Juan Nuñez plays the guitar during Raccoon Cartoons’ rehearsal for their May 4 performance at the LA County Fair at the Fairplex in Pomona. Athena Flores | The Poly Post

From strangers to bandmates to friends, CPP students form the indie band Raccoon Cartoons

By  Athena Flores, April 30, 2024

Every week, a swarm of instruments, cables, friendly chatter and talented musicians cram into a small recording room in Building 25 at Cal Poly Pomona. 

The compact room leaves little space to move around, yet the echoes of sweet harmony, soft voices and accompanying instruments transcend the area into something greater. This captivating music is a product of the student-led indie band, Raccoon Cartoons.  

The band members, who once were strangers, found each other throughout the CPP campus and built an extraordinary chemistry both while playing music and hanging out as friends outside of the recording studio. 

Their passion and dedication are evident in the music they produce; Raccoon Cartoons is a testimony to the talent that runs rampant throughout CPP. 

Raccoon Cartoons pull inspiration for their music from the world around them. Band member and lyricist, Nicholas Vela, advises listeners to take their own understanding and meaning from the songs he writes. With slower-paced ballads like “Sparrow” and “Bumblebee” to faster upbeat tunes like “Raccoon’s Demise,” the band dips their toes into the wide spectrum of indie music.  

With band members majoring in history to engineering, Raccoon Cartoons features an array of identities and voices. Although they become one while performing, each member has an individual story to tell. 

Raccoon Cartoons began in 2022 after history student and lead vocalist of the band Vela was inspired to bring musicians together after writing a couple of songs. He posted flyers throughout campus and reached out to fellow musicians and friends until he finally found the people that make up the band today.  

“Our determination is the driving force in our music,” said Vela. “It brings us together.” 

Music found its way into Vela’s life at a young age. After hearing his father sing songs from artists like Bob Marley, every chance he could, Vela decided to do the same. 

“I wasn’t a good singer starting off,” Vela said. “I did it the hard way without any lessons, I would just practice and practice and sing in the shower.” 

Vela continued to practice his singing, garnering attention and support from his parents just a few years later when they gifted him with a tool that would elevate his musical journey and talent: A black and white Squier Strat guitar.  

“It wasn’t until seventh grade my mom saved up enough money to buy me a used guitar at the pawnshop,” Vela said. “I learned how to play guitar as a seventh grader and wrote my own songs as an eighth grader. I have been writing songs ever since.” 

With support from both his parents and high school mentors, a budding talent and a love for poetry transformed Vela into the songwriter he is today for Raccoon Cartoons. Through his music, Vela strives to make people feel and bring attention to mental health. 

Vela explains there are negative stigmas surrounding men when it comes to expressing their emotions. For this reason, he makes an effort to radiate positivity and shatter stigmas through his songs.  

“My band inspires me to be the best version of myself,” Vela said. “My favorite part of being in the band is when people come up to me and tell me my song meant something to them. It made them feel something.”  

When Raccoon Cartoons’ lead vocals are not sung by Vela, they belong to the delicate and gifted voice of bandmate and sociology student Andrea Alcaraz.  

Alcaraz is the female vocalist and occasional violist for Raccoon Cartoons. Music has been a part of her life since childhood, playing the viola from the age of four and singing for as long as she could remember.  

After a brief pause from playing her preferred instrument, lead vocalist and her good friend, Vela gifted Alcaraz a new viola as a thank you for babysitting his cat one summer. 

“The great thing about the band is that we’re all good friends,” said Alcaraz. “When we rehearse it’s not just a rehearsal, it is like a hangout. It never feels like work because we all get along so well.”  

As a sociology student with an emphasis on social work, Alcaraz has begun her career journey as an applied behavior analyst. 

She strives to become a registered behavioral therapist and earn her master’s degree after finishing at CPP. 

Alcaraz admits that managing her life as a musician and her school life is a lot easier with the understanding of the bandmates she has.  

“All the members are really flexible so we kind of take turns with responsibilities for the band,” said Alcaraz. “Right now, I have more free time, so I’m focused more on social media and advertising our shows. So, we help each other out when we need to shoulder some more work for school.” 

