Javier Forero and Camilo Medina — bassist, guitarist and alternating lead singers of the rock quartet Divino Niño — were childhood friends in their hometown of Bogotá, Colombia. They lost touch near the end of pre-school when Forero's family moved to Miami. But years later, after Medina's family had also moved up to Miami, the old friends re-connected during middle school. The boys' friendship was bolstering by attending the same mega-church. That's where they had their first opportunity to play and perform music together. Now, Divino Niño's full-length debut, Foam, meshes together all those years of influence, migration and experience.
Back in middle school, neither Forero nor Medina had yet developed an interest in the kind of dream-pop, retro-sounding music that dominates Foam."We were completely different at the time. I was listening to more hip-hop, and he was more into punk and that kind of stuff," Medina says.
On his end, Medina says, he was mostly concerned with fitting in with the other kids in his new city. "I had just gotten to the U.S., and my English wasn't super good, and I was trying to fit in. So I looked just like a Hot Topic commercial — like, I had the spikey hair," Medina recalls his 13-year-old self. "I was just doing my best to fit in with everybody. I remember wearing a Flogging Molly shirt just because it had a skull, but I had no idea it was a band."
Soon after they met as adolescents, Forero and Medina both became regulars at the mega-church that Forero's family attended. There, they found the space to play their instruments and perform before audiences in church settings. Still, in other ways, their commitment to the church restricted their creativity and their growing interest in music. "We weren't allowed to have girlfriends, to listen to anything that wasn't Christian," Forero says. "It was very limiting."
It was only after moving to Chicago for college that the pair discovered the groups that largely inspire Divino Niño's work today — namely, The Beatles and their contemporaries. Medina describes first hearing The Beatles, The Lovin' Spoonful, The Beach Boys and records of the '60s and '70s during college: "When we heard all this stuff, we were like, 'Oh my God, we have been missing out on the best music in the world.' And I remember thinking very clearly, like, 'I don't understand. From the '60s until now, what have all these bands been doing? Like, everybody should be sounding like the Beatles, because it's the best music ever."
Even though the band is based in Chicago, the music on Foam, like "Quiero" for example, feels breezy, warm and relaxed. The bandmates say that's to provide a sense of escape.
"I think our personalities are a bit softer and smoother and a bit more easy-going. We haven't been scarred by the winter all of our entire lives," Medina says. "'Quiero' has a very summer vibe. The beginning sounds like you just opened up a beer, about to hang out."
True to Medina's word, Foam does sound a lot like The Beatles. Divino Niño's music, sung alternately in English and Spanish, wrap predominantly love songs in a psychedelic lilt. Medina and Forero explain that this lighthearted quality does not mean that their group is avoiding political topics, including those that concern Colombia (like the country's role in the Venezuelan refugee crisis.)
"It's not like I don't want to touch on those topics — and eventually, maybe we will," Forero says. "But I think that, at this point for this record, we wanted to just offer entertainment."
"For me, I would love to give people a little vacation," Medina adds.
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
The band Divino Nino's new album "Foam" is full of dreamy, beach-ready pop songs.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COCA COLA")
DIVINO NINO: (Singing) Seven dollars and a Coca Cola.
SHAPIRO: This is their debut, but it sounds like the guys have been playing together forever, which is kind of the case.
JAVIER FORERO: Yeah. I think I used to take the same bus. We used to call him Pavarotti because, like, he was singing on the bus a lot.
SHAPIRO: And so that's Divino Nino bassist and singer Javier Forero talking about guitarist and singer Camilo Medina. Those bus rides were in Bogota, Colombia, when they were young children. The boys lost touch when Forero moved to Miami. Years later, Medina moved to Miami as a teenager, and another bus ride brought them back together.
FORERO: Cam was getting on the bus, and he saw me. And he was like, wait. I think I know that kid. And I realized, wait. That's Camilo. I know this guy.
SHAPIRO: They started hanging out and going to church together. They were into the message, but Medina told me that there was one thing that really drew the teens to the church.
(SOUNDBITE OF DIVINO NINO SONG, "FOAM")
CAMILO MEDINA: We could play music. And I - finally were able to play in a band, which we didn't even know what we were missing out on. I had never listened to The Beatles. And for a long period of our adolescence, we missed out on listening to kind of bad boy music.
SHAPIRO: But it cemented your friendship and gave you experience in a band.
MEDINA: Yeah. We played live for people for the first time at the church. I think, to me, that was so cool.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FOAM")
DIVINO NINO: (Singing) Brighter, to me you look brighter. I want to hold you all the time.
