When most people think of Miami music, they think bass, house, Latin, and other forms of eminently danceable tunes. But there’s an undercurrent of hard rock — metal, psychedelia, sludge, grunge, garage, punk — that runs through the city’s subterranean elements. And the latest band to pay tribute to that narcotic legacy while pushing the possibilities of heaviness is the aptly named Heavy Drag, which rose from the ashes of revered local outfit Lil Daggers.
This time around, Andres Bedoya, Jacob Israel, Michael Ruiz, and Andreas Wong Chong have aimed higher with their titanic sound, even though they’ve described it as “bummer rock.” “Leave It Alone,” the first single from their forthcoming full-length debut, Sábana Ghost, premiered on taste-making indie website Stereogum, and the band recently played a few shows at premier venues like Union Pool in Brooklyn and Kung-Fu Necktie in Philadelphia before returning home for a July 17 date in Jacksonville and then a July 22 record release party in Miami.
“This is our first time really leaving the Southeast,” Israel tells Folio Weekly Magazine. “New York used to be great for Lil Daggers, and it can be great for anybody on any day of the week — it’s its own monster. We’re just really happy to be at this stage where we have material coming out, we’re on tour, and people are responding to the new album. The whole process of writing it, recording it, and mixing it can feel super-long and tedious — and since we had to take off work to go to Gainesville [and work with producer Ryan Haft], it made things that much tougher.”
What wasn’t tough was the stylistic evolution from Lil Daggers, renowned for their psychedelic leanings, to Heavy Drag’s more mammoth riffs. The only new member of the new band, Andreas Wong Chong, had to learn how to fit his vocal and guitar style with Ruiz-Unger, Israel, and Bedoya, all of whom had spent the previous five years making music together. “That made the process of writing easy,” Israel says. “But we consciously shifted a little less psychedelic and a little more grunge and shoegaze-y. We’re all a little older now, and all of our tastes have evolved, so that evolution would have happened one way or the other.”
Still, there’s something about Sábana Ghost, which will be released by Limited Fanfare Records, that feels eminently comfortable — like a longtime band operating at peak capacity. Album-opener “Stoned” lives up to its name, a guitar floating in on a sultry Sunshine State breeze alongside a queasy Morricone-esque whistle. “Horse of Leaves” and “Kinda Slow” live and die on plodding riffs, and longtime fans of Lil Daggers will love darker, more meandering moments like “Machine” and “S 2 9.” But it’s the exploration of jagged ’90s indie rock structure on songs like “Smashing Waves,” “Bad Times,” “Strangle the Neck of Time,” and “Leave It Alone” that highlight the here and now for this fast-rising band whose hotly anticipated album drops next week.
“At this point, everybody hopes for more,” Israel says. “But we’ve been in bands for a long time, so we’re used to looking at it as a hobby that everyone has to put time and effort toward every year. Nobody is going to quit their job or leave their home to go on tour. That was for a younger version of us. Now, we all have to move forward collectively for things to work.” Asked about the most important virtue everyone in Heavy Drag shares to foster such collectivity, Israel answers quickly: “We’ve all learned patience, especially getting into our late 20s and early 30s and still playing music. If success happens, it’ll happen — but it has to happen organically. There’s more responsibility now. We all have to pay our bills.”