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Summer Night City preview: Inside the music of Baldemar

Reese Mckee
Baldemar playing at Paper Tiger in San Antonio.

For Baldemar Esquivel III, it started with Guitar Hero 2.

Playing music via video game was the first time Esquivel knew that he wanted to make his own music, and he hasn’t stopped since. His mother saw clearly his passion, and enrolled him in the Network for Young Artists, a local music education non-profit, when he was about 10 years old.

There, he learned to play guitar and took classes in mariachi music. In high school, he became inspired by rock artists from Pink Floyd to Nirvana to Tame Impala.

Esquivel, now 25, leads the band Baldemar, which is playing TPR’s Summer Night City this Thursday, July 21 at Legacy Park in downtown San Antonio.

At Brackenridge High School, Esquivel met Nathan Saldaña, the drummer for Baldemar. His love for music came from his uncle, who introduced him to punk rock.

In high school, Esquivel and Saldaña began going to shows and playing with different local musicians. Baldemar played their first show in 2016 and Saldaña started playing with them in 2017.

For Baldemar’s recorded music, Esquivel does most of the recording and production himself, and the band focuses on live performances. They love playing shows and getting the crowd engaged.

I tend to write a lot of the material myself [and] whenever we get together, we try to really build up the show,” Esquivel said. “There's a tendency for, I guess, indie musicians, alternative bands, to make ‘sleepy boy music’ and we definitely don't want to put that out.”

“If we're bringing people out, we want them to have fun, we want them to dance, you know? Move around and make it memorable,” Saldaña added.

In his songwriting process, Esquivel likes to draw on a variety of inspirations, from Sonic Youth to Johnny Lee. He certainly isn’t afraid to branch out into different genres — Esquivel is also part of a Tejano duo called Los Juanos.

The music at Baldemar’s shows is largely the result of Esquivel’s work writing and producing at home. He puts together songs based on a theme, records them, then sends demos to his bandmates and they decide if they’d like to play it live.

This homemade style gives their music a unique sound. Esquivel has embraced this and coined the term ‘gunk pop’ to describe the style of music he produces.

“Gunk pop is what I like to call our music,” Esquivel said. “Because since I record it all at home, it kind of tends to come out low fidelity.”

I'm also not by any means like a pro engineer,” he added. “I've been at it for like six, seven years, just recording, but I still don't have it down to a science. So a lot of the songs can kind of come out ‘gunky,’ but it's still pop music at the end of the day.”

Esquivel praised the diversity of San Antonio’s music community as an important part of what got them started.

The San Antonio scene is a behemoth,” Esquivel said. “It's like a multiverse of artists.”

And in that multiverse, Baldemar has found a wide range of influences in local rock, indie pop, metal and beyond. Esquivel and Saldaña have been playing house shows for over six years and from watching other groups, have found inspiration and a network of opportunities.

I'm really glad that I started trying to make my own sound,” Esquivel said. “But if it wasn't for seeing other bands and just seeing what is possible, I probably wouldn't be doing it.”

For Esquivel and Saldaña, the idea of “making it” as a musician is outdated, but Esquivel has his own idea of success, rooted in the art itself.

“I always have the goal of putting out like a sound that I would like to hear over and over again,” Esquivel said. “So if I'm able to make a song that I just like to listen to, like myself, I'm already making it.”

Though they admitted that time in a studio would be helpful, they’re keeping it independent for now, and working on putting out a full-length album and more online content for their fans to enjoy, on platforms like Youtube and Soundcloud.

And if you’re still curious about exactly what ‘gunk pop’ is, come see it for yourself this Thursday at 7 p.m. at Legacy Park.

“We love seeing new faces,” Esquivel said. “Our music’s for everyone.”

Erika Howlett is the 2022 Summer Arts Intern at Texas Public Radio. She assists with community engagement and produces articles on local arts and culture for TPR’s website.