SHAPIRO: So how did you find your sound as Divino Nino?
MEDINA: Divino Nino started because it was our first exposure to, like, classic rock 'n' roll from the '60s and '70s. We didn't listen to this stuff until we were 20 and until we moved to Chicago.
SHAPIRO: Do you mean like The Beach Boys, The Lovin' Spoonful, that sort of thing?
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COSMIC FLOWER")
DIVINO NINO: (Singing) And now we sit here breezing off self-destructive ways to run through the ceiling your dog talks. Is this real?
SHAPIRO: I associate that sound with LA, and you live in Chicago. So how does your music come out of the city that you're in? Or does it at all?
MEDINA: First of all, we grew up in Colombia and in Miami, and I think our personalities are a bit softer and easygoing. We're not - we haven't been scarred by the winter all of our lives, so...
SHAPIRO: (Laughter) You don't have that thick Chicago skin.
MEDINA: Exactly, but we've been building it.
FORERO: Yeah. We've also learned to appreciate it. You know, it's like, yeah, it builds, you know, tough skin.
SHAPIRO: So you feel like you appreciate that chill summer vibe a little more now that you have to live through Chicago winters.
MEDINA: Oh, without a doubt. I think that's why we made it like that because we're like this is a little heavy over here (laughter).
SHAPIRO: Let's get a specific example. What's another song we can listen to that really gives us that sense?
MEDINA: I think probably "Quiero."
(SOUNDBITE OF DIVINO NINO SONG, "QUIERO")
MEDINA: "Quiero" has a very summery vibe The beginning sounds like you just open up a beer about to hangout.
SHAPIRO: Sand between your toes.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "QUIERO")
DIVINO NINO: (Singing in Spanish).
SHAPIRO: The album has songs in Spanish and English and sometimes both. How does that work when you're writing these tracks? How do you decide what language you're going to use?
MEDINA: Yeah. Most of the album is in English. The songs that are in Spanish is less of a conscious effort and more of, like, this came out and it sounds kind of good.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "QUIERO")
DIVINO NINO: (Singing in Spanish).
SHAPIRO: So you're not consciously trying to appeal to an audience that wants to hear Latin music or that wants to hear English lyrics. You're just writing what feels best to you.
MEDINA: Oh, Lord, yes, absolutely. I feel like the minute that I try to please any exterior person, I don't know if I'll enjoy it that much and I don't know if it'll sound as truth. The reason I think what drives us is the fact that we can find truth in the music, a feeling that feels real, and I think sharing that feeling is what's really, really important to us.
SHAPIRO: You know, every day, immigration is in the news. We hear about Colombia all the time because of the Venezuelan refugee crisis. Your music doesn't touch on any of that. It's not at all political. I mean, these are mostly love songs. Are you trying to avoid the stuff that is in the headlines every day? Or is this just you writing about what comes out when you put pen to paper?
FORERO: You know, we obviously, like, know what's going on in the current events. But definitely I think the reason why I started going to shows is because after, like, shows I had kind of, like, a reason to believe in something. It's not like I don't want to touch on those topics, and eventually maybe we will, but we at this point for this record, we wanted to just offer entertainment.
(SOUNDBITE OF DIVINO NINO SONG, "MELTY CARAMELO")
SHAPIRO: Does it just blow your mind that you found each other and made this music and this band together after this long winding path that took you across two continents to so many cities over so many years? It's just incredible.
MEDINA: It was really wild. It's very crazy that we're still buddies. It is really wild. We're kind of like brothers. Making music is extremely easy. Sometimes when I work with other people, it's like I wonder, do you like this? Do you not like this? And I think with Javi we skipped that step because as soon as we sound dumb, we're like, yeah, we both are like, yep, this is dumb as hell, man. Let's do something else. It makes it so much crazier.
FORERO: Yeah. I mean, I think it comes with its challenges, you know? But, yeah, I mean, I'm so lucky to have a long friendship, so I really appreciate it. I never take it for granted even though sometimes, you know, we butt heads or whatever. But I love it, and I'm very grateful.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MELTY CARAMELO")
DIVINO NINO: (Singing) Melty caramelo, tender mellow, I believe in you.
SHAPIRO: Well, Camilo Medina and Javier Forero, it's been great talking to both of you. Thanks a lot.
FORERO: Thank you so much, Ari.
MEDINA: A pleasure.
SHAPIRO: Their band is Divino Nino, and the new album is "Foam." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.