Artist Spotlight: Bootleg Orchestra
Above Photo by Romeo Hebron and Lorillee Paras
- Who are you and where are you from?
AD: I’m Andrew Dickson, guitarist and producer of Bootleg Orchestra. US-born and Canadian-raised but based now in LA.
MC: Menchie Caliboso, bassist and producer of Bootleg Orchestra! Born and raised in Long Beach, and currently living in LA.
VA: I’m Vanessa Acosta, vocalist and trumpeter of Bootleg Orchestra. Long Beach local, aka land that was originally and still is Tongva Land.
above: Menchie Caliboso. Photo by Romeo Hebron and Lorillee Paras
- How did you come up with the name Bootleg Orchestra?
MC: Vanessa and I played in a jazz/rock trio called Feed The Feeble for a few years. We wrapped that chapter up because I started to engage with more tools (e.g., Ableton, Reason, synthesizers, etc.) that allowed me to create more music that I wanted to produce -- which I needed at a time when I was listening to so much more beat-, electronica-, ambient-heavy music. I became fascinated with electronica music and experimented with a lot of sound now that I had this access to such a wide range of instruments and sounds at my fingertips through the new DAWs I was learning. Bootleg Orchestra just felt like a funny name to capture that. The name started off as a joke I made and it was never really meant to stick, but here we are!
- How did each of you get involved in the Long Beach music scene?
VA: My first Long Beach band was an all-female jazz combo made up of friends from our H.S. jazz program. Through that program I was able to have my first experiences playing gigs at local Long Beach venues and churches with other jazz students. After that Menchie and I began playing music together in college and created our first and pre-Bootleg Orchestra band known as Feed the Feeble, we started off writing songs on our keyboards and playing shows at local Long Beach open mics, stores, and coffee shops. Once we started performing more locally we really got to know a lot of other creatives in the community who we love dearly, and now here we are still creating music today!
above: Vanessa Acosta. Photo by Romeo Hebron and Lorillee Paras
MC: I think my earliest involvement in the LB music scene was during my junior of high school at Fendi’s Cafe, open mic night hosted by another Filipina-woman who we called Tita Maloo. Wherever she is, I wanna shout her out for opening up that space to youth and planting those seeds early for us! I moved in and out of Long Beach throughout the years post-high school, but I think going to LB Poly High School with other brilliant jazz musicians who we’ve stayed friends with over the years has afforded us semi-easy access to the music community here. I think it was as early as 2009 when Vanessa and I also discovered the non-jazz community of Long Beach, and started playing more shows then as Feed the Feeble. It’s been really amazing seeing the music community flourish and broaden with more artists and different sounds. At some point in our 20s, Jim from 4th St Vine became the equivalent of Tita Maloo because he opened up his space to the entire community, so shout out to him too!
AD: My mother and sister are based in Carson so I have been coming to see shows in Long Beach off and on throughout the years, but it was only after meeting Menchie and Vanessa that I was introduced to the vibrant and beautiful scene here!
above: Andrew Dickson. Photo by Romeo Hebron and Lorillee Paras
- What is the writing process like? How do you flush out your ideas individually and then collectively as a group?
It depends, and the pandemic forced us to come up with different ways of approaching our sessions. Some songs start from the archives of Menchie or Andrew’s hard drives, then Vanessa would add melodies where they fit after hearing sometimes skeletons of a beat. Or there have been sessions where we completely start from scratch together. I don’t know if our process is longer than others or more ‘heady’ than others, but we go through a lot of iterations of songs until we feel like every aspect, musically and lyrically, is there intentionally and with a purpose. On a high level, we try to collectively come up with the basic musical structures of the song before each of us individually spend some time with it and bring ideas to the table in subsequent sessions. At some point, we try to identify the theme of the message and try to match our sound to the overall mood and personality of the song. Throughout the development of a song, we get pretty clear about tasking and who works on what, and support each other through the ebbs and flow of that process. Ultimately, we decide collectively what gets to stay in a song vs. what fluff we can remove. We’re pretty intentional with every musical element of the song, and give the same weight to the lyrics as we try to be economical and sharp with our words.
- How would you describe the band's sound?
Alternative Soul music with revolution-oriented messages! We all have very diverse creative backgrounds and bring a lot of different elements together organically. That combined with a strong intention of creating cultural work that educates and inspires people to build together and organize to create systemic change, we’re using music to share our joy and most of all spark those conversations.
