If you’re a Northeast-based fan of the gobsmackingly excellent Bonerama and its brass-based approach to funk, rock & R&B, October’s your month.
[Photo by Dave Vann]
The New Orleans trombone brigade will be spending almost the entire four-week stretch playing in Northeastern markets, from Baltimore to Maine, including three weekly residencies: four Thursdays (Oct. 1, 8, 15 and 22) at Club Metronome in Burlington, Vt., four Fridays (Oct. 2, 9, 16 and 23) at Sullivan Hall in New York, and three Wednesdays (Oct. 14, 21 and 28) at Johnny D’s in Somerville, MA. This is a big-bonin’ deal.
Though founding ‘bonists Mark Mullins and Craig Klein still anchor the lineup, Bonerama’s changed a bit from its horn-heavy beginnings, and in the past year made a seismic adjustment to its sound, beginning to use an electric bass instead of a sousaphone on the low end. In addition to Mullins and Klein, the October touring lineup includes trombonist Greg Hicks, organist Joe Ashlar, guitarist Bert Cotton, drummer Eric Bolivar, and bassist Nori Naraoka.
Hidden Track caught up with Mullins to find the band busier than ever – and the residencies are only the tip of the tentacle. It has a new EP on the way – check out a meaty When the Levee Breaks – and is also launching a new fan donation service, the Boner Donor program, that offers exclusive content and even an opportunity to go on the road with the band based on tiered donation levels. As Mullins suggested, it’s all part of evolution.
HIDDEN TRACK: Those of us in the Northeast are going to be seeing a lot of you in October, and that’s awesome. Why the residencies and why now?
MARK MULLINS: It’s a nice problem to have. People are always pulling on us, asking when are you coming to the west coast, or Colorado, or New York, or whatever. And when we pass through those places it might be once or twice a year. So, instead of visiting a place and taking off, we’ve got like two years’ worth of NYC, Vermont and Boston appearances crammed into October. I do the setlists, and I’m a big fan of keeping things interesting and progressing, and to be able to use that creatively in a one month period and really mix it up, well it’s very exciting for us. It’s going to allow us to reach a whole new bunch of fans I think.
READ ON for more of Chad’s chat with Mark of Bonerama…
HT: Will we see guest musicians at your northeast shows?
MM: Absolutely. We’re trying to pull together as many special friends and guests as we can. I’m not prepared to announce anything – really, we’re seeing just who’s passing through town – but that’ll be part of creating something fun, different and evolving.
HT: Why the northeast in particular, of all those areas who’d obviously like to get more Bonerama? Why not, say, California? Or Hawaii?
MM: [Laughs] Wow. You want to be our manager? [Laughs] Really, there’s so many big markets so close to each other. For routing purposes, it makes sense. You can hit a lot of markets and cover some serious population without worrying about 10 or 12 hour drives in between.
HT: You guys have a lot going on right now. Tell me about your new EP, Hard Times. Am I correct in that it’s the first studio release of Bonerama’s career?
MM: Yeah, more or less. We worked hard on our live records but those were really about capturing those performances as they were at the time. Those were fun. But going into the studio gives you a whole different palate. We have been in the studio before – we did a collaboration with Damian Kulash and OK Go [2008's You're Not Alone EP] – but it’s the first straight ahead stuff we’ve ever done in the studio of ours. We’re going to begin work on a full-length CD, but for now this is four studio cuts and a live cut from Jazz Fest last year. It was some stuff we’ve had in our back pocket, and we’ll have a new full-length coming up.
HT: And the full-length will be entirely new stuff?
MM: There might be some things Bonerama fans have heard before, but it’s a whole bunch of stuff – a mix of originals with carefully selected covers. There’ll be more than enough to keep people on board. It’s been three years since our last official release, and while we have our live download series, those don’t get the post-production as our official live records.
HT: I understand you’ve just launched the Boner Donor program, where you’ll be inviting fans to invest in your upcoming projects. We’re seeing a lot of this type of program these days, both for the funding aspect but also because it brings a band closer to some of its hardcore fans.
MM: It’s a byproduct of the times we’re in and the industry changing by the day. Touring has never been harder for a lot of bands than it is right now. It’s not like the old days where it’d be easier to book a string of 30 dates to support a record. The models of the past are changing and a lot of them are basically gone. For artists to survive, we have to step back and reassess our role. We can’t rely – and don’t want to rely – on record companies and record deals, because those things don’t have the allure and attraction they used to. We’d rather reach out to our fans directly. We don’t want to come off as saying “Please help us.” It’s some of that, but it’s more trying to invent new ways to survive — and we want fans to be a part of it.
HT: I know you just launched it, but how has the response been?
MM: We have a pretty good relationship with our fanbase as it is, and we just hope this nurtures and brings in some people who have been on the sidelines. You might have thought you couldn’t contribute directly to giving us the resources to continue to make music and doing what we do – that you’re just giving money to a store or a promoter or a label – but that’s not the case anymore.
HT: Bonerama’s lineup has changed a bunch of the years but your spirit and core sound remain intact. Fast how a decade and change goes by, eh?
MM: If you had told me 11 years ago when we were first onstage at Tipitina’s in the french quarter that we’d be doing this as Bonerama now, I would have thought you were crazy. I never would have imagined it as what it is now, as far as either the lineup goes or the support from the fans. It’s not only a good bunch of guys but we’re able to connect with the crowd the way we’d never experienced with other bands. It’s something a little bit different. It might seem strange with all the trombones but the bones are our voice.
In New Orleans, there’s music all the time – no shortage of influences or paths – so change has also been part of Bonerama since day one. I think it was our destiny not to be a band like the Radiators – I love playing with them and those guys are my heroes and they’ve had the same lineup for all that time, which is something that’s just unheard of. Us, it was never going to be that way. I’m really happy where it is now.
HT: The biggest difference is probably bass instead of sousaphone. Can you talk about that and the other changes?
MM: We have electric bass and now three trombones up front, and also keys most of the time. Keys are a great auxiliary instrument for us; when we can, we’ll have guys like Joe Ashlar, who’s with us right now, or Brian Coogan, that add a whole new sonic palette. It’s different, too, in that we get a bigger sound with the electric bass and that organ – a more aggressive sound in Bonerama – even if we have three bones where in the past we had four bones, five bones, six bones. It’s even more of a rock band.
HT: Lineup changes definitely don’t scare you, in other words.
MM: No. I guess you’re supposed to think that lineup changes are a negative thing, and maybe I equate that to bands who have a certain lineup and suddenly change it and then the face of the band changes completely. That can provide a negative connotation. But that usually happens to bands whose biggest moments are already behind them.
Our biggest moments are still in front of us. We haven’t reached the point we need to reach yet. When we lost Brian [O'Neill, Bonerama's bass trombonist who died of a heart attack in December 2005], we had an immediate period of thinking, what the hell are we going to do? But if we’d quit, we thought, what would Brian say, and he’d say, what’s wrong with you guys? Get the fuck out there and play some music! And that’s true. If you’re not willing to face adversity and roll with it and make it work, you might as well not go out at all.