Before they were churning out glossy ‘80s-inspired electro-pop as Reyna, Milwaukee sisters Vic Banuelos and Gab Banuelos, formerly known as the duo Vic and Gab, were on the indie-pop fast track as one of the city’s fastest-rising independent bands. In 2015, they decided that it was finally time to graduate from their signature Vic and Gab sound and, the following year, Reyna — a play on the Spanish word for queen — was born, ushering in a new (and poppier) era for the siblings under a regal name that “represented their culture, where they come from and, of course, powerful women.”
Reyna’s latest sparkling single, “Heartbeat,” does more than just capture the unbearable, universal pangs of heartache. Premiering exclusively on Billboard, the video is a colorful visual celebration of the sisters’ Mexican-American heritage. “We wanted to show more of our culture because there are a lot of people like us right here in the U.S. We wanted to say, ‘Hey, you’re not alone. We’re all going through this together,’” Vic shares, adding that they included everything from the Mexican sweet bread, or conchas, they “grew up eating with their grandparents” to a vibrant ofrenda, which is used to honor deceased loved ones during Dia de los Muertos.
Another one of Vic’s favorite moments from the clip? “Lucha libre is one of my favorite things from my childhood. My grandpa bought me [the silver and blue mask in the video] when we went to a match together in Mexico when I was maybe seven. I’ve had that mask for a long time.”
Below, Vic speaks to Billboard about performing for Obama, her emotional coming-out experience, and why music is political at its core.
Billboard: “Heartbeat” very much captures that overwhelming feeling of being head over heels for someone. Was there any single experience that directly inspired it?
Vic: We wanted to create a world that was delusional, like a sort of ‘I’ll do anything for you!’ rom-com vibe. It was inspired by a break Gab took with her boyfriend during a period of their relationship when they weren’t sure they were ready to commit to one another … The video is a fantasy world, but we wanted to show how hard it is to let go. Heartbreak is so f—ing hard and it hurts so bad. They should have medication for it.
Can you describe the evolution between Vic and Gab and Reyna? How do you differentiate the two projects?
We always think of Vic and Gab as being in high school. You’re learning, you’re making all these mistakes, you’re kind of awkward and kind of ugly and not really into yourself yet. [Laughs.] Vic and Gab was a very do-it-yourself project, and great things came out of it because we gave it our all, and I think it was very genuine and very simple. You know, a teenage journey. With Reyna, we graduated. We know things; we have different tools and producers and writers. We learned to collaborate with other people.It’s just more involved, and we really know who we are now. And again, you can even tell with the name, it’s very assertive. Like, we’re here.
An early song you recorded ended up on MTV’s Skins. Is there any TV show you’d really love to soundtrack?
Oh my God, one of our dreams is to soundtrack a movie. But just off the top of my head, our favorite show is Grey’s Anatomy. We’re obsessed, so to get a song on that show would be amazing. And we would love to soundtrack an indie film like 500 Days of Summer.
You performed at an Obama rally a few years ago. What was it like getting to do that?
We got a call from the Obama people about two days before he was in town. We had no idea how it happened, but someone in town had thrown our name out there when they asked local music, and we ended up being the band they chose. We had our own CIA agent who was bringing us water and towels. It was super awesome. We had to bring in our amps and our equipment the night before and leave it there overnight because everything had to be checked by security.
That experience in itself was amazing, but being able to see Obama speak in 2012 and how important that was … makes me want to cry right now. Just everything he represents, you know? How important he was to our country and seeing how our country feels right now, it’s overwhelming to even think about. It was one of the greatest experiences of our lives.
Do you consider music an important tool for political activism?
I think that anyone with a platform that can speak their mind and be heard by the masses… that platform should be used. That’s something we want to do more of. With everything that’s going on right now in the world, we have to be brave and we have to speak our minds because if not, these things are just going to keep happening. We’re going to find ourselves in a very sticky situation. You don’t want to wake up one day and be like, ‘How did I let that happen?’
And you don’t even need a big platform to speak up. You can do it in your family. When there’s a family dinner and someone’s saying something that you don’t like and that you know is wrong, I think that sticking up for what that you believe in, it starts there. Even if it’s just one person whose mind you can potentially change.
I heard that you grew up in a very religious household and had a difficult coming-out experience, but that your sister was really there for you.
I remember when I came out to Gab, we were in a room just laying down, and I just started crying. I had to say it to somebody. I think it was just eating at me for a very long time. So I was like, ‘I need to tell you something.’ And Gab said, ‘What, that you’re gay?’ [Laughs.] She just took all my fear away when she said it like that. I was like, ‘How did you know?’ Her being the first person that I came out to, and her having that reaction, it really helped me have the courage to come out to my parents, which I knew was going to be very hard.
That was a whole different experience. My dad would hate that I’m saying this, but he used to come home with bible verses to show me, and say like, ‘This is wrong.’ And it took a lot of patience on my part to hear him out, and be conscious of what he was also going through, you know? But it was hard. It feels like a distant memory now, because even though it took him a long, long time — many years — to be okay with it, the way that they are with me now and how much they love me and how much they accept who I am, it just dissolved all those bad memories. All I can say is: be brave with your truth, and be patient with people. Obviously, don’t take too much shit, but people that love you will come back around. We all need time to heal.
At the end of the day, hopefully the people who love you will love you unconditionally, no matter what.
Exactly. I used to be angrier, like, why does it have to be so hard? But I think it’s made me who I am, and I’m stronger now. If my story, if anybody’s story, can help someone and inspire them to nurture themselves, that’s awesome. Hopefully we can all just inspire each other.