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Mr Ho's Orchestrotica: Endless Bachelor Party

By Published: January 18, 2011
I'm a percussionist. I was trained classically and as a big-band drummer. It lets me loosely do whatever I want without alienating everybody. I just throw it under the exotica umbrella. And usually we find a way to make it exotic, whether it's the instrumentation, or music rhythms from another place, or Italian tambourines on a song with Steve Reich
Steve Reich
Steve Reich
influences; and it keeps it fun and light without everything getting too heady. There's enough heady music out there for people who want to get into that. I want people to enjoy and listen to it. Anyone who wants to listen to it can find something deep or shallow—whatever they want to take from it, there's some meat there.

AAJ: Please tell us about your discovery of the music.

BO: I originally played in another exotica group that focused on the classics, covering Martin Denny and so forth. I played with them for three or four years. That was really my introduction. They were looking for a percussionist and someone to do bird calls. I answered the ad, and they sent me the demo, which was a bunch of covers of old recordings. They hadn't even put together a CD yet. But all the tunes had parts for vibraphone, and I play vibraphone. And I found something there that became kind of my own sound now with the Orchestrotica.

AAJ: Would you consider yourself an exotica historian—an "exoticologist"?

BO: I wouldn't call myself that. I know the guy that is, and the guys that have the massive record collections. I feel like I know nothing, compared to them. And there's some I don't care for as much. And now I don't so much study the stuff as use it for inspiration.

AAJ: How about going back to your evolution as an artist?

BO: I was a pianist from about age five to the end of high school. I rode my talent a lot and didn't have to practice that much. I was coasting by the time I got to high school. I ended up working for my piano teacher in high school. She was very technologically advanced at the time, so I'd spend half my time with her, and half the time working with her on her synthesizers and doing a huge amount of theory work.

I was also in the boys' choir and sang about three years in junior high, which was not my favorite thing to do—although now I sing in Spanish with my Mexican roots trio that I play percussion with, La Tuza, which means "mole" in Spanish. On the cover, there's this drawing of a mole going under a fence, to illustrate the metaphor of us taking the music out of Mexico into its new place.

I'm not big on the whole codification of folk styles. They don't tend to have so many rules about how everything has to be done specifically. The kind of music La Tuza plays is called son, which is like a Mexican equivalent of bluegrass. There's very little documentation of it, for example, even on YouTube. There's a whole argument about ownership and interpretation rights—keeping things pure and not watered down and globalized. But to me, there will always be enough people doing that to leave room for the more liberal appropriations we favor.

So, I started playing percussion in junior high school and stopped playing piano, except where I could make a buck doing it here and there at gigs. I majored in percussion studies at Northern Arizona University, which actually has a great jazz program. I focused on drum set in big band and quartets, and classical percussion in the orchestra.

When I moved to Boston in 1999, I sort of worked my way out of the classical setting. If you didn't go to school here, it's a very hard scene to break into: a lot of talent for a limited amount of work.

AAJ: So you moved into your field out of a certain need for survival.

BO: I became a kind of specialist. I've focused lately on playing vibraphone and doing a lot of the hand percussion and multi-percussion stuff.

AAJ: Tell us about your band members, starting with the quartet.

BO: Our flautist, Geni Skendo, is from Albania. Noriko Terada, our drummer, is from Japan, and Jason Davis
Jason Davis
Jason Davis
is our bassist. I met Geni when I was playing here in a southern-Italian band called Newpoli. And Noriko I met through Geni, and then Jason and I played Brazilian music together in a band once. Jason plays seven-string guitar as well as bass: one of the two or three specialists in that area.

AAJ: How do audiences in different contexts respond to exotica?

BO: I find people can connect to it a lot, and I'm not out to baffle people with it. And they may not get all the humor and buried musical jokes, but it's there for people who want to get it.

AAJ: Now your girlfriend, Jennifer, sings in Orchestrotica. Does she play a large role?

BO: No. She's a pretty busy girl, and it's principally my operation. She rallies the troops sometimes.

AAJ: Is it hard to round up 22 musicians?

BO: Yes. You can't imagine. ... I'm very organized, so that helps, but I have to have a spreadsheet for every song, every part, every gig, how much everyone's getting paid...

AAJ: Are you happy?

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