The Walter Delgado Story: Surviving Prison And Selling Soap

"Going to prison was probably the best thing that ever happened to me." Rotting Out frontman Walter Delgado gets real.

Bringing a shit-kicking brand of punk rock from the streets of Los Angeles, Rotting Out were more like a gang of riff-toting hoodlums than a band. Were, because they’ve since broken up, sadly. Borrowing from pioneers like Suicidal Tendencies, the hardcore crossover crew favoured speed, aggression and songs inspired by living life on the edges of society. This debut album is filled with suitably bone-breaking anthems, big on tough guy posturing and beatdowns, but when the music backs it up this boldly, it can’t be messed with.

The name Walter Delgado might not mean anything to you. Maybe you’ve heard of the hardcore band he sings in, Rotting Out, maybe not. You might have even heard of the headlines of his recent past – like the one about the straight edge dude who went to prison on a drugs trafficking charge? Well, he’s out now, after serving 18 months of his sentence and putting the mistakes of his past behind him. It’s been a hell of a couple of years for the Los Angeles native, and after getting super jealous of everyone who saw Rotting Out’s comeback show at Sound And Fury Fest earlier this summer we figured it was worth checking in and catching up. There is a lot of ground to cover, so be warned this goes long, but you wouldn’t have clicked on it if you weren’t interested. Time for less of our babble and more from Walter…

Let’s talk about your new band DRK BLU first. What’s the story?

DRK BLU is a handful of my friends – dudes I’ve known for years now. We wanted it to be a very straightforward hardcore band. When I got out [of prison], I realised there had been this big rebirth and renaissance of the metalcore thing that was going on in the early 2000s, which is cool and respect to the kids for being into something and building on it, starting bands and what not. Me personally? I wasn’t a big fan of it then and I’m not a big fan of it now. But that doesn’t mean you don’t pay dues where people have worked their asses off: bands like Vein and Knocked Loose and all these more metal-influenced bands. It’s like, yo I respect them and I support them and all that – it’s just not my type of thing. I grew up on Cro-Mags and Black Flag and Suicidal and Bad Brains. When I was into hardcore I was into stuff that was a lot more straightforward and traditionally rooted. So I was like, ‘Yo, let’s cut the fat and play hardcore for what it is’ and I’m a big fan of a lot of Boston hardcore like, The Rival Mob, No Tolerance, SSD, Stop And Think – they were a big deal to me. So I wanted to reflect on that.

Is it basically an excuse to hang out with old friends more than anything?

Yeah, it’s not like a crazy-serious band. It was something to put out there for our own pleasure and for the sake of if some kid is getting into hardcore and is being bombarded by this metalcore type stuff and for some reason isn’t really feeling that, then there’s this other thing that’s off to the side of that yet still a hardcore band, if not more so.

Rotting Out’s comeback show at Sound And Fury looked pretty intense. How was it for you?

Sound And Fury was a surprise to me. I had to kind of get convinced to play it, because I wasn’t sure. And then when they said we were headlining, I was so sceptical, like, ‘No way should we be headlining.’ I just didn’t think it would be good. I just didn’t see what other people were seeing. I couldn’t swallow that and I had trouble believing it. I was like, ‘No-one’s gonna give a fuck, it’s been two years,’ but some of my closest friends were like, ‘It’s gonna be good, do it and you’ll see’ so I was like, ‘Alright, but if it’s not, I fucking told you so.’ So we practised and it was so refreshing to be in a band again and not be agitated about playing in it anymore.

Was that how it felt when things came to a head with Rotting Out first time around?

It ended on a kind of sour note two and a half years ago. There was a lot of resentment, and not necessarily hostility, but kind of like, a bad taste. All of a sudden I was going to a Rotting Out rehearsal and I was excited just to hear those songs. I didn’t even care if we were playing a show, I was just excited to play these songs. Then it’s announced, ‘Rotting Out are playing Sound And Fury’ and I’m getting all these messages from kids who have never seen us before. Kids who were looking forward to seeing us on Warped Tour that year in 2015 that didn’t get the opportunity to. I guess there were a lot of people that were looking forward to seeing us and then we just disappeared. But I never wrote songs to connect with people, or to tell them how to live or what to do, what’s right or what’s wrong. I just told stories about what had happened to me, that I had to get out of me. If that resonated with somebody then that’s great, but I wasn’t trying to be some frontman. That’s just weird to me. Even though I sang for a band, I wasn’t trying to be somebody’s role model or idol, because I’m the last thing like that. But I was getting all these mails from these kids telling me their stories and that weighed heavy on me. Like, ‘Man, what if they see Rotting Out and it’s not what they imagined it to be?’ or ‘What if they have this huge expectation of what Rotting Out and hardcore is and they don’t get it?’

So I wasn’t necessarily anxious or stressed out, but I just never saw this coming. I never saw Rotting Out like that. It made me nervous, but excited at the same time. I knew that if I was one of those kids seeing a band coming back for the first time I would hope that the band would give everything and leave every ounce of themselves on that stage, and I knew I was not going to do anything short of my best that night. And I was blown away by the reaction. And I didn’t even see it until the day after the show. When you’re playing a show and you’re up there and you see those 15 or 20 kids right in your face singing along, you kinda just focus on what’s right in front of you. And then I see a video of the whole place and I’m like, ‘What the fuck was that?!’ because I didn’t see that, I didn’t recognise that. I didn’t know that for some reason Rotting Out has that sway over people, or can get people to just let go that crazily with no safety or concern for self-preservation; jumping off shit or jumping on me. I fucked up my knee the last 20 seconds and because of that we had to drop off This Is Hardcore. I’ve got this knee injury right now, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything because that whole set for me was a privilege. It was a privilege to even have kids listen, let alone come back for another round.

Rotting Out, Sound And Fury 2018 (ThatKidProductions60)

It’s weird you had no idea, because from the outside looking in it felt like on the Reckoning EP something clicked, but just a couple of weeks later you announced the band broke up.

Yeah, well, ultimately what led to Rotting Out breaking up was me. I was the one who walked away from the band, in the middle of March of 2015 in the middle of tour. We had played some show in Texas and I told my guitar player Carlos [Morales], ‘Look, this is it, I’m going home after this. I’m tired, it feels like a job and I don’t want to do this anymore.’ He… not necessarily agreed with me, but he felt similar. He was tired too and didn’t want to go on tour. It was so many things at once. There were internal issues with the band. There was my personal relationship, which was literally trash – just so much going on there. My friends were dying that year – I had two back-to-back deaths, and I didn’t really understand what people wanted from Rotting Out. And I think I was giving too much of myself that I didn’t really have time to do the self-care to keep myself mentally stable. And then I ran away basically. I couldn’t do it anymore, so I just left.

So, you were basically overwhelmed in the moment…

Oh, absolutely. And then when you’re not in your right mind you start making poor decisions, you start being erratic and you kind of transform into something not necessarily so pleasant, someone different and maybe not really healthy. That was 2015, and then they convinced me to do one last show that December at the toy drive. Because I didn’t want nothing to do with money, I told my band, ‘Yo, we’re not getting paid for this, I don’t want anything. This is for kids, fuck money let’s play’ and then I… disappeared for a while [laughs].

We’ll get to that, but do you regret the split now? Would it have been better in hindsight just to have put Rotting Out on hold while you gathered yourself and caught a breather instead?

It would have been better to put things on hold, but honestly I don’t regret everything that happened. I’m in a place now where like, yo, we’re a very unapologetic band and I know that, so whether kids are like, ‘Well, they broke up, they’re doing this for money’ I don’t care. We’re just doing what we want. I don’t care and never have for the opinions of people on the internet. It doesn’t affect my day. And you know, I had that conflict when we were first asked to play that show. Like, ‘We already broke up, why are you asking us?’ and I had to sit and think about it thoroughly. When I did I realised that everything had just built up to the point where I ran away when I could have just asked for a break. I’m very dramatic sometimes. I could have just asked for a break, like, ‘Give me a year, or two if I need it’ but we did what we did. I kinda explained this onstage, but being in a band was like being in a van with your friends. I had figured that the van had broke down, it was done for, so I got out and I left and I walked and I walked and I walked. Almost two years in I come across a gas station and I think to myself, ‘What if all we needed was just a little bit more gas?’ ‘What if we just needed to stop and refuel? What if that’s all it was? Do I go back or do I just keep walking?’ and I decided to go back.

