Article by Pablo Fernández from Barcelona on Monday, May 31st 2021 ·.·★ Reading takes 10 minutes or 2062 words.
Life is full of surprises, from the beginning to the end. What seems reasonable to us often becomes impossible and what is impossible becomes everyday life. For many people that lack of control over life becomes a threat and they prefer to throw dirt on it. For other people like Nina Llopis, however, that same lack of control becomes a new reason to kneel down and give thanks to God.
Nina, how do you feel now that you have recovered from COVID-19?
I′m still recovering. I got hit really hard by the virus which I did not expect, especially since I′m someone who is super into working out and eating healthfully… still praying that I get to return to my normal healthy self.
You were born in a Jewish family based in New York on July 31st 1956 as Nina Fatow Llopis. Is that correct?
Yes, that′s correct.
How was your childhood?
Yes my parents were Jewish but I really wasn′t raised in anything! There were some good and bad things in my childhood, my dad had a lot of anger issues and mental health issues that affected all of our family.
Nina Llopis was working in 1983 in an advertising agency named Beber Silverstein Group. She was back then helping with the development of the marketing campaigns for companies such as McDonald. Julio Rey was at that time her coworker and also was finishing the same degree on Art & Design in the University of Miami.
You finished your studies in 1984, that is the same summer you started playing with the hardcore band The Lead. How did you meet Julio and Robbie?
Well Julio Rey and I were both at the University of Miami studying art, that′s where we met and then I started working where he was working in the art studio there, that was the year I got saved, and Julio started to witness to me a lot also and then asked me if I was interested in starting a Christian band… it was then we actually put out the word that we were looking for a drummer and then we met Robbie Christie and that′s how the Lead was formed.
There are no big names of the punk or hardcore history related to scene in Miami, maybe except for the years that Johnny Depp spent with a minor local band named The Kids. I really can′t imagine the hardcore scene in Miami in 1984. My knowledge of that city is basically the one I got watchin Miami Vice series, which actually started the same summer.
How many places there was for a young punk to go and have fun back then?
There was actually quite a large hardcore punk scene in Miami during that time with many places to play. We got to open up for some pretty big hardcore bands for that time. It was such an incredible time when I think back on it to share Jesus with everybody!
According to Beach Choice there were actually more than 10 places where a punk band may be able to play in South Florida and actually The Lead had their first gig on Flynn′s Ocean 71. The Lead were playing soon at the unique The Outhouse in Kansas, Cameo Theatre in Miami and CBGB in New York with radicals and brand new bands of that time such as Suicidal Tendencies, DRI o MDC.
What kind of memories do you keep of that time?
Yeah, that time was so special. Cameo Theater was where all the huge hardcore bands would play and we did get to open up for some of them. My most favorite memory is being in the back rooms or the green rooms and getting to share the Lord with people in the bands on a one to one basis. I loved that time! Of course playing CBGB will always stand out as one of the special places that we got to play! I′m always amazed at the doors the Lord would open up for us.
I remember well my first impressions when I unpacked my first tape by The Lead. It was “Burn this Record” (REX Records, 1989), including its unforgettable closing “Defiance”. The reviews of the market were ranking its sound as the faster and heavier that was possible at that time and it was indeed true. Their sound in “Defiance” is the perfect wall of anger, anguish and chaos that you can expect of the end of the world. I was happily surprised also by the creativity. Many of us within the audience were not giving any credit to any message that was using advertising. We had that idea that you can′t rely on something that is too elaborated and they were indeed aligned with those expectations of the audience.
Do you think that the lack of beauty in the creativity and your music was something intended from your side?
Yes, truly our heart. The goal was to express Jesus in our music without frills.
There were many people that expected Florida beach to be like a second Huntington Beach in Los Angeles. Doug Pinnick from King′s X was touring Florida during the 60s. I have heard that the same team that was later known as JPUSA in Chicago left Gainesville in 1972 because there was no interest in the Gospel they were preaching. It looks like there was more interest in the ′Shepherding movement′ back then, correct? When and how did you meet JPUSA?
