The streets of Queens, NYC do not necessarily carry jamband street cred. Nor, for that matter, do those in the Virgin Islands. But Banooba takes it all in stride as it keeps itself in motion.
Since coming together in the winter of 2002, the group (formerly known as The
Project) has seen
one of its founding members die and another replacement take a permanent leave
for fatherhood, even as it has found an intense fanbase beyond the Continental United States.
I caught up with the group (Ryan O'Connor- lead vocals, Kevin Torres- guitar and vocals, Vinny Raniolo- guitar, Kevin Sloan- bass and vocals and Peter Cunningham- drums) as they played a show about four hours northwest of Queens at Elmira Heights, New York’s Harry's Inn The Heights. As I arrived, the place was already
bubbling with anticipation for this, the fifth time in about eighteen months that Banooba has played the area, with the attendance growing each time. As we sit around the top
floor of the venue, each one of the five in seats and myself straddling an
upside-down paint bucket, I realized these guys didn't have one bit of
pretentiousness to them. Not one iota of entitlement or seething pride. As I
dug into their history and their desire to write and play music, I learned
another surprising fact about Banooba: While maintaining a 4-year
relationship to the St. Croix island jam faithful, working a weekend warrior
tour schedule up the coast, and releasing their first album, _Banooba's
Travel's_ (Vu Du Records), the five members have maintained full time jobs.
"We plan on playing everywhere we can play and spreading the funk to anyone
who wants to listen. Apparently, we're doing double shift. We're playing
full time and we're working full time jobs," said guitarist Kevin Torres.
"And right now, it's moving to the direction where we can do this full
and sustain ourselves."
"So, you all have full time jobs then?" I respond.
"Yeah. It sucks!", said frontman vocalist Ryan 'O' Connor. "I
work at a
From blue collar during the week to no collar on the weekends, the
sound that has people comparing them to Sublime, Allman Brothers and even
Stevie Wonder takes every other bit of Banooba's free time.
"The craziest comparison we've ever heard was 'a mixture of the Average
White Band meets the Allmans meets Incubus," Torres says.
"I cannot wait 'til we can play full time. I can't wait to not have
at my job and still be able to pay enough bills to continue to play music,"
O'Connor says. "Every spare moment we have and some spare moments we don't
really have. We're doing this. We're hoping that in the next 7-8 months,
will be on the road full time with no full time jobs."
As he talks about his passion for music, O'Connor comes across much more
authentic than one might expect for a 6’ 1” 220 pound lead singer. A
boisterous Irishman with a shaved head, his clear, resonant vocals are equally adept at covers like "You Can Call Me Al" and "Boogie on Reggae Woman" as well as the Sublime-esque radio-friendly Banooba original "Sinora."
only was “Sinora” featured in the fall edition Relix compilation disc but
the catchy tune has recently rose to the of most-requested songs on
"We picked that one (to go on the Relix CD) because that one was, honestly,
the easiest for everyone to get into. It's an up-front song with up-front
lyrics and it's probably the most radio-friendly song we have," "O'Connor
"People love that song and see us live and comment about how they love
Sinora." Torres adds. "Since we made the Relix CD, we have seemed to
lot more exposure"
Shortly after rocking Elmira again, the band headed off to open for the Adam
Deitch Project at the Europa nightclub in Brooklyn and played to positive reviews.
Now, in addition to northeast gigs, the group will
head out in March for their annual St. Croix island tour,
originally established through the family connections of drummer Peter
Cunningham. The soft-spoken drummer features a Stewart Copeland type snap on
high-hat and an overall relaxed reggae drumming style that suits the island
perfectly. This Caribbean flavor mixed with Cunningham's passion for
impromptu percussion additions such as beer bottles and pint glasses have
added a sense of “what could happen next?” at Banooba shows.
may label such periodic experimentation as hijinx or antics, many of these would-be critics
are later hushed by the crisp original jams that morph into a more mainstream
rock show. That tightwire of fan demographics Banooba walks so well has also
perpetuated a summer residency at the Jones Beach Band Shell, the aforementioned airtime on Sirius and as a result, a tenfold
increase of visitors on Myspace Music.
Currently, Banooba does quick stints in the Caribbean, but if the band’s
success can lead to a Jimmy Buffett daydream, than so be it, adds bassist
"Our ideal scenario or should I say my ideal scenario is that things like
the Relix CD happen more and more to us. That more and more people hear what
we're doing and we'll be able to grow with them. I'd like to grow to
we can play summers in The States and in Europe playing festivals," Sloan
says. "Oh, and then spend our entire winters playing music in the Islands,"
he adds to a resounding cheer from his bandmates.
Travel's_, the album,
offers special horn appearances from Rob Somerville and Bryan Smith of Deep
Banana Blackout, who help make several tracks, including the Galactic-inspired,
"Chicken Wing" reminiscent of a time when funk didn't
say to too much. In fact, tracks such as “Chicken Wing” harken back to the time when the JBs could take a simple food item and drop a five minute song just about
it, without explaining it or getting too wrapped up in it.
That omnipresent concept of keeping the music fun, keeping the music simple
and keeping the music personal is what, most likely, will thrust
Banooba past regional notoriety in support of the increasingly popular notion that everyone deserves a bit of Banooba in their