Read the full interview on Flaunt.com!
If you love good music, it’s hard not to fall in love with Oxymorrons. True to their name, the band arrives on the scene with their unique fusion of alternative rock and hip-hop, cementing their name as a force to be reckoned with while bound by no genre barriers. With all members hailing from New York, Oxymorrons is composed of vocalist Demi “Deee” and his brother Kami “KI,” drummer Matty Mayz, and vocalist, guitarist, bassist Jafe Paulino.
In describing themselves, KI states, “We are a POC alternative, hip-hop band, I guess in dictionary terms. I’d say we’re the coolest rock band ever, because we mesh different types of sounds that people don’t expect to marry each other in music. It’s usually hip-hop and rock, but sometimes even other different types of genres dip into our songs.”
Oxymorons’ approach to music is completely unique and different, exactly what separates them from the rest of the herd of people. Deee adds, “In a nutshell, we’ve crafted our own sound. There’s always been rap rock, but we have a unique method.”
Ultimately, Oxymorrons stands for individuality, equality, and the voice of underdogs. Recently, they unleashed their highly-anticipated EP titled Mohawks & Durags, spearheaded by lead single “Definition.”
Flaunt caught up with Oxymorrons, who were posted in the Houston stop of their tour with Anti-Flags. Read below as we discuss their roots in New York, their diverse background of influences, what each member contributes to the group, the making of Mohawks & Durags, the cover art, the independent grind, what inspired “Django”, and why mental health is so important, and more!
Being from New York City, how does that play into your life and your career?
All: It’s everything!
KI: That’s what we brought with this EP. That’s what we bring in everything we do. Our New York swag, who we are, everything about us pours out into everything we do. If we weren’t from New York, we wouldn’t be this. [laughs]
Jafe: The environment of New York City, being born and raised there, especially as children of immigrants, men of immigrants, it’s the epicenter of the world culturally speaking. It represents almost every place in the world, in that city. Growing up around there, it’s hard to be monocultured. Because of that, especially if you’re creative, then to be monotonous in your work, or at least what influences your work. We’re surrounded by everything our whole lives so we bring a lot of that into all the music. Into the band, into the brand, everything.
Deee: Everything you see, it taps into it.
Are you guys all from the same area?
Deee: No, me, and KI are from Jamaica, Queens.
Jafe: I was born in the Bronx and raised in Uptown Manhattan.
Matty: I’m from Spring Valley.
Deee: Matty lives in Ridgewood now. [laughs]
Obviously, you have both hip-hop and rock influences. Who were your favorites?
Matty: It’s a giant melting pot of each of us individually. Each of our favorite artists and greats defines who we are. Within that, the 4 of us coming together with all those favorites and greats makes what this band is. We run the gamut. I know Deee’s favorite frontman of all time is Freddie Mercury.
Deee: My favorite band of all time is Queen. There’s no one with more stage presence, vocal ability, and all that shit wrapped into one than Freddy Mercury. Of course, being POC and also not being recognized for it at the time until the most recent documentary came out, Fred is my guy. Then you got the hip-hop influences, I know KI loves N.E.R.D. —- N.E.R.D. influences us a lot. So many things influence who we are. As Oxymorons, we literally are a melting pot of music. That answer will always be extremely broad because of all the types of music we listen to.
KI: It’s definitely gonna be all over the place. I love N.E.R.D. to Kid Cudi to Pharrell. I even love K-pop music. It sounds crazy but this is what we need.
Dave: The band name is very literal. It’s not because we think Oxymoron is a cool word, it’s a literal thing.
Matty: We’ve run the gamut on so many different genres. For me, I will bring in the Horizon and Outkast. Does that make sense? Sure, for me it does.
When did you guys come together to form the band? What was that moment?
KI: all of us collectively have had musical experiences and careers outside of Oxy. This collective is what we call the 4-piece: who we are now, as you see now on the project. Our existence as 4-piece is about 3 to 4 years old.
What do you guys each contribute to the group?
Dave: That’s a good question, haven’t heard that one before.
Jafe: Deee is our fierce leader, while contributing Vocals, writing and arranging. Matty is drums, programming. He’s our music director too. He controls the live show and all the gizmos that go into making it all happen. Also writes, he sneakily writes a good liner or two here and there. We got KI divine, the most handsome one. Beautiful milky chocolate voice meets hardcore bars for days, the presence of a God or angel walking before you. He is the hook king and also does arranging.
I play the string stuff. I’m Jafe, Jah the young Prophet. I sing, play the guitar, bass, also write and arrange. We do everything, we all cross-pollinate ideas. That might be some of our responsibilities and roles so to speak, but it’s not like there’s a piece of a song designated to each person to figure it out. We collectively write everything.
KI: If we’re not talking musically, we have band dad, jester, anime character, and anarchist. [points to members]
Mohowks & Durags EP out now. How are you guys feeling?
Everyone: So good!!
