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Earlier this week former One Direction dude Louis Tomlinson asked a fairly relevant question, and one a lot of us have been wondering lately: “Where the fuck are all the bands!?” He was referring, of course, to Coachella’s 2018 performer lineup, but if Tomlinson is curious about exactly where the bands are, he might want to look towards The Sinclair this Saturday (January 6), when One Night Band returns to deliver eight — count ’em, eight — new bands to the stage.
But these are no ordinary bands. And in fact, none of them currently even exist.
This is all by design: One Night Band, curated by former Boston Band Crush publisher and show promoter Richard Bouchard, takes 40 musicians, randomly assigns them to eight new bands, and allows them to show off three new songs and one cover on stage. And the whole process takes place in one day. Bands are assigned early Saturday morning, the groups then head to rehearsal studios to write the songs and perfect them, and a few short hours later everyone performs live at The Sinclair. It’s a grand musical experiment that puts songwriting and collaboration at the forefront, and usually yields some interesting results.
The last One Night Band took place about five years ago, so this latest crop of participants features a lot of new faces. And, as Bouchard tells us in our loose Q&A below, which began in person at O’Brien’s Pub last week before shifting over to email, there was an effort to bring in a diverse cast of characters, drawing talents from all the micro-scenes that exist all over Boston, from indie to electronic to hip-hop to metal to r&b.
Part of the initial appeal of One Night Band is to see who gets paired up — the idea that an poet and rapper like Oompa can line up with a glam rock singer like Gene Dante (pictured up top) is super interesting, and drafting talents like Carissa Johnson, Cliff Notez, Jonathan Ulman, Brian Charles, and Justine Bowe into new projects is sure to spark newfound creativity. That it’s all designed to serve as a fundraiser for East Boston arts program ZUMIX is a bonus.
With so much going on behind the scenes of, and in preparation for, One Night Band, we asked Bouchard a bunch of questions about what goes into making it happen. The one thing he can’t answer is just how it’ll all shake out on Saturday at The Sinclair.
Maybe Tomlinson will show up to find out.
Michael Marotta: How would you describe One Night Band for a person attending for the first time?
Richard Bouchard: Someone walking in for the first time is going to see eight really quick sets that probably aren’t as fleshed out as they’d normally expect to see, especially at a top notch venue like the Sinclair. There are some amazing musicians lined up, but with such a short amount of time between writing and performing, there’s not really any space for “refining.” That’s the charm of an event like this, though. Knowing up front that the bands were set up earlier in the day and that you’re seeing them perform together for the first time makes for a pretty magical night. At the very least, you’re going to see some crazy combinations — looking over the list now, the first band I put my finger on is made up of people who usually play punk, hip hop, glam, and country. Throwing them together for the day is going to produce something really fun, I’m sure about that.
It’s been a few years since this last went down, so what’s new for this year’s One Night Band?
The format is the same as past years, but the two main differences are the location and the list of participants. This will be the first time One Night Band hits The Sinclair, since that venue wasn’t open the last time we did it. As far as the participants go, I really wanted to make it more diverse this time around. Boston has a reputation as a rock and roll city, and there’s some amazing rock here for sure, but when I was getting ready for this one and watching old videos, it struck me that it sure was a lot of white indie rock dudes.
We’ve always had great musicians, and everyone who has participated in the past laid the foundation and made the event as popular as it is, so this year I wanted to build on that and really try to branch out. There’s a lot more diversity. Hip-hop, jazz, soul, world music, electronic music, stuff like that. I think it’s going to really take One Night Band up a notch. I’d love to see someone like rapper Cliff Notez in a band with a metal guitarist like Eric Waxwood from Devil on Horseback and an electronic artist like Andre Obin. I also had the idea to ask the staff at ZUMIX, the music education organization that One Night Band benefits, if they’d like to participate. A lot of the staff members are in bands anyway, so this will be the first time that three of them get to participate and spread the word about the work that they do in a different way.
Speaking of, how’d you select the participants?
Choosing the participants is the hardest part mostly because there are too many good people here to choose from. One of the things that I really loved about putting this one together was learning about bands I wasn’t really familiar with. I’m a rock guy, even though I try to listen to a lot of different stuff, that’s my wheelhouse. The key to One Night Band isn’t just finding 40 musicians, it’s finding 40 really good musicians, and since I wanted it to be diverse that meant listening to a lot of bands that normally wouldn’t be on my radar.
