I think it was in June or July when Trauma Ray frontman Uriel Avila and his girlfriend dropped by the Boiled Owl Tavern for afternoon beers while I was tending bar, and I had one of those “Oh, shit — I haven’t seen you in almost two years” conversations that I seemed to have on a daily basis this past summer. He told me that they’d pretty much spent the pandemic holed up at home, that they had both gotten COVID, and that they had gotten vaccinated as soon as possible.
“This is our first time out,” he said.
Having returned to work in the fall of 2020, I thought that was kind of wild to have really gone all-in on staying home, but then again, I would’ve probably stayed in, too, if I could have.
Yet if you pay attention to Avila’s band Trauma Ray, you’d think they’d never stopped playing shows. For one thing, they’ve built a reputation for putting on an incredibly tight live show. For another, they’ve been busier than ever. Though Avila apparently didn’t go “out” last year, his band sounds like he must have left the house to jam with them, which is actually what happened, on a weekly basis. Trauma Ray rehearsals became Avila’s de facto quarantine circle, but instead of sitting in lawn chairs and fishing White Claws out of coolers, the Trauma Ray dudes kind of just picked up where they left off before band-life business was put on pause.
And that dedication shows. Over the past year, they’ve made a point to get out as far from Fort Worth as possible, to play for as many people as possible, and in doing so, they hit the stage as if they were doing so at a huge festival.
The huge festival has yet to come, of course, but that doesn’t seem to float across Trauma Ray’s collective radar. When I spoke with Avila, Trauma Ray had gotten back the day before from a three-day trip around Texas, playing spots in Dallas, Austin, and Houston. The Houston venue is a DIY space, which makes for Avila’s preferred kind of shows.
“It’s called House of J, on the southeast side,” he said. “Really unpretentious spot. Just a PA situation, and we just hooked up [the gear], and cranked it as loud as we could.”
For a lot of bands, that kind of bare-bones setup is beneath them or not worth the hassle, but for Trauma Ray, it’s just another opportunity for them to spin their gain and volume knobs to all-the-way-up and have a good time.
“We don’t give a shit what kind of show we play,” Avila said. “If it’s a good one, a bad one, we just want to play. We try not to care about that stuff. We also work on our tones so much. … Why not play it how we hear it” at practice?
Trauma Ray’s sound is influenced by shoegaze, and as such, Trauma Ray is loud, almost overwhelmingly so. At live shows, where their half-stacks loom behind them like a row of ominous hills, the five-piece obliterates their audience in waves of distortion and low-end thunder, a slow-motion tsunami swelling from the middle of an ocean of unease. Avila’s vocals float through the massive walls of chords like a specter. To catch his voice is like thinking you heard a ghost and then seeing it out of the corner of your eye.
“We’re loud as fuck,” Avila said.
Yet for all that volume, their songs have hooks, so getting slammed by their music at a show is an empowering, positive experience, amplified when there are 50 other people headbanging with you. And that element, the comradery engendered by live, loud music, is what motivates Avila and his band the most.
“I think people, especially younger people, coming out of the pandemic, they just want to experience the stuff they enjoy, and they don’t care if other people think it’s weird or whatever,” he said, “and at our shows, everyone there might be into different things, but they’re listening, and having fun, and banging their head.”
Trauma Ray played their last show of the year on Sunday, but Avila is eager to get back on the road. They toured the West Coast for the better part of two weeks a couple years ago and are eager to return, hopefully to promote an EP they plan on releasing in April. And while COVID still concerns them — Avila himself is vaccinated but is certainly wary of catching COVID again — getting out of the house, at least as a band, is top priority.
“I think every band needs to see other cities,” he said. “It’s way better than just staying home.”