On Tuesday Oct. 8, The Two Tone Boners took to The Airliner in Los Angeles, alongside The Rude Smugglers and DispenSka. As the band filled the small space downstairs, few of the fans knew that just moments before it was doubted whether the show would even go on.
Gathered in the parking lot with cars of gear half-unpacked, the atmosphere was tense with stress and speculation filling the air.
Twelve people had assembled in the elusive “Boner Cave” (Bassist Julio Gurrola’s garage) in El Monte, California, earlier that night. Filling the small space with instruments and musical antics were members of the Two Tone Boners and The Smugglers, joined by friends and followers of the bands.
However, one person was strikingly absent and, moments before the show was scheduled to start, had still not appeared. Tony Garcia, Two Tone Boner drummer, had made no contact with his band mates and proved unreachable.
“The only reasonable excuse for him not being here is that something happened,” reflected Roberto Carrera (guitar/vox). Although apparently this is not the first time the band had to track down a missing drummer.
Travelling with the Two Tone Boners was their ‘band mom’ Keliana Deneef, dressed for the part in the band’s signature merchandise featuring a skull and crossbones. She joins them at rehearsals and gigs, takes photographs, gets them organised, even yelling at them when necessary. “I love the band, I do, but I get stressed a lot, what mom doesn’t.”
Earlier in the night she was calling Garcia, and supported the decision to play the show without him. “He knows as long we’re playing the show and people are hearing about us, that’s all that matters,” she said. “If it really comes down to it and it’s really important, he won’t mind.”
To keep the spirit of the night alive, another drummer stepped in to support the Two Tone Boners. “He knew the first demo and he re-listened to it while we waited,” Deneef said. “Considering it’s not rehearsed, and considering we don’t have Tony, it sounded good.”
Deneef got involved with The Two Tone Boners a little over a year ago.
“Nate [keys] invited me to a gig, I had never listened to a song, first gig I see I go to, what does Robert do, pop a string. By the next song, he was up and ready to go, I was really impressed,” she said.
“The way everything sounded and just blended together was really amazing for me, and the fact that I could sit there and not even have heard them before and find the beat, I thought it was amazing.”
The Two Tone Boners were formed around three years ago, from a collaboration of high-school friends, bringing together a melting pot of different influences, from rockabilly, industrial, jazz to metal and more.
“By then we had one song which was kind of rehearsed, we got the sax in there and we liked it, it started getting the ska sound in it, so we thought, let’s start a ska band,” said Carrera.
“For me, every time I hear our songs I listen to the different parts, and the way I see it is depending on what you want to hear. If you want to hear a band that has a strong full horn line we have that to offer you, you’re going to hear it and you’re going to love it,” said Carrera. “But if you want to hear a tight rhythm section, that’s just going to make you want to dance, we’ll do that. That’s what we do.”
“Everyone has their own personal interests and their own taste in music,” said Gurrola. “It’s ska, it’s hard. It’s not a very well-known genre that people will go out of their way to look for. It’s underground.”
Tonight’s underground venue was no exception; The Airliner provides a cramped space opposite a bar for the band who are practically playing on top of each other. But this doesn’t stop The Two Tone Boners, despite the difficulties, they are in full swing.
The collaboration of different genres and influences shines throughout their set, Two Tone Boner’s is an eclectic mix, filled with energy and enthusiasm. They deliver a full bodied sound, complete with sax, trombone, keys, bass, drums and guitar. While the ska feel strikes through, there are also elements of punk and other influences contrasting with more chilled vibes.
With the different aspects intertwining and bringing the set to life, it was inspiring to see how they have come together after a difficult start to the night.
“Yeah we have to put other stuff aside, but at the end of the day, we’re all family,” said Deneef. This can clearly be seen from what remains of the Boners gathered together after the show; sharing drinks, reflecting on the night, and reminiscing about their time together.
The subject easily turns to Garcia, and his commitment to the band. Gurrola said, “We have to give him a serious talk and give him a warning.”
The ska band lifestyle isn’t always plain sailing and for many of the band there is a stringent balancing act of their other responsibilities. Exuding confidence and the rock-and-roll lifestyle in their shows, behind the scenes there is much more to the Two Tone Boners.
“Everybody works, everybody goes to school, everybody puts in a lot outside to be here,” said Carrera, who studies criminal justice and social behavioural science has a four-year-old daughter, Mia. “I’m a full-time father, a full-time student, a full-time worker, and a full-time musician,” he said.
“Of course family always comes first, I had a fight to get the time I have with my daughter now, so I cherish every second of it,” Carrera said. “That took a lot of time and lot of effort. I was with the Two Tone Boners still, still making music, trying to smile and be in a band.”
For Gurrola, a civil engineering student, studies are his first priority. “You have to be organised, you have to be smart about it. You have to look at the syllabuses for your different classes, and know what’s due what day, so you know you have this amount of time to finish an assignment before you can go out and practice,”
Nate Phung (keys/vox) is currently studying to become a teacher at CSULB, “I’m actually doing my homework right now, writing a lesson plan and curriculum for a music class,” he admits. “Many of us share the struggle of working or going to school and investing in the band at the same time.”
“Seeing the professional performing side of things is definitely a big part of what will contribute to my students when I teach. I’m a student first, career orientated, but this band definitely has a high priority for me.”
“I feel like my calling is to teach, but I have so much fun, enjoyment and fulfilment out of being with the band, it’s like an outlet. I gig, I write, I perform, even just playing it’s such a good experience.
“It was kind of a pipe dream of mine to start a ska band back in high school, who knew six years later, it would happen,” Phung said.
“There’s some basic issues we have to deal with before we can make music now, we’re hoping to finally get around to recording our debut album which is over a year overdue,” said Phung.
“We’re starting to build a lot of steam, and gain a lot of attention,” Phung said, “We’re just hoping to see where the music takes us, keep making music.”