An hour before the clock struck Monday in Manhattan's Bowery recently, the members of Bosnian Rainbows filed onto the stage at the Bowery Ballroom. The venue was mostly filled that muggy mid-July night--about 3/4s of the way, maybe more--an impressive accomplishment for a less-than-year-old band touring on the strength of its debut album released just a month prior.
But upon closer scrutiny Bosnian Rainbows reveals itself to be an alt-rock Dream Team, in actuality. There's the experimental drummer-keyboardist Deantoni Parks of Kudu and The Mars Volta, at back. He was flanked by his Kudu and Dark Angels' band-mate, synthesizers/keyboardist Nicci Kasper. Lead singer Teresa Suarez aka Teri Gender Bender is most widely--and wildly--known as the bloodied apron-clad front-woman of Le Butcherettes, the Mexican garage punk act. And finally there's Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, the co-founder of cult bands At the Drive-In and The Mars Volta, and prolific guitarist-composer behind countless solo albums and endeavors.
Of course there would be crowds.
The quartet readied their instruments and took their places in a tight diamond shape at the center of the stage. Teri Gender Bender, barefoot, sheepishly smiled at the cheering audience, closed her eyes, and slowly breathed in the set's first notes.
Like a rainbow, Bosnian seemingly came together in an instant--but in reality, it required a chain of elemental events in order to emerge. In August 2012, Rodriguez-Lopez assembled longtime collaborators Kasper, Parks, and Teri to tour in support of his most recent album, Octopus Kool-Aid. He soon found he craved a new project altogether.
"I had had the desire to put together a collaborative group, a collective of artists whose focus would be on information and knowledge more than anything and togetherness, you know, convivencia," he explained over the phone a couple days after the Bowery show.
"This group would be comprised of bandleaders so that there would always be an equality. Four composers, four producers, four engineers, four leaders who have their own things going on and have to make a sacrifice in order to become part of the group--to become one," Rodriguez-Lopez continued.
After that tour, the band-members retreated to Germany, where they continued bonding and recorded their debut album. To hear Rodriguez-Lopez recount the process you'd almost think Bosnian Rainbows were managed by Deepak Chopra.
"The ethos of the group is that if you take care of nutrition, if you aspire to a certain quality of living, everything else is going to fall into place," he said. "If you take care of your body, mind, ideals, morals, and ethics—then everything else is just a by-product--like music."
"We had our equipment set up in a room in a studio there. It was also at the house we were living at. But we didn't touch the equipment. We spent six weeks talking, cooking for each other, sharing recipes, sharing nutritional information, talking about politics, arguing, watching movies, playing soccer. A lot of laughter. A lot of just time sitting around, going to walk in the park. Because we really stuck to that and took care of our quality of life, then the other thing happened. We were like 'oh, we have four days till we leave on tour, we should probably…okay.' And we ended up in the rehearsal room, and everything just came out," Rodriguez-Lopez concluded.
But the resulting record is universes away from New Agey fare. Bosnian Rainbows, which came out last month, nimbly traffics through otherworldly prog-rock and psychedelia, jittery garage, cosmic new wave, and tripped-out Italo-disco. That comfortable convivencia, or coexistence, paid off: The 11-track effort egolessly showcases and weaves its members' strengths and histories. The album is made greater because of the sum of its parts.
For Rodriguez-Lopez, who's known for being difficult collaborator, Bosnian Rainbows—as well as occurrences leading up to it, namely an illness in his family and last year's At The Drive-In reunion—helped prepare him to open up more, he says.
"It's helped put me down the road to curing a lot of my neuroses," he explained. "Life had already happened to me and had me see that sharing was the only way to live and to see the errors in the ways I was living."
Teri feels like she's grown and matured since joining the band too.
"Looking at it off-stage or behind the scenes angle, it made me share in general," she said. "With Le Butcherettes I felt like I was immortal. I'm angry, I'm insecure, I want everything for myself."
However, that sonic egalitarianism heard on Bosnian doesn't entirely translate onstage. Whereas on the record Teri's haunting vocals belong to a player in a quartet, live, at the Bowery, she was impossible to ignore. Throughout the hour-long set, the singer resembled a broken ballerina—manic and spastic. Her arms flailed, jerked, and jutted as if independent of her feet, which skittered, shuffled, and stomped to and fro. She stood en pointe at one point and back-flipped onto her back too.
It turns out she has no formal dance training and laughed when asked about her ballet background.
"When I was little I lived in Chiapas, Mexico and it was super hot and humid and all the kids were outside in the park and I remember had fleas," she recalled. "I got insects in my hair so they were picking those out, and my parents felt bad for me so I begged them to put me in ballerina class. I can only remember being in two classes; I was like six or seven years old but my mom swears I was in it for a month. Maybe I took some of those memories with me? But no formal training. And I don't have fleas anymore."
With the exception of a few breaks to record, Bosnian Rainbows has remained on the road. The foursome starts a European leg this week and more North American dates in the fall. Bosnian Rainbows' sophomore follow-up—a Spanish-language release described as lighter and uplifting by Rodriguez-Lopez and Teri—is complete but has no set release date. And that's of relatively little concern to this perspective-wielding bunch.
"Possibly the musical part of it is the most uninteresting part of what happens in our day," said Rodriguez-Lopez. "That we have the capability to pick a city and go live there. We find ourselves in these great places in Europe or America--that's the exciting, mind-blowing part. We try to live that as much as possible and then that's inspiration."
"Take the good and the bad and the beautiful and move on because it's all going to end soon," added Teri. "Not the world, hopefully, but us."