Whoever said "Play with fire and you'll surely get burned" never met Everymen's Captain Bobo. During the Lake Worth bluegrass-punk troupe's kinetic sets, the charismatic frontman displays a penchant for carnival-style theatrics — especially of the combustible sort. But Brazilian-born Bobo (real name: Sergio Witis) insists that the blazing balls he spits out onstage have never severely scorched him.
"In reality, I'm a thug," the 31-year-old says with a shrug. "There have been a few minor burns but usually on others." Bobo, guitarist and backup vocalist "The Mechanic" Jesse Baumann, bass player "Reverend" Tymothy Hennessy Budz, and washboard and according player "The" Chuck Callaway are gathered at Mother Earth Coffee in downtown Lake Worth.
Despite innumerable tattoos and piercings decorating their bodies, Everymen is a venerable, good-humored bunch. They're in high spirits, with three record-release parties for their debut full-length, When Water's Thicker Than Blood, on the horizon. The first show is Friday at Propaganda, then Tuesday at the Stage in Miami, and finally at Fort Lauderdale's Monterey Club on Saturday, August 20.
Of late, immeasurable tragedy and insoluble circumstances made the guys an even tighter-knit group, and the forthcoming album's title reflects the strength of their bond.
"None of us are blood relatives, but after Cowboy's accident, we realized we were closer than family," Bobo says.
Cowboy played washboard for the band until he took a serious fall off his balcony in January. He ended up in a coma at an area hospital without any health insurance. To help pay his mounting bills, Everymen, Cowboy's family, and other local musicians organized a benefit show in February at Propaganda and unified Lake Worth's scattered music scene for one night. "We never felt that much love out of the community," says Bobo.
The range of emotions Everymen felt that bittersweet February evening were directly channeled into "A Song for Cowboy." The three minutes of stomping catharsis honoring their ailing partner is the closing track on When Water's Thicker Than Blood. Bobo describes it as "something so awesome sprang out of an incident so horrible."
In general, questions about Cowboy's well-being are met with discomfort and short replies. "All I can say is he is not in a coma, but his fight has just started," he says. "We wish we had better news to tell people, but we don't."
The rest of the album often reflects Bobo's inner turmoil. Despite the bullring connecting his nostrils and his propensity for clowning around with the band, he's a deeply introspective individual. As Everymen's principal songwriter, he writes a backbone for the group to build upon.
"Bobo is the writer, and we are the producers," explains Baumann. He adds gravelly harmonies on many of When Water's Thicker Than Blood's melodies, including "Good and Evil," a track that deals with the quintessential battle of good and evil that occurs in one's head — in this case, the Everymen frontman's inner demons.
A recovering heroin addict going on three years sober, Bobo is forthcoming about his recovery. He openly admits that most of the lyrics he penned for the album are direct responses to his tussle with narcotics and later emails us lyrics to several tracks as examples of his admitted personal "fucking insanity." "Nothing Left to Lose" stands out resolutely. The upright-bass-led doozy featuring Bobo croakingly "trying to fill a void inside my soul" plays out like Neil Young's "The Needle and the Damage Done" — set to an Appalachian soundtrack.
In a perverse Everymen twist of fate, it was Bobo's drug habits that brought the group together. The story goes that he stole his future bandmate Tymothy Hennessy Budz's monies from a tip jar for his next fix. The acquaintances, who both worked at the defunct Backbone Records in Delray Beach, would become friends. Bobo needed a band after being kicked out of similarly minded local psychobilly outfit Viva le Vox and began jamming with Budz on the porch of a Palm Beach County sobriety house.
Did Budz ever recoup his money? No, not quite, but Bobo was quick to point out that he recently bought him a bass string.
As for the fire-breathing, Everymen agree that it's "pretty badass," but they don't want the group to be defined by it. The band has made the conscious decision to scale down the flaming roguery to draw more attention to the group's content. "I put a lot of effort and emotions into these lyrics," Bobo admits.
This is a healthy idea. Although Bobo has not sustained any outward injuries since learning the trade as a street performer in New Orleans, he has been burned on the inside: "I've had lung poisoning, pneumonia, and one time I couldn't breathe right for two weeks." He explains he had always used kerosene for its dazzling effects, but a gypsy doctor he saw when he had a collapsed lung told him otherwise. Imitating a mixture of Russian and Mexican accents, he recounts what the doctor told him on that consult. "I understand kerosene is so hot and sexy, but you cannot use it no more." He has since switched to paraffin oil.
As to what label Everymen feels comfortable with for its throwback, banjo-driven jams, "crustabilly" seems to be the most widely accepted. "We are not quite rockabilly, and the style people have been calling 'swamp music' isn't a great fit either," Bobo explains.
"I don't see any swamps around here," interjects wild-eyed Chuck Callaway. He is the group's newest member, who stepped up to fill the percussionist void left by Cowboy's absence. He's also the most animated onstage. "I'm not plugged into anything, so I don't have to be anywhere," he says. "I feel the need to be everywhere." Callaway adds that learning the washboard was pure instinct: "I'm Puerto Rican. I don't need to play any percussion instrument beforehand — I can just pick them up and start booming."
When Water's Thicker Than Blood will be released on nascent Lake Worth label Wayward Parade, which is more of a community-based collective than a record label, according to Bobo. He began the project with tattoo mogul John Wylie, who owns Aces High in West Palm Beach and Black Rose in Deerfield. Wylie also founded Eulogy Recordings, a punk and hardcore label that released records from New Found Glory, Unearth, and a few others years back. Viva le Vox vocalist Tony Bones was also a founder. Due to his band's robust touring schedule, Bones has stepped aside, and Darling Sweets' singer Lindsey Sayre has stepped in. Wayward Parade will release Sayre's Dixie-romping Americana act's debut full-length as well.
After an hour of conversation over iced coffee, the band needs to depart. It is Cowboy's birthday, and they plan to visit him. As he leaves, Witis shares that his fridge still holds a Pabst Blue Ribbon tall boy that belonged to Cowboy. Before leaving on a mammoth three-month tour later this month, the guys plan to guzzle it together in Cowboy's presence.