Andrea Alcaraz plays the viola next to fellow band member Juan Nuñez during the song “Sparrow.” Athena Flores | The Poly Post

Another bandmate, music industry studies student Juan Nuñez, takes on his responsibilities by using his experience in music and event coordinating.  

Before Nuñez played guitar for Raccoon Cartoons, he worked at the local live music venue, The Haven. Nuñez explains that his experiences as a music student and a former employee at The Haven are intertwined with who he is as a musician. 

Whether it is applying music theory classes to his guitar playing or his experience with booking shows to the band’s management, Nuñez proves to be an important part of the band’s operations.  

Nuñez says that music has been a part of his life since he was born. With his parents always playing music around the house, he was exposed to a plethora of genres. 

It was not until a young Nuñez played “Guitar Hero” that his fascination with the instrument grew. In sixth grade, Nuñez picked up a guitar for the first time and after that, he never put it down. 

He attributes his music style to his identity and the artists he grew up with.  

“I view the guitar as a voice,” said Nuñez. “I’m influenced a lot by Carlos Santana. I love how soulful he plays, and I relate to him as a Mexican American guitarist, I draw a lot of inspiration from him and how approaches the guitar.”  

Currently, Nuñez is also a part of another CPP music project called HersheyBoy. Which, in contrast to Raccoon Cartoon’s indie sound, is more R&B. 

In addition to his participation in bands, Nuñez recently helped organize the successful “It’s Not a Phase Fest,” as a part of his senior project. The experience led Nuñez to want to pursue a career in event organizing and hope to work for Goldenvoice one day.  

Juan Nuñez plays the guitar during Raccoon Cartoons’ rehearsal for their May 4 performance at the LA County Fair at the Fairplex in Pomona. Athena Flores | The Poly Post

Also, a music industry studies student, Orion Dyer is Raccoon Cartoons’ newest member. Dyer has been playing the drums for Raccoon Cartoons for less than a month.  

Although he just started playing drums a year and a half ago, Dyer is a strong and passionate musician.  

“I really love playing music and being around it,” said Dyer. “As I continue to grow older, I see how music brings people together. Even the most completely different strangers could come together and build this relationship with each other based on the lyrics or groove of a song, and I find it very powerful.”   

Like the other members, Dyer’s introduction to music was from the adults around him. As a child, Dyer would listen to the burned CDs his mother would make, becoming infatuated with alternative bands like Incubus.  

“That’s when it first started speaking to me,” said Dyer. “I didn’t start getting a hold and taking it seriously until I got older, like high school.”  

Today, Dyer is hopeful for his future as a musician, strives to grow as an artist and wants to make as many human connections as he can with others through music.

Drummer Orion Dyer of the indie band Raccoon Cartoons. Athena Flores | The Poly Post

The final member of Raccoon Cartoons, engineering student Donovan Sylla, also hopes to grow his experience as a musician while balancing the student workload.  

Sylla has served as Raccoon Cartoons’ bassist for over two years. After arriving at Cal Poly Pomona for the first time, Sylla was randomly assigned as a roommate to Vela far before Raccoon Cartoons existed. Perhaps inspired by his musician roommate, Sylla decided to pick up the bass and learned to play in just one summer. Impressed by his rapid growth with the instrument, Vela asked Sylla to join the newly formed band. 

“I had always been friends with musicians,” Sylla said. “I bought myself a bass and practiced all summer. I thought it was time for me to finally play music.”  

In addition to his role in the band, Sylla is also largely involved with engineering on campus. He currently serves as vice president of the Southern California Engineering Technology Association at CPP. He admits that balancing his life as an engineering student and life as a musician can be difficult at times, but he manages.  

“I’m busy all the time,” said Sylla. “It’s stressful but the music is fun, so it doesn’t really take up mental energy most of the time.”  

Sylla hopes to continue playing with the band even after he and the members have graduated from CPP.  

Raccoon Cartoons continue to grow their talent and their audience. The band is preparing to release their very first album, “Cattle of the Sun,” which evokes a nostalgic and ethereal experience through folk music. The band will also be performing at the L.A. County Fair May 4 with CPP musician guests Michael Hernandez and Orion Hodge.

Feature image courtesy of Athena Flores

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