Photo by James BunoanDios say they know how to get the party started. And they say this without a drop of irony.
"A little Michael Jackson, a little Prince," says singer/guitarist Joel Morales. "Then you show that you got some moves; you get some more alcohol. . . ."
"It's the vortex," says keyboardist Jimmy Camaro.
"We know where it starts," shrugs Joel. And it's true. The last party we saw them at—they didn't even play; they were just there—Joel or guitarist/singer Kevin Morales or maybe both found an acoustic guitar and got a ring of beer bottles and perky rocker girls at their feet by the time they changed from the chorus to the second verse. Dios is like that: they can pull all the attention in a room right to them just by strumming a few chords.
"We love the same music, and we love it for the same reasons," explains Joel. They track the footsteps of fellow Hawthorne High alums the Beach Boys with the diligence and respectful awe of paleontologists; they sang along with drummer Gabe Garnica and his acoustic guitar ("He knows more songs than anyone I've ever known," says Joel. "He's a dictionary of songs") through a literal third of the Beatles catalog during a 26-hour drive to Texas for South By Southwest in March. They like Os Mutantes, early Beck, Blonde Redhead, Neil Young and all the same Flaming Lips songs. One of them will make a mix tape and the rest absorb it—like a contact high, not that they share those, too—by riding around in cars together all the time (and after this interview, we find Dios somehow sitting expectantly inside our car, like puppies hoping for a joyride).
And though Jimmy and Joel tease bassist J.P. Caballero mercilessly during this interview (only recently 21, he's more prone than the elder Dioses to, say, clamber tipsily into his minivan after a bellyfull of Cape Cods and pass out under a guitar case with Paul Simon's "Still Crazy After All These Years" on endless repeat; really, that just underscores everything that makes the band great), Dios is all calculated if apparently casual cohesion when they let their amps hum on. They seem like the kind of band that has a lot of deep conversations late at night, we say. (After all, their website says, "Dios likes to watch the sunset—would you like to join us?") But they laugh at that one: "Only when Jimmy's stoned," says Joel.
So maybe it's an unspoken thing—because for a band that doesn't mind leaning into a distortion pedal now and then, Dios is all nuance, with subtle smarts cloaked (just like Jimmy jokes about his beard) under smiles and fuzz.
They got a review once calling them "slackers with high IQs," sentiment so accurate it leaves burn marks: can you argue otherwise when your bass player keeps referencing Fouault in casual conversation and your songs slip into tipsy choruses like "Stay in bed, stay in bed, stay in bed"? It's pop, but it's adroitly studied pop, balanced between the spontaneity Joel goes after when he's putting chords together in his bedroom and the intricately structured musicianship of the songs they all could sing along with.
"Songwriting is about having tact," says Joel. "The Beatles always gave you just enough—they left you hanging in a good way."
"And there are no boring parts," says Jimmy.
"And their songs are all different from each other!" says Joel. "That's what we want to be so . . . more than anything! I still don't feel like we sound anything like we're gonna sound when we hit our stride. I got a whole new set of sounds in my head—I wanna be clich-free."
Their music comes together like tectonic plates: tipped into motion by Joel's solo demos, grinding from rough to smooth through a practice or two, and then settling through weeks of aftershocks into something that feels stable. Their self-produced DEMO 002 CD—probably the most brashly perfect production job we've heard out of someone's mom's garage, and they did it in two hours!—is two drummers back, past now-guitarist Kevin to 15-year-old Jeffrey. But now they've got Gabe—who does double duty in San Pedro's Rolling Blackouts and told Dios he's the luckiest drummer in LA—and their songs have shifted and stretched again, resolving one iteration closer to the sounds Joel has been hearing in his head for years.
"Everybody's already known I've been in a band, but if I haven't seen them in a few years, they always ask, 'So how's the music?'" he says. "They don't say, 'How's the band?' And it's always been like the band wanted to try and do something, but it never actually did. I was watching my mid-20s just go by, like, 'I always thought I'd be doing something by then.'"
So you're legitimate artists now? we ask.
"Oh, hell, yeah!" says Joel (there's the irony!). But they actually sort of are now (and not just because lo-fi pop darlings Grandaddy covered their signature song, "I Love You, Girl," with Joel murmuring, "I'll love you till the end/Psyche! I'm just kiddin'!"). At least, they sound like they are, translating that same sunny suburbia that the Beach Boys grew up in into their own pop milieu. They've got that graduation-summer shine over every song, that feeling Jonathan Richman once wrote about when the future seems like it's all possibility.
Maybe that's why Dios make such good drive-around music (and, says J.P., he used to just get on PCH and go till it seemed like a good idea to turn around): they're a soundtrack to possibility; to reflection and choice; to those wide, tree-lined Hawthorne streets that start at the beach and taper to the horizon.
"For me, Hawthorne is the Liverpool of this area," says Joel. "To know that that musical legacy could have come from anywhere, but it's from the same goddamn town I'm from—I just really want to do something. It's cool knowing they saw the same sunsets, the same houses . . ."
"The trees, the parks, the public schools," says Jimmy.
"The beach," says Joel. "The water."
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"The same Foster's Freeze," says Jimmy. "You been there?"
No, we say. He shakes his head and smiles under his beard.
"We gotta go," he says.
Dios perform with the 88 at the Detroit Bar, 843 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 642-0600. Mon., 8 p.m. $7. 21+.