Playing for Change
We were a little more than a week into November last year. Across the country, we were talking about the healthcare website “glitches,” the Boston Red Sox had just won the World (Canada and United States) Series, and the nation was still reeling from Miley Cyrus’ ass. Eight thousand miles away, the Philippines were experiencing hell on earth. Typhoon Haiyan, with its 200 mph winds, was tearing a destructive path through the chain of islands in Southeast Asia which, when all was said and done, caused $1.5 billion in damage, displaced 10 million people from their homes, and killed 6,241 people, with more than 1,700 still missing and bodies being found every day.
All of this carnage was a blip on our collective radar. In fact, the way I heard about Haiyan, known as Yolanda in the Philippines, was while watching Miss Universe nearly a week later. The show’s presenters, Thomas Roberts (not really sure who that is) and Mel B (Scary Spice), were revealing the top 16 semifinalists and they announced Ariella Arida, of the Philippines, had received a spot based on online fan voting. Scary Spice talked about how Arida’s country had been devastated by Haiyan. I, of course, dismissed her spot as a pity vote that she didn’t deserve, something I feel retrospectively shitty about, and went on watching the show, completely forgetting about Haiyan—with most of America.
Zach Marquez, 18 years old, sits across from me at a noisy Starbucks. He definitely looks his age, maybe even younger than that, but after a few moments chatting with the young man, I forget that I’m a decade his senior. He is just the right mix of confident and cautious, ambitious and humble. He wants to be a famous musician more than anything else in the world. He doesn’t say that, but you can see it in his eyes and hear it in his voice. That may come off as a crass analysis, but I don’t see it that way. He doesn’t want to be famous for the reasons you think. You see, last November, while I was watching these beautiful women from around the world compete in a fucking swimsuit competition, Marquez was thinking of any way he could possibly help the devastated people of the Philippines. Marquez is not most of America.
“If our homes were swept away, if we lost family members, when we virtually had nothing to begin with, I certainly hope someone on the other side of the world would care—would give a darn,” Marquez says as he sips from his Frappuccino, “So we said, ‘What can we do?’ And the only thing we know how to do is perform.”
Marquez is the lead singer for the band Jupiter Suit, a band that’s gone through some changes over the past few years. They were put together as a ska band called Lo-Fi Riot by producer Caleb Chapman, but when they started writing, they saw their music moving away from ska. “We wrote our first single, ‘Away We Go,’ and it came out as sort of alternative,” says Marquez. “At that moment we realized we would be kidding ourselves if we said we were a ska band.” In August last year, Lo-Fi Riot was put out to pasture, and Jupiter Suit was born.
“We all started writing together, and we were listening to The Killers or Coldplay, as dumb as that sounds, and Springsteen, and that’s what was coming out in the music,” Marquez says. “And three years later you can kind of hear the evolution.” Kind of? Just listen to “Away We Go,” released in August of 2012—it still feels like ska, whereas “Give Up the Ghost,” released about one year later under the Jupiter Suit name, sounds more like a mix of Michael Buble and Plain White Tees.
That evolution will be on display at Velour on February 19, as Marquez and his group perform at their benefit “Playing for Change,” where proceeds will go to Typhoon Haiyan relief efforts “For as long as we’ve been a band, we’ve wanted to convert the joy we get out of performing, the kick we get out of playing in front of a crowd into joy for other people,” Marquez says. “When we heard what happened in the Philippines, it wasn’t so much, ‘Why should we do this?’ The question sort of became, ‘Why wouldn’t we do this?’” Along with Jupiter Suit, the show features the Hooligans Brass Band, another one of Chapman’s creations, and Radio Motion. Marquez told me the show will feature both Jupiter Suit and Lo-Fi Riot songs. Tickets for the show are $6 at 24tix.com or $7 at the door. Doors will open at 7:30.
Along with the benefit, Saint Marquez and his disciples will be putting out an album later this year, which he will formally announce at the show. “We already have half of [the album] written,” says Marquez, “and all of the proceeds from that album are going to go to the Utah AIDS Foundation.” Of course they are, Zach, of course they fucking are.
For more information on Jupiter Suit, check out their Facebook page. Here’s a video of them playing at the latest EVE: