Musician Danny Torres hails from New York and Latin music royalty. But he had family in the South Sound — uncles who retired here. And he’d been coming out west for visits ever since he was a kid. So it made sense that he would eventually put down roots in Tacoma, where for the past two decades he’s been playing hip-hop, R&B and reggae with various bands.
He spoke recently about what has influenced his drumming, the Tacoma scene and what he’s working on next.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Something about this place kept pulling me back.
I love the weather and not only the weather, the people. Tacoma is like this village for the arts and liberalism.
How did you first get into drumming?
I started at Harlem School of the Arts when I was about 5 years old. I had a teacher, Miss April, who took me on a tour of the school. They had a snare program that I joined. It was where you only have a pad and some sticks and you had to learn to read and learn your rudiments before you could even think about touching the snare drum. I then graduated to another program that was very much Afro-Cuban. Being Puerto Rican, we’re born with baseball and congas, so it was a great fit.
You come from a pretty prestigious family in Latin music.
My uncle Larry Spencer played with the Fania All-Stars and my aunt Nancy sang with Latin Fever and Larry Harlow. My uncle Dino goes all the way back to doo-wop with his group Dino and The Diplomats. Everybody in my family has talent. We all do something.
Twenty years in, what has the Tacoma music scene meant to you?
I've been around. I was talking to Danno (Rankin), and he said how it’s sort of crazy that I, someone who isn’t originally from Washington, have played in as many prestigious venues and with so many different acts from as many different genres as I have. It’s been fun.
From being a member of Doxology to playing with other artists like Clemm Rishad, Will Jordan and Nolan Garrett, I've watched the scene grow and seen the young guys come in and make their stamp. Tacoma is love. The creativity and passion for the arts is what makes Tacoma special.
You were a member of Doxology. Talk to me a little about that experience.
I think I still know the "Revolution" album inside and out. I know all the lyrics. I know all the stops. We got to do a lot of big shows. We did the AmsterJam Festival in New York. We shared a bill with Red Hot Chili Peppers, Snoop Dogg, Garbage, 311, Fat Joe. We shared the stage with Hoobastank. We got to record with Jorge Vivo from David Foster’s team. It was a great experience to go from doing a cafe in Seattle with two people in the audience to headlining a packed Showbox.
Talk a little bit about your experiences in live-band hip-hop. What were some of the highlights of that experience for you?
I’ve done a lot of cool hip-hop and R&B. I was able to be on the road with Clemm Rishad and Will Jordan. I have a ton of different badges and got to chop it up with Nipsey Hussle, who complimented my drumming, and got to connect with Snoop Dogg and Kurupt. Even though I grew up in the Latin jazz/salsa realm, hip-hop is part of my life. I'm from Harlem.
What has this island-reggae transition been like for you?
Law Fetui, the lead singer of Stay Grounded, is someone I knew from Jazzbones and from the music scene in general. He was a Doxology fan, so when the group ended up breaking up he had asked me if I've ever done reggae and I said “Well, you know, I grew up with reggae." Definitely Puerto Rican, there's a big reggae influence in our blood and on our island.
What has it been like being, in a lot of ways, the sole Latino representative in the spaces that you're in?
I'm very proud to be a Latino. I'm very proud to be Puerto Rican. But I grew up in Harlem, so I'm just as proud to be a New Yorker and be somebody from Harlem. At the end of the day, it's good to represent and remember where you come from, but it’s also just as important for all shades, all colors, all different types of people to work together. We do what we do, and we’re all people. But as far as representing for Latinos, it’s an honor and a pleasure.
What’s coming up that people should know about?
Stay Grounded just released our new single called “Serenade.” We’ve been working on a new project ever since COVID hit. We've actually been able to write about six new songs. So we're looking to release another in January, maybe February and then kind of release singles every month until we know what will happen with shows and festivals. Our Stay Grounded merchandise is available online. And I'm seriously considering doing a solo project next year.
This story is part of the Artists Among Us series of profiles highlighting creatives around the region who are Black, Indigenous and People of Color. Darryl Crews is a Tacoma writer, director and producer and the creative behind "Being.Doing.Knowing," an exploration of Blackness in Tacoma.