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Close to 11 p.m. on a weekday at the Coral Gables Pub, the clock isn't exactly Cintron's friend either. A couple of bands have backed out of a multigroup fest, leaving time slots momentarily uncertain. Once the schedule gets straightened out, curly-haired Cintron, donning a paisley shirt straight out of the wardrobe room for That '70s Show, prepares for a 45-minute set of intense standup drumming, stretching and bending like a contortionist. For anyone but a marching-band veteran, playing drums standing up is tough work. But Cintron makes it look easy.
The Derek Cintron Band (singer/drummer Cintron, guitarist Tony Medina, and bassist Fernando Perdomo) is one of the busier acts in the area, taking its set not just through the southern swamps but also making regular appearances in Jacksonville and Orlando.
"I want to play for the strangers who have no idea who you are but just read about you in the paper and want to go check you out," says the Miami Beach-based Cintron, who until recently also had a side gig singing with Humbert, Hialeah's answer to Weezer. "I'd rather play a room with 20 strangers than play a show with 200 of my best friends. I like the excitement of winning over a crowd, not because "Oh, my buddy is in the band; therefore, I have to go.' I want new blood."
Late last year, the Cintron band headed to New York City to perform at dump royale CBGB, a gig that led to other appearances at other area venues. "We had gone on three-day road trips before, but we hadn't done a week," Cintron explains. "You really get to know everybody's idiosyncrasies, and it's a test." Among the challenges was tolerating one another's music. "I pissed everybody off with my Pixies records," Cintron recalls. "And Fernando pissed everybody off with his cerebral power-pop stuff."
But it is a safe bet that one album everyone in the band feels comfortable with is Cintron's 2000 release, Oh... the Drama, a melodic ensemble of hard-hitters and free-flowing, Americana-dashed rockers Cintron created on his own, in charge of drums, guitars, basses, keyboards, and string arrangements. The Prince-styled process proved hectic. "There were a lot of little personal dramas on that album," Cintron testifies. "This was getting all of them out and hopefully preparing for bigger and better things for me."
First fiddling with the drums and then with the guitar, Cintron picked up on bands like Cheap Trick and Rush in his early teens, then grew to love classic-rock staples like Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin by the time he got to high school, as well as antagonists like the Clash and the Buzzcocks. After a brief stint with an early version of what would become Saigon Kick, Cintron went from filling in for a few gigs for popular '80s South Florida rock act Vandal (which Medina cofounded) to joining full-time, spending five years with the group before it broke up in 1995.
"That band did a lot of cool stuff," Cintron asserts. "We had a good run and a great time." After Vandal split, Cintron continued to write his own tunes, straying from the soaring anthems and fiery guitar wars of Vandal and turning toward more organic songwriting. The result was Cintron's 1995 Mantra debut, the first album on which he took complete control and performed every instrument. To help in a live setting, Cintron put together a band that included Medina. But what started out as a solid unit slowly unraveled.
"The band started falling apart," Cintron says. "I couldn't find a drummer who would make the music feel right, so I was pretty dissatisfied." Cintron fired one drummer, and another left. Medina, who also decided things weren't working out with the band, quit and moved to New York, only to return and rejoin. But the drum problem still lingered. Finally, Medina suggested Cintron step behind the drums and sing. At first, Cintron hesitated.
"If I was sitting behind the drum kit and singing lead, it would become increasingly difficult to connect with an audience," was his theory. So he decided to try to practice playing drums while standing. "It felt a little weird. It didn't occur to me that I could play drums and sing. So I said, "What the hell?'" Drum problem solved.
Now that Cintron appears to have found a stable lineup (the final ingredient was Perdomo, who also plays rippin' guitar in the Avenging Lawnmowers of Justice), the next step is toward the studio to record the follow-up to Drama, which he predicts will happen in a few weeks. "I'm going to have the aid and assistance of my bandmates, which is going to be really cool," he says. "I'm going to have that energy coming from them while I'm laying down tracks, which I haven't had before. It's going to be a new experience for me."