But a lot has happened in those two and a half years in my life that has given me enough fuel for Rotting Out to keep moving and keep playing. So I went with my gut and just went for it, like, ‘Let’s go. I know how to do this and I love doing this, but I’m not going to do it on other people’s terms anymore. I’m not going to tour how anyone expects us to tour. I’m not going to play where anyone wants us to play unless we want to do it. There’s a lot of politics in music and that’s cool. Some people compromise because they want their band to be in a certain position and that’s okay. Their band is not ours. We don’t really care. We’re a bunch of kids from the fucking ghettos of Los Angeles. That is not really what we aimed to be when we started a hardcore punk band. It kind of loses its flavour when people start to romanticise this weird rockstar lifestyle that I just never cared for. I see some hardcore bands that grew out of playing certain shows and festivals and more power to them, man. If you can get your message out there to the masses that’s fucking cool, but hardcore was never really about catering to the masses from the beginning. That’s not really what it was about. It was about a collective of individuals who just really didn’t have a place to fit and you open that door up and you’re gonna get a lot of people sharing their opinions of what this should and shouldn’t be, instead of just appreciating it for what it is.

Rotting Out loves hardcore for exactly what it is: the kids, the band, the stage, a garage, I don’t care, it’s just about that energy, those 30 minutes. Like, ‘Yo, fuck everything in my life right now, fuck everything else outside these walls, fuck everything in my family, fuck school, fuck work, fuck all that – I just need this. Give me a minute to breathe here with this band and these people, even if I don’t like any of these people.’ There’s people I go to shows with I don’t give a fuck about; I don’t like them, I don’t like where they come from or who they are, but I know that at least here, none of that shit matters. I know some people go to shows to meet people and find friendship or acceptance. Me personally, I didn’t care for that. I wanted to go to shows so that I could fucking scream, because I knew that if I screamed at home my old man would beat the fuck out of me. So I came here to scream with a bunch of kids that felt similar to me, and that was enough for me. That was all I ever needed as a kid. That’s what made me start a band and do this. I didn’t fucking care about MTV, or doing interviews like this. If it came it came, if it didn’t that’s cool. I don’t deserve any of it, I’m not entitled to any of it, and as long as I’m enjoying what I’m doing when I’m doing it, that’s really it, man.

Completely fair. Now that you’ve refuelled the tank, to use your analogy, where does that leave you? Do you write new music, book more shows or take things as they come without making any commitments?

Right now, first of all, health is most important to me. I need to make sure my knee is 100 per cent so I can work a job and live a normal life outside of my band. But yeah, we’re gonna book shows and we wanna write a record. We’ve talked about it. We spoke about writing a Rotting Out record before we even played a show. We didn’t care about playing shows, we were just like, ‘Yo, let’s write music’ because writing music is fun to us. So it’s like, ‘Let’s write a cool record’ and coincidentally – I don’t know if that seeped through the cracks and someone heard about it – then they came at us like, ‘Hey, you wanna play Sound And Fury?’ so I figure somebody couldn’t contain that information for themselves. Which is fine. I want to write a record. There’s a lot of things I need to talk about and there’s a lot my band wants to write, so everyone’s on terms about that. When it’ll come out? No fucking clue, man. I have no idea when that’ll come out. When we’re happy with it, I suppose. That’s the only answer I can give.

So no deadlines, then…

Absolutely. When people put restrictions on what you’re trying to just enjoy there’s that pressure, and then you kind of like force certain pieces in instead of being patient with it. And then it doesn’t come out exactly how it would have. I don’t need to do that.

How’s your knee doing? How long does that put you out of action?

