Inside the Surreal, Twisted Psyche of Cholo Goth LEAFAR SEYER
From February 24th through April 8th, These Days is exhibiting the work of Leafar Seyer, singer of the Cholo Goth duo Prayers. We first met Leafar by chance over a year ago, when he and his manager happened into the gallery. Although we had mutual friends, we hadn't yet heard of Prayers. We chatted for awhile and were impressed by Seyer’s low key attitude and style. It was obvious he had something, that he was special. When they left we went on YouTube and found the video for their song Young Gods. From the opening beat set to a black and white drone shot of Seyer’s San Diego neighborhood Sherman Heights, we were hooked. We continued, viewing videos for Gothic Summer, their cover of Pet Shop Boys West End Girls, and the autobiographical song From Dog To God. We were into it.
Vice's music site Noisey has been a supporter of the band, and when they heard about the exhibition they approached Leafar for an interview about his art, process and motivations. Leafar did not disappoint. He stays true to his what-you-see-is-what-you-get, heart on a sleeve mentality…his brutally honest and “You don't like what I do? I don't give a fuck. I'm a do me" ethos.
When we first met Leafar Seyer back in 2015, he introduced us to the world of cholo goth, an exciting sound and culture he and his production partner, Dave Parley, created as the duo Prayers. Like the name implies, cholo goth fuses the world of street gang culture with the cold sounds of goth music and electronic rock. As frontman, Seyer—born Rafael Reyes, whose stage moniker is his full name spelled backwards—takes us on a ride through the harsh realities of his days in San Diego's Sherman Grant Hill Park 27 gang, his graphic and personal lyrics dancing over Parley’s pounding synthesized beats.
But music has always been a secondary outlet for Seyer. We caught an early glimpse of his artwork in Noisey's in-depth mini-documentary, where Seyer introduced us to his music and art, which he sees more as sigils and amulets. “I create these paintings and I make this music to protect me from those who wish me harm,” he said.
Now, Seyer is allowing fans and onlookers to step into his dark and beautiful mind via The Pain Isn’t Over, his first-ever Los Angeles solo art show. Much like his music with Prayers, Seyer’s art explores the twisted and surreal psyche of one man's experience. The show features ten new works alongside pieces from his private collections, together exploring occult imagery, traditional cholo iconography, and religious symbols via paintings, sculptures, and limited-edition prints.
As a kid, Seyer was smuggled into the US from his native Mexico and gained amnesty during the Reagan era. He got jumped into a gang as a teenager to help protect his family, and spent his youth days and adulthood as an active gang member and graffiti artist. He found solace through painting, art, and graffiti murals. He would eventually document all these real-life experiences in his 2011 roman a clef coming-of-age novella, Living Dangerously, which was later added to the Cornell University Library’s Architecture and Planning Special Collections. (Hard-to-find copies of Living Dangerously are being sold at the art show.)
As Seyer encapsulates his lifelong journey as an embattled artist with The Pain Isn’t Over, Noisey caught up with the multifaceted creator to discuss his ongoing creative process, his multiple inner spirits, and his newfound life as a married man with fellow alternative icon, Kat Von D.
Noisey: How do you feel now that your art is out in the public like this?
Noisey: It’s refreshing to be able to showcase something that was my first love. I was doing art before I was doing music. I feel that I am living multiple realities simultaneously. What I mean by that is that I have different facets to me: I have different personalities, I have different energies, I have different spirits that live within me. And they need to express themselves, they need to come out, they need to be acknowledged. Whatever energy or whatever spirit [that] wants to come out and express itself, if I suppress, it enrages, it gets angry, it gets upset because it’s being ignored. Art, music, writing—all of this is my way of communicating with my subconscious, with myself, with my inner being. I don’t do it because I am looking for attention [or] because I want money [or] because I want fame. I make music for me, I write for me and I paint for me.
The side of me, the energy, the being, the spirit that wanted to experience the music was suppressed for many, many, decades. I was becoming angry and I was jaded because I wasn’t living my truth. Finally, that spirit kicked the door down and said, “Hey man, you’re either going to fucking do this or I’m going to drive you crazy.”
