Punk is constantly revolutionizing itself, but in the last decade, there’s been an awareness in the scene that’s pushing everyone, musicians and listeners alike, to be better. It’s the genre for outliers and outcasts, for people who seek change while being victims of institutional inaction, for people fed up with the way the world works. Over in Providence, there’s a band that’s been leading the underground charge for change, and they don’t ever plan on stopping.
Providence act Downtown Boys is a collection of Rhode Islanders who remind listeners what it’s like to question your role in a world that constantly ruins itself. Between saxophone wails and declarative screams, Downtown Boys make a point of encouraging everyone, including themselves, to fight the man. How they don’t run out of energy while doing so remains a mystery.
“I think we’re fortunate to be in a band that has a message and people want to see,” says frontwoman Victoria Ruiz. “The fact that people come to shows regenerates my energy all of the time. Also, to know that there’s lots of organizations and people mobilizing, so the least we can do is use music to try to help support that work. Knowing there’s always people fighting of freedom and justice definitely rejuvenates that feeling to keep playing.”
The band’s third full-length, Cost of Living, comes out this Friday via Don Giovanni Records. It’s full of searing takedowns of the Trump administration, annotated Hispanic struggles, and callouts of reigning power structures at large. When you add Guy Picciotto, the legendary member of Fugazi, behind the board, things only get all the more amplified. “We tried to speak a lot about the police, racism, and work—and what that means,” says Ruiz. “What is the true cost of living? It’s more than a monetary amount. There’s a toll on equality in our minds, and white fragility becomes an impediment in being able to fight back in solidarity because often the people standing next to you may not believe in your livelihood in the way that they believe in their own. There’s a lot of commentary on white feminism and us being not feminism on the record. It gets nuanced, but I see it as a continuum that we need to keep talking about.”
To dig deeper into the band’s quest to eradicate injustice, we interviewed Victoria Ruiz for a round of Wheel of Tunes, a series where we ask bands questions inspired by their song titles. Needless to say, her answers were passionate no matter what the prompt was.
1) “A Wall”
DIGBOSTON: If you could knock down Trump’s wall with any weapon, what would you use?
RUIZ: I think I would use the written and oral history of Chicanx people, indigenous people, and black resistance and black power. So I would knock down Trump’s wall with the reading and writings of our ancestors that have aspired power to people over the years.
2) “I’m Enough (I Want More)”
DIGBOSTON: When did you first realize you are enough just the way you are?
RUIZ: I think I realized it when my grandma came to a Downtown Boys show and liked it. She told her friends about it. That’s when I really realized it. Anything that you do as a woman of color is under such scrutiny. It has different standards and expectations than the exact same things that white people do. You’re taken less seriously. Being able to have the person you respect the most in the world see what you do as being important can help to keep all of the inequality from stunting you. You realize you may not be perfect, but you’re enough.
3) “Somos Chulas (No Somos Pendejas)”
DIGBOSTON: What’s the difference between being cool in a “stupid” way and being stupid in a “cool” way?
RUIZ: Being cool in a “stupid” way is really short term. Instead of justice, you just want revenge. Instead of helping people, you just want to call people out. I think being stupid in a “cool” way is not really caring what people think about you and realizing that what is valued and what is taken seriously will be relative to wherever you’re at. As long as you are being taken seriously by people you respect and can build with, then that’s okay. It’s about not giving in to any academy of what’s cool or uncool.
4) “Promissory Note”
DIGBOSTON: Have you ever written a promissory note on behalf of someone else?
RUIZ: I actually have never written a promissory note, but when I was little, my mom, every paycheck she got, she would get a $20 savings note for me—even if it meant not being able to pay certain bills. She kept saying, “When you cash this in in the future, you’ll see why.” That was always interesting to me because I didn’t understand why we had all these colored promissory notes, watercolor notes, when we weren’t able to afford everything we needed in the moment. Then I heard this MLK quote during Beyonce and Kendrick Lamar’s performance last year. Their performance starts out with him saying, “We have a check, and it’s a promissory note, and it’s worth the balance of justice and the riches of freedom. And we’re going to cash it.” I was really taken aback. I’ve never written one, but I’m sure that in many ways we’re constantly writing them every time we do something that we believe in, especially for a future that we didn’t get to see in our own lifetime or in US American history.
5) “Because You”
DIGBOSTON: What’s the most ridiculous thing you’ve done because someone dared you to?
RUIZ: I think being in Downtown Boys. It’s not a dare, but it’s been a five-year-long dare in a way [laughs].
6) “Violent Complicity”
DIGBOSTON: What physically nonviolent act is technically very violent to be complicit in?
RUIZ: I think white feminism and being part of a culture that calls things out, like helping to hate people and institutions but not actually doing anything to hold that accountable, are. Those are probably the most violently complicit things.
7) “It Can’t Wait”
DIGBOSTON: In your opinion, what’s the most urgent issue facing Americans right now that they have the power to impact or alter?
RUIZ: I honestly—like, this sounds silly, but pay inequality. In my other jobs besides this band, we have a union and we’re trying to take pay inequity seriously. Men, especially white men, get paid just so much more for the same work. I do think if everyone started bringing this to light, I actually think we could do something about it. Especially because the people who benefit from this more, their lives wouldn’t change if they made 50 cents less an hour but that went to someone who needs 50 cents more. There’s so much research on it, too! It won’t hurt business. If it changed, it could have a huge impact on inequity.
DIGBOSTON: What’s the best comeback you can think of to being called dumb?
RUIZ: Oh man [laughs]. I think the best kind of comeback is asking for evidence. Like, “Explain to me how you came to that conclusion.” Because usually that person can’t. It’s not grounded in reality. More often than not, it’s just grounded in racism and masculinity and sexism.
9) “Heroes (Interlude)”
DIGBOSTON: Who is someone you’ve only recently realized is a hero to you?
RUIZ: Oh, that’s a good question. Hm, I have to think. There is a writer named Gloria Anzaldúa. I always knew of her in a general sense, but she seemed like one of my aunts. I recently started reading and learning about her. She was this Chicanx scholar and spiritual leader. I’ve been talking to a lot of my family about her. My aunt went to a school where she made an effort to speak at the Chicanx students. I just recently realized she’s a big hero of mine.
10) “Lips That Bite”
DIGBOSTON: Have you ever bitten a person before?
RUIZ: Yes, I have! When I was little, my grandma said I bit her when I was in pain. Actually, it’s a crazy story. [laughs] One time, basically, one of my smaller cousins was fighting me a lot and used to bite me. We grew up together. We’ve always been really close, but it was definitely her way of communicating with me. She wasn’t verbal yet. So I’ve bitten someone and I’ve gotten bitten by people that are close to me that I love.
11) “Clara Rancia”
DIGBOSTON: What’s the most disgusting thing you’ve ever eaten?
RUIZ: I’m notorious for this, but the most disgusting thing I’ve ever eaten is an old sandwich that I had in my bag. I was on a flight and I was just… so hungry. The sandwich was two days old and should not have been eaten, but I did it. There was no meat. It was cheese and tomato. But yeah… Probably a bad idea.
12) “Bulletproof (Outro)”
DIGBOSTON: If you could star in any action movie, what would it be and why?
RUIZ: I would star in Get Out, and I would be a Chicana ally who tries to fend off all of the white people so the main character could escape.
DOWNTOWN BOYS, WHAT CHEER? BRIGADE, ELIZABETH COLOUR WHEEL. SAT 8.12. ONCE SOMERVILLE, 156 HIGHLAND AVE., SOMERVILLE. 8PM/ALL AGES/$13. ONCESOMERVILLE.COM