Watch for Horses

BY: JULIE CHUNG
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I stand there, anxiously waiting as the band prepares for practice. “Check, check,” says lead vocalist Ralph Tafoya into the microphone. There’s a bustle in the room, an uncoordinated mixture of guitar and drum sounds as everyone tunes their instrument. Then there’s a brief moment of silence. Without a spoken word, Jeremiah Acosta starts strumming his guitar. Fellow guitarist Julio Quijano comes in after a couple beats. Within seconds, bass guitarist Joshua Borja, drummer Julian Chavez, and Tafoya join in to fill the room with strikingly feel-good music. It’s hard for me to believe this is the local Norwalk band, Watch for Horses. Listening to their music on Spotify prior to the band’s practice, I did not expect to see a group of humble individuals who were so ecstatic for the opportunity to share their music with DIG Magazine. Immediately, you could feel the unspoken camaraderie and mutual respect among the group; it takes a moment to register this is a band that recently received a staggeringly rapid growth of recognition.

Their song “Open Sea” debuted on KROQ-FM on the weekend of April 11, 2014. Despite the fact that Kat Corbett mistakenly announced the band as “Watch the Horses,” she loved the passion behind the band’s followers who constantly encouraged her to play their music. “Open Sea” played on KROQ-FM for the proceeding nine weeks, and held the No. 1 spot for two weeks straight. The song still remains a fan favorite to date.

Watch for Horses currently has a fan base of 2,972 and their Facebook “likes” increase at an average of 10 “likes” per day. Two thirds of “likes” come from within the U.S. while a third comes all the way from Peru.

The members of Watch for Horses, who all attended John Glenn High School in Norwalk, formed the band back in April 2011. The name bred spontaneously when Claudia Quijano, Julio’s sister and Acosta’s girlfriend, misread a “watch for hoses” sign in Walmart’s gardening section as “watch for horses.” Her charming yet indisputable confusion influenced the band to keep the name.

Watching them perform live, no one would assume the entire band had been self-taught on their instrument, vocalist Tafoya being no exception. With a voice that compares to a smooth blend of Julian Casablancas and Albert Hammond Jr., Tafoya surprisingly had no singing experience prior to starting the band.

“I just played drums and the violin in middle school,” said Tafoya. “I come from a family of women that sing and it just came to a point where [the band] didn’t have a singer so I said, ‘well, I’ll give it a shot,’ and they were OK with it.”

It was easy for the band to decide on a common sound already having similar tastes in music. A few of the band’s inspirations include The Strokes, The Killers, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Coldplay, The Beatles, Arctic Monkeys, and according to Tafoya, “any band named after an animal.”

Many of the band’s earlier songs originated with Acosta and Quijano, who had both written a handful of songs before the band was ever created. Acosta, Quijano and Tafoya continue to function as the main lyricists of the band.

“There’s ‘Charismatic Spirit,’ (which) I wrote when our best friend…passed away,” said Acosta. Tafoya added this is the one song that carries the deepest meaning.

While it had been difficult for the band to book consistent shows in the past, they have performed nonstop since the beginning of 2015, averaging about two to three shows per month.

“Wiretap Records, which is our Indie label, put out our (“Open Sea”) vinyl…we met Rob,” said Tafoya. “He works in marketing at KROQ, and he’s a really good guy. (Nothing is) handed to us by any means…but he generates a lot of work for me to do.”

Some of the biggest venues and events Watch for Horses performed at include The Port of Los Angeles Lobster Festival and the House of Blues in Anaheim, which generated a turnout of over 400 people.

However, a cultivating positive response hasn’t always come easy to the band. They’ve been told that they sound terrible, encountered no response at all from a crowd, and have performed at their fair share of bizarre venues.

The band recalls an incident that occurred at a Norwalk house party, where the band performed under low ceilings in a house that was soon to be torn down for freeway expansion.

“We had one last song and I punched through the ceiling not because it was cool, but I did it for balance,” said Tafoya. “I just punched through it and I held on, and then I fell on Julian’s drum set.”

Chavez laughs as he recalls the music cutting out the moment Tafoya stumbled. “I’m just trying to push this guy off my drums and then once I push him off, we all look at each other,” he said.

“It was the most perfect moment,” said Quijano. “Everyone just paused and looked (at each other), and then four beats after we just started playing again.” Tafoya remembers it as a perfect lock-in moment among the whole group.

It was at another backyard show in Norwalk where Chavez first recognized their potential as a band.

“…we were playing our last song, ‘Juliette,’ and I was off in my own little world, and hearing (the audience) singing the lyrics just sent the greatest feeling chill down my spine because I could imagine that on a greater scale.”

Some of the band’s dream venues include the Wembley Stadium, The O2, Glastonbury Festival, and of course, Saturday Night Live.

The band experienced their biggest turning point when the producer and owner of Revolution 9 Recording Studios, Daniel Balistocky, approached the band and asked them to perform for him live.

“What followed after that was…he sat us down and questioned us…until (around) 2 a.m. just sitting and learning about the industry,” said Tafoya. “Literally after that, we got in the car, we were mentally drained, and I asked, ‘what do you guys think? Do you still want to do this?’ and on the ride home, we said ‘yup, we still want to do this’…it was a huge turning point.”

Now that they’ve blossomed into their fourth year as a band, the list of stories goes on: breaking tambourines before every show, Acosta constantly snapping guitar strings, Chavez’s drumsticks breaking during their House of Blues performance, and Quijano’s overworked fingers frequently splattering blood on his white electric guitar, they now hold stories that identify them as a band. However, even with years of experience and crazy stories in their pocket, they admit they still get nervous before every show.

“I mostly wear bandanas on my wrist (for every show)…I don’t know, that always grabs me a little bit,” said Chavez. “(Before) every show, I always get nervous and it’s just a reminder that I’m human and it’s exciting because you don’t know if these people are going to receive you well or not.”

Borja adds that as their shows continue to receive bigger turnouts, it gives them more of a chance to really get nervous.

“I really like [Watch for Horses] because they sound like The Strokes,” said actress and Cal State Long Beach graduate Isabel Davila. “The Strokes have really lost it so listening to bands that can still keep that late 90s, early 2000s sound is really fresh and enjoyable.”

Touring the world remains the band’s long-term goal; or as Acosta simply put it, “We want to be jukebox heroes.”

The band recently finished their first tour in Seattle at the end of February, and hopes to make Las Vegas and Arizona their next stop. Future tour plans include San Francisco and San Diego as potential locations.

Wiretap Records’ split, 7” vinyl of Watch for Horses’ “Open Sea” and Indian School’s “Bowerbird,” can still be purchased through wiretaprecords.bandcamp.com. Check out the band’s most recent video released by Wiretap Records called, “Lost,” also available on Youtube.

Watch for Horses’ first EP, “Evil Kid,” is available on iTunes, Spotify, and the band’s website at watchforhorses.com. Follow them on Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, and Instagram @watchforhorses.

“Just listen to us,” said Acosta.

“Clearly…we’re not the prettiest band, and we don’t need to be,” said Tafoya. “We make music that…we’re passionate about. I think that’s got to translate the most to the people that listen to us and as long as they’re willing to give us a chance, I think they’ll feel the same way.”