Chris “Spooks” Torres is just a few years out of high school, lives in East L.A. and has had his band, Los Difuntos, since he was 14 years old. These are the crucial facts of his life, none more crucial than the last one. From the day it was born in his garage, the intense psychobilly group (whose name means “the Deceased” in Spanish) has been Torres’s No. 1 priority, the thing that defines his existence. He’s had difficulty finding musicians to match his level of commitment — he says he has already played with more than a dozen different people — but his dedication is beginning to pay off, in a major way: They are about to start a tour of Mexico — their first time on the road, ever — and are on the verge of finalizing a deal with Hellcat Records, the label run by Torres’ biggest inspiration, Tim Armstrong of punk vets Rancid.
“It’s been fucking crazy to have a band, especially because we have so much people talking shit,” he says. “Now, once the Hellcat thing comes through, that’ll shut up everybody.”
Everybody — except for, possibly, his mother, a devout Jehovah’s Witness who never understood punk as a lifestyle, let alone a career.
“My mom never agreed with my music,” Torres confesses. “To this day, to this morning, she fucking tells me shit about my music, that I’m not gonna get anywhere, that I’m gonna die of hunger. Just right now, she left and she’s like, ‘Go get a job.’ I just got a job about a month ago. I had a show, and they didn’t want to give me the day off. I put my music first, so I quit. I live pretty much on my merchandise and CDs. Streetwise, you know. That’s how I survive, and it’s all been worth it.”
When did music become part of your life?
I’ve always had a passion for music. I remember being like 4 and I asked for a little drum set and my parents got it for me. In middle school, everybody I knew who liked my [kind of] music, people who dressed different, they started their own band. I never really hung out with them, because to me they were little posers, they were just doing it for the look. I tried to start doing my own music, and I started playing drums. I couldn’t find anybody to play with. I tried looking for a psychobilly band, and nothing. So I started playing some punk rock with these two girls, but they were just doing covers and I got fed up with covers. But the first time I got interested in guitar was when one of them left their guitar and their amp here. I picked up the guitar and started playing it, and I was like, “You know, I can’t find anybody to play psychobilly,” so I started playing guitar. I learned how to play guitar by myself.
Why has the band changed members so many times?
When you’re in high school — because that’s mostly the time when I was playing with the band — not everybody’s dedicated. Everybody around my age would be like, “Oh, I have my girlfriend, I can’t practice.” I was so into the band and I had to keep it going, so I would just move on to the next member. It got to the point where when we started playing shows, I had older band members. I was 17 and I had a 21-year-old and a 27-year-old playing with me. It worked out, because they were more dedicated and more mature. But then after that, the bassist started slacking off, started getting that rock star mentality just because we were playing some good shows. So he had to go. Then the drummer got a DUI after we played a show, so he had to go because he couldn’t do the band anymore. Then about two years later, after about two months’ rest, I started the band all over again.
What inspires your songwriting?
All my music is inspired by my life. My lyrics, I change it and make it about somebody else, but pretty much everything is about me. I have a song called “Born, Raised, Passed Away In East L.A.,” and I just say it’s about this kid, this rebel, and he doesn’t give a shit anymore. So he runs away, he’s on the street, he has nothing with him, so he has no future. But he still has that dream. That dream for me is becoming somebody in music, doing something with my music. Every song that I have means something to me. There’s not many psychobilly bands that can say that. Everybody sings about zombies and horror. That’s what psychobilly is now. It has to be scary. I love some of the stuff, but I don’t write about it. When I started writing, it was about that, but then more shit came through my life, and that’s one way to release some of the pain, to write music. And if you write about your own life, other people can relate to it. That’s what Rancid did for me.
How did you become friends with Tim Armstrong?
When I was 14, I ordered some merchandise from [online punk store] Machete. They fucked up my order, so I called them up, and one of the guys was a fucking asshole to me. I called again the next day, and this guy was cool. I remember telling him, “I don’t want to get you in trouble with your boss, but he’s a fucking asshole, you know.” And he’s like, “No, I’m the fucking boss. Who’s being an asshole to you?” So he put his partner on check, and we kept in communication, and he’s pretty much Rancid’s manager. From there, I guess he told Rancid about me, about this kid from East L.A. I met Tim Armstrong at a Distillers show at the Troubadour about four years ago, but it was quick. I didn’t get to tell him I know David Sloan [from Machete] or anything. But at the first Transplants show here in L.A., I told him, “Hey, you know David Sloan?” We started talking, and from there, I’d see him at shows and he’d say, “Hey, what’s up? How’s the band going? You got anything yet?”
When did he offer you a contract with Hellcat?
At the time, I was going through another thing in my life. Everything I have now, I bought myself. I was working at an elementary school as a guitar teacher. I bought a car, then this stupid lady totaled it. I ended up having to quit my job, but the guys from Machete offered me a job. But to go from East L.A. all the way to Burbank on the fucking bus is terrible, especially when you have to be in Burbank at 6 in the morning. I had to wake up at 3, get there at 6, leave there at 3:30, get home at 6:30, go to practice, get two hours sleep, one hour sleep or no sleep, go back to work. It was five days a week, and it was horrible. I couldn’t handle it. So there’s this Epitaph-Hellcat gathering the week before Christmas, and everybody gets together. So we went there, and Rancid shows up. Tim Armstrong was talking to me, it was just me and him walking up the stairs, and that’s when he told me, “When are you gonna record a full-length for Hellcat?” My heart dropped. I was like, “Seriously?” I just gave him a hug, man. What else could I do? He’s my fucking idol, and for him to give me that opportunity, dude …
So are you generating a buzz in the L.A. punk scene?
We did a show in February in Montebello. It was an all-ages show, and the promoter got a bunch of small bands that don’t really have a name out there. He wasn’t going to put us as a headliner, but then people started e-mailing him, telling him, “What time does Difuntos come on?” So he got us as the headliner afterwards. It was an amazing show. We saw about 10 kids with our T-shirts that day. This is our town, that’s why, and most of our fans are high school kids. It was a crazy night, to see all these kids. So the promoter does another show at the same place, but this time he gets bigger-name bands. It’s fucking empty.
How has being from East L.A. influenced you?
A lot of kids from here come from broken homes. I come from one. But I still got my friends here, and I’m still proud of being from East L.A. In one of my songs, I say, “Pain is a beautiful thing,” because it only makes you stronger. I’m proud because I think I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned how to survive on the streets. But people don’t know what I go through. Everything I go through is for the band. My mom fucking hates that. She hates what I’m doing with the band. She thinks the worst of the atmosphere: drugs, alcohol. I don’t really blame her. But she doesn’t know how much I love music. Just like she loves her religion, I love my music.