Meet the Las Vegas-based Filipino band that effortlessly combines the lyrics of an R&B jam and a synth-pop classic. Angel Groove is Efrem Fajardo (vocals & guitar), Marvin Cantorna (bass), and Ron Guillermo (drums). Think Blood Orange meets Tori y Moi and Bell Biv DeVoe. The trio ties in a popular ‘90s aesthetic that recalls a popular movement called AZN pride, which gave Asians, Pacific Islanders, and Asian-Americans a strong sense of identity in a society that very seldomly saw representation of their culture in the mainstream media. The movement additionally sought to denounce the stereotypes that came with being labeled as “orientals.” Equipped with the popular racing cars of the AZN Pride era like the classic Honda Civic and Integra, Angel Groove revives the aesthetic and transports their audience to the days of cultural togetherness for the Asian-American community.
I sat down with the group for an inside scoop on their influences, sound, and thoughts on representing the Filipino community.
Norma Jean: So when did the band form?
Efrem: The band formed when I made this phone call to Marvin that ended up being three hours long. We were supposed to talk about job stress, but the conversation ended being about our dreams.
NJ: And that’s the moment you both decided to form the band?
Efrem: Yeah! We were in different bands at the time, and Marv was helping my band and members in my band were helping his band. It’s like a confusing community of musicians. So we all had this epiphany one day and [were] like, you know what? Let’s just go for it. We had a meeting at our favorite boba place and it was like, “Let’s all join bands!” But the project ended up being just us three leading it, but we also have our friend Djavan [Pereria] on keys and Greg [Benton] on guitar playing with us live.
We formed around November, but we first tested out if we would all work well together. So we jammed out in the studio for two months before we announced the band to the public. We announced the band December 2nd, announced our [first] show on December 16th, and then a week before our double A-side release show, we released two songs and did another show on January 5th. So, in a one-month span, we did all that and had a packed show.
NJ: Where was the show?
Marvin: Bring It Back Boutique Shop on Wyoming and Main. I knew the owners of the shop, so we ended up throwing a free all-ages show that was really all for the culture. So we’re doing the same thing for our show at Vinyl that’s at the Hard Rock Casino.
NJ: Awesome! Can you talk about your previous bands and how you’ve shaped your new sound around the previous varying genres you all played?
Efrem: I started a band with high school friends. By the end of it, it was me and Djavan, [who] is our keyboard player now. We were all kinda connected because Ron would drum for us for live performances. So Ron actually hit me up and told me he loved Narratives’ music and offered to drum for us live. And we all started hanging out more and became homies. Before we were a band, we spent a whole year and a half becoming best friends and brothers.
NJ: How has your sound changed from Narratives and Echo Stains to Angel Groove?
Ron: Before, with Echo Stains, which was me, Marvin, and Jordan [Collins], we [played] hip-hop, so we really loved beats. We wanted our music to be very beat-oriented, drum-oriented. We wanted people to dance and groove along, so that was always our big thing. So we recorded three EPs and… you can listen to the sound and it almost sounds like Angel Groove but not, you know? It’s like half of Angel Groove was there and [we combined] that with Narratives—Efrem just has great songwriting and poetry. So putting those two elements together, you have [an] ‘80s/‘90s R&B rock element and then you have great songwriting put over that. It’s like music that we love and we grew up listening to but our interpretation or version of it.
Efrem: We all basically listen to the same classics. My dad was super into Earth, Wind & Fire—we all grew up listening to them. We all love Boyz II Men, New Edition, Whitney, Lisa Lisa, and disco.
NJ: Being so influenced by all these genres, how would you guys describe your sound?
Marvin: Shy R&b!
Efrem: I’m not a crazy power singer, so when I sing it’s very…
Efrem: (Laughs) Suave is very nice of you to say, but I would just say soft. But it gives off that shy aesthetic. So, we like to call it shy R&B, but it is rock music, too. It’s indie-pop, but we like to title it "genre-less" or "genre-neutral."
Marvin: It’s no era!
Efrem: We’re pretty much influenced by anything, even modern music like modern Kanye-esque and Drake-esque beats, Travis Scott. We’re influenced by modern hip-hop, too. Even in our new Commercials record, you’ll hear “boom-baps.”
Marvin: I’d also say we have a very Frank Ocean aesthetic and feel, too.
NJ: If you guys were to recognize who primarily influenced your new EP, who would you list?
Efrem and Marvin: Frank Ocean!
Ron: Drake’s R&B songs for sure.
Efrem: What about ’80s influences?
Ron: Well, for me, Prince.
Marvin: Michael Jackson during “The Way You Make Me Feel” and the whole Thriller album.
Ron: Definitely during Thriller and after when the drum machine became popular.
Efrem: Like, think of the Thriller album but a modern take on it. That’s essentially what we’re trying to do but obviously not page by page. We don’t wanna be bound by genre. I mean, you’ll hear folk songs [on] our record, but it has a folk essence for a lack of a better word. We just try to keep it fresh.
Marvin: It’s bounce and good vocals. We usually say we’re like a Cindy-Lauper-meets-Paramore. We’re merging eras.
Efrem: Like, imagine New Edition and Paramore collaborating. We’re singing R&B songs with guitars.
NJ: Nice! Can you guys tell me about how the aesthetic and feel of the band tie into representing the Filipino and Asian-American community?
Marvin: For me, Angel Groove is a showcase of our influences and interests merged into one. I like to emphasize the “era-less” aspect with not just our music but with our fashion. It’s like the fusions of [eras] with the overall sound and design. I think it’s like a “new urban” for us to represent Filipino-Americans in a New York, Toronto, London-esque sense with hints of ‘80s [to] ‘90s fashion ads and film.
NJ: What do you mean by “new urban?”
Marvin: Kinda like making Filipinos dope, in a indie or trendy sense, so that people would want to emulate the same vibe.
Keep up with Angel Groove on their website.
Live concert photos by Hope Little.
Ting Ting Chen