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PUYA – Sergio Curbelo

Florida has a history of producing many world renown musicians that make their initial debuts right here in the sunshine state. PUYA is one of those, and this extraordinarily talented metal band is coming back to kick off their 2021 live show tour. Starting in South Florida where they first made a huge impact on the music scene in 1992, they will play Pipers Pub in Pompano Beach on Thursday June 24th. They will then continue on to Tampa on June 25th to play at Brass Mug. They will wrap up the state tour in Longwood, FL at Shovelhead on June 26th.

Catching up with Lead Vocalist Sergio Curbelo, he revealed details of their amazing new music and a bit about the latest show that he and Guitarist Ramon Ortiz, Bassist Harold Hopkins and Drummer Ed Paniagua will be bringing to several towns for fans to enjoy. He also spoke of how the band came together, some trips down memory lane and what fans can look forward to.

SFL Music: What can fans look forward to with the new show?
Sergio Curbelo: Well, we will be playing some of the new material, so that’ll be fun and I mean, we’ve got a lot of pent-up energy. So, it’s gonna be one of those where we’re pretty much going balls to the wall.

SFL Music: The past year has been difficult for everybody. Was that what you guys were doing? Working on the new album (Potential)?
Curbelo: Yeah, I just finished the vocals this weekend. Just got a few more details to record and then that one goes off to mixing. So, hopefully it will be ready in a few more months.

SFL Music: What can fans look forward to with the new album? What there a theme or what inspired it?
Curbelo: It’s not like a particular theme per say. With us, I think this material is the most cohesive when it comes to our style. It’s reaching the point of evolution where the sound is just, you know, it feels more seamless. Our transitions and what we do is fusion, and it just overall feels like all the transitions between things feel just a lot more seamless. And there’s a little bit of everything, literally. If it’s not our most diverse album, then I don’t think any of our albums have been diverse then ‘cause this one has a little bit of everything.

SFL Music: You mean like different types of rock or metal and fusion?
Curbelo: Well, this one’s got songs like the Latin parts are more Latin and then the metal parts are also there. They’re pretty heavy. Then there’s songs that are straight up just heavy. There are songs that are just straight up Latin with some metal fusion into it, but the metal is a little less abundant. So, it’s just a little bit more varied album then any of the other ones. I think the closest one I can think of is probably Fundamental when it comes to variety as far as the different styles of songs.

SFL Music: I was watching the video “Potential”. Was that filmed in Puerto Rico?
Curbelo: Yeah, that was all recorded in Puerto Rico with the exception of like my shots and the drummer’s shots because I’m in Virginia. He’s in New York.

SFL Music: Oh, that’s very cool. They sort of did it in bits, because the one scene.
Curbelo: Well, we did like the shots of the band members. Those were done individually, but the director of the video, she recorded all the footage you see of like all the scenery and the environment itself is all in Puerto Rico. The only thing that’s not in Puerto Rico are literally. like she made it so that each member had their own little rectangle, and so that I shot that here at home. I live in Virginia and my drummer, he lives in New York currently, so we recorded those independently, but everything else is shot in Puerto Rico.

SFL Music: I like the storyline and how the teenager imitated the guitar solo, that was amazing. So, what made you become a singer? What made you decide to become a musician?
Curbelo: Honestly, I don’t know what It is. Like my mother’s a big fan of music herself. So, from as long as I can remember, it was always music around me. I’ve been singing and banging on stuff since I was probably like in third grade or something like that. I do remember third or fourth grade, I sang for a play and so, you know, I’ve always somehow, I guess my love for music. I’ve always just liked singing.

SFL Music: Where you ever professionally trained?
Curbelo: No, not professionally trained. I do it quite wrong.

SFL Music: It doesn’t sound like it! You make it sound really good! Now Harold and Ramon, they were elementary school friends and then they picked up Ed. Then, when they were still Whisker Biscuit, they were looking for a singer. That was you. How did that all come about?
Curbelo: The way I came to be in the quartet was, so when they transitioned, they were just starting as a trio instrumental. Then they added a singer. Their original singer when they were Whisker Biscuit, I don’t know what happened, but he ended up leaving. I think he left from Puerto Rico and so, they were looking for a singer and I was one of the people who auditioned for it, and so kind of, you know, my audition was pretty peculiar ‘cause it was in the parking lot of the biggest mall in Puerto Rico. I remember like Ramon just showed up with an acoustic guitar with Harold and they had the lyrics that they wrote, and they kind of just like strum and kind of showed me more or less the song and like ok, you sing it and I was ok, and I tried it, and alright. So, we’ve got the show we want you to do. So, I had to learn a few songs and that was kind of my audition was at that show. We then did one more show. I did one more show with them, but they had given their word to this other singer that they were gonna give him a try. So, the last show before they left from Puerto Rico to move to Florida, another singer did it. Which I’m sure you know of Nonpoint. So, their original singer was the one who did the last show in Puerto Rico. Their first singer, Nonpoint’s first singer. That was the guy who did the last show. So, he went from doing that, to then they formed Nonpoint after that. But they left to south Florida. A couple months later I got a call. Hey man. Do you want to join the band? You want to come over? And I was like, fuck yeah! So, I took off.

SFL Music: That was a smart move. That was when you guys were doing the local scene in Fort Lauderdale?
Curbelo: Yep!

Back to the 90s at Rosebuds, The Edge & Reunion

SFL Music: That’s a big scene and Florida has a lot of great musicians. What would you say about that scene that might have contributed to the band?
Curbelo: Oh man! That had a huge factor in the sound of the band and the direction that the band took after we left Puerto Rico. Whisker Biscuit was not heavy. Like the song I just told you about that I auditioned with. That was the first time they ever had their singer actually start to use like a growled voice. It was more of like an Alice In Chains kind of. It wasn’t so much like Phil Anselmo from Pantera, but you know, we started going in that direction, and then as soon as we got to South Florida I mean, the death metal and fuckin’ thrash metal scene was so huge. You know, that really affected us. We really got into that. That’s when we decided to change the name from Whisker Biscuit to PUYA because at the same time that we found our music was getting heavier and heavier, we also found it getting more and more Latin too. So, we wanted a name that was more apt at representing where we were from. So, that’s why we chose the name PUYA in Spanish, so that you know, at least we had something that immediately would conjure an image of a Latin band. Yeah, the South Florida scene was a huge factor in our evolution and sound. The direction of our music took a turn for the heavy right there. Like one of the bands that was a big influence on us from the local scene was Raped Ape. Back then, one of the bands that was there which really wasn’t like thrash or speed metal, but it was somewhat heavy was L.U.N.G.S. Collaping Lungs was another band that was on the scene. We played with a lot of bands. Like most of the bands that we played with were a lot of just like really heavy bands.

SFL Music: Our publisher used to run RAG Magazine.
Curbelo: OK. Yeah, I remember RAG.

SFL Music: He has a bunch of Puya photos they took from that time. Now in 1996, you met Bob Ezrin and you guys went to L.A. and you played the L.A. scene? What was that like?
Curbelo: Well like around ’96, ’97 Bob Ezrin somehow found out about us. I think it was through one of his associates. I think somehow, they got their hands on our EP demo kind of tape that we did, and they were interested. They flew down to Florida. Came and checked us out live. Then we started with him and we ended up moving to L.A. The L.A. scene, I mean when we were coming up in L.A. scene it was you know, one of the bands that was on the scene was System. So, System of a Down was like, I remember we went to their signing party and stuff like that. Also, one of the bands that was there was Snot. So, you know, it was a pretty heavy scene too. We kind of, at least somewhat fit in because we had already started you know, most of our music was already heavy even though it was very heavily Latin influenced also, but we didn’t get to partake so much in the L.A. scene as we did in the South Florida scene. Like we lived in L.A. for a while, but we didn’t really do as many shows as we did in Florida. In Florida we used to play quite a lot. L.A., we did a few, but a lot of the time that we were in L.A. we spent it mostly working on material and working with Bob Ezrin, and he was also helping us get our publishing deal. So, a lot of it was more a lot of practice. We were like in a lot of practice sessions and a lot of rehearsal where we were working on new material. We spent quite a bit of time working in the studio. Once we got our publishing deal which was at Rondor (Music), we spent some time in Rondor studio recording some stuff. Working with Bob Ezrin you know, working on creating demo music to shop the band to the labels. So, we didn’t really spend as much time on the L.A. scene. So, we weren’t as exposed to that musical scene as we were in Florida.

Back to the 90s at Rosebuds, The Edge & Reunion

SFL Music: In ’96 was when you first went overseas, right?
Curbelo: Yeah. In ’96,97 that was another thing. First, we started working with Bob Ezrin. Then a little bit later before we moved to L.A. I think Harold and Ramon somehow got in contact with the manager for Salón (Victoria). It’s a rock band from Mexico. They’re a very well know Latin rock band. So, she took interest in the band. Then she started working with us, and one of the things that we got to do before we moved to L.A. was there was this show at this amphitheater, universal and we got to play there. So, that was the first time we went to L.A., and then she also got us to play at the first business festival that they do in Bogotá Colombia which is the government had. Well, it used to be three days of music free for the people, so they used to invite a whole bunch of artists. We were one of the artists for the first one I believe, and we played two to three days. I think we played either Friday and Saturday or Saturday and Sunday. We played at an amphitheater. Then we played at a stadium. Yeah so, we were like I said, during that whole late ’96,’97 and up until ’98 is when we get our record deal. We did a few things here and there in L.A., but we also did some things. That was the first time we went overseas. Like that was the first time we ever went to Mexico, but then we went to Colombia.

SFL Music: There were like 60,000 people there, correct?
Curbelo: Well, it was a soccer stadium completely filled. Think of it like, the whole pit was filled with people and then all of the bleachers were also full. That has been the most insane thing we have ever done. Like we played with a bunch of people. We played the Ozzfest and I’ll tell you what. You’ve seen an amphitheater filled with people for an OzzFest. Now take that and probably double, triple it and that’s probably about where you were with that stadium. It was something insane. Really, it was insane.