So finally, I started doing music [and] music became my everything, and that’s all I’ve been doing for four years. So what happened? I suppressed the spirit that was doing art for so long. Recently, that side of me that created art started feeling ignored, started feeling resentment towards the spirit that wants to do music. It kept knocking during sleep, during waking hours, during time of contemplation of self. There was so much happening with the music, and I felt that I needed to have a moment of contemplation outside of it. [With the show], I was acknowledging a side of myself that was being ignored, and if I continued to ignore it, I would feel its wrath and I wouldn’t be in peace.
So you have separate spirits for art, music and writing?
We all do, brother. We can have more than one spirit. I obviously have the spirit of the warrior because I was in gangs and I was doing all this crazy shit. And I have the spirit of the artist. So they live within me, and within you.
What happens is, in society we lose sight of that because we’re not connected with nature, we’re not connected with even ourselves. We’re connected with materialistic things, and all this shit that’s on TV. It’s fucked up. We live in this modern society where we don’t have our forefathers or our elders to guide us through what it is [to become a man]. But because we lost sight of who we are, we don’t know how to deal with the spirits that live within us, so we end up in jail, killing each other, gangs, and all this army-military bullshit because we don’t have responsible elders to guide us through this shit.
Are all the spirits within you different?
They’re definitely not one. They’re different, because I can feel how I shift when I’m doing one or the other, the way my mind turns and twists depending on what it is. I’m still communicating with my higher self when I’m creating, but there are different aspects. Just like there are different flavors in food: You’re still eating, but when you eat a fruit or a grain, it’s a different flavor [that] stimulates a different part of your body. It’s the same thing when I’m creating. Yes I’m creating, but different parts of my mind, of my being, of my body are being stimulated and are being touched.
What’s behind the title of your art show, The Paint Isn’t Over ?
It comes from a lot of things. I see people talking shit on my Instagram all the time because of whatever little success or anything that has to do with my little happiness; they think I sold out. [But] just because I have a little bit of money in my back, it doesn’t mean that the pain isn’t over, that all of a sudden all the shit that I’m feeling as a human being has been erased. If anything, things are fucking worse because now people act even more fucked up. Just because I have success doesn’t mean that my heart has healed from the pain, from all the backstabbing. People are still talking shit about me, just because I have money, just because I’m married to the woman of my dreams. All of a sudden that means that I’m healed? Now the pain that people caused me, the hurt, the loss of my father, my two strikes—all that shit has been just all of a sudden erased? No! I’m still dealing with my own fucking insecurities. The pain isn’t over. Money ain’t gonna make the pain go away. Love isn’t gonna make the pain go away. Success isn’t gonna make the pain go away.
Your art show consists of paintings, sculptures and limited prints. What sort of art training do you have?
I’m self-taught. My style is very primitive. It comes from the subconscious. For me, it’s just a way of communicating with my higher self and trying to understand who I am. I have no training at all. When it comes to music, when it comes to producing, I did not go to school. I didn’t even graduate high school. All of it just comes naturally; it’s organic. I didn’t copy nobody’s style, nobody’s technique. I don’t know shit about anything. My paintings are amulets. My music is also amulets. These are things that I do to protect myself and to communicate with my higher self so that I’m able to see in front of me what it is that my subconscious mind is picking up on. When I paint, half of the time I don’t even know why I’m so attracted to sigils, to esoteric knowledge.
There’s are so many things out here that different people pick up on or are attracted to. There are so many paths in this life. Why is it that I’m attracted to these things that I am attracted to? Why is it when I write, I write the way that I write? Why is it that when I paint, I paint these dark images? I don’t know! Where did it come from? Who am I? This music and these paintings allow me to see that.
This is not a trend to me, this is a lifestyle. I’ve always been into magic, I’ve always been into the occult, because it allows me to question my own reality. I’m all about questioning everything: questioning my own reality and questioning my own self.
It sounds like you’re learning a lot about yourself every time you create music and art.
