On the surface, it may have seemed like garage-rocking punk troupe Bonnie Riot was out of commission last year. But judging by the feisty, full-throttle brashness of the Lake Worth four-piece's newest release, Backbone, it looks as if it just diverted all its energy into crafting a perfectly raucous follow-up album. The brainchild of lead vocalist Milly La Madrid and guitarist Luis Sanabria, Bonnie Riot formally took shape in 2009, playing plenty of shows and putting out its eponymous power-punk debut EP in 2013.
Today, New Times is debuting the first single, the title track, off Backbone. It's a song that has personal significance for La Madrid, the group's principal lyricist. "Whenever I feel weak or feel like people are trying to walk all over me, I remind myself to have a backbone and stay positive," she says.
2014 was all about keeping it low-key, according to the band's outspoken frontwoman, La Madrid. In the year that Bonnie Riot "went missing," according to La Madrid, she and Sanabria decided to revamp the lineup and pursue an effort that functioned more as a duo rather than a quintet -- like its previous iteration.
They took their time selecting musicians to round out their sound, discovering them on Craigslist. There's bassist Andrea Salamone -- Sanabria describes her as a natural, funk-driven bass player from the '80s -- and drummer Josh Pono, who, according to Sanabria, is a heavy-metal drummer who can switch to hip-hop at the drop of a dime, and guitarist Alex Yasenev.
"In the past, we would just settle [for a musician] out of desperation," explained La Madrid. Though she and Sanabria share an apartment, the two are quick to point out that they're just roommates. They met in 2004, when La Madrid was passing out fliers in West Palm, looking for a guitarist with whom to jam. She and Sanabria have been inseparable onstage, performing together for more than ten years.
Sanabria, however, La Madrid admitted, is a "perfectionist" and has had trouble keeping a lineup together. "I know I have a strong personality," confessed La Madrid. "I will admit to having butted heads with previous bandmates, but this group is something that I take very seriously, so if someone I am playing with doesn't feel the same way, I really take offense to that."
The two couldn't be more content with their current group, the third since forming Bonnie Riot. Together with Pono and Salamone and with the help of producer Matt Garamy and his This Is Not Dead Studio, they say they finally found the band's true sound with Backbone.
The album is a bit of a departure from their debut EP, according to La Madrid. "We wanted the vocals to shine more than they did before," she explained. She credited Garamy, who mastered the record, for understanding their vision. "We wanted to hear more of the synths too and make the vocals pop, and Matt completely got what we were going for." The result is more "sexual and deliberate" than its predecessor.
Sanabria feels the record has a broader appeal too. "Musically, I'm kind of all over the place, like having ADD, and I wanted this record to reflect that." He describes Backbone an amalgam of different genres, that will appeal to a broader base than just indie rock. He cites track "Wreckage," and its bombastic guitar licks, as a prime example. "There are moments where we get a bit heavy, and I think it offers something even heavy-metal fans will enjoy."
Overall, Sanabria is most proud about the danceable nature that percolates through all seven Backbone numbers. "I'm a firm believer that if audiences can dance to a song, then it is a huge success."
La Madrid, of Peruvian descent, and Sanabria, Venezuelan, admit that their Latin upbringing influences the rhythms, but it is not intentional. "We've had fans point out that some of our songs sound really 'Spanish,' but we have never really noticed."
All in all, the two are in high spirits. They have yet to be sued by country music superstar Bonnie Raitt over the use of the name either, and they couldn't be less concerned. While the moniker is definitely a play on words on the bluesy adult contemporary diva, this group's musical output is the polar opposite on the musical spectrum. According to La Madrid, the name began as a gag that stuck, but it has taken many deeper layers of meaning. The term "bonnie" means beautiful in "another language," stated La Madrid (and we checked; it does in Lowland Scotch, where "bonnie" means beautiful, good-natured, and cheerful, and alternatively, bonny is a pet form of the Spanish word bonita [beautiful]). So in essence, it's a beautiful riot.
The band is hosting three album release parties in the tricounty area: at Radio-Active Records, 6 p.m. Thursday, January 29, 845 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale.
At Gramps, 8 p.m. Friday, January 30, 176 NW 24th St., Miami.
And at Propaganda, 8 p.m. Saturday, January 31, 6 S. J St., Lake Worth. Visit Bonnie Riot on Facebook.
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