BOBO: from left to right, NICK, DREW AND PHIL
BOBO is a lot of things. It is a band; It is an art gallery; It is a state of mind. It is comprised by three members: Phil Cote, Nick Payne and Drew Gillespie. Currently based in Philadelphia, PA, BOBO is an all-angles-considered approach to culture and creativity, ambitiously working towards bringing something new to the people.
THE FREE STORE: Which came first, the band or the gallery?
DREW: The band came first. It started on January 1st , 2007.
PHIL: The band started in Jesse and Lindsay's basement, with this one song: "Daddy's Favorite Daughter". Drew was singing and Nick was playing a little thumb piano, and I was playing two coffee cans as percussion. We recorded it on minidisk. We didn't know what to think of it but that was basically the beginning of it.
NICK: But then we put it on hold because we were in another band.
THE FREE STORE: Which was...
DREW: But there were too many people in that band. There were problems with scheduling and everyone had jobs. We weren't practicing enough.
THE FREE STORE: What was the difference between Umweahyeh and Bobo?
NICK: Umweahyeh wasn't into writing organized songs. But we wanted to do that.
DREW: Yeah, that was something that I hadn't done before but I thought it would be an interesting challenge.
NICK: Another important part of the beginning of the band was when we booked our first show. It gave us a goal and a date we had to work for. We had a little bit of money to work with, too. We had a budget of $300. That made us think of spending money to do a live show that was more than just music.
THE FREE STORE: Who gave you the money for the show?
Nick: It was Ryan Trecartin and Lizzie Fitch's show at Elizabeth Dee gallery. Elizabeth Dee funded the after party and whatever went into it, which was the band. That's when we started building props. PHIL: That was when the stencil font came in.
NICK: We had costumes, and a theme.
DREW: Back then we weren't really thinking about things yet. That show was just all weird. The way we dressed was as if we drove Subaru Outback's. Dorky, Peter Jackson style. We had all these newspapers on the ground with little rabbit doo-doo's we made and fake pee stains.
NICK: Elizabeth Dee, when she came into the space, said, "Is there a cat in here?"
PHIL: It was a lot less focused than it is now. We had a can of dog food; we drank big things of Arizona ice tea. We shredded money, too.
DREW: We made this table that had a paper shredder on it and at the climax of the show I pulled all this money out. I had taped it together, like a magic trick; it just kept going and going right into the paper shredder. Then, underneath it, there was this recycling bin that said, "Money grows on trees."
THE FREE STORE: So after that show you guys realized that was something you wanted to take more seriously?
DREW: Yeah, cause we got a really good response from that.
THE FREE STORE: What were the rules of Bobo at the beginning?
DREW: There was a formula we established. It was kind of like, you pick a theme of something that will never age. Like restaurants, courts, hospitals. Things that won't go away. Necessities in a civilized culture. We would take those and add something weird to it.
PHIL: What the weird thing is, we ended up calling it '"Gunk". That's the first set word that would describe the weirdness that would be introduced to classic themes.
DREW: Gunk is technology.
NICK: Technology and Biology.
DREW: I always thought of it as the stuff that came up in the corners of rooms. I mean, we're sort of sloppy people, messy home-keepers, and there is always dead skin collecting in the corners of our house. Debris.
THE FREE STORE: There is a lot of Gunk on your flyers.
DREW: Yeah...with the flyers I wanted it all to be contained within this kind of fašade. Like a transparent oozy surface that you have to look through to see the art. You'd have to go through it to get to the contents inside.
PHIL: Drew is definitely the one in charge of that part of the band. He took control of the making of posters. It was good for nick, and me because the more focused the flyers got, the more Nick and I could make music that reflected the imagery of the flyers. That was another big reason for moving from the themed performances to one uniform performance.
