November 28, 2017

Words by Elvia Iannaccone Gezlev

Photography by Elvia Iannaccone Gezlev

I had the chance to meet and chat with the vocalist and songwriter Leafar Seyer from San Diego-based duo Prayers. Their sound, which they characterize as “cholo-goth,” has its roots in electronic, dark/new wave music from the ‘80s. It’s suffused with direct and poetic lyrics, at once emotional and personal, hypnotic and violent: lyrics that cannot leave you indifferent.

Leafar, whose real name is Rafael Reyes, and his genius bandmate, Dave Parley, descended from first generation Mexican immigrants. Growing up in San Diego, in close contact with cholo culture and gang violence, most of their lyrics are based on Leafar’s life experience. Social background is also mixed with a passion for satanic rituals and philosophy, making Prayers’ music quite a unique experience.

In New York City I speak with Leafar about Prayers’ music, tattoos, and more. Dave, a man of few words, watches us from the other side of the room.

Elvia Iannaccone Gezlev: Tell me about your first tattoos.
Leafar Seyer: My first tattoo was the name of my gang, “Sherman”, across my back. I got that when I was 14 years old. It was done in old English lettering, but as I got older I had it covered with the virgin of Guadalupe (representing my mother and my family) and had “Sherman” tattooed again right below her. I also got 1913 tattooed on my stomach, which also stands for Sherman because it represents the neighborhood in San Diego.

My very first tattoo was actually just thin lines, done with a Walkman motor and guitar strings. Since I was so young when I got it and it went from my shoulders to the middle of my back, when I was 25 I decided to get it covered up. I started at a very young age and by the time I was 27 I was covered in tattoos, most of which are connected to my gang life. They are either gang-related, religious and/or spiritual, or connected to my family.

EVG: Do you regret any of your tattoos?
LS: No, never! That's a thing about me—I never regret anything. I stand by my choices, and my mistakes. I’m pretty covered in tattoos now, my head is also tattooed. I just turned 40 and am actually saving spaces to get some more. I wanna’ make sure I still have room to get what I want. I am really holding on to that real estate, you know!

There are a few artists I'd love to get tattooed by and, you know, you meet people, you bond with them, you wanna’ commemorate certain moments…
I would love to get a tattoo by Filip Leu one day; he is one of my favorite artists. Or Paul Booth, he’s awesome. I was tattooed here in NYC by Tamara Santibañez. I also love the work of Mykil Zep, an amazing artist based in Arizona, and of course my bro, Amer the Gamer, in San Diego. I love his lettering; he has tattooed both me and Dave several times. He is at Lavish Tattoo.

EVG: You also have many religious and spiritual symbols from different cultures and religions—can you tell me what's behind them?
LS: I like to have lots of mystic symbols on me: they remind me of who I am, where I'm coming from, and where I’m going. They tell me to stay true to myself. I placed them on my body because I felt they belonged in certain places—to fill in spaces and also because I liked how they looked, which is important to me. Some represent my warrior spirit or my family, some are just there for an aesthetic. All in all, my tattoos are my identity.

Growing up catholic, I’ve always been intrigued and fascinated by the religious, the spiritual, by the merging of different philosophies. And I’ve always been intrigued by the ‘other side’ of the story. I always loved the symbolism behind history and religions, always looked for their real meanings: for example, I have a Star of David tattooed on me but I’m not Jewish and a swastika on my throat, but it’s not a political one. If you are not going deep into their meanings you could be misunderstood…the Star of David is the union of one pyramid going up and one going down, and it represents the union of male and female. What happens when they come together? They create life, so this is also the OHM, a symbol for life, and together there's also a pentagram, that stands for mind and empowerment. I just put them all together and without even thinking I was creating my own sigils already. I give them an identity; together they became something that makes sense to me.

EVG: Tell me about the sigils on your leg.
LS: I have four sigils tattooed on my thigh. They are amulets. I consider myself like a magician—not the kind that pulls rabbits out of the hat, though, but a black magician. I’m into black magic.

Those sigils represent different spells: one is for auspiciousness, one for money, one for romance, and one is for fame—and look we are just about to be famous!
They do work. Just like the Eye of Ra and Horus, I have three of them on my body. They are also amulets for war: the legend says that when Horus lost his eye, his father created this amulet for him, to protect him when he went into battle. I used to be in a lot of fights when I was younger, and I started getting all kinds of symbols tattooed on me for protection—and they worked! There’s one for the protection of the body and one is for the spirit. I know they protected me in many ways, many times...I was in so many fights, even with professional fighters at times, and I always came out alive, good, at times winning—and look at me: I’m not the biggest motherfucker out there, but I don't back down.

Our symbol for Prayers is also an ancient sigil. We loved the idea! The P is for Prayers and the X for straight edge: I've been sober for 10 years, and that's very important for me. Dave has our sigil tattooed on the palm of his hand, done by Amer.

EVG: Any plans for a European tour?
LS: Yes, we are working on it! It’s actually being worked on by my lawyer: at the moment, I can't leave the US. It’s a little bit of a problem because of my gang affiliation. I've done some bad things and I've hurt people in the past—fights with the police, you know, stuff like that. I've never really done any criminal activity; I just get carried away sometimes with fights—maybe because I’m a small guy, so I don't know when to stop.
Nowadays, I’m not into gang activity anymore. I keep to myself, don't go out much, just think about our music. I still hang out with my homies from the neighborhood when I am home—they’re my family. I would die for them and they would die for me. You always have each other’s back. That's the cholo way. Support. Loyalty. Protection. Some people see being part of a gang like it's a bad thing, while in reality it has done nothing but good for me and my family. I’ve felt nothing but support and I am very grateful for them.

Just like my tattoos, I always loved to pick and mix different things in art, culture, and also in music. That's what me and Dave have been doing, experimenting, fusing things together—I have always done that. We are here to break stereotypes and to empower people through our music.

You can find Prayers on Instagram @prayers.