Life is full of anomalies. Look at the Dodgers; they actually traded Steve Garvey and let Steve Sax get away. And what about rock ‘n’ roll groups? Some of these people don’t even sing their own songs. (We won’t get into a discussion about the people who shouldn’t be allowed to sing.)
Then there are this week’s subjects--The Brothers Figaro. They are not brothers and their names are not even Figaro. But they can play, they can sing--and they’re good. Maybe they’re just having an identity crisis. Being two of the weirdest people in the San Fernando Valley could create a lot of baggage--probably from the Salvation Army. If the Led Zeppelin tune “Immigrant Song” had been recorded in the ‘20s, these dudes could’ve been the inspiration.
Billed as Giuseppe, Luigi and Guido, the three Figaro brothers are actually two main maniacs and a drummer--and, as everyone knows, drummers can’t count. Guido is none other than drummer Scott Babcock. The Figaros of note (and voice) are Bill (Luigi) Bonk on guitar, mandolin and other stuff, and Phil (Giuseppe) Parlapiano on guitar, accordion and other stuff. They write the songs. They sing the songs. They’ll be visiting the Ventura Theatre on Friday night as the meat part of a musical sandwich, playing between headliner and rock ‘n’ roll old guy Dave Mason and those local folk-rockers and opening act Mosaic.
The Figaro’s debut disc is entitled “Gypsy Beat.” It’s folky, weird and deals mostly with love gone bad with the wrong women--a lot of that going around.
The musicians were contacted at their Studio City residence recently to discuss the life and times of their band. Since there were two Figaro brothers on the phone simultaneously and since all people in the Valley who dress like European immigrants look and sound the same, how can you tell them apart?
How’s the album and the tour doing?
Bill: It’s pretty much gangbusters. We’re drivin’ around in limos all day long.
Phil: It’s slow and steady, like a turtle. The Ventura show is sort of a one-shot gig for us. We’ll be heading up north pretty soon--to San Francisco, Santa Rosa and Fresno. They love us in Fresno.
Bill: We go where we’re wanted.
Phil: We do about 50 shows a year, a lot of coffeehouses.
Where did the name come from?
Phil: We were in this band with this guy named Tim Scott, who now has a band called the Havalinas. When we started our own band, he told us that our band should be called the “Brothers Something” because we’ve hung around together for so long people actually thought we were brothers.
Bill: We’ve been writing songs together for 20 years. We’ve got a million songs.
Phil: First, we were the Brothers Mozzarella, but that was too cheesy. It had to be something Italian in spirit because I’m Italian and Bill is Italian in spirit. . . .
Bill: Yeah, because I love lasagna.
How did the band get started?
Bill: As the Brothers Figaro, we started about two years ago at this bar in West L. A. called Molly Malone’s. We actually live in the Valley, and we both went to high school around here.
Phil: Yeah, once we were playing in Fresno. . . .
Bill: They love us in Fresno.
Phil: We were playing in Fresno and this guy says, “What part of L. A. are you guys from?” and we were sort of embarrassed and said, “The Valley.” He said, “That’s OK, I live in Fresno. . . .”
Where did you guys get those clothes?
Bill: We always dress like this.
Phil: It’s us.
Describe Figaro music.
Phil: The name of the album describes it, “Gypsy Beat.”
Bill: It’s an assortment of acoustic music with singing, and not too much electricity. Some bands overplay. We underplay. That’s why there’s so many three-minute songs on our record. There’s not any long solos--we want to get it over with.
Phil: Yes, and we’re very depressing.
Bill: But we hide it well.
Was J. Geils right? Does love stink?
Bill: Yeah, pretty much. This year, a long relationship ended for me--there’s a lot of hurt out there. And it’s easier to write from that side--the happy side always ends up sounding corny.
Phil: We do write happy songs but we don’t want to share them with anybody.
What would be your dream gig and your nightmare gig?
Bill: Our dream gig probably would be to play with Crowded House.
Phil: Our nightmare gig would probably be anything with Poison, no, Warrant.
Bill: But we’ll take that chick with the cherry pie. We don’t want them on stage, but we want to be in their video.
Phil: She’s some sort of genetic mutation that we’re in love with.
What was your strangest gig?
Phil: We just did that--we played with Donovan. He had a couple of pints and was advising us backstage. He was talking about traditional song structures and all sorts of stuff and then he said, “What you guys really need is a young girl, a very young girl, to play tambourine for you.”
Bill: Yeah, but it was fun. We played with him on stage and did “Sunshine Superman” and “Catch the Wind.”
Who goes to see the Brothers Figaro; are they mostly drunks, or what?
Bill: Yes, a lot of drunks, models and out-of-work actors.
Phil: We call our fans Figheads.
Bill: A lot of girls come to our gigs, usually girls off the beaten path, not trendies either. People either really like us or really don’t like us. If you try to please too many people, you dilute the message.
What’s the most misunderstood thing about the band?
Phil: Well, a lot of people think we’re rabbis.
Bill: And a lot of people think the way we look is some sort of weird marketing strategy from the record company, but we always look like this.
Phil: We were just playing when we got signed. In fact, we had given up on being signed when they found us. If you pursue them, they don’t want you. But if they pursue you, they think they’ve found something.
What’s next for the band?
Bill: Wealth is not the thing. We’d just like to have families and lead a normal life.
Phil: We believe in music that has integrity. We’re also trying to get into the music side of the movies--we have a song on “21 Jump Street.”
Bill: We’re doing the same things we did as kids except now we’re getting paid for it.