“Shave your head, bind your chest / Male pronoun-ed, but wear a dress / Pompadour, high heel shoes / You were meant to break the rules,” Tony sings on “Extra Express,” the high-octane opening track from their upcoming Light It Up EP. For Tony & The Kiki, it’s damn near a manifesto — a bilingual celebration of queerness and freedom of expression, full of joy and rage : “Live your truth, to hell with shame / nothing’s worse than plain jane / queer-ass punks and psychonauts / callin’ all my thotty thots.”
Light It Up is a slinky synthesis of intergalactic glam rock, 70s’ disco-funk, and psychedelic folk, all brought together by the diamond-encrusted triumphant voice of its spellbinding lead chanteuse. Born and raised in Queens, NY, Anthony Alfaro, cut their teeth working for artists like Gloria Estefan (touring with the Miami Sound Machine)— now, the “Genderf*ck Latine Rock and Roll Bruje” and frontperson of Tony & The Kiki is finally ready to stand in their own light.
“I’m mad about the state of Rock & Roll, mami. Most of these white boys have never twerked on shrooms to the Spice Girls and frankly it shows,” Alfaro says. “We need less bro vibes and more f*cking fabulosity. The face of Rock & Roll needs some sun, a good sparkly painted eyelid, and a sparkly voice to match. We need a rock band that reflects the world, my world, our world” Forged from the fires of brujeria and 70s’ glam, Tony & The Kiki is the rock ‘n roll rebel force shaking up the status quo (and their asses) on the dance floor. Nowhere is this more evident than on the title track and protest anthem, “Light It Up.”
“Calling all my indigos / living in the shadows / time to make a sound,” belts Tony. Outfitted by guitar-shredding Jersey Shore punk Junior Pauls, bass guitar sorceress Yuka Tadano, queer druid key-master Rodney Bush, stoic drummer Tristan Marzeski and non-binary record producing synth witch Max Vernon, the mötley crüe of misfits and mystics pumps up the volume with a glam rock ditty mired in hard-rock turbulence. The tune sounds like revolutionaries storming a battlement in haute-couture with the sequined moon lighting the way. Alfaro commands on the record like a smoldering ancient high priestess, backed by a phalanx of vocalists that includes veteran rock goddess Sophia Ramos who in addition to The Kiki has sang with the likes of Big Brother & The Holding Company, Rod Stewart, Joey Ramone and Metallica’s Jason Newstead.
Recorded at the seminal Dreamland in Woodstock, NY, and produced by Max Vernon (composer/lyricist for the Broadway-bound musical KPOP) over the course of a three-day weekend, the band cranked out the EP, excavating the treasure trove of vintage instruments at the famous recording studio. This included a Hammond B3 organ, Moog synthesizer, Mellotron, clavinets, an antique Wurlitzer piano, guiro, congas, maracas, taiko drums, sleigh bells and an old toy piano.
“There were so many magic moments of inspiration,” Vernon says. “Capturing the sound of Anthony’s high heels as he walked to the microphone and using it as percussion on ‘Extra Express,’ or turning off all the lights and letting Anthony access his inner cosmic feminine to hit what I call the ‘dolphin sonar’ notes on ‘Listen.’ As a producer to get the sound I want, I give very visual notes: ‘Okay that was great, but I need you to sing that more like you're emerging from a volcano; Can you play that 12-string acoustic like you're one of the witches from Macbeth and you’re stirring a cauldron; When you hit that Moog chord, the walls need to blow apart and we need to suddenly all be floating in outer space.’ It was a crazy process, but I'm proud of the record we made- when I listen to these songs now, I see all that imagery and more.”
Despite its short runtime, Light It Up is glittering pièce de résistance filled with buzzsaw guitars, cacophonous drum beats and vintage synths, designed by artists of today looking back at their rock and roll ancestors with stars in their eyes, while also throwing some shade at the current state of the genre.
“Rock and Roll was invented by queer people of color like Little Richard and Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and yet there is a still such a lack of representation in the genre,” Vernon says. “In addition to having one of the most incredible voices I've ever heard, Anthony is a true original - ferocious and full of intention. Everyone is invited to come hang at our kiki.”
The EP is tailored to accentuate Alfaro’s hyper-androgynous rock-star swagger and Rolling Stone-ready façade, paired with a vintage Bob Mackie-inspired jumpsuit and purple python platforms. Songs like the bright and booming “Paranoid” emphasize the electrifying peculiarity of the band, conjuring a strange white magic with its fusion of blues-rock and progressive rock with glints of ‘80s hair-metal and post-grunge riot grrrl spirit. But then there are some songs that blindside with ravishing splendor: The EP ends with a simmering slow burn of the power ballad “Listen,” an ethereal, astral-bodied call-to-arms and a lighters-in-the-air victory lap for Alfaro and the band.
“With ‘Listen,’ I wanted to explore grounding and ease. Ying to my yang,” Alfaro said. “The song became a bit of a prayer for me. Please God, universe, mother earth, father sky, Buddha, Moses and friends can we all just have a collective inhale and exhale, followed by another inhale, followed by a primal scream?” Alfaro executes a molto vibrato traffic-stopping vocal as the song builds into a quasi-arena rock flourish, a mélange of power chords and soaring vocal dynamics that evoke laying on the bottom of the coral reef or floating into the great beyond.
“If everyone stopped to listen / we might hear the part we've been missing /we're shouting on top of each other / the harmony's further and further away,” Alfaro coos.
But don’t let sentiment scare you. “Tony & The Kiki is the clack of seven-inch platform boots on Queens Boulevard, the summer sun hitting your sequin dress and turning the space around you into a discotheque,” Vernon says. “It’s beads of holographic sweat on your forehead from dancing all night after someone put a drop of LSD in your Agua Fresca.”
Light It Up is a rhinestone studded, psychedelic declaration: this is only the beginning bitch.