I’m sitting in the living room at Ana Briseño’s house in North Portland, where a steady stream of housemates and friends pass through constantly and a cluttered assortment of art projects lay everywhere I look. On a makeshift worktable, Briseño checks her email next to a pile of leather scraps and tools. Dogs circle on the floor beneath where we sit and I’m instructed to plug my computer in behind a messy, elaborate altar set up in a shoebox on the floor.
This kind of cozy chaos is a natural work/life environment for a young artist whose calendar is constantly booked with shows, tours, recording, and a fearless dedication to making music. Briseño’s band Magic Mouth has just returned from a packed North American tour with Gossip and is getting ready to hit the road again with JD Sampson’s MEN for a series of Northwest dates. Between tours with Magic Mouth, Briseño devotes time to drumming in her other band Reynosa, an all-girl Spanish-language cumbia trio that hopes to soon tour South America.
Briseño says that she was born into music. “We always had music blasting when I was a kid. My parents don’t speak English so primarily what we listened to was in Spanish.” The 26-year-old Mexican-American drummer grew up on a farm near Fresno, California, which is where she discovered the music genre that would inevitably drive her unique blend of tastes: punk. “I started going to Fresno at 13, to San Francisco at 16. I saw the Yeah Yeah Yeahs open for Deerhoof when I was 17,” says Briseño, emphasizing that the show was a life-changing revelation. “I’d been going to punk shows that were dominated by dudes. [Karen O] would spit beer at the audience. I was watching a lady be badass and reckless on stage.”
Briseño credits supportive parents for allowing her to skip her quinciñera in favor of something more imperative to the punk teen. “I wanted a drumset instead of a party,” says Briseño, who adds that she began playing the drums in her bedroom on the farm. Soon she started playing with anyone who was interested. “Mostly punk, but whatever the guitarists wanted,” she recalls. “I would try to play mostly with girls, so sometimes it was like riot grrrl stuff.”
Fast forward to 2012, and Briseño is still favoring her drumset. Having graduated from the Pacific Northwest College of Art, Briseño is free to pour all of her energy into rocking out. She’s been in a lot of bands already—Fairy Talk, Chrome Wings, and Golden Hours all have releases available through local Northwest labels like K Records. But for the past two years, Magic Mouth has been “the gay house party band” and a rising star. Briseño, a lesbian, and her three gay male bandmates, fill a void in a scene that she says lack punk bands with “gay dudes.” Regardless of identities, it’s the band’s sound and soul-punk energy that is responsible for their increasing popularity. A sound that is perfectly paired to that of Gossip. For Briseño, the tour strengthened a resolve to stay connected to supportive community even while relentlessly pursuing her music dreams. “When I played more in straight bands to straight audiences, I’d hear dudes saying ‘you’re good for a girl’ and stuff,” she says. “But now I’ve distanced myself from any scene where that is acceptable.”
Reynosa has a 7” out on M’Lady Records. Magic Mouth is preparing to release a single on Fast Weapons, the label run by Gossip guitarist Nathan Howdeshell. For more information go to www.magicmouth.net
By Mary Emily O’Hara
Photos by Megan Holmes