SFL Music: You guys also have a Billboard Award and an ASCAP award for “Oasis”. You mentioned the OzzFest. You also played with Iron Maiden and Red Hot Chili Peppers. What do you feel out got out of those experiences?
Curbelo: From a professional level or a personal level?

SFL Music: Which ever or both.
Curbelo: I mean, it’s hard to say from a professional level because like what you really can learn is, you just get to see how they perform. You know what I’m saying? You get to see what they do and how they handle business onstage. So, you kind of learn, but at the same time it’s like you gotta understand the level. Like as the front man for the band, it’s usually my job to interact with people and when the people don’t really know your music as well as like Chili Peppers or an Iron Maiden. Crap, everybody in the damn stadiums knows a bunch of their songs. So, it’s a little bit different, but you do get to see at least for me as the front man. As the person who’s in charge of interacting with the crowd. You do get to see, like you learn little tips and tricks here and there. How they handle certain scenarios and stuff. So, you do learn that. Other than that, I mean professionally, I don’t know if I could say anything else ‘cause I don’t really play an instrument other than sing, so I can’t speak for the rest of the guys. Maybe they learned a few tips and tricks and things they didn’t know how to do that they learned watching them. But from a personal perspective, it’s like a kid in a candy store. I mean, Christ when I was growing up, Ozzy was my favorite, second only and very closely second was Iron Maiden. So, in ’99, I was on tour with Ozzy and then right after we finished that tour. A few weeks later we go on tour with Iron Maiden, and it’s like holy crap! It’s like the first night after we played, I was more desperate to finish my set just so I could go see them play. I was born in New York, but I was raised in Puerto Rico and I come from very, very, very, very humble beginnings. That might be saying it too nicely. You know, I never got to really go to any rock shows when I was growing up. We just didn’t have the resources for that mostly because the areas we lived in, most of the stuff that happens was in the metro area where the other guys are from and it was like two or three hours’ drive away. I saw all these artists and the only concerts I ever saw were all on video you know? I remember watching the 5150 concert (Van Halen). It just blew my mind. I had seen videos and stuff like that. That’s how I saw bands, but I never got to see them live, when I was growing up. So, here I am. I don’t even remember how old I was. In my early thirties, late twenties when we did that stuff. Something like that. So, for me it was like mind blowing. I was like Jesus Christ! You know, I get to watch Ozzy Osbourne almost every night and I get to watch Iron Maiden almost every night! So, I guess it kind of made up for not being able to see them and getting to see them a lot.

SFL Music: What would you say is the secret to longevity with the band?
Curbelo: I’d have to say honestly, I think with any relationship is, you have to know how to respect each other. One of the things is you have to respect each other and the other thing is you have to understand that your individuals. You’re not going to think a lot all the time, and the other thing you have to know is, you have to learn to agree to disagree. Not an easy thing when your young and hot headed. Those three things. You know, you can disagree with somebody and you guys can have opposing views. As long as you’re respectful about it. You can walk away from it without blowing up. We weren’t always like that to be honest with you. We had moments where things weren’t so good. Just like everything, and you also have to understand, like you’re in a group. It is like a family, and you’re around each other so much that it’s just like any relationship. Like any long-term relationship. You gonna start to get to the point where things are going to start to irritate you. You know what I’m saying? But you also have to remember, you’re family. You know, brother’s fight. Brothers beat the crap out of each other, but they’re still brothers at the end of the day. They’re going to be angry and they get upset with each other. They don’t even want to see each other for a while, but over time you get over it. You get upset, you get mad at each other, but again, if you can do the three things I just said, that definitely I think is the secret to longevity. It’s one, to respect each other. Remember that you’re individuals and you don’t think alike all the time. Even though you have a lot of things in common. You do have things that are not common, and learn to agree to disagree. That last one took me a long time.

SFL Music: Is there anything else fans can look forward to? Any new videos?
Curbelo: Right now, like what we’ve got on the horizon that we know for sure is the album (Potential), which should be coming out hopefully within the next few months, and we have three shows in Florida right now at the end of June. There are more shows since we started now and we’ve been more active. We’ve already gotten calls for some other stuff. Unfortunately, we can’t always do everything, but I know we’ve got some dates scheduled that were supposed to be last year. Then they ended up moving to this year. Now they got moved to next year. There’s some festivals in Latin America, but we’re definitely looking forward to being more active and being out on the road and showing up here and there. How successful that will be? I don’t know with this COVID thing, but I mean for everybody who’s a fan you know, keep your eye out. Hopefully we’ll be in your town sometime soon.

SFL Music: Was there anything else you want to add?
Curbelo: Yeah, there is one more thing I want to add to the entire audience not just the fans of PUYA, but the fans of our genre of music, metal and rock and all that. Those who have stuck through it and still try to keep up to date and watch, we really thank you for your support. We love you for supporting not just us, but our industry. Without you, we wouldn’t be able to do the thing that we love, so we are forever grateful to you.

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