GOLDMINE: Congratulations on Divide. Your music reminds me of a combination of Semisonic and Weezer. In 2001, I spent a lot of time in Europe when “Island in the Sun” from Weezer’s “green album” was popular. In the U.K., the gentle song “Always” was on the flip side of the single, which was not on the “green album” CD that I bought, not even as a hidden track or bonus track.
JOHN BOBO: I am familiar with “Always.” When I was first learning guitar and began writing songs, I am happy that Weezer was a band that I got into because it was one person, Rivers Cuomo, doing the writing. Had they all written I probably wouldn’t have taken up songwriting because I may have thought that you need a group of people to write a song. I first heard “Island in the Sun” in 2000 at a concert with Weezer, Phantom Planet and Ozma. This is before the release of the “green album.” I got a bootleg of it and loved that live version. When the album was released the following year, “Island in the Sun” had a little more of a yacht rock feel. I was buying a lot of bootlegs, flip sides and rarities at the time. “Always” is such a pretty song and stands out from what was going on throughout the “green album,” with almost a “Here Comes the Sun” vibe to it. I always like it when bands take left turns and do something different, which they have the freedom to do on flip sides.
Flip side: Always
A side: Island in the Sun
U.K. yellow vinyl debut: 2001
Geffen 497 616-7
GM: I was pleased to recently learn that beautiful Weezer song. I was also pleased to learn your music. Let’s start with the first song on your Divide album. I enjoy the "Nothing Lasts Forever" video with the couple and the guitar solo.
FELIX NIETO: The video is very intricate. We are very excited on how it turned out. We had an image in mind of how we wanted the story to go. We secured a videographer, Adio Ash, who aligned with what we were hoping for and created the video even a little better than what we imagined. John and I write a song and program all the parts here in the D.C. area. Then we have some friends in Nashville replace some parts or add other segments to our recordings. The guitar solo was reimagined by Jerry in Nashville, improving upon my original solo.
GM: It is a great recording with the echo in the chorus before transitioning to tenderness on the line “nothing lasts forever except you and me.” John, you were learning the music of Weezer when they debuted in the 1990s, which was the same era for the debuts of Foo Fighters and Blink-182, bands my daughter Brianna and her friends from her school enjoyed. I hear those type of guitar sounds immediately with “Broken Promises.”
JB: There are definitely things that I take in as inspiration. At the time I was into what I would call more direct rock with one foot in the 1980s with U2 and Tears for Fears and one foot in the 1990s with Weezer and Foo Fighters. I also try to look forward and make it different from something people have heard.
GM: Those are definitely two different feet and what a blend, as each decade certainly had its own sound. “Broken Promises” sounds like a hit that might make for a great encore. When you play live, what songs do you open and close with?
FN: That is interesting that you say that about “Broken Promises” as that one is pretty new and hasn’t had its stage debut yet. We generally play “Hard to Forget” and “To the End.” With that name, it is a good one to end with.
GM: It is a powerful finale on the album and is one of my favorites. The line “over and over again, the end” definitely jumps out.
FN: If you look at the album as a whole sonically, we tried to put more of the fun and energetic songs at the beginning, with “Nothing Lasts Forever” being pretty catchy. Our prior songs had more of a raw rock sound. With “Broken Promises” and “To the End,” there is still a raw tone, but in a different and more modern way. On “To the End” we were trying to find a new sound, with a distorted vocal in the middle, to keep it interesting.
GM: I think the bridge in “Hard to Forget” makes that song interesting. The ending touches upon New Radicals’ “You Get What You Give,” which I hadn’t thought about in a long time. Then there’s the line “it’s hard to forgive what you can’t forget,” which I love.
JB: We try to write lyrics that can be open to multiple interpretations. No matter what relationships you may have, you can probably put some meaning into that lyric line.
GM: John, you talked about the 1980s and 1990s, let’s go back even further to the spring of 1978, the season when you were born. Every Saturday night at the record store I was working at we would play the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. The first side was filled with music from The Bee Gees with high falsetto vocals. In your song “Speed of Sound” I love the use of the falsetto chorus. Great job!
JB: Thank you. I actually had a cassette tape of The Bee Gees music that I probably swiped from my parents’ collection which I would listen to. I didn’t know what a falsetto was. At the time, I thought they were female singers. It was so catchy with great artistry. Even Foo Fighters are having fun right now with The Bee Gees disco songs as The Dee Gees, which is a cool side project for them. As a vocalist, I started using falsetto a little bit more. On “Speed of Sound” I suggested to Felix that we try to write something poppy which may not sound like us. Felix wrote the music very quickly. Ironically, the vocal part, which is pretty high, ended up being the easiest vocal to record on the whole album and was fun to put together. We haven’t played it live as I am not sure it would translate with the audiences but hopefully will one day.
GM: John, you and I are originally from Ohio. You are heading back to Ohio to Bad Apple Pub on a date that is special for me, October 29, the anniversary of my wife Donna and my first date in Ohio. The venue is on Coshocton Road, where I can envision people buying the last of the Halloween pumpkins that weekend.
JB: Don’t forget corn mazes! Get some apple cider and a doughnut, too. COVID-19 has definitely thrown a wrench into touring plans. We haven’t done a lot of shows and haven’t found our mark of where we fit. In music, it feels like there is not a middle class. You have elites in arenas and local bands in basements and we are somewhere in the middle. It becomes challenging to find the right places to play. Felix and I are a little picky and that pushes us to smaller towns where we can play the whole night for three hours and control the sound and lights. We like the show to sound and look good. We have a play anywhere attitude, but we like it to be of a good quality for the audience. Thank you for talking with us as we build our fan base.
FN: Yes, thank you. We know that an album takes a long time to listen to and pick songs for an interview like this, so we appreciate it.
See The Slang on October 29 at The Bad Apple Pub in Howard, Ohio