Sinseers craft a love letter to L.A. Chicano soul on debut album 'Sinseerly Yours'


When Thee Sinseers performed on NPR’s Tiny Desk series, they were given the option to perform in studio or record at home. Instead of heading to the network’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., the nine-piece soul group from East L.A. decided to stay close to home.

Their well-received Tiny Desk was filmed inside Floreria Primavera, a flower shop owned by guitarist Francisco Flores’ family and situated along Whittier Boulevard. Vines, roses, gift baskets and recuerdos envelop the band, who despite the tight quarters, look right at home playing souldies originals like “What’s His Name” and “Lovin’ You.”

“It has a lot of emotional significance being able to do it there and to be able to showcase a mom and pop shop that is very much still an East L.A. thing,” says singer and songwriter Adriana Flores. “It’s cool to share a little bit of our culture with a bunch of people that are watching from all over the world.”

Thee Sinseers have been on an upward trajectory ever since, bringing their take on Chicano soul from the Boulevard to Memphis, Tenn., (where they were in conversation with the Stax Museum for Hispanic Heritage Month, and promptly started a mosh pit outside the venue) and elsewhere in Southern California as the backing band for soul legend Brenton Wood. Finally, after six years together and many more as friends and soul scene colleagues, Thee Sinseers are releasing their first album.

Out Friday via Ohio indie Colemine Records, “Sinseerly Yours” offer 10 tracks of soul perfection. Anchored by the pleading falsetto of Joseph Quinones, who also acts as songwriter and keyboardist, the debut is filled with the sort of tracks that could convincingly pass for soul 45s from 1966. The gentle horns and soulful harmonies on “Give It Up You Fool” and achingly crooned lyrics of “Hold On” are album standouts. Friday also serves as a tour kickoff for the band at Los Angeles’ Belasco theater, followed by a show Saturday at Riverside Municipal Auditorium.

“We’ve all come from a place where we’ve always been seeking the answers, not only in life but how to navigate through relationships and situations in general. A lot of the songs kind of route from that place of us just crying out a little bit,” Quinones says. “Especially from the culture we come from, it’s not easy to pour your heart out.”

“Sinseerly Yours” also features a few previously released singles, a testament to Thee Sinseers’ lengthy recording history. The group originally intended to go into the studio in February 2020 and was forced to shelve the project for the duration of the pandemic. The pause ended up being a good thing, allowing Thee Sinseers to think about the record “militantly and with precision,” Quinones says.

When the band reconvened to record — mostly live to tape — at Quinones’ Rialto studio, the process was particularly collaborative. “Everybody literally had their fingers on a fader at one point,” he adds.

“We’re such a bunch of crazy nuts that we all have these ideas that we don’t trust with anybody else,” he continues. Nothing was too weird to try; Quinones recorded some birds once, someone else had the idea to add a whistle to a track that seemed incomplete. While most of their records have been squarely in the realm of sweet soul — ballads, torch songs, slower tempos — the album’s title track has a surf vibe and the instrumental “Talking Back” is a full-on twist party.

“We’re kind of talking over each other … hyping each other up; we’re passing around a little tequila bottle. We’re yelling and screaming, doing gritos and showing a little bit of the fun side of Thee Sinseers,” Quinones says of the track. “The entire album was very serious and very somber. So it’s cool to have a fun track to kind of let loose.”

The track is an important showcase of Thee Sinseers’ friendship and long-held bond; in a big band with many strong personalities, Thee Sinseers actually enjoy one another’s company. Quinones (a.k.a. “JQ”) and bassist Christopher Manjarrez met as teenagers when they were in Upground — “We used to literally take [Quinones] out of high school and take him on tour,” Manjarrez recalls — and met Flores around 2012.

They quickly began writing music together, later performing in bars as JQ and the Revue. Over the years, they met more musicians in Southern California’s soul community —including Long Beach’s Bryan Ponce, Thee Sinseers’ guitar and vocalist.

“We didn’t know at the time, but [we were] expanding a music scene in L.A. Eventually we were just like, ‘Why don’t we just start a band together?’” Quinones says. “Whether it be reggae, funk, or oldies or blues, it’s cool to see everybody puts that same emotion [and has] as much value received from listening to these types of music.”

Flores is one of a handful of female soul singers in the souldies community. “It feels sometimes like soul music could be a boys club,” she says, noting the importance of representation. “I’ve been that little girl looking up at these bands, and it was always such a pinnacle moment when I would see a woman on lead. I might be that for someone that’s younger than me that’s trying to be in a band.”

Today, Thee Sinseers are among the elder statesman in a revived L.A. soul scene that includes Thee Sacred Souls, Trish Toledo, Thee Illusions and others. Ponce, Quinones, Manjarrez and Flores are also members of sibling soul group the Altons; when we spoke, the latter two were at Riverside’s Penrose Studios working on a new record.

Penrose — the subsidiary of Daptone Records, founded by IE native and Dap-Kings bassist Gabe Roth — offered Thee Sinseers some early success, including being one of the first artists to release a 45 on its label. “Sinseerly Yours,” however, will come out on Colemine Records. Working with both labels was a revelatory and educational experience.

“We just met [Colemine Records founder Terry Cole] for the first time personally this last year. It shows how much trust and how much confidence they have in letting us make our sound and make our own mistakes,” Quinones says. “On the other side of the spectrum, you go with somebody like Gabe and he’ll have you work out a song until you’re convinced that it’s the best f— song you’ve ever heard. He really puts us to work.”

Another legend putting Thee Sinseers to work is Wood, singer of soul classics “Oogum Boogum” and “I Think You’ve Got Your Fools Mixed Up.” Manjarrez and Thee Sinseers have been backing up Wood at car shows and souldies events for several years; little by little, the singer started listening to the younger musicians’ work.

“You can tell he’s proud of us, and he’s [said], ‘You guys have been the best band I’ve ever had.’ It’s like, damn, coming out of the legend’s mouth,” Manjarrez says. Adds Quinones, “He was always really proud of the fact that we did write and we had our own songs and our own stories to tell.”

Wood, Quinones notes, will “humble you down and he’ll bust your chops a little bit .…. He has no shame in telling you exactly how it is.” That level of camaraderie and encouragement has been crucial for Thee Sinseers, a group of mostly Latino, self-described “emo kids,” as they continue to cruise into the upper echelons of contemporary soul music.

Thee Sinseers aren’t taking anything for granted. Says Quinones, “There’s no reason why any of us should be [here] except for the fact that people are taking chances on us and, and it’s a cool thing to see that people are accepting it and people like Brenton Wood are encouraging it.”



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