DREW: We took this approach: wanted it to be more streamlined so it could be more efficient so we could play more shows. The way we dress now for the shows... we look at all contemporary culture and sort of blur our eyes and thought, "What's normal? What's a normal way to dress?" We decided it's a colored shirt, blue jeans and brand new converse sneakers. That's normal looking.
PHIL: The uniform that we wear when we play now in is the uniform we wore at the gallery.
NICK: At first at the gallery we just wanted to wear converse jeans and a t-shirt and a name tag that said "Bobo's On 9th" and our name. We'd dip our name-tags in oil and put a bunch of mashed up bugs and stuff in them. It was these clean clothes with these disgusting name-tags.
THE FREE STORE: You all went to school in Providence, and got to see a lot of the creativity coming out of Fort Thunder firsthand. How did that affect you creatively?
PHIL: Well, there are three groups that stick out in my mind: Lightning Bolt, Forcefield and the Paper Rad bands. It was the first time I had seen and heard people doing things that were really weird. It wasn't like hardcore or rock and roll. It was really ambiguous. It was this middle of the road, where you can't tell what they are going for. It gave me new ideas about how to make music.
NICK: As much as I really loved all those bands and really respected them, I think we saw the negative side of it when people were ripping them off. I think that was the reason that we, as Bobo, wanted to use things that were classic and wouldn't go away. I think Paper Rad is awesome but we saw it imitated in ways that was not cool. Really bad versions of it.
DREW: Pop iconography has to age. And recently I think that pop culture has eaten itself. I don't see retro trends happening anymore. I think that the classic theme is a response to that phenomenon.
PHIL: I remember someone asking me, " is there anything beyond irony? Is there anything beyond kitsch?" I wouldn't want to say that Bobo is the answer, but I'd say that Bobo it provides an answer.
PHIL: Weird is something that is always on the horizon. Weird will never be right in front of you.
THE FREE STORE: How did you come up with the name for Bobo?
PHIL: I think it originally came from Curb Your Enthusiasm. You know, the Larry David restaurant. But then I was thinking that I have never been in a band that agreed on a name so quickly. We instantly knew that was the band name. I feel like with other bands we spent months debating names, but with B obo it was so fast.
DREW: With the band name it immediately effected the direction we were going to go in. The name Bobo stands for bourgeois bohemian. It's kind of our take on who is listening to our music.
NICK: I think it's also a name that someone could be criticized for. When you immediately put it as your name it kind of addresses it ahead of time. It's not a point that someone can make against you.
DREW: That was something that the Fort Thunder people were afraid of: getting linked in with this bohemian mainstream culture. Like Urban Outfitters. We just know that it is impossible to run away from that stuff.
NICK: The Fort Thunder people were very honest to themselves and their audience that they really wanted a community of artists and that was who they were making their music for. Now you see their aesthetic being used in the most mainstream corporate ads.
PHIL: That kind of relates to the idea of hi-fi and lo- fi. Where something is already produced sounding. So that when you are underground and you move into this mainstream space and people believe that the band has sold out. I wanted to be in a band that had acknowledged that as inevitability.
DREW: It's also about embracing ambition. Like, Talking Heads is another Providence band that we really admire.
NICK: I think that the bands that we are really inspired by these days are groups that have achieved mainstream success without ever really compromising or getting bad. Like Andrew W.K., how he started doing commercials before he had reached the peak of his success.
THE FREE STORE: What kind of artists do you show in your gallery?
DREW: We like to work for artists, who, wherever they settle they create a very unique situation for themselves to be in. They create weird object interactions. Weird icon interactions. And they are ambitious about it. There is also something about how we are comfortable with them. I mean some people call us clique-y, but we want to work with someone who we are comfortable criticizing to their face. Like we are producers cutting an album.
PHIL: In my mind, when I think about the space that we have, I like that it never says gallery anywhere. Because I think that some of the best uses of the space has been for events and I think that's a big part of our space.
