Inner Wave is a Band of Best Friends With an Always Evolving Indie Rock Sound

The LA based band of young Latinos are making great music and providing some much-needed diversity in the indie rock world.

inner wave

Photo by Justin Brooks

inner wave

The Swamp is what Inner Wave calls their recording studio, inspired by how hot suburban Los Angeles summers get. A converted garage in Inglewood, it’s heaven for any kid with rock star dreams—the reddish walls are lined with band posters (including their own), a disco ball chills in the corner, a desktop houses a basic recording set-up, instruments are organized around the room, and the only seating areas are equipment cases. Here, at lead singer Pablo Sotelo’s parents' house, is where they’ve been making music for over 10 years. 

Hanging out with them, it’s clear that their friendship has grown into true brotherhood. They started jamming at 13—they’re 24 now—and almost nothing has changed. Well, except for the fact that the indie psychedelic rock band, made up of Pablo Sotelo (guitar/vox), Jean Pierre Narvaez (bass/vox), Chris Runners (keys/vox), Elijah Trujillo (guitar/keys), and Luis Portillo (drums), are gearing up for a multi-continent tour while they prep their next EP called wya coming May 22. In fact, today, they're dropping their first single off the project, "Why'd You Have To Act Like That Though."

It’s almost surreal to witness their come-up in real time, as they make plans for their upcoming shows. They’re the hometown homies; after all, Pablo’s dad opened the door for the interview and his dog Bowie, a sweet German shepherd/husky mix is roaming in and out of the garage. But three albums deep, it’s about time these born and bred LA natives—from Gardena, Carson, Torrance, Inglewood, South Central, respectively—finally left home.

So you started off as Christian rock band. Who was in that and then how did that morph?

Jean: The power of God. [Laughs]

Pablo: The hand of God just came through. Stupid stuff. It was Eli, myself, Jean, our original drummer Alex was in it. It was just us four. But yeah, just to reinstate that timeline, it didn’t start that way. What were we listening to? Obviously like—

Eli: Arctic Monkeys.

Pablo: And the Strokes, early 2000s shit. But also I was listening to anything that was in the Tony Hawk skating game--Senses Fail, Thrice—then it just morphed out of that. I feel like I was the one who was mainly into Jesus and writing the lyrics. Then I started to pull away and [the rest of the band] already had been pulled away on their own.

Were you guys just stoked by the idea of being in a band?

Pablo: Yeah, that’s what we did, and we used to skate together. I was the worst at it though. But music was just another thing that we did together, so it evolved as we grew up. We were always in the moment. Whatever we were into is what it was gonna be.

How did you guys all learn to play your instruments?

Jean: Eli taught me how to play keys when I joined the band, and I taught myself through YouTube. Pablo taught me how to play bass—he had already learned or started to learn guitar back in 2005, 2006. He showed me his guitar one time, like oh my gosh, so hot.

Pablo:[Laughs] That’s how it went down. I’d been playing guitar, and again, hanging out at the church. The thing I gravitated to was the music, so I started playing drums there when I was nine I think. Then guitar later on, then bass. A little bit of keys.

Chris:[Pablo] called me keys but I played drums in middle school and high school and I played sax a little bit in middle school. I was non-musical before then.

How did you guys evolve your sound?

Pablo: It took a long ass time. I remember the first time I listened back to something we made, there was a little lightbulb moment, but that was probably seven years into it I’d say. Before that, it was just like, be really into something and take pieces of it. It was so inconsistent. Some songs were influenced by Nirvana, some by The Doors. It was trial and error. If you do it enough, you get into the habit of doing things you like and the things you like become traits of your sound. Here we are, constantly trying to figure it out and not stay in a predictable box.

I never saw anyone that looked like us doing it. I feel like most indie rock bands are a bunch of white dudes, which is fine, but it’s hard to know you can do it if you don’t see yourself in it. - Pablo

How does your next EP differ from the past?

Eli: Definitely more upbeat and fun.

Pablo: The last album was an hour long and pretty dark. We wanted to do something lighter. At the beginning of making the songs for the EP, we were on tour with Triathalon and our drum kit got stolen with a U-Haul. My amp got stolen. When we got back, I didn’t have any drums to record on either, so I just started using a lot of drum samples that became the spark. It helped build the vibe.

Growing up together, how has your dynamic changed? How did you stay together all those years?

Pablo: Couples therapy. [Laughs]

Eli: Patience, understanding, and acceptance. 

Did any of you guys ever consider doing anything else? 

Chris: I got a certificate for medical billing. It sucks, but I did that before I joined the band. I met them through an old childhood friend at someone’s debut [see: traditional Filipino cotillion], but that was two years before I was official. I was doing cover stuff for them and just being a groupie. The first thing I ever played with them, I played tambourine. 