Deee: It’s going well. We worked our asses off on that project to beautifully blend those genres and keep the authenticity of both sides. See, that’s the key. A lot of rap rockers would be like, ‘Oh shit, it’s rap rock.’ Nah, it’s more than that. We wanted to make sure you felt this was black music. Guys from the hood, not code-switching to make rock music. It’s not some white suburbs shit. We not knocking the burbs, it’s just we really wanted people to feel where we’re from and everything inflicted in our rock music. We didn’t want to strip that essence from the music. So Mohawks & Durags is obviously an oxymoron of a name. We combined two things that are culturally significant to their perspective genres but wouldn’t traditionally go together. It’s important because it’s literally both sides of the spectrum.
Jafe: Yeah collectively, we haven’t released a project in a few years. We’ve just been throwing out singles and it’s been great to finally give people a body of work. Now, people are really understanding what the fuck’s going on and what we’re doing.
Deee: The response has been amazing so far. It’s been really cool to see this crazy idea that we had come to life.
What inspired the title?
Dave: Mohawks are a permanent thing in rock culture, and durags are a permanent thing in hip-hop culture. Fuse them together, boom!
What inspired the album cover art?
Jafe: New York shit.
Deee: That’s our iconic logo. The Teeth Man is our guy, he’s chomped his way through everything for us for years.
KI: It’s going back to when King Kong and Godzilla took over his city. That’s pretty much what the Teeth Man is doing in our artwork: showing we’re going through our city just raging.
Matty: The Teeth Man is our main logo, this is our formal introduction it feels like. Sometimes to really show and create something new, you need to burn shit down and build it back up. That’s the cover art: us burning it down and causing a little havoc to show you how this shit’s really done. It’s a guide to a new society.
What are your fondest memories from creating the project?
Deee: Creating the project went in waves, bouncing back and forth from different sessions. Half of it was made in LA and the other half was in New York. Working with Jason Allen Butler and Zach Jones a lot. Being able to work with John Feldmann was awesome he’s legendary. Making “Pretty People” with Marc Orell from Dropkick Murphys was next level. The Hustle Standard helped us a lot with a couple of the early demos. There’s so much work. Reworking songs was one of the key things that transformed a few records. Like “Green Vision” we had one version of it, then we took the best part of that, Made another version, then took the best part of that. Made another version, until we got the song we really, really wanted. The process of recording the ep was awesome. There were ups, there were downs, but I wouldn’t change it for anything.
Matty: There was uncertainty. We went in February 2020 to first meet up with Jason in California and start writing the rest of the EP. Then the world shut down. There were a couple songs picked, but we weren’t done yet.
We ended up going back in September when California was on fire. It felt very end of the world-esque, but we knew we were going to use that time to write as much music and get shit done. We wanted to be prepared for when the world opened up. That portrays a lot of the project for us, it was such a crazy time to be alive. The environment we were traveling in and out of, safe and unsafe places. Waiting two weeks before we got to go to the studios.
Jafe: We had to quarantine to get in the studio, then quarantine again. A lot of things took a lot more time than they needed to, but that was the state of the world. We kept our heads down and kept pushing, we said, ‘No, we’re going to get this done, We’re going to do what we gotta do.’
KI: It’s that New York City hustle, we don’t stop.
Deee: We had to make many sacrifices. We really wanted to do this! We really wanted to get this done. Not only did we make time sacrifices, but we also made financial sacrifices.
Matty: We’re DIY to the core, we’re built for this.
How is the independent grind?
KI: It’s a grind.
Dee: It’s definitely not for everybody and you gotta really love it. That’s why we’re loving the response to the EP. That’s why we’re loving everything that’s happening because we really put our all into this and seeing those fruits. The independent grind within itself, I try to tell people all the time: it’s a labor of love. It doesn’t pay off for a very fucking long time.
Jafe: There were so many L’s! Pounds of L’s. Forget about the indie grind if you can’t handle taking L’s for a long time. Don’t be indie, it’s not for the faint of heart. But in the long run, it’s worth it. I can say for every obstacle, for everything that happened, to be sitting here with a project that’s doing extremely well, that’s on our accord and no one dictated what it sounded like or felt like but us and a few others contributors, it’s fucking ours. No one can tell us anything and it’s fucking working. Everything we said would work, it’s fucking working.
What are your favorite songs on the project and why?
All: All of them!
Deee: Each song represents a piece of what the band is, what our sound is, and defines us sonically. There’s not a song that itself stands on its own. Fans have their own favorite, which we love. We’ve already seen those reactions. Everybody else is gonna have their own, but these are all our babies. We have 6 kids and we treat them equally. Haha
KI: We’re good parents. [laughs]
Bring us back to the studio session for “Django.”
Jafe: That was when California was on fire. The sky hadn’t been blue yet for a week.
KI: That’s when we first met Cole & bardo. We all got in the studio. Dee had this idea.