There was actually a lot going on with the gospel getting preached and people getting saved and churches rising up from that. The Shepherding movement was there, but a lot of other Jesus movements were also here. We got to meet the folks from JPUSA when we covered one of the songs by Resurrection Band and played at their Cornerstone Festival near Chicago a few times.
There were similar punk bands such as Undercover, Altar Boys or The Crucified, very active in preaching the gospel in the streets in Los Angeles. Pastor Bob Beeman has been promoting Christian concerts there since the 60s and was key to the metal explosion during the 80s. He mentioned in an interview for “Bleed into one” documentary that they may be wrong trying to use art the way they did it, which in same cases have been seen more as propaganda. Do you have a similar opinion?
Well as a visual and musical artist I feel that you can express yourself in all different ways. Every artist is expressing something that is deep inside of them, whether it be art, music, design or any art form. Everyone is expressing a message in some way shape or form.
Why did you leave The Lead?
Well we ended up splitting up over a few reasons. I myself was interested in exploring different types of music, and that was also at the time when I started to lead worship.
Nina Llopis recorded “No Shadow of Turning” (R.E.X. Records, 1991) and started to organize events in churches around worship when she left The Lead. “You Hold Your Heart in Your Hands” appears also on “Argh!!! The Official R.E.X. Sampler” (R.E.X. Records, 1991) together with other similar bands such as The Throes or No Laughing Matter. Tim Keller, the pastor from New York that was invited by Google Talks, says that at the end we always have just worship. No matter if you are passing through the best or the worst, no matter if the people consider us angels or demons, at the end is not us but God and that irresistible need to worship him.
To me worship is everything. The creator of the universe created us to worship him, there is nothing in the world like being in the presence of God.
Nina Llopis is the main composer for drama movies around social justice such as ′Loving the Bad Man′ (2010) and ′Equal Strength′ (2011) but also the main artist behind many songs that are frequently grouped within albums as “Unveiled Pt.1 & Pt.2” (Roxx Records, 2020). She recorded these songs with the help of James Paul Wisner, the same producer used by many emo & hardcore bands such as Dashboard Confessional, Further Seems Forever o 36 Crazyfists.
I actually met James Wisner back in 2007. He made an incredible CD for me called “More than a song”. We were introduced by a mutual friend and I have worked with him ever since. He′s an incredible producer and also an incredible person! So I write all the songs, and I arrange them all. I usually end up playing some guitar and piano and of course all the vocals and then I arrange all the string parts and all the other stuff I know pretty much exactly what I want to hear. I love working with James because he knows pretty much where I′m going to go on everything, he usually also will play guitar and some piano and even some bass depending on what we′re doing. I have recorded with him also going into the studio with a full band and that has also been a great experience too!
Nina Llopis recorded “I′m Your Child” (Light Records, 1997) but it is indeed ten years after together with James Paul Wisner that she starts to make the difference. Her music now reminds the dark worship of musicians such as Bono of U2, Micheal Knott of L.S.U. or Michael J. Pritzl of The Violet Burning. Sometimes her voice reminds me of Leslie Ann Phillips and T Bone Burnett.
Why do you think that it is so important to recognize the greatness and fortress of God?
God is great! And he is our strong fortress!! He is our deliverer! Most of my earlier memories of worship music comes from Vineyard Worship Music. Now there are so many amazing worship artists and bands out there I couldn′t even begin to name them all, Hillsong, Bethel, just to name a few.
“This little light of mine” (1920) is one of the worship songs more often covered by singers as Bruce Springsteen, Thelonious Monk or Sam Cooke. Sister Rosetta Tharpe used to play it as a jazz, blues song. What memories do you have of songs such as “This little light of mine” which you shared also recently though Bandcamp?
I kept hearing a punk version of that song, so I was glad that I got to record it even though it still sounds more like a demo, we would have a blast with the band “Nina means Grace” I had at that time playing that song out!
Thank you Nina! We really appreciate that you spent this time answering our maybe useless questions during these hard times for you, while recovering from COVID-19. Do you have plans for the near future that you want to share with us?
Well I′m blessed to still be able to write music that the Lord is giving me…and to worship him here and forever… Amen.
This is an short translation of the original article published in Spanish by Entrelíneas: Revista de Arte as Entrevista con Nina Llopis y la pequeña luz a través del valle del hardcore