we have crying tunes. You guys can cry with us!
I’m sure we could also use tears to lose weight. *laughs*
Chris: Cry the pounds off! Tears are sodium, you can sweat the sodium out.
Manny: She’s always looking on the bright side! That’s what we’re talking about! Look on the bright side! You’re crying? Hey, it’s a good thing!
About Back To The Grind:
Smack dab in between numerous schools, hotels, the courthouse, and the convention center, Back to Grind has been serving the Riverside community for twenty long and happy years. Its quirky and artistic with a hint of vintage exterior initially draws you in, but it’s the shop’s interior that makes you want to stay there all day curled up with a book, playing board games, or simply to just get some work done in a fun environment. Brick walls, weathered hardwood floors, and a high, ornate ceiling adds to the old-timey feel of the place, while modern music and artwork of many variations (installations, sculptures, paintings, knick knacks, etc.) are on display on the walls, tables, pillars, and giant library-esque bookshelf.
But don’t judge a book by it’s cover with this place, because they know how to throw a party! With regular music showcases, game tournaments, open mic nights, poetry readings, and even weddings, Back to the Grind is a perfect location to host an array of different types of events. With plenty of space to move around in and an abundance of seating inside, outside, and upstairs in their loft area, what more could you ask for? Oh, right, dranks! With a decent selection of classic coffee and tea options along with your choice of a healthy (or decadent) bite to eat, you’re pretty much set for however amount of time you are looking to spend there. In fact, after 12pm you can transition into beer o’ clock, which unfortunately is a rare sight to see these days. Make sure that you bring enough cash to try everything because the shop is cash only, but if you forget, there’s an ATM machine for use conveniently inside so there is no excuse for you to not get yourself a little somethin’ somethin.’