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When Des Demonas exploded onto the D.C. scene in 2015, they were a perfect band for the moment: Jagged and confrontational enough to be worthy of the District’s hardcore heritage, yet different enough to feel totally essential.
The media has struggled to classify Des Demonas since they emerged. Last October, Suburbs Pod highlighted the tinges of ’60s garage rock—noting that three members have experience as drummers, which permeates their songs with a percussive sound. Freeform Portland came to a similar conclusion, describing Des Demonas as “drummers who happen to be playing organ, guitar, bass, and singing.” And District Fray Magazine invoked the weird punk of Butthole Surfers for comparison.
It’s no surprise that finding Des Demonas’ place in the rock-taxonomy is so difficult since the band are a supergroup of sorts, a chimera composed of MVPs from several bands, including Thee Lolitas, Kid Congo & the Pink Monkey Birds, and The Make-Up. And lead singer Jacky Cougar Abok still plays—what else?—the drums for Foul Swoops.
Des Demonas’ self-titled debut LP was released in 2017 on In The Red Records, home to Alice Bag and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. Things were looking great. Then came March 2020. Venues closed down, tours were canceled, and punk scenes everywhere were devastated. Plans to tour and release a new EP were kneecapped.
“I don’t think it’s really possible for many music scenes around the world to ever fully recover,” guitarist Mark Cisneros tells City Paper. “We lost some good people. It’s also been very difficult financially for artists to even stay in the cities where they create.” Looking locally, he adds: “D.C. has lost a number of notable music artists who have moved away in these last few years of skyrocketing rents and costs of living.”
Despite the hefty price tag of calling this city home, Des Demonas still do. Their COVID-delayed Cure for Love EP dropped in September of 2021, and the band is making plans for a tour to promote it. In advance of their Oct. 22 show at Black Cat, City Paper caught up with Cisneros and Abok to discuss drummer brains, touring, and hope.
WCP: Tell us about the process of all these different people with different musical experiences coming together to form Des Demonas.
Mark Cisneros: We had all been friends for years. It kinda stems from a great D.C. band—Suns of Guns—a local favorite that dissolved after a couple members moved out west. The drummer, Ryan “Swan” Hicks and the guitarist, Brendan Hynes, and I had started getting together to work out material for a new project. We eventually invited our friends Joe Halladay on bass and Jacky Cougar Abok on vocals, who is actually a drummer and had never previously been a singer or frontperson. Songs came together. We were very much a real band from the start. Our friend Paul Vivari came in to replace Brendan on the Farfisa organ and has been an integral part of the band. We still play one or two songs from that first incarnation of the group.
WCP: What made you decide to use the organ as opposed to something more conventional like keyboard or piano?
MC: Brendan and Ryan had the opportunity to buy a Farfisa organ and Brendan insisted on forgoing guitar in this project and wanted to focus on the organ. We were a two-guitar group at the onset, but who’s gonna say no to a Farfisa?
WCP: One of the things that draws people to your work is the driving, percussive sound. How did that style become so integral to Des Demonas?
MC: Ryan, Jacky, and I are drummers so we’ve got three drummer brains in the mix. Ryan’s drumming is always very propulsive and wildly creative. My drumming definitely influences my guitar playing and vice versa, and Jacky’s added percussion on the top undoubtedly drives our music forward.
WCP: You’ve played shows with the Gories, the Scientists, and Richmond’s the Ar-Kaics. Are there any local bands that you’re fans of and would like to share a stage with?
MC: It was a rare and great honor to play shows with the Gories and the Scientists. Legends! The Ar-Kaics are from the area and they are definitely a favorite of ours. Of course Trouble Funk or Rare Essence would be incredible. Sneaks, Clear Channel, Too Free, Quattracenta, Sensor Ghost, No Man, Blacks’ Myths, Bed Maker, the Owners, Spring Silver, Exotiq Int’l, Divorce Horse, Bottled Up, Model Home are all great groups from the area, and there are more!
WCP: In “The South Will Never Rise Again,” Jacky sings, “The Confederate flag will never fly on the moon.” That’s a really hopeful notion, that old evils can be permanently vanquished. It’s a sense of optimism you don’t hear much these days. Can you talk a little about what inspired that lyric?
Jacky Cougar Abok: Hate and racism are such a complete waste of everyone’s time and energy. There was no way the Nazis or the Confederate forces were going to win. Not to say there aren’t insidious forces and systems that put poor people and minorities down, I just think there’ll never be a “master race” type in charge. History proves this time and time again, and that’s hopeful!
WCP: Des Demonas started getting attention in 2017—picking up steam over the next couple years … And then the pandemic hit.
MC: It was really hard for every working group. Still is for many. We had a new 12-inch EP scheduled for release in the summer of 2020, we were planning on touring the west coast, and getting out to the UK, where we had been getting some steady radio play. All of those plans were wiped out. Live music was-slash-is the last thing to get going again.
For now, Des Demonas are looking forward to playing a local show at Black Cat this October with June of 44 and Bed Maker. And while the local music scene crawls back to life, Cisneros and Abok remain hopeful that a new crop of bands will spring up to reinvigorate it.
Des Demonas play at 8 p.m. on Oct. 22 at Black Cat. blackcatdc.com $20–$25.