Artist Spotlight: Bobby Blunders

Alan Watts, Alice Coltrane, Almighty Nectar, Ammatoli, Asi Fui, Beegs Alchemy, Bernie Pearl, Bobby Blunders, Bohannon, Chic, Chicago, Chris McKinnon, Coaxial, Dat-1, Dave Krepenevich, David Bowie, Dennis Owens, Ellies, Elvin Estela, Fight Club, Free Moral Agents, Gram Parsons, Heather Jean Sommerhauser, Ikey Owens, Ishmael Reed, Jens Clawson, Jesse Carzello, John Coltrane, John Lee Looker, Josh Teague, Kelvin Anderson, Laena Myers-Ionita, Leonard Cohen, Luke Warm Quartet, Michael J. Salter, Mike Kerns, Miller Butler Pasta, New Lights By Dead Vines, Niki Randa, Parliament-Funkadelic, Pastor Freeman, Pho Hong Phat, Price, Reid Kinnet, Rose Park, Ryan Reiff, Sly and The Family Stone, SST, Sun Ra, Talking Heads, Tatiana Velázquez, The Descendents, The Gun Club, The Nest, The Prospector, The Staples Singers, The Unknown DJ, Tiffany Semoy Davy, V Room, Vine, VIP Records, War -

Artist Spotlight: Bobby Blunders

The Basics:

Who are you and Where are you from?

My name is Jesse Carzello, bandleader for Bobby Blunders.  I'm an east coast transplant who arrived in Long Beach 22 years ago in search of adventure, or a change of scenery at the very least.  I was lucky to find some degree of both, and have now lived here gladly for more than half of my life.  I became involved with Bobby during my 24th year of life and my 4th in Long Beach, as a materialist (distinct from materialistic) individual who began suddenly and somewhat reluctantly having a (for lack of a better word) spiritual experience.  Bobby Blunders began as an attempt of a steadfastly secular person to explore, express, and manage this new experience.

How did you get involved in the long beach music scene?

For the first couple years I was in Long Beach I was just working and trying to find my footing in a new place.  I can't remember the details of my introduction to the Long Beach music community but a key occurrence was meeting Mike Kerns (AKA the Almighty Nectar).  I went to one of his DJ nights at The Prospector and in addition to hearing impeccable wide-ranging selection that really spoke to my personal tastes, I started to meet a lot of the djs, artists, and musicians who were active at the time (some of them very much still are!).  Shortly after I started going to local shows. At this time, most original music was happening on a circuit of dive bars with the occasional house, warehouse, or artspace show.  My roommate and fellow east coast transplant Reid Kinnet was a lot more socially outgoing than I was so I remember meeting a lot of people through him.  I had no money and very few friends so I loitered at coffee shops and Fingerprints Music (at that time still on 2nd street) where I would pick up flyers as well as where I initially met Ikey Owens, Dennis Owens, Niki Randa, Elvin Estela, Josh Teague, and many others.  

In around 2002 I started playing in an instrumental band called Luke Warm Quartet, a trio with east coast friends Ryan Reiff (Free Moral Agents/Asi Fui) and Chris Mckinnon (AKA Beegs Alchemy of Coaxial/New Lights by Dead Vines).  Later on we were joined by Reid Kinnett and another east coast friend Dave Krepenevich (AKA Dat-1).   We had an insular little world at first but it began to expand quickly as we were gigging out, particularly since you would have to frequent the bars and attend everyone else's shows to flyer and talk up the show since social media promo was still years in the future.  Playing with Luke Warm might seem like a blip looking back but it was essential to my integration into the local music community.  This is also where I clocked many of my practicing hours and led to my later involvement with Free Moral Agents.  Though now I've been doing Bobby Blunders slightly longer than I was in Free Moral Agents, the FMA years were my most consistently active and formative.

Bobby Blunders

The Process:

What is the writing process like? How do you flush out your ideas?

My writing process is quite varied.  In my first years of songwriting, I often began with lyrics since I was writing regularly even before learning to play music.  I sometimes still cull lyrics from previous writing though not without tailoring it to work as a melodic, sung lyric.  A lot of my best songs (lyric with attached melody) have come to me while driving, riding my bike, walking, and even occasionally while at work.  That said, I'm heavily invested in creative work as a discipline.  Though I don't always have great ideas when I sit down with a pen and a blank piece of paper, or with a guitar in my hand and nothing in my brain, I do think the intentional hours of practice sharpen and expand language, technique, fluency, etc.  