All I’m doing, I’m just communicating with myself. I’ve been lucky and blessed that people like it and are supportive of what we do and can resonate with it and can identify themselves with what I’m doing. There are a lot a lot of people that feel and think the way I do. Even though I am just on this journey own my own, for a long time I felt like an outcast. I’m still dealing with those things, but now there’s a bit of responsibility [since] there are eyes on me. At the same time, it means nothing to me, because at the end of the day, I came here with nothing [and] I will leave with nothing, and everything in the middle is temporary. I came here to do whatever it is that I’m doing, and if it makes an impact, great. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t matter.
Do you feel your fans or newcomers will learn something about you through your art that they maybe won’t see or hear in your music?
I think it was important for my audience to see my paintings because I think it’ll help them understand. They’ll know that I’m the real fucking thing, that this isn’t an act. When they see the paintings, they’ll understand the songs even more. It’s another side to the coin, but it’s still the same coin. It’s important for them to see the art, because it will guide you through the music and the music will guide you through the art.
Is your art and music together or separated?
My music and my paintings live parallel lives, even though they’re individuals. There are different technique, different methods. When I paint, I’m by myself; I don’t like to paint with people around me. I don’t like people to see my technique and the stuff that I do. But when I’m writing music, there are people around me.
So it’s a different creative process as well.
Yeah. I can’t say the things that I say when I’m painting. When people look at one of my paintings, they will interpret it their way. They’ll look at a painting, and because of their experiences and what they’ve lived, whatever they see they’ll take it. When I’m singing, I’m fucking telling you what it is. You’re not going to take it from your own perspective. You’re not going to go and create your own story from what you’re looking at. I’m fucking telling you directly, with words, what the fuck it is that I’m feeling and what I’m saying, even though I still speak in a way that’s encrypted. [Some songs are] encrypted, but there are others that are straightforward. I’m telling you what it is. I’m telling you who I am and how I see the world. But the paintings, on the other hand, unless I’m sitting there and telling the viewer, without me they just look at it and they take their own interpretations. So it is very different.
There’s a lot of religious imagery and iconography in some of your art. What’s your stance on religion?
I grew up Catholic, so it’s always been around me. For me, Catholicism was a curse and a blessing; it was a double-edged sword. I learned a lot from it. But it wasn’t until I read stories from the Bible that actually liberated me and pushed me away. The church pushed me away from the church. But when I read the story of Moses freeing the Israelites from the pharaoh, I fell in love with the pharaoh. That’s how I fell in love with Egypt. That was my beginning of rebelliousness. And that’s how I got into magic; I got into magic because of the church.
Then I started thinking about the importance and the power behind symbols, like the cross. The cross people wear. But imagine the cross to an indigenous person. That’s as scary as the fucking swastika is to a Jew. Because they’re like, “That cross means we’re about to fucking get slaughtered.” That’s what happened; that’s what the Conquistadores did. They would fucking kill anybody—women, children. For gold. For land. In the name of God.
So with my art, I question these things. I’m breaking down walls through the subconscious mind. I’m using the same images that they used on me to fucking deprogram people and to empower people. I’m fighting fire with fire. Abrahamic religions don’t fear anything but the devil; they’re not going to fear the indigenous person or the pagan, because they already conquered the pagan and the indigenous person. What do they fear? They fear the devil. I’m not the devil; I don’t believe in the Santa Claus either. But I will take on that personality to fight fire with fire, because I know that’s the only thing that they fear.
Do you consider yourself a musician first or an artist first?
I don’t consider me any of that shit. I consider myself a fucking magician, an alchemist. I’m not a fucking musician, I’m a magician. And I’m not a fucking artist, I’m an alchemist. I fucking create—period. Artists, they went to fucking school. Musicians, they went to fucking school. I didn’t go to none of that shit. This talent, this shit is God-given. I didn’t go and fucking spend 10 years tracing the same fucking shit over and over until I mastered it with my closed eyes. I didn’t go and fucking play the same fucking notes over and over until my fingers just memorized them. Everything that I do comes from a primitive source, a primitive fucking spot in my center. Then when I choose to open it, it fucking creates and makes songs.
Your 2011 book, Living Dangerously, is also seeing new life at the art show. What does the book mean to you now?