I have no meniscus and no ACL in my left knee and there has been cartilage damage and there’s definitely arthritis in there. But this was from before Sound And Fury. This is from the last, damn, 18 years. Originally I tore my meniscus when I was 14 and then I tore my ACL in prison last year. Then I got cartilage damage from that, so when it gets aggravated it swells up real bad. They need to do arthroscopic surgery, which is really like a clean-up job, nothing reconstructive. So the delay and the recovery time isn’t bad at all, it’s probably like a few weeks or maybe a month. I just need to be careful because I do powerlift.

That’s going to impact on your ability to train then…

Yeah, it does. I’m actually waiting on the government to seal my record so that I can go to school for massage and sports therapy this fall. So that’s the only little strain I’ve had since I’ve come out of prison, but I have to wait a year from my release for them to put a blanket over my record so that only government officials can see it. And then I can apply to this school I want to go to. It’s dumb, but the school is a good school and they don’t want that reputation on their hands, which I can understand from a business perspective. It just pushes me back four or five months, which is not ideal, but I knew issues would arise after everything that happened so I’m not too upset or disappointed. I accept that it’ll just take a little longer. It is what it is. I can just patiently ride it out.

What’s the goal post-study? What does that lead to?

Oh, I love sports and massage therapy a lot. I’m a big fan of all types of recovery; whether it’s grafting, A.R.T.(active release techniques) or soft tissue therapy. I’m a nerd about all that shit. It all started from all the injuries I’ve had over the years from powerlifting. It caught my eye and attention and I’ve never got tired of learning about it. When I was in prison I was doing my pre-work on all that, studying anatomy and tissue to get warmed up for it. I could have done a personal training thing, but I don’t really like it. I’ve done that and it’s not for me, because you’ve gotta keep somebody interested and I just don’t have the patience for that – I’m not a babysitter. But if it comes to helping somebody to get back on their feet, to train or run or walk, then I like that stuff. I like giving that physical attention to helping repair people.

Away from all of that, you make soap now too, right?

Yeah. Well, that’s my girlfriend. She was helping me because I have psoriasis and it fucking sucks in the summer because it dries up real bad. So she made a soap for my back. And I was like, ‘Hey, you make soap?’ And of course me being the hustler that I am I was like, ‘Why don’t you sell it?’ She’d never really thought about it because she didn’t have much of an internet following and well, I had a pretty decent platform, so I help her promote it and help her, because money’s money and you get it where you can get it, especially if it’s legal. And it opens the door for a potential full-blown business. It’s fun. I always think that people should just not stop being creative, despite what their everyday job is. It really helps nurture your mentality, anxiety and stress that builds up from all the other shit. And if you can make it a job? That’s even better.

Do you work a regular job, too?

I do stage production at a venue out here. We do lights, video walls, monitors, equipment, DJ stuff, fog machines, that kind of thing. Sometimes it’s cool, sometimes it’s very long.

And you’re really into art too. How do you find the time for everything?

Art is something I’ve rediscovered. I originally went to art school and I didn’t like people telling me what to draw and stuff, so I was like, ‘Fuck this’ and eventually dropped out to do Rotting Out full-time. But I’ve come back full circle. My girlfriend is a painter, but I’m nowhere near as good as her and she actually completed college. Where I grew up in LA we learned by tagging on the streets. I got arrested for that when I was age 12. The more methods of creativity you’ve got, be open to channelling it, whether that be music or drawing fucking squares all day.

So it’s just about getting into that that headspace and the freedom of expression?

Yeah, it’s an escape. It really is. I don’t care about going to bars or getting high and all that shit. It’s something that dials you into one thing and focuses you. Also, it’s a skill. It’s a win-win in all aspects.

Rotting Out, Born

You mentioned powerlifting earlier. Are you still planning on competing professionally or is that delayed now because of your knee?

Well, I was supposed to compete this coming December, but now that this injury has happened that might be on the backburner. But I think I’ll be bench-only now, which I don’t like, but I’ll take what I can get.

What’s the appeal of powerlifting?

