Fans will never tire of this fast-track act
WANTED: Restless thirtysomething L.A. indie rocker seeks similarly situated working musicians for experimental new band with time-sensitive mission. Start now, write 10 to 16 songs fast, record album, make video and perform first show in less than 60 days. Make big opening splash. Then, break up and go separate ways.
That’s the gist of an ad placed on Craigslist July 29 by Giovanny Blanco, former VJ, struggling singer-songwriter, father of two. The concept of a band with a predetermined life span arose from a documentary he is doing on aging musicians and what makes them keep on truckin’ in this digital age, when any wannabe with a computer can make music and be heard. For a veteran like Blanco, the project marks a midlife crisis in musician years, which is like dog years because musicians get there sooner than everybody else.
This time, Blanco started backward, booking a club date before he had a band, or songs or even a single fan. Whoever joins him will play Sept. 27 at Club Good Hurt in West L.A. in a show being billed as the inaugural/farewell concert (debut y despedida) by the band-to-be, named appropriately El Quickie.
The project (or stunt?) comes at a time when the promise of Latin alternative music has faded and the once bustling local scene has deflated. There are plenty of talented bands still kicking around L.A. but with shrinking expectations. Major labels have long stopped signing rock en espanol bands as they did in the ‘90s, and only a handful at the top stay as busy as, say, Mexico’s Cafe Tacuba (which was scheduled to play the Greek on Friday).
Paradoxically, though, the demise of the mainstream music industry is the source of the musician’s dilemma. Today, a band can stay alive without a label, a manager or even radio exposure. All it needs is a computer and a MySpace page.
“Now 35 is the new 25, and in the industry everything is level so you can be your own boss,” said Blanco, 37. “It’s a different landscape and the reality is, yes, we can survive doing this, but it becomes more of a struggle.”
As one of the original music hosts on LATV, the independent station aimed at young Latinos, Blanco is among the most recognizable faces in L.A.'s Latin alternative scene. And he’s one of the most creative as part of the funk fusion duo formerly known as Spigga, now Shu-Sho, whose multicultural members are scattered around the country.
He’s been working as a professional musician for more than half his life, starting at 14 as a member of a Menudo-style boy band from his native Dominican Republic called Mermelada.
It’s work, especially for bandleaders who handle all the business, be it booking dates or deciding on album covers. That’s why Blanco may as well have added a requirement to his ad: Whiners need not apply. First to go were musicians who called and asked how much he was going to pay. They didn’t get it.
On board so far are guitarist Jose Morales, 32, (No Way Jose) and bassist Moises Baqueiro, 38, best known as “Vira Lata” of Los Abandoned, L.A.'s premiere Latin alternative band that suddenly disbanded last year. As of Thursday, the Quickies had two finished demos, four written songs and nine more ideas. They still need a keyboardist, some singers and, especially, a drummer.
“This weekend took a turn for the worst and now I’m a bit down,” Blanco blogged Sunday. “The drummer situation just imploded. We’re back to square one. . . . WE WILL BE LOOKING FOR DRUMMERS ALL WEEK LONG. We are here, where are you?”
To understand how Blanco got himself in this reality-show fix, we must backtrack a year.
Just before his 36th birthday, Blanco hit the road with Spigga, touring cross-country in a used Dodge van called the Green Machine. When it was over, he couldn’t get back in sync with the normal demands of daily life, like finding a day job and raising his daughter Matilda, who was about to turn 1.
Blanco started feeling slightly depressed, like he couldn’t function anymore. “That’s when I started thinking, ‘Here I am in my 30s. I’ve had my share of successes, but I’m not Ricky Martin, or whatever,’ ” recalled Blanco, who would soon quit LATV. “What’s next?”
To find the answer, he turned to his second love, making films, and embarked on the documentary, with plans to plum the motives of other musicians. It would be great if he could follow a band for a couple of years, he thought, but his budget wouldn’t allow it. So was hatched El Quickie.
You can watch the project develop on Blanco’s video blogs. That’s his daughter in the first one, grabbing the mike and repeating softly “rock ‘n’ roll.”
It was filmed in his converted garage in the mid-Wilshire area, packed with recording equipment, videos, vinyl, movie posters and more memorabilia of Hall & Oates than seems healthy for one collector. The kitschy look of El Quickie, spoofing loungey Latino stereotypes, borrows the thick mustache of the often bare-chested John Oates.
The three amigos gathered this week at the home Blanco shares with his significant other, screenwriter Sarah Thorp (“Twisted,” “See Jane Run”) and their growing family, now including 5-week-old Franklin. Baqueiro arrived with three bass guitars, one borrowed from Wil-Dog of Ozomatli. The talk inevitably turned to what it means to make it.
“It’s like society dictates, by age 35 you have to have your own home and your family,” said Baqueiro, who’s married with a 9-year-old daughter. “If you don’t, you’re a failure. It’s a stigma.”
It’s not just society. It’s family pressures too. Blanco says some of his relatives don’t understand why he doesn’t put together a little merengue band, if he’s really serious about making it. Pop music is so youth-oriented that some members of Los Abandoned lied about their ages, he admits.
Now he’s happy he was part of a breakthrough band that got tons of critical praise and a spot on “Late Night With Conan O’Brien.” That success allows him now to make a living (almost) from music, every musician’s dream.
With the current lineup and potential, El Quickie could turn out to be special. Still, the guys promise to break up even if they turn out to be an instant smash. They’re a little long in the tooth to fall for that.
“We’d be big for a week and they wouldn’t miss us after the first show,” said Blanco, with no hint of sarcasm. “L.A. is kind of like that.”
El Quickie’s show is Sept. 27 at Club Good Hurt, 12249 Venice Blvd, West Los Angeles. For information, go to www.myspace.com/elquickie.