Make a Scene: Whole Bolivian Army celebrates new CD, gives up on drummer search

When it comes to drummers, Spinal Tap has nothing on the Whole Bolivian Army.

No, TWBA hasn't had one spontaneously combust onstage, a la “This Is Spinal Tap.” But the Tacoma band has auditioned dozens during its first two decades of rhythm section turmoil. It's a constant headache that founding members Matt and Mary Beth Kite are just coming to terms with as they prepare to celebrate the release of their 10th CD, “Siren,” with a May 11 show at Harmon Tap Room.

“We joke about it. We've learned to take it with a little dose of humor, but it's frustrating,” said Mary Beth, the band's lead singer.

“We had a lot of momentum in the mid to late '90s, and things really started rolling along,” she said. “We were playing with more and more popular bands. It was starting to feel like, 'Wow! This could really turn into something.' Then things kind of blew up in the drummer department, and we drifted for a while.”

“Being in a band is all about momentum, and when you lose it it's very demoralizing,” Matt said. “Every time you start with a new drummer, you're really a new band because none of the old material is going to sound quite like it used to. The chemistry is different, and when you write new songs it's gonna have a different feel to it.”

The band draws from a pool of rotating drummers for live shows, and its new album turned into a who's who of past members. “We just decided why buck our own history? We'll just call all the drummers we know,” Matt said.

TWBA – also bassist Greg Strickland – recorded at Seattle's Elliott Bay Recording with the help of Roger Johnson, Dave Warburton and original drummer Dan Hazen, who will be onstage on May 11. On album closer, “Be a Prayer,” the band even went one step further than the Melvins, Modest Mouse and other groups that have used dual drummers in recent years, featuring all three men on the same track.

“I would say Dan, Dave and Rog played the most years with the band and had the most invested of all the drummers,” Mary Beth said. “It was really neat to have them all together and be willing to play together. So they were kind of a riot to watch all in the same room.”

The Whole Bolivian Army formed in Seattle and played its first show in March 1993. The name is a reference within a reference, lifted from a scene from “Beverly Hills Cop” that recalls the finale of “Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid.”

The band rose through the ranks of Seattle's rock scene with a melodic modern rock sound that recalls bands like Garbage and Throwing Muses. But, by 2001, Mary Beth had gotten the baby bug and the Kites had grown tired of the rat race. They spent the next six years in Port Townsend.

But eventually the Kites started to crave a more urban experience again and set their gazes on Tacoma, despite sketchy first impressions from 1998. That's the year TWBA first played the Central Tavern, a defunct Sixth Avenue venue that was most recently Metro Gruv.

“We opened for this band called Face First,” Matt recalled. “They were kind of a grungish sounding band and nice guys. Anyway, a big riot broke out (with) tables flying.”

“I can't believe how fast it escalated,” added Mary Beth, cracking up. “It's really pretty impressive, just like in the movies. So at first I was like, 'What a dump!'”

“We were like, 'Who would ever live in Tacoma?'” Matt said. “And now we live, like, five blocks from there. And we totally love Tacoma. It seems like the perfect combination of urban energy and variety, but still has the small town feel to it.”

Singer-songwriter Holly Figueroa O'Reilly will open the CD release show, which will start at 9 p.m. on May 11. The $5 cover charge comes with a complimentary copy of “Siren.” But we can't guarantee a riot won't break out.

The Whole Bolvian Army CD release party

9 p.m. May 11

Harmon Tap Room, 204 St. Helens Ave., Tacoma

$5 cover charge includes a copy of “Siren”


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