I dare you to name the names of the Burque bands who have been successfully gigging for the past 20 years.
Ok, time’s up, compadres. I know your list is gonna be a short one, including the names of stellar outfits like Concepto Tambor and maybe even radically altered-
But, in the meantime, if you get to the top of that rarified directory without thinking about The Big Spank, then you’re the rare one, carnal. After all, Weekly Alibi readers voted The Big Spank into the Number One position for Best Band Ever in our 2018 Best of Burque Music Reader’s Poll. And they’ve been contributing members to the local music scene for more than two decades now, including the release of the critically acclaimed album Ese Gallo a couple years ago.
These cats have a sound that’s as universal as it is fun and supremely danceable. With a killer combination of ska, reggae and Latinx music—from Nuevo Mexicano rancheras to Cuban cumbias—mixed lovingly into a sound guided by bandleader and vocalist Mike Garcia, The Big Spank is the essence of upbeat—musically, thematically and philosophically, too.
The current lineup, consisting of Garcia, lead guitarist Javier Sandoval, bassist Christopher Tickner, drummer Bert Lujan and trombonist Retzen, have been playing together for the past 13 years. This Friday, Dec. 20, the band celebrates its 20 years on the scene with a huge sonic shindig at Launchpad.
The Saturday before that historic gig goes off, August March and Alibi Assistant Art Director Corey Yazzie drove up to the humble hogar where the band was practicing. Inside este chante it was loud and vibrant and 20 years of good vibes—and the lead singer—were bouncing off the walls as March began his conversation with the esteemed quintet.
Weekly Alibi: This morning, I read through the 10-year anniversary story Weekly Alibi did on you all. It was written by Simon McCormack, I believe. And it made me think, “Wow, man, these guys have been around and were part of the scene that was super-huge.” And of course, you all are still here! Tell me some more.
Mike Garcia: Concepto Tambor has their 20-year music anniversary coming up in two years.
Javier Sandoval: That’s how I met these guys. I was playing in Concepto Tambor. A lot of the musicians are still around; they’re just playing in different bands now.
I’ve started to notice that, too, especially in the world music and jazz scenes around town. There’s a central cast of characters that has been at it, working hard for as many as 30 years. But tell me a little bit about The Big Spank.
Mike: We haven’t played as regularly as we would have like in the past 5 years. But we do several shows a year.
Retzen: We’re select. Fun shows.
Mike: Yeah, fun shows. We toured a lot. So after that, we decided to play just the shows we want to play, not the shows we have to play.
For awhile you guys were touring all over the country in a converted school bus.
We lived full time in our tour bus. We converted it.
Retzen: Two years, five guys, full time. Everyone within arms’ reach of each other.
It says something that you all are still able to be here today in a small room, jamming out.
It takes a certain personality to sustain that sort of thing. Two hours of practice is hard, even compared to sleeping in a different Walmart parking lot every night.
Mike: We had a lot of adventures!
It sounds pretty cool, though. Those sorts of adventures are tales of beatnik glory, really.
Retzen: That was coast to coast twice.
Javier Sandoval: Also, we didn’t know any better.
Retzen: Diesel was, like, five bucks a gallon.
Mike: During 2007 and 2008, gas prices really changed and diesel was 50 cents more per gallon. The first year, we ran the numbers. We spent $20,000 on diesel fuel for the bus.
But you survived. You’re still here and rocking. Tell me a little bit about that. How’s that going?
It feels good to be rehearsing for a 20-year anniversary show. It’s pretty cool.
Bert Lujan: We love Albuquerque. We love the people here. I mean, it feels really good to be part of the scene. Albuquerque has a really great music scene. We’re still here for the love, the people we meet at shows, the people who come out that we’ve known for so long. We just couldn’t stop.
Retzen: One observation. In the past three or four years, all of our local shows have been attended by 75 to 80 percent new ears. So even though we’re still packing in the loyal listeners that love us and come to all the shows, we get a lot of new fans too. We’ve played enough shows—we played Summerfest twice in three years, we’ve opened for touring bands where the crowd came to see the touring band but got to see us—that our reach is still growing.
Your sound is inescapable. It’s part of the musical fabric of America. Once reggae and ska broke in the States in 1979, they really became entrenched because young people love to dance. It’s a kind of music that everyone can identify with; everyone wants to feel joy.
Bert: For me, it’s the sound of fun. When you go out, you go Downtown, it’s to have a good time. And I feel like ska, especially ska, is the music of fun. It’s just happy and fun and you want to dance around and be goofy like that.
Plus, it’s pretty complex musically. It takes more than basic rocanrol skills to pull off authentic ska.
Mike: Yeah! And we bring that New Mexico, Latino vibe to the music.
That’s a great thing about New Mexico that I talk a lot about. New Mexican musicians are fearless hybridizers. They create new sounds from traditional forms, evolve it into new forms, que no?
Retzen: Our last two albums can’t really be described as ska at all. But that was definitely our reach for the first two albums.
Mike: Every song has at least one ska break on it.
Something where you all are playing on the upbeat?
Mike: Yeah, exactly.
Javier: We’re playing a sort of ranchera punk. We mix in some cumbia, too.
What kind of influences has the band had? What’s important to you now, musically?
Mike: Nowadays, I’ve been listening to a lot of mumble rap. [Everyone in the room laughs.]
You know what I wanna say. That mumble rap thing is the big path rap is taking right now. It’s so different than the hip-hop from ’98, not in terms of the instrumentation, but rather the delivery.
And that’s bled into a lot of different styles in pop music today.
What’s up with that?
Javier: You just make up lyrics; it doesn’t even have to rhyme.
I’m glad we’re having this conversation. I was afraid to bring it up with our peers.
Mike: I started listening to it for two reasons. Number One: I don’t wanna get taste freeze. Number Two: I listen to enough shitty rap to sieve out the not so shitty rap. I’ve got a taste for it now. There’s a difference between the real artists and the ones who just drank so much lean that they’re mumbling.
Javier: In any genre, there are going to be real, authentic creators and then the followers who come after.
Tell our readers about your big gig, coming at Burque this weekend.
Retzen: It’s celebratory. You know, the Launchpad’s only a couple of years older than us. I remember when I brought Joe Anderson a cassette tape that I made on a boombox of the band playing some of the raunchiest punk rock you can imagine. It was all 90-second songs like “Fuck You” and “Abortion Is Murder.” That was our first demo, but it had some ska on it. It’s celebration about making music for 20 years. Mike’s our primary songwriter. If it wasn’t for good songs, we wouldn’t have made it for so long. And so we’ll keep playing.
If someone who heard your live show—they could be young or could be old, maybe someone who’s not from Burque; they could even be from the future or something—listened all night and danced like crazy then approached you all afterwards and asked, “What is The Big Spank and why do I love it?” what would you tell them?
Javier: I think Bert nailed it when he said it was fun music.
Mike: Our live show has good energy and people leave thinking, “What the funk just happened?”
Retzen: It speaks to people’s souls. They feel free when they hear us.