What it taught me was patience. The first year I was lifting I got strong so fast. That’s what they call your virgin year, because that’s when you make the most progress. After that, things fucking slow down. Like, drastically. But if you’re consistent, the pounds add up and it’s been proven by a bunch of athletes. It taught me patience and it taught me solitude. I used to be very group-oriented when I first started. Then I realised I don’t like that. I realised I don’t like being around people when I powerlift. So now when I lift I like being on my own and that changed my focus. And you can carry that stuff over into your real life. Learning how to be okay by being by yourself, not needing people around is cool. Granted be appreciative when they are around, but being okay with being alone is important. It’s about that and patience. I’m not one to be stagnant, because I sat for too long and I really appreciate not having to anymore. Plus, I just like being strong. It’s a mental and physical hobby that I’ve enjoyed for the past six or seven years now.

One would imagine that it might have come in quite useful in prison, too…

I actually lost weight in there. Going in I was about 285lbs and by the time I got out I was 255lbs.

Because of the food?

Ugh. The food… the food was… edible. That was about it. Everything’s so watered down and the inmates make the food, so it’s not like we have gourmet chefs in there. The food was, uh… you adjust. You become okay with eating whatever’s given to you and you learn to scavenge whatever else you can. What they serve you eat and you go about the rest of your day really.

How much of the prison experience is as it’s portrayed in pop culture?

It all depends on the prison you’re in. I was lucky, because the amount of violence in the prison I was in isn’t as bad as the prisons in California or Texas. The more population, the more gang activity you get, so I was lucky it wasn’t as much where I was. It was a little bit easier for me to keep my head low and stay focused. As for the movies? A lot of those things are based off real life, man. You see things and you just gotta act like it’s none of your business and keep walking, because chances are it ain’t fucking none of your business. And if you open your mouth it becomes your business and that’s just more stress on something already stressful. So you learn. If you come from a pretty ghetto and slummy environment, it’s pretty basic for the most part. Be respectful, but things happen and you fight when you have to fight and just hope that it doesn’t escalate to more than fists. You maintain your hygiene, and you don’t ask for favours or handouts, because you don’t want to owe anyone for anything. That’s not a position you want to be in. And just do your best. Keep yourself out of other people’s business.

What was your first day like? Do you remember how you felt going in?

Oh yeah, there was a huge feeling of guilt on my part, because of what it was doing to my family and just like, having a talk with myself like, ‘What the fuck did you do, man? How fucking embarrassed are you. This is it now. You thought you could, and all of a sudden you couldn’t, and we’re here now, in this fucking box.’ The fear wasn’t that bad, I suppose. I did my best to take it one day at a time. It was mostly that guilt and shame eating away at me. Then I was handed papers for deportation back to Mexico. That’s when the shit really started to get to me. Not only was I doing my time for a crime I committed, I also have to fight this other case against me, at the same time not appearing to be weak or someone might think they can take advantage of me.

It’s a balancing game. It’s like being on a tightrope. You’ve gotta make sure you make all the right moves, because on one side people will bring trouble to you, but on the other side you bring trouble to you without necessarily intending to. It was weird, but as fucked up as it sounds, you get used to it. That’s where that whole institutional mentality comes from. You learn to get away with little things, or how to stay out of certain people’s business and you learn to not open your mouth at all when correctional officers are beating down on you. It’s this whole little world where the only thing that matters is respect and disrespect. Some of those dudes, that’s all they got. Some of those dudes, they ain’t going home. I couldn’t really talk like, ‘Man, I can’t wait for next year, I’m gonna be fucking this bitch, drinking this and eating mad shit’ when the person next to you has been down for 15 years already and isn’t going home. This is their home. So you gotta watch what you say, even outta like, your own genuine excitement.

Did you have coping mechanisms for getting through it day by day?

