Founded in Los Angeles in the late 80’s as part of the thriving
hardcore scene, Downset. has evolved into an icon of sorts. As the
original blenders of rap, funk, hardcore, punk, metal, and socially
aware lyrics, they drew influences from Black Flag to Black
Sabbath, Public Enemy to Bob Marley. Becoming a huge draw,
the industry took notice and they caught the attention of
Mercury/PolyGram Records and released their self titled debut in
1994. Rey Oropeza (vocals), Brian Schwager (guitar), Rico
Villasenor (bass) and Chris Lee (drums), perfected their unique, in
your face assault of rap/rock fusion pounding street anthems
1.) Downset always delivers thought provoking lyrics often with a political edge. What is your take on the way the
US government is running this country and what if anything should be done differently?
Chris Lee: The government is running this country into evil play. Bushs agenda is far from in the best interest of
the citizens and if you are at all in tune with history and societies, youll notice that the new world order is in the
air, and that the world is bracing for change. One world currency and talk of such things is scary. Its the 4th Reich
for real. Scary stuff people! Voting is a sham whether we like it or not. How do you think old Bush got in office this
time!? Its sad when a democracy is a sham! I think our government needs to keep its nose out of foreign agenda.
Its none of our business to wage a war on another country when we cant even handle the problems in our own
2.) In an ideal world, what would your perfect government set up look like?
CL: Civilized anarchy, or Democracy with old world rules. The Ten Commandments kind of stuff. You need rules
and some sort of establishment or youll live in a shitpool!! The ideals of democracy are great but some socialist
views are better in some instances! Medicine for example. This would take some thought not capable in the
minutes of an interview! 😉
3.) When the band started in the late 80’s it was under the name Social Justice. Social Justice released a full
length and an EP before changing its name to LA Downset and ultimately Downset in 1992. What caused the
switches and would you say you’re treated better on Epitaph than with past labels?
CL: Social Justice was more of a hardcore band, and by switching it up we left the hardcore integrity with Social
Justice and moved on. (Social Justice is talking about doing some stuff again by the way! ) Downset was more in
your face and slower so it was a musical change as well as ideally etc. Epitaph was actually one of the worst
labels we were on. At Least Mercury got us good tours and support, distribution, etc. And Hawino the last label that
we released Universal on was really good to us,.. Its all on how they are able to market and push what you stand
for. With downset it has always been a bit of a niche market, making it slightly harder for large companies to grasp
4.) Downset released two albums on the major label Mercury/PolyGram Records. Mercury then got bought out by
Universal, and then you guys ended up with Def Jam before switching to Epitaph Records in 2000 and then to
Hawino. What caused all these transitions and what if anything is the biggest problems with these labels?
CL: The transitions were mostly caused by fate. Mercury was good to us, and the whole Seagrams thing screwed it
up. We were never really on Def Jam, but rather were under Rush management that was heavily affiliated with the
Def label. Epitaph did an ok job but ultimately dropped the ball by not getting the band on enough pliable
touring platforms other than Tattoo the Earth and a short Japanese run. Hawino just dropped the ball as far as
push, marketing and such. All these labels have the same problems with hardcoresque bands They dont
understand it enough to market it correctly.
5.) There have been rumors of Downset’s front man Rey Oropeza recording some solo material…any insight with
CL: Rey has been working on solo stuff for years as all of us have. He recently did some work with our old producer
Roy Z. Rey is always changing his palette which ensures new stuff all the time. Time wuill tell on this subject, so
6.) What’s the word on the next Downset album?
CL: Well its been a minute since there has been any downset activity. We havnt done much since we toured
Europe Last year, and we are all starting to talk again, and I think we will be able to possibly start writing new
material soon. We are still hoping to play a little more for the Universal releasing before shelving it for new stuff.
We would like to do more in the US and hit Australia and Japan as well. Time will tell, but I see a new album
happening and possibly coming out in 2007. There are good ideas had by all in the band, now its just a matter of
hooking up in solidarity and making the ideas reality!
7.) Members of Downset are often involved in various side projects such as Drunk with Power and Jodoh. Do the
side project bands ever interfere with Downset’s agenda?
CL: No way! We usually get heavy into the projects on down time, and even when downset is touring and playing,
recording etc, we still write with our other bands and play off shows etc. DWP has been going on and off for
several years now, and is currently on hiatus since 2003. I have been working with JODOH since 2002 and it has
never interfered with downsets agenda. We all take music very seriously and enough to make sure that we have
things to fall back on in off time! I have been putting massive effort into Jodoh lately as downset is on hold, and it
gives the fans a chance to check out something different!!!!
8.) Downset’s song “anger” makes references to the Rodney King riots, several people including “Natasha”,
“Willie”, “ira”, and “Daryl”, and also makes references to a father being shot by the LAPD. What’s the full story
behind this song?
