Good looks are an obvious advantage for anyone performing on stage, so it’s no coincidence that singers are usually above-average in the looks department. It’s rarer to find all four members of a band in the upper quartile of attractiveness. Add singular musicianship, throw in an endearing lack of ego, and San Antonio band Ledaswan has pretty much hit the rock-band jackpot. The video on the band’s website only hints at the charisma the band exudes on stage.
Ledaswan has been performing as a band for two years, but it took a lot of time and shuffling of members to come up with the current line-up. Singer–songwriter Erica Gutierrez began by performing solo under the name Leaves and later paired with a viola player under the name Ledaswan. She made a tape of her music and passed out 50 copies to people she thought might be interested. One of those copies landed in the hands of guitarist Jaime Monzon, who was then in the band Drughoney. He remembers listening to it over and over again after one of his shows. Monzon says what captured his attention was the feeling Gutierrez put into her songs. “I’ve always been about music that makes me feel something. It gave me chills when I first heard it. You hear lots of bands and they’re pretty good, but it’s pretty much background music. But when someone actually makes you stop because they’re putting their heart and soul into it . . . ” Monzon trails off in wonder.
Gutierrez felt a connection with Monzon because he seemed to understand her music. She says simply, “He appreciated what I did.” It might sound like musical kismet, but it took two years of sporadically running into each other before Gutierrez and Monzon finally got together to play music as Ledaswan. Now they’re on the band’s second bassist, the poised Amanda Flores, and third drummer, the very colorful Delrick Colwell.
Monzon recalls Flores’s audition for the band. Flores had seen Ledaswan once at Salute and had never been in a band before. They gave her tapes of the band’s songs to prepare. “She played kind of the right thing,” Monzon says, emphasizing “kind of”. “You could tell there was something more to her. She really loved it. That’s what we picked up on. In a couple of months, she had improved 500 times.” But Monzon warns her with a laugh not to let the praise go to her head.
Colwell is the most recent addition to Ledaswan (and not the drummer in online video). The band has gathered a cadre of regular fans, but Colwell regrets that he hasn’t had a chance to meet many of them. He doesn’t get a chance to hang out before or after shows because he’s usually guarding his set, setting up his drums, or packing them up. But he doesn’t mind the relative isolation. “I like to be at one with my drums before I play,” he says. “I like to play every show like it’s my last.”
Flores recalls Colwell’s first gig with the band: “Before the first show he asked us what he should wear. We were like, ‘I don’t know. We never talked about it before.’ We said he could wear whatever he wanted.” But they regretted the lack of direction when he arrived in a Hawaiian shirt. He has since converted to what he calls basic “rock-show” black, which suits the other band members’ aesthetic.
Although the four musicians are not oblivious to their visual impact, they haven’t made it a priority or capitalized on it they way they could if they were more mercenary. They’re focused on the music first. Watching the band perform for a crowd at Ruta Maya – with a significant number of heads bowed to laptops – proves that guitarist Monzon is serious when he says that no matter what the sound or the crowd is like, they aim to put on a good show.
“The reason I started to play music is because it’s fun,” says Monzon, who has been in bands for more than 10 years. “I don’t ever want it to stop being fun. It is a business, but I need to enjoy myself.” Gutierrez agrees. “There is a lot of competition, but you try to remember why you started playing in the first place – because you like it.”
But on stage, Gutierrez on acoustic guitar and Monzon on electric, the two don’t look as if they enjoy playing music so much as have an urgent need to play, to communicate. They have a focused intensity that matches the band’s sound, which is a thoughtful, guitar-heavy rock that draws obvious, too-simple comparisons to a more energetic Mazzy Star. But Ledaswan isn’t afraid to push in a new direction. Gutierrez sometimes straps on a harmonica, and Flores adds backup vocals that meld beautifully with Gutierrez’s lead.
Ledaswan recently began recording an EP with the new San Antonio-based First Amendment Records. Fans taking it home after a show may well be able to experience the same wondrous emotional connection that Monzon did when he first heard Gutierrez.