It seems like there's something to motion for me.  For that reason, the groove is often a starting point in my compositions.  In my early days of home recording I'd put many layers of percussion as the track foundation before I worried much about the other sounds.  These days I often use drum machines or make a beat in the DAW to get the process going.  I love getting a basic rhythm track down and stepping and writhing around the room, going instrument to instrument to put down a basic feel.  I often flesh out songs while listening to demos in headphones while riding a bike.  Even with the moodier songs, I prefer them to have an energy, urgency, or feeling of propulsion.

As far as coming up with chords, I'm most intuitive on guitar.  In the last few years I've written more using keyboards because it's easier to go to new places on an instrument I'm less familiar with.

I go out of my way to try different approaches and address deficiencies that I see in my work.  I've been writing songs for almost 30 years and certainly have certain proclivities but I'm always looking to expand or improve, whether that means utilizing different rhythms, varying the types of melody or chord changes that come most naturally, finding new subject matter, and experimenting with form or arrangement.  I'm always interested in making something that is sonically expansive, emotionally nuanced, but still concise and buoyant.  I'm not sure I've been more than moderately successful at this point but it only fuels my compulsion.

A lot of the initial process for my work is a solitary thing but I'd be remiss to not mention the importance of leaving room for my indispensable collaborators.  Other than the initial kernel of creating, having others add color and shading to the compositions is the most satisfying part of the process.

I’ve read your varied answers to the question,  “who is Bobby Blunders?”, so in that spirit, how important is it for artists and musicians to create an authentic persona both for the stage and the studio?

Great question.  I think it's difficult to overstate how important having an authentic and specific identity is in terms of both the live presentation and the studio.  There has never been so many methodologies for creating and distributing music.  There has never been more of a consistent glut of new recorded music 'hitting the market'.  Getting ears on music is plenty challenging as is; but staying power requires a deep, emotional connection.  Similarly, our lives are very busy and there is only so much time, energy, and resources for experiencing culture.  I feel a certain duty as someone requesting these things from the public to deliver something that feels real (even if we do it in the name of the myth) and worthwhile, to uphold my end of the bargain.  We live in a city where there are myriad venues, micro-scenes, and cultural happenings.  I strive to never take my audience for granted.  It is neither owed nor promised.  Bobby says, "We are not a product.  We are a service."


The Sound:

how would you describe Bobby Blunder’s sound?

I generally stammer until the subject changes.  

The Bobby Blunders sound has been consistently evolving since I started making songs on my digital 8 track back in 2004.  I find it hard to describe the sound without flattening it or dumbing it down.  The sound is a focused distillation of many disparate inputs.    I have occasionally, tongue in cheek,  called the sound "cosmic comfort music' referring to its earthy, homespun familiarity and its spiritual and psychedelic leanings while nodding at both Art Ensemble of Chicago's "Great Black Music" and the "Cosmic American Music" of Gram Parsons.

Who or what  has influenced Bobby’s sound the most?

Musically, the most enduring, consistent, and discernible influences have been Sly and the Family Stone, War, Chic, the Staples Singers, Bohannon; as well as pop chameleons like Prince, Bowie, Talking Heads.  Lyrically and thematically, Alan Watts, Leonard Cohen, Sufi poetry, Sun Ra, Ishmael Reed, John and Alice Coltrane have informed the work.

What song are you most proud of as a band, and,  most importantly, why?

I'm generally most excited about whatever is still in the early creative stages.  By the time a song or an album reaches the finish line I'm often ambivalent about it and looking to do better with the next thing.  It's always a learning process.  As far as completed and available work, I'm currently most proud of "Whatever Happens to Me", particularly the album version, because it has a unique sonic palette and an insistent rhythm that keeps you moving in spite of the poignant lyrics.  I'm pretty proud of the forthcoming "character/witness" in general.  I think it's a focused, well-sequenced, proper album-length statement that showcases Bobby's key facets.  Michael J. Salter and I worked hard on the music and production.  Pastor Freeman and Tiffany Semoy Davy delivered some of their greatest yet vocal performances.  Heather Jean Sommerhauser (Junatime) and Tatiana Velázquez (Asi Fui) provided stellar backing vocals.  Jens Clawson and Laena Myers-Ionita who played drums and violin respectively on our first album, are back for a few tracks.




Over the years Bobby Blunders has hosted a number of Long Beach musicians. What’s it like trying to manage keeping the movement alive with such a dynamic line-up?

Pushing a boulder up a hill? Herding cats?

