Along with Dave Parley, he's half of the duo Prayers, which formed in 2013 and got a big break the following year when The Cult brought them on tour as an opening act. Born in Mexico and raised in a rough section of San Diego, his music is a menacing mix of electro, rock and hip-hop. He calls it "kill wave," a style that incorporates street-life lyrics into dark dance grooves.
Oh, he and Dave are also Luciferians. We caught up with them at Coachella 2016, where they took umbrage at being labelled Satanists.
Rafael Reyes: No, not at all. We're not Satanists. We're Luciferians.
Songfacts: What's the difference?
Reyes: There's a big difference. We are bringers of knowledge. We are the lights. And Satanists, you know, they're like metal heads. They're into sacrificing babies and burning churches down. There's a huge difference.
Songfacts: How does that belief system influence your songwriting? Are your songs inspired by your religious beliefs?
Reyes: Yes. Of course. And our environment. I was a gang member from Sherman Grant Hill. That's the environment I grew up in. Street culture. So Prayers is the embodiment of the occult and Chicano gang life.
Songfacts: I don't know much about Luciferians. Is praying a part of the religion?Reyes: No, we don't pray. David [Parley] came up with the name in a dream, but the reason we accepted it was because Prayers is like a scream and it means that there is something that you desire, that you want and you're willing to just pray for it. This is the lifestyle that we've wanted, so Prayers fits perfectly for what we're doing.
Songfacts: I was trying to categorize your style of music - music writers are horrible like that. I heard some electronic dance music. Some rap. Some punk. Are all those just some pieces of the pie?
Reyes: Yeah. They're all little fragments. Pieces of the pie. Our genre is kill wave. Wave is synthesizer, like new wave, dark wave. So that's where the "wave" comes from because we're an electronic band. But the "kill" comes from the street, the street culture. There's chill wave, there's dark wave, there's soft wave, we're kill wave.
Songfacts: One of the songs you performed today had to do with people who have been in prison.
Songfacts: What kind of an impact has that had on you? Do you have this sour view towards the system?
Reyes: There's people that, obviously, need to be in prison, and there are some that are in there wrongfully. My cousin, he's been in prison since the age of 16. He's been in Pelican Bay. And that song, "Gothic Summer," is about him.
It's about this summer where him and I were together. Summer represents heat, and for us in the streets when it's hot, it's not temperature-wise. We mean, there's activity. There's violence. There's police on every corner.
So that's where it comes from. It was during the summer where my cousin killed four men at the age of 16, and he's been in prison since then. So "Gothic Summer" is dedicated to him.
Songfacts: Wow, at 16 his whole life was still in front of him.
Reyes: He was a child. He's in Pelican Bay now, but he wasn't then. He was wherever you put someone the age of 16. He's been locked up for around 30 years.
Songfacts: It's tragic because at that age, he's never been an adult outside of prison.
Reyes: That song was dedicated to him because I love him. He's a part of my life and he's a reason I'm able to do what I do now because he keeps a lot of people off my back. He's a heavy hitter in prison. A lot of people don't like the way I dress and carry myself and he's in there fighting for me.
Songfacts: Does the culture you come from frown upon the music you make?
Reyes: Sure they do. But at the same time, they're trying to see it for what it is. I think at first, people don't listen to the lyrics, they just look at the ascetics. But now that we've had so much attention on us, people have actually studied what we do, and they understand it now, and now they're embracing it. A lot of people have been changing their perspective of what we do and who we are and they're seeing that we are with them, not against them.
Songfacts: It just takes time and desire to understand others. You talked a lot about Donald Trump during your set, and he tends to play upon our misconceptions about people. He's the kind of person that encourages people to not do what your culture has done. Have you written any overtly political songs?
Reyes: Besides "187 A.C.A.B.," I haven't. "187 A.C.A.B" is the most political song we have. In it, I say they want us to do good, but never do better than them.
Songfacts: Let's shift gears and talk about Prince. One of the frustrations I sensed from many of the artists at Coachella is that they didn't really have enough time to plan a Prince cover. If given enough time, what would have done as a Prince cover?
Reyes: I would have done, like, "Erotic City."
Songfacts: With your style, that would be interesting.
Reyes: You know, I lost my virginity to "Erotic City."
Songfacts: No, I didn't know that.
Reyes: (laughter) Now you do. I was 13.
Songfacts: So, you owe Prince a lot.
Reyes: I owe Prince a lot.
Songfacts: Do you think that because you look different from most people, Prince is an inspiration on that level?
Reyes: Of course, right? No one looked like Prince. No one behaved like Prince and his sexual energy and everything was flawless. He was what a rock star or an icon should look like and behave like. He was the last one.
Bowie was also one that had that sexual energy. It was iconic. It was chameleon. It was just sexy. His music was timeless and effortless. There's no one left. I'm the last one.
Songfacts: When you think about Bowie and Prince, they were attractive to both men and women. How many people can you say that about?
Reyes: There's not many.
Songfacts: Well, I wanted to wind things up by talking about the songwriting process. Is there a method for creating songs for Prayers?
Reyes: What we're doing here is alchemy. And the whole process of alchemy is about self-awareness and self-liberation. So this music that David and I are creating, I myself am just trying to discover who I am, and the process that we use for self-discovery is music.
So this music that we make is really personal. I'm just talking about my experiences and how I see this world and how I interact with it. And in that process I'm able to find bits and pieces of who I am and why I belong and why I'm here. I'm never thinking, 'Oh, let me write a song about this issue.' Every song that I've written lyrically, is a personal song.
Songfacts: But when you write, do you sit down together and create music, or does David create musical beds and you write lyrics?
Reyes: Our first album was manifested in two days. David came over, and he started producing right there. He brought the songs, they inspired me, and I started writing.
Our second EP, Gothic Summer, was the same process. David would come over, hang out, enjoy the day, and he would start making music and I would start writing.
So "Young Gods" is about my life falling apart. It's just me trying to communicate with the people that hurt me. I knew that there was no way that I could get in the same room with these people, but I knew that one day they would listen to my music, and when they did, that was the way I could communicate to them how they hurt me.
Songfacts: So you actually use music as family therapy.
Songfacts: So what do you think are a couple of your most misunderstood songs?
Reyes: I can't really answer that because our songs are really straightforward. But maybe "Pentagram Medallion" is one. People think that "Pentagram Medallion" is about Satan or Lucifer, but it's actually about my father.
Songfacts: Do you think that if people listened to your music more closely that they would know that you're not a Satan worshipper?
Songfacts: So it's probably because they listen to what other people say, rather than listening to the actual music.
August 31, 2016
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