Dee: I had this voice note and it had the Call and response to “Django”. “It was like Skin Tone Django!” Then we all went in and made the song!
Matty: It actually came together pretty quick.
KI: In about 3 or 4 hours, we did the entire song.
That cover art was inspired by Bruce Springstein, right?
Deee: That cover art was part of what we do, it’s a series as far as our singles. We remake iconic rock covers and put them in black spaces because rock music is black music. It’s rooted in black culture, we created it. We wanted to bring attention to that fact in a cool way. The Bruce Springsteen cover, we added blackness to it, Just like we did the Nirvana cover, we added the black baby. We also did the Queen cover with KI in a durag. It’s really to draw attention. We wanted it to be galvanizing to someone who sees it. We want people black & white to recognize that rock is rooted in blackness.
How important is music with substance nowadays?
Jafé: To us, musical substance is extremely important. People undermine, either downplay, or don’t really realize the educational power of music. How people learn things, how people perceive things, what they go through in life. Music’s therapeutic and educational in so many ways. Music should always have a message, it should be always pushing something. What that is, not really sure, but hopefully it’s always something positive.
Matty: It doesn’t always have to be lyrically or so much in your face, or even sonically pushing something. It’s what we strive to do with every record we put out. Obviously, “Justice” was a call and more of a political lyrical record. You think of a song like “Pretty People” on the record, which is a lot more pop-punk, with still bars and more happy go lucky but we’re still putting all our elements of rap and pop-punk and rock. Pushing things sonically that no one’s ever done before.
Dee: Like our conscious choice in “Green Vision” and “Ghost to Chuck Berry” to not eliminate autotune. In rock, autotune is something that’s frowned upon, but you can use autotune for texture, in hip-hop, it’s a tool. Each person who uses it has their own style. It takes talent to use autotune. Not anyone can jump in and use it and make it good. Historically when black people tend to do things, it tends to get pushed down. It tends to be downplayed as if it’s less talented, but you actually have to be extremely talented. Like T-Pain got a lot of shit for using auto-tune. But he is a great singer and phenomenal songwriter. You gotta be innovative.
KI: You have to be extra innovative to use autotune in that way and make it awesome. So what we did with these records was put autotune on certain records, but it’s undeniable the record is still rock itself. It’s these elements. Some people can’t do it, and we can. [laughs] We chose to be able to do that. From lyrics to sonics to everything about this project, we really took a lot of chances at doing what we wanted to do. Not what was the status quo.
How important is mental health for you guys?
Deee: Mental health is huge! I lost one of my best friends to suicide and it changed my life. You don’t really realize how much we struggle. We all struggle, everyone struggles. Everyone should go to therapy. A couple days ago I was having a panic attack on tour and the guys really stepped up for me. We don’t just support each other musically or financially, we support each other emotionally and mental health struggles are a huge part of that. It’s a really big thing for us. It means a lot to us as a band and we always support it no matter what it is.
Mental health in BiPOC communities is a huge problem. That’s why I created Swag For Stigma, literally to draw awareness because it’s definitely needed. It’s often overlooked, so I’m glad now it’s been spoken about more openly and much more frequently. It’s also needed in the music space too. Mang artists suffer from mental health issues. For us, we’re always going to be in that space fighting for it and I’m glad. I’m a huge advocate, probably the biggest here, but the guys are pretty much just as big. We all have a passion for it.
Matty: People always talk about geniuses in the music industry and how some of the best artists have so much turmoil and so many hard times. No one goes to check up on those people to see if they’re doing okay. when they’re writing this incredible music or when they’re going through all these huge struggles. That’s one of those things as a band and within our own personal lives, we always do. We always check on each other. Like hey listen, it’s okay to admit having mental health issues. It’s okay to seek help. It’s not about manning up or getting over it, which is one of those key phrases that we’ve all heard.
Jafe: There’s the romanticization that comes from all that turmoil, that exists in the music industry. We’re also breaking those stigmas. Not allowing it to dictate our future because we’ve all lost friends, for no reason too. They love the idea of this drug-induced, drank-induced life for over a decade and they never stop. It comes from being so bullshit.
Deee: That is an absolute fact. We need to create a lot more safer and honest environments in the music business. Better practices will definitely help artists not feel like they need to push themselves to the point of breaking in order to be a successful artist.
Anything else you guys want to let the people know?
KI: We’re still on tour with Anti Flag till mid-October. Then we hit the road again with neck-deep, November through mid-December. We’re gonna be in your city, hit us up. We open the DMs too. You’re gonna talk to one of us, it’s like playing roulette. You never know who you’re gonna get, but holla.
Deee: Holla at us. Keep streaming the fuck out of Mohawks & Durags because y’all already streaming the shit out of it and we appreciate that!
Matty: Stream. Come to a show. Buy a shirt. Say Hi! Smoke an L, just wear your mask.
Jafe: We accept gifts with bags of weed! [laughs] Just make sure it’s properly closed.