Danny Reyes of My Darling Fury is No Blot in the Margin
It’s cold as hell outside and I’ve just gotten to Lamplighter Roasting Company. I’m meeting with Danny Reyes. He’s in his mid 20′s and has a dark beard and a matching short mop of black hair. His smile cuts through the beard. He’s cold too, but he’s willing to sit through the frosty weather with a warm cup of coffee in his hands.
(Click the play button below to listen while you read)
Reyes is the lead singer of the local band My Darling Fury. He and his bandmates have made waves around town for the last few weeks, if not longer. They finally released their first album, Licking Wounds, last week. The album is about love, isolation, being yourself, and, at times, about the interactions Reyes has had as a gay man.
Reyes grew up in Miami, Florida. Both of his parents came to America as part of the 1980 Mariel Boatlift, an event immortalized by the movie Scarface. Almost 130,000 Cubans fled their home in search of a better life in the States, and Reyes’s parents were part of the mass immigration. A Baptist minister, Reyes’s father found a congregation and began working in Miami. It wasn’t long before Reyes was born, a first generation American, and it was even less time before he got his first chance to sing.
By the age of four the young Reyes was on stage as part of church productions. ”It’s church; they do that to kids, make them stand up and sing.” But Reyes says he’s never been shy – and the church kept his vocal chords busy. By the time he was in 5th grade, he was already singing solos for the choir. He kept singing through high school. From there he knew that singing was his passion, and something he wanted to do the rest of his life.
Voice and piano lessons were a large part of Reyes’s upbringing, and of course the church choir. He would conduct the “group of old ladies” by the time he was 15, helping to translate religious songs, and even getting the chance to write some of his own.
“I’d chunk along on the piano, and someone would help along the way. I’m good at making harmonies, so people were willing to work with me,” says Reyes. “It was cool, being 15 and being able to queer out about the costumes…” How could a young Cuban-American gay boy not jump at the chance to talk about sequins in a church choir?
By 15 Reyes knew he was gay, but he had been questioning his sexuality for some time before. He remembered sitting down at the school lunch table and his friends were talking about being bisexual. “I tried to throw a red herring and said, ‘Oh, whats that?!’” says Reyes jokingly.
He had a girlfriend and they would make out and hold hands, but Reyes never really had a sexual attraction to women. By the time he’d hit puberty, his attraction to men was fairly solidified, even if he tried otherwise. “It was something I struggled with… I prayed about it. But by 15 I knew.”
When he came to this realization, Reyes knew his parents would take it well, or as well as anyone can hope. His father had a degree in psychology, and he’d heard him discuss the sexuality of one of his piano teachers, speaking about it in an accepting way. “I knew it was a safe-zone, it wasn’t going to be adversarial.”
Of course, coming out to your parents is rarely easy. Reyes and his mother had spats, but considering their heritage, both culturally and religiously, Reyes understood where they were coming from.
“You do what you know… not to justify modern homophobia, but my parents didn’t know any better,” says Reyes. “Aside from having a very religious background, the truth is, it [the Bible] says what it says, and if you believe in the word of God, what can you do?”
But the waves made by his sexuality were eventually smoothed over, and throughout young adulthood Reyes succeeded as a vocalist. He entered a magnet high school in Miami for arts and performance. There he honed his skills, though he admitted he’d never been a great student.
When Reyes was ready to head off to college, family and financial issues hampered his future. He had hoped to attend a vocal school in Boston, but his grandmother asked him to stay close to home, and he ended up with a full scholarship to a Florida International University. It was a kind of win-win – staying with his family and getting his college paid for. But, in the end, higher education would not pan out for the aspiring vocalist.
“I was always a bad student… With the music scholarship, I didn’t have to get certain grades… but I was more interested in the band I was in.” Reyes spent two years at FSU Miami before making the jump to RVA; with the promise of new musical opportunities, he said the choice was easy.
Reyes has been in Richmond for about five years. He’s first local band, Gills with Wings, failed to reach the success he had hoped for – but even he admits success in the music industry is a challenge. ”I know it’s unlikely, it’s not a lot of people who get to make a living making music.”
But with My Darling Fury, Reyes believes him and his bandmates are taking things in a more professional direction. “We take the business aspect of this band very seriously… we’re playing the game more this time around.”
Being a talented LGBT performer, it’s easy to pigeonhole yourself into a kind of niche. Striking a balance between becoming “another gay singer” and a performer praised for their talent can be hard, but Reyes and My Darling Fury have done this pretty well.
Licking Wounds was released last week, but the album’s leading track, “Blots in the Margins,” has made the internet rounds and has more than one catchy riff. Recently, Reyes has even performed the song along side Dogtown Dance Theater’s Sketches performance, among a number of other public performances.
Annielille Gavino Kollman & Danny Reyes in Immigraphobia via Candace Morgan
But all this mixing of venues and outlets doesn’t mean Reyes has kept his sexuality separate from his performance, or been afraid to utilize it as a part of his appeal.
“You can’t really separate being gay from who you are,” says Reyes, who remembered advice he got from a vocal coach some years go. “You can’t separate the singing from the performance, and you can’t separate the sexuality from the performer.”
He is the only gay member of My Darling Fury; some of the other members are even married with children. But the band has given him the freedom to write about issues he personally has faced. Topics for songs range from grade school bullying (“Schoolyard Warrior”) to falling for a straight man (“In the Ring”).
“There’s no one song that encapsulates my, ya know, ‘gayness’ or anything,” says Reyes, “but that’s the whole point. It’s integrated… With the music, thematically, it comes up a lot, even in superficial terms.”
“If a guy breaks my heart, I want to sit down and write a song… or after my grandmother died. You want to write a song because it helps get the emotions out. It’s easier, and more of what I’m inclined to do.”
These powerful emotions often ring out clearly in My Darling Fury songs, but in a subtle way, making them relatable to a broader audience. Another song, “Frail Thing,” is about a relationship he had with a man who had just broken up with a woman. ”You know, it’s calling him names, and it’s a little childish, but it’s how I felt at the time.”
While some of us may not have had quite the same experience, we’ve all treated failed relationships in ways we were later not proud of.
This is what really attracted me to My Darling Fury in the first place. Reyes approached GayRVA some time ago with the album, and I instantly recognized it for what it was – the work of a gay songwriter who wasn’t focusing their artistic effort in an exploitive way.
Reyes and My Darling Fury are writing songs that happen to be about being gay.
“I think I bring a regular gay man’s point of view to the music.” Reyes admits there are feminine qualities to some of his lyrics, but his songs aren’t part of the mainstream gay dance music scene rooted in partying or applause – it’s about an honest look at his life, a gay man living in a straight world.
It also doesn’t hurt that Reyes sings like Andrew Bird, and the rest of My Darling Fury are incredibly talented musicians who’s songs are both modern and creative.
The folks at Virginia Pride kicked off their Pride season over the weekend with an event at Hardywood Park Craft Brewery. Performances included My Darling Fury, Trunk Show Band and Toxic Moxie. We were also on site trying to get folks in the Pride spirit by asking them a simple question – “What does Pride mean [...]June 28, 2016
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