There and Back again with dios

Chris Ziegler spent 25 days on the road with diosmaybe the 25 most important days of their careerand he ended up in a Detroit hospital.

Photo by Amy TheiligOne night in Philadelphia, a few hours after the cops came, in a packed-to-capacity shipwreck of a bar where even the brass fittings smelled like spilled beer, a girl elbowed her way back to me. We were all three songs into the dios set, and she leaned in close so I could hear her. Her name was Rebecca, and she was dressed all in white, and I could tell by how bright her eyes were what she was going to say.

"Listen," she said. "I need to get their CD. This has only happened to me maybe once in my life: I just walked into a place, and I didn't know who was going to play; I just wanted to see the show. And then I heard the opening band, and it's one of the best bands I've ever heard, you know?"

I knew she meant it because I've said the same thing and because there's a goofy, googly-eyed adoration that just beams out of you if someone hits the right two piano keys together, and you can't camouflage it. True love is cheap on tour only because it's there every night if you want it, and that was the kind of thing that always made me happy.

"I know," I said, honestly, making change for her. "But no one believes me because I do merch."

And then I tried to sell her a T-shirt.


Waiting backstage in Boston
Photo by Amy Theilig

DAY ZERO: LONG BEACH

One night, six months ago, I got a phone call. I heard a motor growl and knock behind the second song on the dios CD, and then I heard a voice: "This makes me feel like a truck driver thinking about his relationships," says the voice. "They're going to be huge." Yeah, I said, because it was true. That's rock & roll, that lovelorn truck driver: the car on the cruise and the love unrequited, motion and emotion, music at its platonic male-female, light-dark, yin-yang heart. Dios was a band from Hawthorne I had written about, and they were going to be huge. They weren't stupid, and they worked hard, and they made music people actually might want to listen to. I used to drive around at night listening to them so I knew what the voice meant. I asked J.P. about the truck-driver thing, and he laughed and said he wished truck drivers could relate to them, and then he said he used to just get in his car and drive down PCH all night sometimes, too. So when he asked me to go on a national tour with them and sell their T-shirts and CDs, I said yes.


Living like rock stars everywhere in America.
Photo by James Philip Cabeza Devaca
DAY ONE: SAN DIEGO

Dios were not all Mexican, and they were not all from Hawthorne, though that was the soundbite. They were five guys who ate beef jerky between gas stations; who liked the Lakers, Lord of the Rings and Scrabble; who drank beer instead of liquor whenever possible; who called their girlfriends on their cell phones every chance they got. As a thrill ride, they were subpar, but as a band, they were very good and only occasionally at one another's throats.

Jackie Monzon (drums) is Filipino, not Venezuelan, as the British press had decided. He wore clear-framed glasses and had an even, measured cadence to his voice more appropriate to an extremely earnest guidance counselor. He called me "little guy," often as he clapped me on the back. He is 19. J.P. Caballero's mom was a middle-school principal; related or not, J.P. was reliable to a fault, organized, always worried about something and inappropriately well-read, though he hadn't brought up Foucault more than a month or two after I met him. Dios had recorded and mixed parts of their not-quite-out album in his Hermosa Beach garage; he had both the ear and the tolerance for minute detail that can unstick a song from the mud. He'd met Jackie in film class at junior college, and he'd met Joel and Kevin Morales (brothers just like the Wilsons! writers said, hyperventilating. And they're from Hawthorne, too!) during high school.

Joel and Kevin sang and played guitar—they shared an acoustic and an electric, a set of complementary vocal cords, and a cataclysmic talent for hilarious sarcasm—particularly Joel, who'd worked shitty retail for so long that he'd fucked up his circulatory system, if not—understandably—his capacity for human compassion. Joel was a head taller and a shoulder broader (and a good seven years older) than Kevin, but they'd still end up sitting next to each other on any given couch. Joel's songs had started the band five years ago when they were called God and recorded Weezer covers (even then with a nod to the Beach Boys, though), but the rest of dios had added relief and momentum. And then there was Jimmy, who played keyboard and piano, who graduated with honors from UCLA, who'd grown a beard that hung under his delicate Gucci glasses like cave moss. He shared a surname with Cabeza DeVaca—the Spanish explorer who spent eight miserable years wandering the wilderness of North America, who did about 6,000 miles in 1527 and left the first written record of the American interior—and he would drive.

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