NICK: I think that we all consider ourselves artists and musicians and with that there is a blurring of categories. And that is something that we look for in our artists. I think that the reason that things get so separated is the fact that there is an actual art market. Art collectors are interested in visual art as opposed to music. The gallery is meant to showcase a kid of culture, as opposed to high art.
THE FREE STORE: One last thing: I heard you guys had a run in with the secret service. What happened?
DREW: We had to come up with a window display. So we put up a schedule of the bands playing in July of 2007. When July was up, we needed something new. We didn't want another calendar. We had been pushing around this idea...
PHIL: We had been talking about decorations for our house before we moved into it, and one of the ideas was having money bags lying around with fake money coming out of it. And then when it came to the window display it was the most fail-safe idea we had. Money is the most classic thing to do.
DREW: The window display was this: You look into the window. The window looks like an office with a desk and a chair. Up to the desk, the whole room is filled up with millions of dollars. Millions of counterfeit dollars that are being printed off to the side by a printer. Behind the desk there is a chart that says Bobo's profits and sales. Sales is a nothing, just a straight line, and the profits is skyrocketed. It took us a real long time to make all that money.
PHIL: First we tried to color in the money with Prismacolor markers. And then we realized it was going too slow and got ink, made a dye and found this color that looked the most like money. And then the production rate just skyrocketed. We would dip, and squee-jee and blow-dry. We had stacks of money. I think we made something like 7 to 10 thousand dollars in counterfeit money. I went to Kinkos with a hundred dollar bill and was so scared. I had to put a sheet over where the place that the prints come out. I was sweating when I was doing it.
DREW: It was easier to do it at Staples. You had more privacy. You had more space to do things like make wavy dollar bills so that crack-heads would know that it was fake.
NICK: There was lots of stuff in the display to go along with the money. There was a clothesline that the money was hanging on: fly traps, a mask.
DREW: We had this blank can that me made say "GEL" and we made it look like the guy who was making the counterfeit money was into drinking gel. There was gel everywhere.
PHIL: The Death To Smoochie video was in there too...Oh yeah, we had a to do list too. It said "call Murdoch", "pay ransom" and "go to the bank".
NICK: The whole piece was about how we aren't selling anything. And some guy comes by and wants to buy the window display.
DREW: He looked like this normal guy who would have eaten at Geno's. He was wearing one of those "disinformation" shirts that has the Napster logo on it. He had a baseball cap on. He was interested in buying the piece. He wanted to know if I could install in his house and we were like "yeah of course we can". Then he started being weird. He said "Would you make more money for us? For me and my girlfriend?" and then he wanted to know if we could make him double side money.
PHIL: We thought that was ridiculous.
DREW: It was all single side money. It was supposed to be counterfeit.
PHIL: Just as a side note, people on the street.... Everyone stopped and looked at this window display. It was all races and ages. Just the fact that there was that much money visible... people were shocked.
DREW: This guy and I corresponded by phone and then one day he called me up and asked to meet at 3.
NICK: So we are all just hanging out in front of the gallery. Then these two black cars pull up and these guys wearing secret service jackets get out with badges on their chest.
PHIL: They stepped on one of the sculptures that was on display
NICK: They came in. They were strict. We thought we were going to go to jail. But eventually they realized that we weren't going to counterfeit any money, we each had to fill out a statement and describe why we were making money. The weirdest thing about it was how much research they had put into it. They had all our Myspace photos printed out, which is especially weird because it isn't the gallery that has a page, but the band. We didn't even have a website at the time.
PHIL: My Myspace pic at the time had a picture of me holding up my Social Security # and my Drivers License. I have all the info covered. They asked me if I was counterfeiting I.D.'s and fake Social Security Cards.
NICK: The main guy was really friendly. He wrote my statement for me and just got me to sign it and it just said that I had made counterfeit money for reason of artistic exhibition and I wasn't intending on using it.
DREW: And I was taking too long to write my statement. Everyone was making fun of the agent that was stuck with me. They just wanted to get out of there.