An Atmosphere of Welcome: Meet the Pilots of Venus

In a quaint and calm simple little house in the lower valley of El Paso, you will find a group of eclectic rockers hanging out; lead vocalist Joel Chavez will be playing with his dog and the Pilots of Venus’ unofficial mascot, Buzz Aldrin. The setting for their lives plays so perfectly into the creation of their music as it gives you a sense of nostalgia, makes you want to dance, makes you feel reflective if not hopeful and happy.

Made up of drummer Stephen Razo, bassist Maribel Hernandez, guitarist and vocalist Joel Chavez, and guitarist Samuel Pedroza, the punk/surf/indie/rock El Paso band Pilots of Venus released their debut album on April 20. The band will be hosting an album release party at the Lowbrow Palace at the Lowbrow Palace in El Paso, TX, where the band has already played several times having opened for larger bands coming through their hometown like the Buttertones.

With their debut album finally launching, the band reflected on how it started as from a childhood friendship of the duo of Razo and Chavez. Then became a trio, when Hernandez joined in. The band came its its final and current four piece when Chavez and Pedroza randomly met each other at a party this past new year’s eve.

“Actually, it was funny,” Pedroza said. “The way I met Joel was completely by chance. I had just gotten through a rough patch, and I was completely alone. I didn’t have any friends, and I decided to go to this Kurt Travis show, because I’m a huge Dance Gavin Dance fan. And I met this guy, David, and he took me to a party, where this fucking guy was at,” signaling to Chavez, “and I asked him, ‘Hey, man, do you have a cigarette?’ and he said, ‘Yeah, I have a cigarette,’ and we fucking smoked cigarettes, and I asked, ‘Do you like Modest Mouse, man?’ He said, ‘I love Modest Mouse!’ That’s how it happened.”

Chavez added, “Yeah, it was crazy. Just meeting all of them was by chance.”

All members had come from different backgrounds – Hernandez and Pedroza came from jazz, Razo from punk and ska, and Chavez from grunge – bringing it all together to form Pilots of Venus. According to the band, their union was purely coincidental.

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From left to right: Maribel Hernandez, Stephen Razo, Joel Chavez and Samuel Pedroza. Photo by Antonio Villaseñor-Baca.

Based on the different backgrounds each member has, the band’s debut album is said to have so many different sounds. From surf to indie to punk to do-up to hip-hop, the album will be full of surprises.

It starts very aggressive,” Chavez said, “like, very in your face. Aaaaaah! And then it gets kind of, like, soft. It gets a little bit softer, and then it ends more dance-y, that’s when the doo-wop comes up. And it still has aspects of punk in it. We just don’t want to be boring, keep people on their toes.”

The album named Lady Astronaut, gets its title from the eponymous track which, according to the band, is the band’s “jewel.” This song is comprised of a variety of sounds. The song starts with a groovy vibe, very psychedelic, turns into punk, and ends softly, which ultimately sounds like if it was multiple songs in one.

“I think once we wrote that song, it put the band in a certain direction,” Hernandez said. “First, we were trying to find how to play with each other, because we were from different genres, and stuff.”

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Photo by Antonio Villaseñor-Baca

Even though the band, as a whole, has been around for a short time, they have put themselves out there, in the El Paso scene. They have opened for Buttertones, The Frights, and even won third place at the Lowbrow Palace’s battle of the bands. They will also be playing at this year’s Neon Desert Music Festival.

“We like to create an atmosphere of, like, just welcome, of you’re not gonna be judged here,” Pedroza said. “Everybody’s dancing, everybody’s having a good time. That’s the message we’re trying to say: ‘Have good time!’”

Pedroza recounted a story of a fan of theirs saying she kept going to their shows and met some of her best friends through them.

But the music goes deeper than just creating a fun environment, according to Chavez who explained there are also some political aspects to their music.

“You know, just like the whole idea, I guess,” Chavez said. “Just like the main consensus of just how people don’t really do much, and that’s why bad things happen. Things like that.”

Also, drawing a lot of influence from Nirvana, the band’s songs are simply written, including simple chord progressions with different rhythms. From that, the lyrics themselves, and the message their music is trying to provide goes into the idea of simplicity, of leaving behind one’s troubles and just feel the music.

“What I feel when I listen to our music, is that it’s okay to feel,” Pedroza said. “Like, going through the whole album, looking at the track list, there’s a lot of emotion in these songs. You can hear it in Joel’s voice, like, if I’m playing, if anybody’s playing, there’s a lot of emotion. It’s super inviting.”

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Maribel Hernandez. Photo by Antonio Villaseñor-Baca.
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Stephen Razo. Photo by Antonio Villaseñor-Baca.
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Samuel Pedroza. Photo by Antonio Villaseñor-Baca.
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Joel Chavez. Photo by Antonio Villaseñor-Baca.

By Aimée Santillán

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