Artist Interview: Death Lens

Posted: by The Editor

photo by Robert Nuñez

Death Lens’ fourth album Cold World is a sprint towards the light at the end of the tunnel. Teeming with high spirited energy and a willful sense of resilience, their debut on LA indie punk label Epitaph Records showcases their most realized body of work yet. Over the last four years, the East Los Angeles based punk rockers found themselves beginning a new era as they challenged themselves to evolve as artists and actively began vocalizing their thoughts on current political events as well as being more emotionally honest in their music. Having previously built a reputation for primarily writing west coast inflected party punk music that largely resembled bands like FIDLAR or Wavves, the new era of Death Lens funnels their explosive energy into a more focused and deliberate style that’s reflective of the times. On Cold World they toe the line between their skate punk and garage rock lineage with hardcore fury and anthemic rock and roll, and I spoke with vocalist Bryan Torres about representing San Gabriel Valley, their growth as a band, signing to Epitaph, and the process behind the new album.

Oftentimes when people think of Los Angeles, there are certain regions they have been made aware of through various pop culture references that have painted an idealistic image of the city. Only the diehards would be remotely aware of the fact that beyond Hollywood and The Valley, there lies “the other.” Death Lens, who proudly identify as five brown boys from La Puente, have made it a point to represent the marginalized communities they come from, namely San Gabriel Valley. “It’s a crazy feeling to be from unknown towns or small places and making it out to be shown to the world. Not much to do here growing up, but one thing that inspired us was seeing bands in Los Angeles and Orange County dominating the scene and making it known where they were from. Little did fans know that slapped in between LA and the OC was a small scene with Latino bands that were inspiring us because of how much they loved the SGV. Bands like The Red Pears, Bodegas, Pool Honeys and many more made us want to push the SGV and give the 626 a name,” Torres shares. 

The new album Cold World sees the band making bigger strides with some of their most compelling songs to date. Their new material continues to maintain a hopeful and positive energy even though the recurring themes throughout the album touch on despairing feelings in relation to growing older and struggling to cope with that in an increasingly hostile and uninhabitable country. Their growing ambitions as well as everything else going on around the world including the ongoing genocide of Palestinians perpetuated by the U.S. and Israel moved them to reflect on the cold world most of us are struggling to survive. “2020 was the beginning of new Death Lens. The pandemic hit, some of us had no jobs, we were struggling as musicians and party lyrics and music weren’t on our minds anymore. From then on we vowed to make music more relatable to how we feel and how things can be stressful growing up and seeing the world become an abysmal place. We wanted to keep people sane and write to uplift in these times and let them get it out as they dance the night away with us. Our lyrics went from drinking and having fun to thinking and releasing endorphins at each show,” Torres expresses.

Last year, the band announced they had signed with Epitaph and released their first single “Vacant,” a classic indie punk anthem with a huge hook that offers up an honest look at where Torres had arrived mentally and artistically in that he had exhausted the notion of what it means to live and do the same things he once did as a teenager. The accompanying video provided straightforward footage of the band in the studio and is the only video where they aren’t running around in an action sequence. On signing with Epitaph, Torres shares “Our manager at Unquiet pushed for us on all fronts, our agent Alex and Brad at Sequel Music pushed for us, and then word got around that we were going to have a scout come in for our Echo show. We were ecstatic but man, we were so nervous. Epitaph instantly felt like family and it’s an absolute honor to be on such a cool label and have the support from them.”

Before the album was released last Friday on May 3rd, their latest single “Disturb the Peace” galvanized listeners to take the streets and disrupt the order of things as we currently know it. An anthem made for a looming revolt, it was written for the people in direct defiance of the U.S. government and empowers the band as they preach the song live with every chance they get. The music video was also one of the most enjoyable but difficult videos they made while out on tour with Militarie Gun and Spiritual Cramp – who released their first full length album last November. “We had to do a lot of running for 2 days straight through all of New York. My body was aching for like a week. But we couldn’t pass on the opportunity to work with legends! We had the privilege to tour with both Spiritual Cramp and Militarie Gun back in February and we instantly clicked. Jose Luna (True Colors Creative / Spiritual Cramp) one night was talking to me about how he directed some of SC’s music videos and then showed me his work. I was blown away and asked if he would be down to work on something with us for the new record. He was down and we built a gameplan on the days off we had in New York during our last month of tour. It was hectic due to time, but the man absolutely crushed expectations! Then after it was all done we had Will Acuña (Militarie Gun) add his magic to it,” Torres says of the experience.

During the process of writing for the album, the band also began working with a producer for the first time. Working with Brett Romnes (Hot Mulligan, Anxious, Heart Attack Man) inspired them to incorporate new methods that allowed them to experiment with and expand their sound. “Brett is the reason we began to write better, organize more professionally, and get out of our comfort zone. A lot of people saying “this isn’t what Death Lens sounds like” don’t understand that this IS DEATH LENS. We just got better. Brett pushed us creatively to try new chords, new instruments, new vocal patterns. The man was a genius and we had such a fun time doing the record with him,” Torres expresses.

One of the most powerful songs on the album that stands out sonically and lyrically is the title track “Cold World.” Uplifting and symbolic of current events around the world, the song waltzes into post-punk territory with flourishing synths and bold lyrics that seem to beg for a shred of empathy from our country’s indifferent governing body as Torres memorably repeats “Want love pride won’t ever let me show/ Cold world, something’s gotta give you know.” On the making of the track, he shares, “We just wanted to show the world that we’re not just a one dimensional punk/alternative band. Matt and I stood watching and listening to old Death Lens and we began thinking of how we could break out of our typical songs and typical singing. We listened to records for hours and then we just went to work. Honestly one of our proudest works as a group.”

Having been a band since 2012, Death Lens have found a way to continue evolving without compromising who they are as artists. While writing for the new album, the punk oriented track “Memory Hotline” is one that makes Torres reflect on how far they’ve come as a band. “It makes me relive the times we wrote together, the struggles we’ve shared together as a band, and most importantly it was one of the key songs that got us so hyped on the new stuff we were writing. It’s just memories on memories rushing to my mind when I hear it; nostalgia every time,” he shares.

Cold World is Death Lens at their most authentic and captures where they are as people and as a band. It’s a steady progression from their previous album 2022’s No Luck and dares to challenge old versions of themselves that they have outgrown and inspires their listeners to pay attention. In the midst of all that’s happening around the world, it’s an invigorating soundtrack that offers a hand to the collectively disheartened and disenfranchised as we muster up every bit of empathy we possess and attempt to remain diligent in pursuit of change.  

Torres closes the interview on this note,

“This world is crumbling, but there is still hope through each of us to attain joy. We’re one community, one world.”

photo provided by Epitaph

Cold World is out now on Epitaph.

Loan Pham | @x_loanp

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