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Boneshake Emerges From Breakup of El Grupo Sexo

Times Staff Writer

El Grupo Sexo became one of Orange County’s more popular and promising rock bands by balancing a sophisticate’s interest in unusual musical combinations with a high school sophomore’s urge to get off a good wisecrack whenever possible.

A personal blowup between singer Jason Mann and most of the other members of the seven-piece band interrupted Sexo’s rise more than a year ago. Now, Boneshake, a new band featuring three former members of El Grupo Sexo, has emerged to carry on where Sexo left off.

Tony Atherton and Vince Meghrouni, both of whom play saxophone and sing, and guitarist John Karasawa spent a year after Sexo’s breakup recruiting bassist Rick Crawford and drummer Mike Loera and rehearsing the new band. Boneshake will play its first show as a headliner tonight at Night Moves in Huntington Beach.

The melding of art with silliness that was so prominent in El Grupo Sexo appears to be a guiding principle for Boneshake as well, judging from an interview with four of the members over a recent Mexican lunch in Anaheim.

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Meghrouni would hold forth about the band’s “aesthetic,” then shift suddenly to a tongue-in-cheek imitation of an unctuously trendy, cliche-spouting music biz insider. Onto any member’s earnest analysis of the band’s methods and aims, a fellow Boneshaker invariably would append a wry tag line.

There was, for instance, Meghrouni’s sally at an aesthetic explanation of the band’s unusual synthesis of bebop jazz and hard rock:

“In bebop and jazz you have a really strong drive behind the music. It’s authoritative and it’s powerful, and in punk music it’s authoritative and powerful. (Charlie) Parker and (John) Coltrane, playing some furious tempo--you don’t like it because it’s technically excellent, it’s that they’re streaming out emotions.”

“It just hits you in the same spot,” Atherton added helpfully.

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“It’s an emotional similarity,” Meghrouni agreed.

“And all those bands get chicks too,” Karasawa noted, ending the discussion.

Actually, there is no elaborate theoretical structure propping up Boneshake. The band is just trying, more or less, to live up to its name.

“We don’t think of an overall direction,” Atherton said. “We just want to groove and have as much high energy as we can. That may mean sounding more metal, but we’re not thinking of being more metal.”

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“It’s not like we’re in competition with what we did (in El Grupo Sexo),” Meghrouni added. “We just want an opportunity to dig into a groove and pump it for all it’s worth.”

Crawford and Loera both say they had doubts about whether to sign on with a band that doesn’t abide by proven conventions of commercially acceptable rock.

“I’m much more pop than El Grupo Sexo was,” said Crawford, who has been a friend of Meghrouni’s since their grade school days in Garden Grove. “I thought, ‘This is too weird. This is too intense. People just can’t possibly relate to it.’ ” Still, Crawford--who has off-kilter credentials of his own from occasional gigs with Henry Kaiser, the avant-garde rock guitarist--fell in as a member of Boneshake last March.

Loera won an instant invitation to join the band when he auditioned in August. Even though he tried out with a cast on one hand to protect a broken finger, Meghrouni said it was obvious that the 26-year-old Long Beach resident was the answer to what had been a long, frustrating search: a drummer who could provide the power for hard rock and the rhythmic suppleness for jazz.

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“At first, I was a little unsure,” Loera said. “I thought maybe I didn’t want to get in some act that was so arty and would stay underground and wouldn’t go anywhere. The first few months (of rehearsals) I kind of had my doubts. As soon as we hit the stage (the band’s first live appearance was on a Christmas benefit bill at Bogart’s), I realized it’s a solid direction.”

For some fans of El Grupo Sexo--including Dr. Dream, the local record label that released the band’s two albums--the ideal direction, at least in the early months after the breakup, would have been a reconciliation, a reformation of the original band that had been together for 6 years. Local band promoter Jim Palmer spoke of orchestrating a reunion late last year, but nothing ever took hold.

“They were gestures of good will,” Meghrouni said, although those gestures made him think that the band members were being manipulated. “They thought that if they could get all these guys together at one place at one time we would say, ‘Yeah, this is where we belong.’ But (the breakup) wasn’t just a capricious decision.”

Mann has been working as a disc jockey and assistant at Night Moves, and recently appeared with a new comical rock band called the Meat Whistles. “We don’t harbor any animosity toward him, and we do wish him the best of luck,” Atherton said. “I’m sure we’ll see him at Night Moves.”

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Of the other Sexo alumni, drummer Miles Gillett is playing in Gherkin Raucous, a promising local hard rock band, and Atherton said that bassist Don Carroll is pursuing a master’s degree in music and that trumpet player Dave Otto has begun raising a family.

The Sexo alumni in Boneshake say they hope to learn from their old band’s tactical errors.

“We should have toured after the first album (in 1986),” Atherton said. “We didn’t have any management or a booking agent. We were unprepared. (Now) we’re ready to take whatever opportunity comes our way immediately.”

And that was one serious statement that none of the musicians felt inclined to puncture with a wisecrack.

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Boneshake, Children’s Day and the Final play tonight at Night Moves, 5902 Warner Ave., Huntington Beach. The show starts at 9:30 p.m. Admission: $6. Information: (714) 840-6118.


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