Honestly, I have tremendously enjoyed working with so many musicians here.  I've learned a lot and the experience has been overwhelmingly positive.  I have enjoyed regularly updating the Bobby Blunders sound to best utilize the talents of those in the milieu.  The core contributors to the project Micheal J, Ahmad, and Tiffany have helped lend some consistency and often been a liaison to find and integrate new players.  I would love for this project to operate like a multi-generational musical institution like Parliament-Funkadelic or Rare Essence or the Pan Afrikan People's Arkestra.  There is more or less a revolving door with the players.  I don't want to keep anyone longer than they want to stay and certainly try to make room for those with whom we have chemistry or a rapport if they want to return.  

That said, sometimes it's difficult.  Right now I'm looking for a handful of regularly available singers and players to start gigging again and it has been hard.  Finding musical matches can be challenging enough but I'm also looking for folks with managed egos, good community standing, and enough time to be meaningfully engaged with the project!

LA Weekly Live Bobby Blunders

Big Picture:

Any new releases coming up?

We have an album called "character/witness" coming out this year.   We should have a video or two out by year's end as well.

Long term goals for your music?

My longtime stated goal for the project has been to become an internationally-touring (albeit at a modest level) band.  In the last few years I've begun reckoning with the narrowing odds for this proposition and the revised goal is to simply keep going.  I want to consistently make ambitious, artful records and continue to provide our ecstatic services for whoever needs them.

 What do you feel is most unique or special about the long beach music scene?

There is a lot that I feel is special about the Long Beach music scene but I'll try to hit the highlights.

I think Long Beach is still viewed by many as a provincial burg by many outsiders, though the city in terms of both its people and logistical significance is decidedly international.  Among its participants and observers I think it's pretty well observed that the Long Beach music scene is vast and musically diverse; but it is also consistently renewed.  People age out and move out of town but there are always new artists and new bands.  I pay attention and try to stay apprised of the up-and-coming artists but because of the sheer volume, I'm always playing catch up.  

Further, the history here is deep in addition to the well-documented 90s exports. You have members of War and The Gun Club who are around.  You have Kelvin Anderson from VIP Records who along with running the legendary store is still presenting live music.  You have low-key people like the Unknown DJ, who was present at the birth of Detroit Techno and later helped pioneer the West Coast electro sound and is an interesting footnote in hip-hop history, staying in the city.   SST records was here for many years.  The Descendents rehearsed here in the early days.  Blues legend John Lee Looker had a home here.  Bernie Pearl lives here and has been playing blues for more than half a century!

Perhaps most significantly, in the more than two decades that I've been here, it seems like there has been more of a premium on originality and individuality rather than conforming to an established wave or sound.  

Do you want to Shout out to anyone special In the community?

I'd like to shout out the only folks that it makes sense to: those still reading this.  And just to put it into the ether: shoutout to those who work, move, or simply breathe in a way that makes this place (taken as granularly or broadly as you like) more hospitable.  I've long been disabused of utopian hopes but know, intrinsically and practically, that this is what we can do to halt the advance of a less hospitable situation.

And of course, shout out to the memory of Ikey Owens, who has been invaluable to my experience with music, in this city and at large.  I'll continue to say his name as long as I have a platform.

Any advice you want to give younger musicians getting started in the music scene?

If capitalism is your primary motivation, seek counsel elsewhere!

Practice your craft.  Support your friends and peers.  Be a good steward of the scene: work to keep it safe, inclusive, expansive, and vigorous.

Sign posts are everywhere.  Pay attention!

Local Favorites:

Album: Angela Jane Bachmann "Uncommon Likeness"
Band: Asi Fui
breakfast: The Nest (Bellflower) or Pho Hong Phat
lunch: Ammatoli or Miller Butler Pasta (Pedro)
dinner: Rose Park on Pine or Ellies
Bar: I don't get out too much these days, particularly since I spend a fair amount of time working at a bar but V Room for a nightcap, Vine for shows, and Que Sera for Fight Club have been relatively consistent stops.
Spot to Play: Alex's Bar 

Last chance, anything we missed that you want to share?

Bobby says: "Justice is Coming.  Splendor is Here."

Culture is survival.  Peace.

Bobby Blunders Instagram

Photo Credits: Betzi Learning, Casey Lewis, Chance Artworks, Leti Gomez, Mary Bell, Neil Belen, Nick Edwards


The Spotlight Blog Series is aimed to  help musicians, recording studios, venues, promoters, and small businesses all connect the dots within the local scene to find success beyond it.

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