I can’t even read that book no more; I can’t even look at it. I’m proud of it, but it’s just a hard read for me, because it reminds me of the time that [had] a lot of hurt. Even the music is sometimes hard to sing. It’s a lot of hurt, every time I got to sing those fucking songs like “Love Is the Enemy,” “Friends Are Poison,” even “Young Gods” [where I say,] “Deceived by my own so they could fuck my daughter.” I’m talking about the guys that were supposed to be my friends. We were supposed to be having each other’s back, and they were fucking my daughter. I just finally saw my daughter a couple of days ago; I hadn’t seen her in four years because of what she did to me and how she hurt me and betrayed me.
I was telling my daughter, “In a way, I kind of owe you, because if you hadn’t hurt me the way you hurt me, I wouldn’t have found my wife. You fucked up my life. You had motherfuckers trying to kill me because of the shit you did. And I’m grateful to you, because now I know that those guys were never my fucking friends. I left San Diego because of all of that, and because of what you and those people did to me. Now I’m in a fucking successful band and I met the fucking woman of my dreams and I’m married to her now. But in a way, I owe you guys for fucking trying to kill me.” It’s a trip.
There’s action and there’s reaction, right? Because of their actions, the reaction karma was success for me. They hurt me so bad that I had to hurt them. How do I fight back? By creating music. So I did this music to attack them, because in this music that I created, I was just communicating with the people that hurt me. I was communicating with my daughter and with all those people in that circle. That’s why I have songs like “Friends Are Poison.” I’m talking to those motherfuckers. It’s all there.
So I wrote a whole album, Young Gods, all about that betrayal. I couldn’t fight back physically, because if I fight back physically, I’ll end up in prison. But I still had to exercise this rage; I had to address it. If not, I’d fucking kill a motherfucker. So instead, I ended up exorcising it with music. And what happened? It [bore] fruit, and now I’m here. I won the fucking fight.
You’ve done music, you’ve done art, you’ve done writing, you’ve done graffiti and tattoo art. Is there anything that you haven’t done yet that sparks your interest?
I’ve done it all. There’s one thing I haven’t done, and I can skip this one—I haven’t killed a person.
Yeaaaaaaaah, don’t do that.
But I find it very interesting because some people have. How do they deal with it, and the mind behind it? Those things intrigue me. Not everyone gets to experience a full life. Some people are born rich, wealthy as fuck. They will never get to experience what poverty is, and there’s so much to learn in poverty. I’ve experienced everything: I’ve experienced poverty, I’ve experienced wealth, I’ve experienced rejection, I’ve experienced adoration, I’ve experienced what it’s like to be a God when you’re onstage and people are admiring you. I’ve been a nobody. I’ve been starving and I’ve ate some of the most expensive food, dishes that cost $500.
That’s a full life, right? I’ve experienced everything. I’m getting the cornucopia on what life has to offer. Wouldn’t people be better people if they got to experience [that]? If a rich person got to experience poverty, if a poor person got to experience wealth. Then we can have a full fucking spectrum of what life is and has to offer. That’s very powerful to me. There are people, like that fucking piece of shit Donald Trump, that will never get to experience the other side. And that’s why he’ll never be a full human, a complete person.
I see the phrase “Love Makes Time Pass” on some of the pieces in your art show. What’s the meaning behind that?
It’s just a phrase that stuck with me when I first heard it. It makes sense: Love will make time pass. When you’re in love, time just flies. Sometimes the only way to get over a broken heart is with time.
Speaking of love, congrats on your recent marriage to Kat Von D.
I’ve never been married before. I stayed away from it all my life. But she fucking broke all the walls down, dude. I’ve been in love with her for 14 years; I’ve known her for that long. I compare it to staring at the sun; it’s an impossible task. And to me, she’s the sun. It was difficult for me to really be able to let her know how I felt. I just never felt like I was worthy of her sunshine. I honestly worked so hard to get to be where I’m at for her to acknowledge me. She’s my life source, and she always has been the source of my inspiration even beforehand.
Kat was featured on your song “ Black Leather,” off your latest album, Baptism of Thieves . Are there any plans for future creative collaborations?
Ohhhhh fuck yeah, definitely. It’s happening already. Every time we’re together, our minds become in sync. We’ve already been creating, from painting to writing to music. It’s not ready to share with the world, but we’ve already been doing all of that.