CL: Anger is a song based on aggression. Those years in LA (early nineties) were very chilling, and disturbing in
LA and elsewhere. The Rodney King incident shed light on an ongoing problem within humanity, and also
ignited the sparks in every ones heads. Why do these so called protectors of our community abuse their power and
create this hostility against themselves. Simple. Human nature. Humanitarian nature tells us this is wrong, and we
seek ways to let the world know how we feel! Darryl Gates, and Willie Williams are just as responsible for what
happened in LA as anyone. Natasha caught one in the back for being black if we really look into it. Shit needed
to change then and still does. Unfortunatly, riots will only harm us more as we have come to find out.
9.) Downset started their own style of music which combined elements of hardcore, hip hop, and metal which led
to other artists such as Rage Against The Machine, Limp Bizkit, and countless others becoming commercially
successful using the same style Downset created but on a more commercialized level. Would Downset ever try to
make a record to appeal to a major label and MTV audiences or are you content with doing your thing and being
under ground kings with a lot of cred?
CL: NO! We make music for our fans and for ourselves as musicians!! To make an album with ONLY appeasing the
masses, radio and corporate hounds would be unethical and insane for a band like us. I think while we may try to
accommodate the fans in a way we never have tried nor will we ever sell-out!
10.) Downset’s songs often conjure up visions of violence and injustice. What is the most horrific thing you have
CL: I have witnessed many horrific things such as greed, lust, gluttony, pride, envy, wrath, sloth, and deceipt, as
well as death. There are many things are horrific in different perspectives. I think some lives can be classified as
horrific! Its all about perspective!
11.) Everyone in Downset is involved with graffiti, in your opinion who’s the best graff artist of all time and who has
the better graff overall..LA or NYC?
CL: Wow, there are so many great graff artists out there, Loomit from Germany, Hex from LA, Mear from LA, old
skoolers like Lee from NY. Thats tough I think there is not per say a best but rather top notch artists with variable
styles. I love the stuff out of LA, and NY, and having been to Europe, a lot of stuff from Germany, Holland ,and the
UK!! Best graff overall? Same answer. Ill say LA just because I am slightly prejudiced! hahaha
12.) Worst touring experience?
CL: For me, there are many, but how about getting chicken pox on the road and having to play shows?!!! Thats a
burn! We were touring with Shelter and I woke up one morning with fucking chicken pox, and a bad case at that! I
went to the doctor and had the day go worse by the doc prescribing herpes medication to treat it ,.. a slap in the
face after the fact! Isnt touring grand?!?! I felt like screaming I dont have Herpes!!! Or, how about riding on a
broken bus for 2 weeks, having it condemned by the state of Michigan, and then having to ride in the back of a
Ryder truck with all of the gear to Chicago in the middle of a blizzard!? .. Not fun!
13.) Downset presents a fierce in your face musical style but often contains an underlying theme of unity. What’s
your take at violence at shows and what should be down to minimize it?
CL: We actually cancelled a show due to crowd violence. I think it is unnecessary and has no place in shows. If
you want to dance, slam, whatever, fine! But, dont wreck the show for the other kids that paid just as much as you
to get in .. that ain’t right!! Having fun is what its all about but not at the expense of others!! Unity is the key in
many aspects, but most importantly the brotherhood of man enjoying life to the fullest! I am guilty of violence at
shows, so I speak from experience when I say its worthless!
14.) In the liner notes of Downset’s 1994 release, Rey writes that everyone in Downset has been involved in straight
edge hardcore. What’s your take on straight edge bands that have preached about being straight edge and taken a
holier than thou approach with it as opposed to just saying ‘hey this is my view and if you like it, cool, if not, that’s
CL: I think those people need to check themselves!! They are not going to accomplish their mission by the means
they choose.. Look at Hitler, he tried to force feed his view and hes kicking it 6 feet deep!!!! ‘hey this is my view
and if you like it, cool, if not, that’s your choice’ is a good philosophy, and a loving one too! Walk softly and carry
a big stick, you know?! Live your life the way YOU want too, do not intimidate or preach unless it a global issue,
and if someone tries to force you to do otherwise knock him out! Straight edge is a great thing, do not get me
wrong. The ideology behind it from its founders such as the early 80s DC scene is just to respect yourself to the
fullest do not pollute your body. Nothing is wrong with that until you get militant. After that its another ball game!
15.) Future plans, final comments?
CL: We are talking about touring and writing new material, but nothing is solid yet! Im sure there will be news of it
soon! Keep checking www.downset.net for current happs in downset land! And give some love to the side projects
Jodoh www.jodoh.us , Social Justice www.downset.net/socialjustice , Demean – www.demean.net , and Drunk With
Power www.drunkwithpower.com ! Yes I! bless up all the massive seen!