- What piece of gear is essential for making Bootleg Orchestra what it is?
AD: Mine would probably be my Mr. Black Supermoon reverb pedal. Can’t remember how I found this thing or who put me on to it but it has an amazing vibe and tone.
above: Video Still By Director John Hass
MC: Andrew and I produce out of Ableton, and have our favorite plug-ins. Maschine and Massive have been prominent for me in these last few years.
- What song are you most proud of and why?
MC: Hard for me to say. I shared a lot of vulnerability in co-writing a lot of the songs in MAKIBAKA, and each song is important to me in its own unique way because it resembles a different marker of growth and breakthrough for me. I think the earliest song in MAKIBAKA that I co-wrote and produced was Carry On The Fight in 2018. Producing that song marked the beginning of a new chapter of my journey as a producer because it was the first song where what I heard and envisioned in my head was pretty close to its final form. You know, it’s frustrating when you have a really amazing idea in your head but aren’t quite able to translate it into a sound that you feel proud of, and Carry On The Fight was definitely the first song where I was able to do that - and with courage and confidence because I am my own worst critic. Believing in the song and knowing the message of the song was much bigger than me helped me get out of my head, and that was the general mentality I tried to carry throughout the process of making MAKIBAKA.
AD: I feel like this is always changing for me. Lately I’ve been really excited about a couple songs we’re working on with Donovan Brown aka Dawn Koyote, an amazing artist also from Long Beach. More on that soon!
VA: That’s a tough question. There have been so many special songs created between us over the years, and each of them has their own life and story. At this moment what’s coming to mind is our recent single release, Solidaritron. We gave ourselves a day to come up with a new track in response to a call for artists put out by the Chinese American Museum, Los Angeles. The ask was for artists to create a piece of work inspired by a mural from their current exhibition, “Collective Resilience”. We chose “Solidaritron” by my partner Bodeck Luna, a piece that states “...the 1% benefits from our division, we must unite and fight our common enemy.” I’m proud of what we came up with in alignment with his message. It takes me back to memories of a young Vanessa singing along to Where is the Love circa 2003.
We currently organize with the Philippine United States Solidarity Organization - Southern California (PUSO SoCal), a group centered around Filipino human rights issues in the Philippines and U.S. Our goal is to amplify the work of our Filipino allies abroad and educate communities locally on the fight for human rights in the Philippines, connecting their struggles with our own here in the U.S. Only one-third of the band is Filipino (i.e., Menchie), but we’re a solidarity organization. The primary campaigns of PUSO SoCal concern human rights in Philippines (e.g., Philippine Human Rights Act), but we also recognize that the injustices happening in Philippines is not an isolated incident, and is part of systemic injustice rooted in imperialism. We also support campaigns of other organizations/communities to build on the solidarity work and create strong alliances that address systemic injustices that affect us all, one issue at a time. While imperialist powers continue to exploit people and workers worldwide, we hope to inform others on the strong history of resistance and strategic organizing in other nations. It really is all connected and there is so much more for us to learn and apply. With that said, as we do this work we must recognise that we do so today as settlers on stolen land. As much as we love to claim Long Beach as our home, we recognize that this land truly belonged to Tongva natives since time immemorial. It was only through genocide, blatent lies and trickery that we are able to know this land as Long Beach today. We’re excited to continue building relationships with our native relatives here in Southern California and see how we can amplify their knowledge, perspectives, and concerns as we address issues of poverty, mental health, the prison industrial complex, land degradation, food security, and climate change.
It’s time for people of the world to unite, we are long overdue for some strong international solidarity!
Start by getting to know your own local community. Start at home, walk/roll/skate your block. What do you see? How do you feel? Are there any local community groups in your neighborhood? If so, find out what issues they’re focused on and see if their work is in alignment with your personal beliefs and go from there. You don’t have to start from scratch, there are many great groups doing good work who just need support. The different ways we can contribute to this shift in culture are limitless, that’s part of what makes this work fun and exciting! We all have unique gifts and ways of expressing our perspectives for peace, justice, and collective growth. When we listen to each other’s stories and take time to understand each other we gain insight and perspective on who we are as a collective, because none of us are separated from each other’s history or story. We all share space, roads, resources, and energy in more ways than we realize. Especially in places like our beautiful and diverse city of Long Beach.
