Prayers and the Cholo Goth movement are about to erupt
Leafar Seyer is very proud to have coined the term "Cholo Goth". To him, it represents something both something fresh in a musical context and something that in spirit could have existed for much longer, a connection between glacial, introspective beats and the often harsh world of gang life on the streets of San Diego. Along with his bandmate Dave Parley, Seyer has been carving out a niche within gothic electronic music that sits comfortably next to modern genre staples like Cold Cave while offering a cultural perspective that hasn't always been welcomed or understood by either the scene traditionalists or Leafar's peers.
In 2018, Seyer married alt beauty entrepreneur Kat Von D, and put Prayers on hold to start a family and in part as he discusses here in this Knotfest interview, to retreat from this newfound public scrutiny. Fast forward to 2020 and Prayers aren't just back to business but have widened their scope more than ever before, with new singles from their upcoming album "CHOLOGOTH" embracing Seyer's first language of Spanish while dialling even deeper into the roots of what Mexican culture in the United States today has been shaped by.
How did you discover goth music in the first place?
It was in the 80s. It was definitely not prominent in my neighbourhood where I grew up, but it was where I went to school. During that time there was a program where they would bus children from my community up to different communities, and I ended up going to school in Pacific Beach which was predominately white. My friends there were all surfers and skaters and that's where I was introduced to goth.
Prayers formed comparatively recently in your life, starting to make music in the last decade. What were you doing before then and what was it that led you to making music at that point?
It's been seven years now, when I was I believe 37 years old, and it's something I loved from the beginning and always wanted to do. Part of it is that it wasn't available and that I didn't have mentors or anyone that could guide me along the process, and I always shied away from it because in my surroundings I was made fun of growing up for it. In a way I living two worlds which is why for me the creation of Cholo goth made sense. I was experiencing these two worlds, and my friends were not. In Pacific Beach, with my white friends, I would be experiencing their music and culture, and then I'd bus back home to the Chicano neighbourhood where I'd be involved in gangs and would play that role. I loved them both, and as I got older, it became something that I wanted to bring together. I had once asked for assistance before which had set me back a few years. I had created something of an artist community where I saw there was a need for a space for artists in my community who did not have representation. I have always drawn and painted, and the art shows in San Diego were the highbrow crowd, so the street artists were never invited. We would crash galleries and do crazy installations with my friends, but I ended up turning my restaurant into our gallery to showcase. During that time there was an artist who was amazing at what he was doing and as a collective we were trying to get him off the ground. I was inspired by him and approached him about making music, and he deadass looked me in the face and said 'Hey man, we both need to stay in our lanes.' That hurt like hell, especially as I had helped and funded so much for this individual, and that made me not want to ask anyone about music ever again.
I also suffered a trauma where my father passed away, and for those years, I had built my life around my family and helping them create a foundation in America because I am first generation Mexican here. I came to America at the age of four and I was the one that discovered the language first, and so my family needed my assistance there in things like renting an apartment or reading documents, and I almost became a parent like that. The bond between me and my father became strong there, but without a clear parent and son relationship there, as I was put in a role that was almost equal. The day my father passed away, we got into a very ugly verbal fight, and after I left I learned he had died and it shattered me because I had no closure. I became extremely angry with myself and wanted to hurt myself, and would get myself into dangerous situations and into trouble. I ended up in jail for six months and it reminded me that I had forgotten what my own dreams were. I had started really early with the family, I opened up a restaurant at the age of 17, bought my mom a house at the age of 24, built an apartment complex at the age of 30. I was a machine and forgot there was an artistic side to me. When I went to jail, I had time to think about the trauma I had endured in gang life and that encounter with my father, and I no longer had the distractions. During that time, my father came to me in a dream that felt as real as this conversation we are having right now, and he said to me 'Hey man, I love you. Thank you for always putting the family first, but it ends now. It's time for you to find yourself and to live for you.' It hit me so hard and it changed my DNA. I started exercising, writing, and walking tall again. I came out of jail a different person with no more drugs, and just the desire to do music. I knew my old things I had built would be a gateway back to that old life, and so I hired someone to take care of all of the businesses I had built and literally moved into my mom's garage to turn it into a studio. I hid myself from the world for like a year and all I did was watch YouTube videos on how to produce music. I bought myself a microkorg and started creating. I started putting little clips on Facebook and people started to reach out positively from the San Diego community. Those early projects were short-lived until I met my partner Dave Parley where any of those egos I had dealt with before were no longer a problem.
With the return of Prayers in 2020 then, what was it that brought you back right now, and how was the process of getting back into doing it?
This new album is almost the same situation of doing it by myself without relying on others for help. Here I've gone through another metamorphosis, where two years I got married and had a baby boy with my wife, and I didn't wanna tour. We had just gotten signed to BMG and put out Baptism of Thieves, and I fell in love and just decided I did not want to be away from my wife on the road when she's pregnant. Financially, I was fine as I still had my properties I had built early on which really are what funded Prayers from the beginning and allowed Prayers to come out of the gates extremely strong. It seemed like we had record label support when it was really my money. During my time-off though, my team's money had been coming from Prayers and that machine which was keeping roofs over people's heads was on hold for a while, and they had to find other ways to make an income. My brother Dave Parley put out his solo project and did producing for other artists. When I was ready to start working again he had a full schedule planned out for another year. I started piecing the album together slowly then with Ray Brady who worked with us on Baptism of Thieves, just so that I could create and not have to stop my team from doing what they had already become involved with.
