Destroy Boys: On the road again with open hearts

Destroy Boys, one of San Francisco’s best new punk bands, began life as a twosome in Sacramento. Guitarist, singer and songwriter, Alexia Roditis, met fellow guitar player and songwriter, Violet Mayugba, when they were in high school. “As we became friends, we talked about music,” Roditis said. “I played guitar and loved singing, but I never showed my songs to anyone, I played alone in my room. Vi said, ‘Let’s start a band.’ She was going to be the singer and I was going to play drums. Then, I played her a song I had on my phone. She said, ‘You should be the singer.’ I was nervous. I’d been singing my whole life, but I was shy about it. She encouraged me to go for it.”

In their early days, the band ran through a number of collaborators on bass and drums. While still in high school, they began playing live, moving from local gigs to tours up and down the California coast. They recorded singles, albums and videos and put them online. They were added to playlists on Spotify and Apple Music, and word-of-mouth began to spread across various social-media platforms. Their songs and videos currently have over 40 million streams.

“We moved down to Oakland to attend Mills College,” Roditis said. “We dropped out after a year, moved to San Francisco, found our drummer Narsai Malik and kept touring and making records.” 

In 2018, they cut Make Room with producer Martin Cooke (Death Cab For Cutie, Of Monsters And Men). He helped polish the songs and arrangements. J. Will Yip produced Open Mouth, Open Heart, the record they’ll release on Oct. 8. Roditis said the recording went smoothly, despite the lockdown. “We made it early this year,” she said. “We weren’t vaccinated, but the four of us [the core band and producer Cooke] got tested periodically. Vi, Narsai and myself lived in our own little bubble, so we had time to build the songs, adding layers of guitar, percussion and keyboards.

“We only had four days to record Make Room—two days for the instruments and two days for the vocals. For Open Mouth, all the songs were ready when we went in. Martin plays a lot of instruments, and we had time to put into the production. We’d make a ghost track to play with, to get the tempo and structure down. We were in the same room, but played individually, adding the parts we came up with. We don’t have a regular bass player, so Vi and I came up with the bass lines. Everyone adding their own element makes the songs come alive, but the biggest difference was going from 19 to 21. I feel like a different person, esthetically.”

The music on Open Mouth, Open Heart is aggressively punk, with nuances of metal, folk, country, pop and Latin music drifting through the mix. The set opens with “Locker Room Bully,” a song that describes the tribulations of high school women. A forceful vocal from Roditis likens her adolescent harassment to the hysteria of a witch-hunt, as a wall of electric guitar chords and Malik’s formidable backbeat support her. “Te Llevo Conmigo” opens with a hardy instrumental burst that drops into a slower interlude that’s sung in Spanish, backed by interlocking electric guitar chords that veer close to heavy metal. Then it jumps back into another high-speed punk groove. “I grew up bilingual,” Roditis said. “This song is a tribute to my grandparents. I didn’t get to know them but I feel them around me, so I wanted a song to honor them. I haven’t heard many metal songs in Spanish, so I was excited to write it.”

“For What” is a loud, funky mid-tempo tirade that likens the current polarized political situation to the bands’ experience of touring as women. The vocals combine rage with an undercurrent of hope. “It’s a song about being fed up with opening shows for straight, white dudes,” Roditis said. ‘We’re mad at the system, but now we still play a part in it.”

After a year of sheltering, the band is out and playing live again, despite anxiety about the surging Delta variant.“We’re all vaccinated—Vi, Narsai, our bass player and tour manager,” Roditis said. “I do get nervous, but I feel safe about playing the festival we’re heading to in Orlando. It’s outdoors, and there are safety measures in place. The summer shows we’re playing are all outside, with people spaced out from each other. We’ve only played Sacramento and Anaheim so far, and they went well. Everyone in California is aware and wary about getting too close.”

Roditis said there is no conscious political aspect to the band’s provocative name. “We like boys—when we started, Violet was mad at a guy she knew,” Roditis said. “She wrote ‘destroy boys’ on a chalkboard she had in her place. When she said, ‘It’s the band’s name,’ I said, ‘Yeah, sounds great.’ Since we’re a woman-fronted band, people find social and political nuance in whatever we do. My meaning is—destroying the idea of boys as a concept, as an aspect of patriarchy; but people will read things into it, no matter what we say. We still get catcalls when we go on stage, and some people have the audacity to say things to us they wouldn’t say to a man, so what the hell?”

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