When Omar Rodríguez-López–formerly of the Mars Volta and At the Drive-In–tapped Teri Gender Bender (Le Butcherettes), Deantoni Parks and Nicci Kasper (KUDU) to fly to Europe and perform a string of dates as the Omar Rodríguez-López Group, a full-throttle collaboration wasn’t exactly on the agenda. It wasn’t until they hit a practice room in Hamburg, Germany, where the band was brushing up on some of the material they were touring behind off of Rodríguez-López’s Octopus Koolaid that they started messing around with a few ideas they couldn’t wait for the return trip home to get down on tape.
“We realized, ‘Hey, we get along really well as people and we’re all really similar in ways offstage!'” says Gender Bender, calling in from the road somewhere in rural Georgia. “We’re from the same pack, the same tribe, and that’s when we realized that we should just do it.”
This kismet is apparent on their self-titled full-length, in that the product of their locked-in-the-room-’til-it’s-done approach is the kind of genre-defying sound exploration that can only come from a bunch of people equally committed to redefining their own expectations. Bosnian Rainbows messes around with an avant-garde take on their collective prog and garage rock experiences while drawing from arthaus elements you’re more likely to see in a performance art piece than onstage at the Bowery Ballroom (which the band plays Sunday). It’s surreal in scope and brilliantly varied, and a strong out-the-gate start for a band that’s clearly too excited about their newfound collaboration to wait too long in between records. Below, Gender Bender opens up about Bosnian Rainbows, how the project has caught her by surprise and why the next record speaks another language entirely.
Congrats on Bosnian Rainbows! It’s been about two weeks since the record came out. How have your shows gone since the release?
A week ago we finished the West Coast leg of the tour, and it was amazing. It’s amazing that people are actually supporting us! We’ve been playing this record for over a year–we started playing it out in August of 2012. The big change has been that people know the words to the songs at the shows now. I’m just thankful! It just motivates us to get the second record out, which will be in Spanish.
That’s awesome! Are you working on that now?
We finished it, actually! We’re going to wait. We’re touring the first one and when the timing is right, we’re going to get the second one out there so that we can tour in Latin America. Festivals only take bands that play music in Spanish in some countries, so now there’s no excuses from these Latin American festivals. Hopefully it’ll open more doors.
Are these songs incorporated into your live set now?
We’re just playing the first record, but hopefully soon we’ll start putting those Spanish songs out. If it were up to me, we’d show the world everything right now, but I guess it has to be one step at a time. I gave my mother the Spanish record and she loved it. The only language she speaks is Spanish, so she was like, “Yup, this is completely good!” and I was like, “AH! OK!”
Hey, parents can be your toughest critics!
They really can be!
Is it a different creative process for you, when it comes to writing your music in Spanish and English? Do you write in Spanish first and then translate it later? How does that go?
It all depends, really: we made the first record in three days in Hamburg. The four of us were writing and collaborating with each other, which is great, because I come from a band where I would do everything–I’d even tell the drummer what to write and the bass player what bass lines I wanted. With [Bosnian Rainbows], everyone pitches in everything. The the music is the byproduct of our relationship, which is why the music sounds different when you compare it with our past projects. With the first record, we were touring in Hamburg [as the Omar Rodríguez-López Group] and we realized we had to tour behind something, so we locked ourselves in a rehearsal room and the first record came out. The second one, we took a month off and rented this really cool house next to the beach in Malibu. The four of us all kind of gravitated towards the smallest room, the laundry room, where we’d watch the smallest television set, and we were like, “Hey, I guess we’re just bound to each other.” Whenever we felt like it, we’d go to the main living room where everything was set up and these songs would just pour out of us. For us, the music will come later: we want to focus on the relationship, like a marriage, and keep that alive. It’s like trying to keep a healthy relationship with a best friend of yours. We’re not a band that just meets up for rehearsal; we’re a project that lives together, and the rest will come.
What is it about your bandmates’ songwriting styles that you admire the most?
They’re so easygoing. I think we all motivate each other to make things. I had never seen this movie, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? They showed it to me and my mind was blown, and now we’re making music that sounds like the mood of the movie. Deantoni, he’s always wearing headphones and making beats on his laptop. Same with Omar–he travels around with these cool little microphones that are super practical. If there’s an interesting bird sound, he’ll literally just take a microphone out and record it. He’ll make music out of that. It’s inspiring to see them constantly making music. It makes me step my game up. I always thought it was kind of cheesy to travel with a ukulele–it was always kind of embarrassing for me, ’cause it’s the instrument I use the most at home–but now I’m not so shy and I bring it on tour with me and I write songs in front of them. I’m not shy anymore; I’m not self-conscious.
Does Bosnian Rainbows satisfy you creatively in ways that Le Butcherettes didn’t meet before?
I just see it as a whole. With Le Butcherettes, it gave me the privilege of using it as a staircase, and it gave me, like, a high school diploma–and that diploma let me move on to college, which is Bosnian Rainbows. I’m learning so much more in Bosnian Rainbows, because with Le Butcherettes, that was my whole entire world and I was making every single decision. Here, we’re learning to share. Even when we’re driving, we all take turns. Sometimes we’ll all share a big suitcase to be more practical. Being onstage and not playing a guitar, I guess it gives me more freedom. I’m literally just forced to confront myself, and it really makes me happy to be able to constantly learn. [Bosnian Rainbows] really humbles me, because we’re just trying to make a living off songs we wrote together.
Bosnian Rainbows play the Bowery Ballroom 7/14/13 with Rye Coalition and Sister Crayon.