It was also a struggle to get back because I was in full father and husband mode. I was talking to my friend who said that what I experienced is like what other artists experience when they become sober. You're no longer the same artist you were before and you have to reconnect in a different way. I was Leafar Seyer 24/7 and then suddenly, I'm not in my leather anymore and I'm in sweats being a dad. I almost felt like a fake because now I was in love with a family, I can no longer say in our song "From Dog to God" the line "I'm alone, I'm alone in this world". I'm not, so I had a block until I realised that there was a lot of stuff that I had suppressed from prior to my relationship and had not dealt with truly. At the same time, my wife is a big celebrity and has millions of people who adore her. I was an up and coming underground artist. The mainstream don't fucking know who I am, and I will never be mainstream because of the type of music that I make. When I married my wife, suddenly I inherited all of these followers and attention. These people don't know anything about me. Some of them were shocked by my music and my look, and are upset with my wife for it. They start attacking us and this just made me want to protect her and in part, hide myself away, and then I don't know how to create because I'm censoring myself. The social media world has me on eggshells, I don't want my wife to be cancelled because I put out a song that is controversial or shocking to some people. I had a very difficult time rediscovering myself and then one day my wife says to me "What happened to the man I married? Is this why you haven't been creating? I married you because of who you are, and if anything I want you to go harder". Instantly with that in mind I just started making music.
What's the impact that change in mindset has had on the music then?
The reaction has been so positive. It's been two years, I wanna come out with something fresh. All of my videos in the past had been in black and white, so we changed that. I had never done a song in español, so I did that with "La Vida Es Un Sueño". When I started creating everything sounded like Prayers which we need but I wanted to make an effort to put a new stamp on it and mark this return. I speak a second language so why not include that? That song is also paying homage to my father, because a lot of the lyrics in the song are sayings that my father used to say to me.
There's also been the really striking video for new song "Choloani", featuring traditional dancing and messages of Mexican fights against oppression. At what point did you see the potential of fusing Mexican history and cultural issues with the sounds of goth which are traditionally from elsewhere?
That's been my life, I just want to celebrate the things that inspire me and that I have learned from. The man in the "Choloani" video is Iron Jacket who I have learned so much from and has become almost like a mentor. These things are an organic development of the idea of Cholo goth, taking it from the streets back to the heritage. I told Iron Jacket that I was naming the album "CHOLOGOTH", and he said "Hey, the word Cholo goes back so much further than you know" and shared the origin of the word which was mind-blowing to me. Together we decided that was something to share and so it is him doing the chanting and the speaking on there. His story of the things he has endured is amazing, homeless at the age of 8, shot in the head, shot in the stomach twenty times, he's just a living miracle for him to transform into what he is now. We've almost lived some parallel lives but I went and became a musician and he became this shaman. I have the resources and so paid my team to create this beautiful video so people can receive what he is saying. This song of opposition that hasn't been heard in 300 years he shared with me so that we can preserve it and it does not die with him when he dies. As he is saying this I'm thinking "what can I do, I don't speak Nahuatl, I don't speak Chicimeca", but what I can do is put the resources in to showcase this with him performing this ancient dance and the chants.
With the two songs released so far being that and your first song in Spanish, is this focus on the older traditional side of Mexican culture something you're engaging with more than ever?
Oh, most definitely. I don't know what it is that led me in that direction now but I'm not fighting it, I'm embracing it. I make music in a way that is representative of who I am, and here people can see these things through my eyes as a person descended from this culture engaging with it now.
Was it a revelation finding Dave Parley and people in your community who liked the same stuff as you when as you said right at the beginning goth wasn't something that was super prominent around you?
Oh yeah, and it probably wouldn't have been able to happen without social media. When I was a teenager I couldn't reach the same broad group of people. Acceptance is nice, right? Being accepted and knowing you're not the only weirdo who has these interests, that was really nice to find at that time, because for the most part I've always been an outsider. Finding those like-minded individuals, I think the music was able to do that for me.
Have you ever been drawn to the more escapist vampiric side of gothic?
For sure that is something I have done in the past. My old project Vampire was definitely that. Back then when I was finding my way making music I wasn't rhyming from the point of view of myself, I was creating from the imagination. I was trying to paint these pictures of a heartbroken vampire and I wasn't until I met Dave that I started thinking that I have things to say that are more relevant and authentic I guess than me trying to create a mythology for a character. I have my own story and my own experiences and that made it a lot easier than trying to write from the perspective of a fictitious character. I was exploring and I was learning and I got lucky that I didn't have to spend years doing Vampire or these other projects I was in so briefly, they were all short-lived stages of my growth that happened fast and I was like a sponge taking these things in then heading somewhere further.
Anyone right now releasing music has to deal with the circumstances of the industry's global situation, and some people by sheer coincidence such as yourself have found themselves working in a way already where their approach put them in better stead to continue. What's coming up immediately for Prayers given the lack of shows?
Yeah you're right, I kinda had to go back to the beginning with my work approach. There were no shows planned, because I think I surprised everyone coming back with this album now, even my bandmates and my manager. I had already been talking to Dave, sharing ideas but he didn't know how far I was. I wasn't hiding anything but my process was to be working on something, and then put it down for a while because of family life. Next thing you know, I blinked and had an album done. My wife and I are thinking of releasing her album and mine simultaneously, and if we get those dates right and we are able to do so, we are going to tour together and take turns opening for each other. I'm hoping to get this album out at some point in February 2021. I haven't been able myself to tour outside of the United States because of my legal problems from before. I am working on getting a pardon for my past felonies so I can do that, though there are some places that will probably never let me in like Canada, but I am going through the procedures to get everything back in order for my life and be able to travel globally. I wanna go to Europe, I wanna play Mexico of course. Maybe Prayers could have had a bigger following already if I had been able to do these things, and everything we have built has been only from touring the United States.