I looked at who was playing around town that I might be missing, I asked friends, I looked at who was getting written about, nominated for BMAs, stuff like that and just switched into this discovery mode that I haven’t been in for a long time. It sort of took me back to the old Boston Band Crush days, coming across something that hit just right — Danny from Debo Band on sax, Rebecca Zama’s voice, stuff where I heard it and knew. One weird part was the nervousness I had when reaching out to people for the first time. Back in the old days, I had a website and even if people didn’t know me by name, they’d respond to a Boston Band Crush email because it was a known entity around town. This time I had to try to reach out cold as just some guy with a gmail, and I was like “wait these people don’t know who I am or what this event is at all, are they gonna think I’m some random guy with a weird idea?” Luckily, it all went pretty smoothly.
Once you have the players, how are the bands formed?
The bands are formed at random. We’ve got eight drummers, eight bass players, and 24 “everything else,” which could mean guitar or keys, could be someone who does vocals only, or a multi-instrumentalist. Everyone’s name goes on a card, and they get lined up like some Boston music scene tarot reading — drummers get placed down first, then a bass player is stacked on top of them. After that, cards get added to each pile until they’re gone. The only changes I’ll make are if I know two people have played together a bunch — Sean Drinkwater and Eric Donohue are in a band together (Lifestyle), so they wouldn’t be allowed to play together at One Night Band, for example.
How does this year’s crop of musicians reflect the current music scene?
I’ve always felt that there isn’t really one Boston music scene, there are a million little scenes that crossover a bunch, tons of little Venn diagrams that represent what’s going on here at any given time, and I think One Night Band is a pretty good embodiment of that idea. This was a year that Boston hip-hop really demanded its due, with STL GLD’s Torch Song and the massive Cousin Stizz show at House of Blues, among other things, so if I’m being honest, on balance, to truly reflect the music scene here we’d need even more hip hop artists. I’ll keep that in mind for the future.
What goes on behind the scenes at One Night Band (preparation, rehearsal, etc.) that may not be apparent to a person showing up at the gig?
There is a lot of work leading up. The participants are looking at a very long day — Berklee is donating rehearsal spaces, so everyone will show up at 9:30 a.m. on the day of the show, meet their bandmates, and get to work until dinnertime. The work that I put in — getting all the musicians on board, tracking down rehearsal spaces, sending out promo, working with the venue, etc — is time consuming and can be frustrating just like any other show, but ideally that’s not too apparent to someone walking in and just watching the show.
Do all the musicians get along?
Hopefully, sure. We are talking about musicians here, so ego and role can definitely come into play pretty quickly. I don’t think we’ve ever had anyone walk out or refuse to work with someone else, and while tons have formed solid friendships out of it, I’m sure there are a few who didn’t remain friends after. I’m not a musician, but I know that people create in different ways, so speeding up the process of figuring out how to work together can make for a stressful day and everyone reacts to that differently.
To your knowledge, have there ever been in-band arguments?
I honestly don’t know. Once the bands go into the rehearsal spaces, I think it’s important to give them privacy and be as hands off as possible. I’m not in there poking around looking for the behind the scenes drama. I want the show itself to be good, and leaving the bands uninterrupted as much as I can is important. Everyone we’ve ever asked to participate has been fairly professional, so while I’m sure there have been disagreements and can imagine that some have gotten heated, everyone usually keeps it within the band and doesn’t come running to gossip. The worst I’ve heard are some diplomatically told stories about people who started off the day in a less collaborative place than would be ideal — stuff like showing up with mostly complete songs and trying to get the other four musicians to just use them. One past participant put it best: “You either love your One Night Band, or you end up loving your regular band even more.”
Have any bands remained together beyond One Night Band?
None have stayed together. It’s one night, trial by fire, meet, write, play, break up. Everyone involved is pretty busy to start, since it’s mostly musicians playing in active bands, so it’s not surprising that most stick to the one night part of One Night Band. A few have gotten back together to play the occasional one off, and some have gone into the studio to record the songs they wrote (Flying Blue Squirrels, The Bedss, and The Peppermint Patties come to mind), but it’s pretty rare.
And lastly, why did you choose ZUMIX to benefit from all this?
One Night Band was originally conceived as a benefit for the organization before I was on board with the blog, and I’ve been a big supporter since I found out they existed. I knew that if I was going to bring the event back, I was going to make sure it was to support them again. They truly do amazing work providing music education for kids in East Boston, they’ve received awards and have been recognized by the White House for the incredible work they do (the good White House, not the current one), and it pains me that they have to constantly scrape and beg and hustle for every dollar through fundraising.
One Night Band isn’t a political event, but it shouldn’t go without saying that in the current environment, the arts are having to fight even harder than ever. People are worried about taxes and healthcare costs going up, and anyone with a few dollars to contribute somewhere is being bombarded with GoFundMes and political causes more than ever before. That all takes a toll, so part of the reason One Night Band is back is to help make up for any shortfalls. I don’t know how to do much, and I don’t have much money, but I know how to put on a show, so this is how I’m doing my part.