I would read a lot and study. I even did myself a big favour and went and got some psychiatric help. I took a program called Cognitive Behavioural Thinking, which also came with talking to a therapist, which helps you dwell on thinking patterns and basically spilling your guts out. Because of my crime, this was a drug program that was really catering for people with drug problems. It was honestly a blessing in disguise. Because being a child from a drug house – my stepfather being a heroin addict and a crack addict – there was a lot of child abuse and domestic abuse growing up, and it kinda opened this weird, perspective into seeing what he was dealing with internally. There were all these grown men, breaking down and crying because of drug abuse and addiction, the lives that they’d led and the people that they’d hurt. There’s a lot of guilt and a lot of hurt and remorse. And I’m seeing this and I grew up thinking drug addicts are all bad and all trash and a waste of life, and then I’m in there and I’m looking at this like, ‘Holy shit, these people suffer from a disease of addiction’ and it’s led them here.

Like, there was one person talking about how they shot somebody just to get a lick and now they’re doing fucking life. There was another one who was prostituting their child just so that they could get high. The depths go way way low. It wakes you up. You start to appreciate the little things you have. You even start to appreciate yourself more, like, ‘I’m glad I don’t have the tendency to do those things. How do I keep myself from falling into a similar position?’ and we’re all spilling our guts out to a fucking therapist talking about the abuse from childhood and how that stems into our cognitive thinking and all this and all that. Three months of literally crying to a total stranger just because they have a degree to listen to you. It’s all with purpose. Literally, going to prison was probably the best thing that ever happened to me, on a self-care, mental, like, standpoint. I’m okay with so much of myself. It took me 30 years to actually learn to love myself. Like, that’s bad, but the fucked up thing is it’s more common than not.

There’s so many people out there that I can recognise now; I don’t bring it up, but I can see little mannerisms and traits, or the way they speak about themselves or the people they care about, or a look in their eye that seems very desperate or disappointed or ashamed. That’s the same look I had. I want to say something but I can’t because it’s none of your business, and it can come off as condescending. The last thing you want when you don’t feel good about yourself is for somebody to speak to you that way. It’s very off-putting.

Presumably this new perspective will feed back into your art, whether that be through music or some other outlet?

Oh absolutely, it comes full circle. But that was the best thing I did in prison. I kept myself under wraps and kind of out of sight most of the time. I benefitted from it greatly.

Did it make you appreciate what you did have rather than focus on what you didn’t?

Yeah, and I think being in a band, just being bombarded by life, the last thing I did was appreciate the things I did have. Or nourish the right relationships, or give myself the time in the day to breathe and relax and reflect. It sucks that it came to a very inconvenient place that I had to learn that to enjoy myself. That’s all you can do when you’re in a place like that. You have to learn to be okay with being alone, you have to learn to take care of yourself and doing what you can with what you have. The second you start to feel entitled about shit, you start to let yourself down, like, ‘Oh they owe me this, how come I don’t get that?’ when in reality, what if you don’t deserve these things? How about you just appreciate the people who do call you? The 15 minutes you have on the phone to call your mom, your best friend or your girlfriend. Fifteen minutes might not seem like much to some people, but to me, man that was everything; to just talk to my mom and see how her day was. I started to listen more and not wait for my chance to speak.

On a practical level, does your criminal record now mean you won’t be able to travel as freely?

Yeah, I don’t think I’m gonna be allowed into the UK, for example. At least not for a few years. I don’t know when I can get it expunged, but I think I’m allowed in Europe. I’ve always loved playing the UK, so it’s kind of a bummer – I’ll miss playing Leeds, I’ll miss Manchester and being up in Scotland.

Bigger picture though, things sound better for you now…

Absolutely, man. I’m a college dropout from a small town in Los Angeles and I grew up in the projects. What the fuck was I doing playing festivals in the UK to 300 kids?! Like, where the fuck did all that come from? Who am I? But those opportunities and those experiences were given to me and I’m very grateful for them. That perspective changes everything. It takes so much off my back. I’ve already done more in my lifetime than 90 per cent of the people I went to high school did. Yeah, they might have a cool job now and a family, but I’ve been to so many countries and seen so much. Most people don’t ever get to live like I have.

Words: David McLaughlin
Jonathan Erik Turner

Check out What It Is, the debut EP by Walter Delgado's DRK BLU, on the stream below.

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