Pablo: We went through a few lineup changes in a few months. Just feeling it out.

Chris: Eventually [Jean] took me on a date and we went to The Observatory. We watched a little laser show. He was driving down and then he was like, “Hey man, you wanna join the band? I think you got what it takes.” [Laughs] Then we had a week I think until our first show.

Eli: I was gonna grow up to be a baseball player. Naturally, I was playing baseball after school instead of the band, so I left. Then I started going to college at Cal State Long Beach, where I was gonna be a geologist, studying rocks. A different kinda rock than this. [Laughs


How much has growing up in LA influenced your sound? 

Jean: I think we make driving music. 

Pablo: Always listening in the car. 

Jean: Early on, when we first started recording stuff, we would record and then get high in the car and listen to the mixes. I just remember all the hot boxes. That’s when we would experience new music at the same time together. 

Did you guys have any idols?

Pablo: I always look at bands that have been around for a long time but consistently put out stuff and have a solid fan base—Gorillaz, Queens of the Stone Age. Bands that have longevity and don’t compromise quality.

Jean: Like we don’t drop something because we need to or whatever.

You guys have the longevity down but how do you, with each new project, want to level up?

Pablo: That’s a hard question for me. There’s immediate things we wanna do, then there’s the big picture, but there’s no clear direct path to that. 

Chris: One thing that helped a lot this year is that we finally have a team around us. That’s changed up a lot of things and opened up a lot more opportunities that we didn’t have before. As a band, we’ve been so self-sufficient—book our own shows and take ourselves on tour—so it takes the pressure off to have help. It’s a different pressure now—you make music and, depending on how that’s received, that determines how your career is gonna go. 

Do you guys have any day jobs outside this, or side hustles, or is this your main focus?

Pablo: Pretty much my main focus now.

Chris: I quit my job working at a shoe store in Beverly Hills, putting shoes on old women’s feet. 

Luis: My dad owns a Los Chilaquiles Mexican Grill in Torrance. I’m heir to that. 

Eli: I do handyman work on the side, for fun and to help people out.

Jean: Eli and I have painted houses together. I’ve had a number of weird ass jobs. I was a coroner once. It was really weird. And I was an Uber driver for two years. Pablo, too.

What’s your creative process? How do you guys come together to work?

Chris: Pablo’s the musical director. He’ll either write a whole song by himself or he’ll write a song with one or two of us, then all of us will jam. All the ideas filter through Pablo so that everything’s cohesive. He also writes all the lyrics.

Pablo: There’s a factor of trust. We all have our own tastes and so when it comes down to it, whatever molds us as a group ultimately decides it. 

Are your families all supportive of this band?

Pablo: For sure, now. [Laughs] My family’s always super supportive. You just met my dad. He helped us make The Swamp. He bought me a good amp when I was younger. He’s always about, "If you’re gonna do it, do it for real." My mom was very supportive but also more on kind of the realistic side. I’m first generation here, so my parents weren’t used the idea of coming here just to have a kid getting into entertainment. They’re so not used to that world—to them, it can just seem like you’re gonna be broke the rest of your life. They wanted me to do the lawyer thing.

I’m first generation here, so my parents weren’t used the idea of coming here just to have a kid getting into entertainment. They wanted me to do the lawyer thing - Pablo

What generation are the rest of you?

Chris: I’m second generation. Grandparents came from the Philippines and then my grandparents from my dad’s side came from Mexico. Even now though, my grandma does not understand my job. She came to a show for the first time and she was like, “So how much are y’all selling tickets for? How much y’all selling shirts for?” She’s still concerned about that shit. But my parents are super supportive. 

Jean: I was born in Colombia and raised here. Am I first generation technically? I moved here when I was three with my mom. My dad lives in Colombia. 

Eli: I’m like fourth. My family’s been here a minute. 

Do you feel any pressure or obligation to represent the Latinx community?

Pablo: I wouldn’t say pressure. I think it’s cool that we’re able to do what we’re doing and I think it can potentially open up doors for more people. I remember talking to a friend and just telling them that I always wanted to do this but I really doubted it because I never saw anyone that looked like us doing it. I feel like most indie rock bands are a bunch of white dudes, which is fine, but it’s hard to know you can do it if you don’t see yourself in it. But things are changing a lot. Even in film. It feels good to feel like we’re on the—

Chris: Cutting edge.

Inner Wave's new song "Why'd You Have To Act Like That Though" is out now. Look out for a new EP called 'wya' coming May 22. Listen to their last project 'Underwater +' below, and get tickets for the upcoming tour here.