Interview: Mika Ryan and David Stalsworth of Torena Talk ‘Evil Eyez’

Torena, a hardcore group from Oxnard, California, sound absolutely brutal on their recent EP, Evil Eyez.

The leaping, menacing songs, available through the label DAZE, sound like they’re about to climb out of your speaker and punch you in the face. Everything has physical heft, sounding massive and like the individual instruments have been crafted to land like it’s ten guitars (or drum sets, etc.) playing at once, though that’s not actually the case. Breaks don’t really appear, with the spout of Torena’s powerful outburst instead just going and going, like they’re blasting you with a fire hose.

The pace stays at a rampage, and Torena also utilize breakdowns, which stay fairly fast-paced, to keep things vibrant. Though it’s fast enough that the brute force seems like a main feature defining how the band deliver these sharp but expansive instrumentals, they also really do keep things engaging. You can physically move to this very easily, drawing from a storied tradition of hiding something that’s catchy—prominent hooks or not—in musical approaches more defined by aggression and demanding physicality.

From the rhythm to the production choices, focus definitely shines through the approach. It’s an utterly straightforward release of what at times is frustration and what at times you could consider refreshingly undefined, meaning whatever emotion-wise is in there is coming out.

It feels very singular in perspective, and the instrumentals themselves somehow sound malicious, keeping a lot of movement going to really heighten the impact. You can’t mistake the force, and the only option really there is to get out of the way or join the invigorating rush. The level of the fury also makes this sound very personal rather than necessarily outwardly based. It’s extremely obvious a steep emotional stake is held by those in Torena behind Evil Eyez.

Below, see what drummer David Stalsworth and bassist Mika Ryan have to say about Evil Eyez, including the vibrancy of their local communities of hardcore and punk. They’re joined in Torena by guitarist/vocalist Julien Urias and guitarist Dante Denoms.

Do you feel like you translated a lot of your real-world experiences into how this new EP from Torena sounds?

Stalsworth: Yeah, I think so. Especially a lot with the lyrics. Our vocalist is very passionate about what he writes, and they’re very personal to him. So, I mean, I think there’s a lot of real-world experience, and yeah, this EP is very personal for all of us, I think. We’ve been kind of going at stuff like this for years and years now. We’ve all been playing in bands since we were younger teenagers and yeah, so we’ve just always kind of been around it.

Do you think building up that invigorating vibe of fighting back against an oppressor of sorts was a pretty prominent thing for you guys when putting this EP together?

Ryan: Yeah, I mean, a lot of what we write about and the things that we try to reflect on our crowd and stuff like that is just real experiences that we go through and stuff that we deal with day to day, and we have a really big respect for the working class and stuff like that. And I feel like that’s a big message that we try to put out there. And same thing with mental health and stuff like that. It’s the message that we try to throw forward, and we do try really hard to do that.

Where we’re from in Oxnard, we have one of the greatest scenes that, I mean, I’ve personally ever played in. Everyone there is so nice and everyone knows each other. It’s a really tight knit community, and it’s just really awesome just to see everyone from the place that you live just absolutely adore your band, and everyone knows the lyrics to our songs. And some of the shows that we play just at home — like they could be on the weekend are some of the craziest shows we play. There’s a lot of localism in our scene, but it’s always open for anyone who just wants to hang out and stuff like that. I would say that definitely we have a very strong scene where we’re from, and we like to have a unity in the scene, so we have some lyrical parts of the song that kind of touch on that subject.

Is breakdown-centric hardcore, like is heard on Evil Eyez from Torena, something you’ve been fans of for a long time?

Stalsworth: Yeah, definitely. I think the way a lot of us go about writing some of this stuff, especially on the EP and what we’re going to be doing here pretty soon in the future, we try and write stuff that we would listen to and that we would dance to. Moshing every once in a while, we kind of know what we want to hear, the parts that really get people going, and try and just really put that into what we’re doing to get that same reaction back.

I think crowd interaction, just really having that connection with the audience is so, so important. Cause that’s what people remember. Yeah, your music can be good, but if you’re not bringing a really, really dope stage presence and you’re not interacting, it’s not going to be memorable. And having that combination of music that people enjoy and also getting them to have a blast, that’s how you leave your mark.

How would you describe your approach to the production process for Evil Eyez? What were the kinds of things you wanted to get out of it?

Stalsworth: I think almost exactly what we said is to give this EP a set of balls, and Taylor Young did nothing short of that. And I think the production we got is something that I am very proud of, and I just think he fucking crushed it.

How has it been to play some of these new songs live? What has the implementation process been like, considering the EP has been released and you’ve recently been on tour?

Ryan: For the set list that we have now, it’s pretty much all of the new songs on the EP. And then I think there’s just — we do a little opener that is going to be something along the way — it’s in the works — but we kind of use it to open the set. And then we have one song from the last album that we put out. But playing these songs live is so fun. And I mean, right now everyone’s listening to these songs, so we’re going in a different space and everything and there’s a handful of people that know all the lyrics, but it’s really nice to see that. And I think these songs are just, comparative to the last album, just a lot better in every way, production-wise and riff-wise and lyric-wise. It’s just what we do as a band. We’re just growing and just getting better, which is working out pretty good and everyone seems to dig it live, so we’re doing a good job, I guess.

Stalsworth: A lot of the new stuff we’re working on right now is kind of a similar vibe, just same kind of deal, like really fun, groovy, verses and bridges and then just really hitting ‘em with a hard-hitting breakdown towards the end. Really fucking putting the foot in the face, man.

What sorts of other music have you really been listening to lately?

Stalsworth: To be honest, man, I’ve been spinning that new Never Ending Game record quite a bit. It’s really, really blown me away. That’s been on repeat a lot. And then the Twitching Tongues Sleep Therapy reissue/revisit, that one is always so fun. I mean then I’ve been hearing all these new Drain songs live too, and that record is unbelievable. They freaking killed it. I mean, a lot of this new stuff coming out is super solid, and I’m super stoked, been listening to it a lot.

Evil Eyez is available now from Daze Records. Follow Torena on Instagram and Twitter to keep up with them.

Photo courtesy of Torena

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