Contrary to the glossy image promoted by the media, rock and roll isn’t all awards shows, groupies, and piles of easily accessible cash and drugs. The musical universe supports but a few haves, while the remaining glut of have nots struggle desperately for entree into the VIP lounge. The odds of making music a viable career are daunting, but that doesn’t stop countless groups from pursuing their collective dream. New York’s Bamboo Kids are one such band of up-and-comers, navigating the gritty U.S. and European club scene on the proverbial shoestring in support of their self-titled debut CD. Together since grade school, the Kids boast a decidedly ‘70s sound, a blend of early Clash and Ramones, and one that hearkens back to the glory days of Max’s Kansas City and CBGB’s.
As bassist Vince Cecio, guitarist Dwight Weeks, and drummer Chris Orlando pack their gear and prepare to hit the road, they share a few words on what the musical life is really like:
PopMatters: Is the band a full time occupation?
Vince: It is in the sense that it’s always on our minds. There’s always something that needs to be done; songs to be written, the van (Gus) has to be fixed and taken care of before the tour, travel arrangements have to be made if we’re going abroad. Constantly getting the word out, posters up, merch has to be concepted, made and sold. Book studio time and record. Of course we don’t get paid for all this so we need other jobs to pay for rent.
PM: How do you support yourselves between recording and touring?
Dwight: I do some freelance writing when I’m home. A little time in a cubicle goes a long way motivationally.
Vince: I do freelance work for whoever will give it to me. We’ve been known to be unemployed. The first tour we did I had the luck of getting laid off before we left so I made some unemployment money on the road.
PM: How many shows does the band play in a given month?
Chris: It depends on whether or not we’re on tour. If we’re home, we try to play one show a month or six weeks in New York/New Jersey, and a weekend out of town, like in Boston, D.C., and Philly. Actually, that’s a lie. We have never played Philly. We must be the only American band that can get gigs in Trondheim fucking Norway and not be able to get a show in Philly.
Vince: When we’re on the road we try and play every night. Off nights are the worst cause there’s no chance to make money selling merch and they are boring as hell.
PM: Do you book your own shows or have a manager handle the dirty work for you?
Chris: In Europe we have agents that do that stuff. Generally we have no region, but there are certain cities we do better than others. In the U.S., I book the tours myself. I’ve done about five now. We’re trying to find the right booking agent in the US, but it’s hard because there are so many bands out there playing the same clubs we are.
Vince: Chris does a hell of a job as our booking agent and getting the word out.
PM: How does a typical day progress when a gig is scheduled?
Vince: We wake up, figure out where we are and where we’re going. Dee drives the morning shift unless he’s still drunk from the night before. I take the night shift ‘cause Chris is blind. With short drives there is a lot of time to kill and not much money to kill it with, so if it’s nice out, we’ll find a park and read or sleep off whatever toxins are in our bodies. There is one meal a day usually, so we kill some time in a diner or a fast food joint. Sometimes Gus needs an oil change. Rainy days in towns we’ve never been in are the worst. More time spent sitting with two other unwashed idiots in the van with the windows rolled up. When the club opens we get there and maybe do a sound check, set up the merch table, etc. Have a pre-show cocktail. We play. We find out what is going on, if there is any fun to be had. The next day we start all over again.
Dwight: Coffee and “Ace of Spades” is a good start for a long hung-over drive. We get there, load in, and set up the merchandise table. If we’re late, we begin drinking immediately, otherwise we take a few moments to shave or look for promo in the local rag and then start drinking. This is also a good time to change guitar strings. Every time I do it in the van I hurt myself.
PM: How has the band schedule changed with the CD release?
Chris: Nothing has changed. We’re still broke and need lucrative hobbies.
Dwight: I don’t think any of us would screw up what’s best for the band for these stupid day jobs. We’re all pretty flexible though, so it hasn’t been a problem.
PM: Any challenges worth noting?
Vince: There have been frustrating, dark moments. A few nights in a row and no one shows, you wonder why the fuck you do it. Am I good enough? Can we turn people on the way I feel when I hear the Stones or the Clash? But mostly I do it ‘cause I can’t help it really. There is nothing else I’d rather be doing.
Chris: Gus, the fourth Bamboo Kid, has the toughest job of anyone and his life just gets worse and worse. Vince took him to the carwash the other day so I guess Gus’s life is getting better. Last time he got pissed at us and tried to kill us with antifreeze fumes.
Dwight: The biggest challenge is writing material I’d be proud to hand my heroes.
PM: And the biggest benefit to being a Bamboo Kid?
Vince: I’ve been to Norway and England, and we’re about to go to Sweden and France and other places in Europe. I’ve been all over the U.S. and every night I get to play rock and roll with my two best friends.
Dwight: Just the joy… the joy of performing our stuff well, of traveling through this with my best friends, of contributing what I think is some music the world is lacking and should have.
Chris: It’s hard to decide… There’s all the money, trying to get those motherfuckers from MTV Cribs outta my house, and getting to do cool side projects like starting our own fashion line. Best part is playing rock and roll, that hasn’t changed. It beats working.