Honestly, it would be really hard for us to answer this question and not also say…. go find a local anti-imperialist organization that you believe in and gain the practice of immersing yourself in the community, struggling alongside others to address the needs of the community. It’s a long arduous process of gaining wins together as a whole, but genuine change that will set the foundation for a new and just world isn’t easy and it doesn’t happen overnight. Ultimately, this work was never meant for any one person to accomplish alone. Invite a friend with you to the next local event, or look to create new relationships in the community as well. Check out our IG page to learn more about our organization (@puso.socal) and ways you can get involved. Links are in our IG bio! (@bootlegorchestra).
One more thing on this, an important tip as a community organizer (or for anyone trying to accomplish anything anywhere) is that…you must be mindful of the energy you expend doing the work. You must replenish yourself and take care of YOU! The best thing you can do before beginning any campaign or project is make sure you’re giving yourself proper nutrition, exercise, and the TLC you need to prepare for the journey and support harmony within, it won’t be sustainable otherwise. You probably have heard the phrase before, ‘it’s a marathon, not a sprint’. That saying holds a lot of weight here. Giving yourself daily physical, mental, and spiritual nourishment will help you cultivate the mindfulness you need to balance your activism with family, friends, and the other things going on in your life. Google ‘healthy gut bacteria’ and remember there’s a whole community inside of you that needs love too! Most of all be gentle with yourself, you’re here, you’re alive, you’re doing great!
AD: Guitar Setup: Mainly a strat through a hot rod deluxe amp with a rotating cast of pedals. Production: Ableton, Maschine, with a range of plugins, VSTs, samples, and found sounds.
MC: In the studio, I have Ableton with hella plug-ins, Maschine, Akai APC40, KORG Volca Drum Machine, KORG Minilogue XD, MIDI keyboard, Fender Jazz Bass, and Epiphone Les Paul guitar.
VA: LeBlanc Silver Trumpet-T357S Arturo Sandoval, Shure Beta58A Mic, Native Lung Reverb pedal, Boss VE-20 Vocal Processor
- Any new releases coming up or that you want to share?
Yes! We have some upcoming shows– May 4th at the Silverlake Lounge and June 2nd at the Goldfish in Highland Park. Our latest single that came out in late March 2022 was supported by the Chinese American Museum - Los Angeles and written to Bodeck Luna’s ‘Solidaritron’ piece. It’s out now for purchase on our Bandcamp! We’re also currently in the process of recording some new tracks with guest collaborators that we can’t announce just yet. Some other fun things to look out for: some fun live performance videos recorded with our friend John Hass and his amazing crew, possibly a new EP on the horizon, and then of course more collaborations.
Above: Menchine Caliboso performing live
- Long term goals for the group?
Who makes long-term plans these days? JK, but really. Our plans are to keep making music for as long as we can, growing as artists, and hopefully be able to make a sustainable, livable income from it one day! In the meantime, we have our day jobs - which we are also passionate about, fortunately!
- What do you feel is most unique or special about the Long Beach music scene?
We grew up here, so LB just feels like home and always will be. Also, we get all the benefits of living in a big city, without really feeling like a big city. The diversity, culture, there’s no place like LB!
- Do you want to shout out anyone special in the community?
We’d like to shout out to all our friends, comrades, allies, and family who have supported us over the years and also those who haven’t heard of us yet!! You all are a part of our community and we cherish you! Makibaka, Huwag Matakot!–Dare to Struggle, Don’t be Afraid! (Tagalog chant) Mitakuye Oyasin–We are all related (Lakota prayer).
AD: Few Good Things by Saba
MC: Heaux Tales, Mo Tales by Jazmin Sullivan. Fresh Bread by Sam Gendel.
VA: San Pedro EP by Jairus Mozee, Vena by Rachel Therrin
AD: MNDSGN & the Rare Pleasures
MC: Soular System
MC: Pho Hong Phat, always and forever
VA: Little La Lune
MC: Bamboo Club
AD: Aquarium of the Pacific!
MC: It’s been a while since we’ve played in a LB venue. Who wants to book us?!
VA: Someone’s backyard, or Que Sera.
* Artist Spotlight is a weekly blog that features local Long Beach Musicians. Want to nominate yourself or someone you know for a feature? leave a comment below *