Bonnie and the Beard excel at gypsy rock, whatever that means to you
This past February, Tony LoVerde and his girlfriend, Megan Fong, were waiting at a stoplight when out of nowhere, a car traveling at about fifty to sixty miles per hour slammed into the back of their vehicle. LoVerde says the other driver never even slowed down. Fong suffered a severe concussion, from which she's still recovering, and LoVerde still has back and neck pain from the accident. But it's like they say: What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.
Dealing with the accident has been trying, says LoVerde, but it also gave the couple time to concentrate on Bonnie and the Beard, which they founded in the fall of 2009. (They'd met two years earlier, when LoVerde was playing in the alt-country act the Rooster Brothers.) The initial plan was to buy a van and live out of it while they toured around the country and played music. But the car accident derailed those plans and forced them to stay in Denver for doctors' visits and rehab.
"That was really what kick-started the development," LoVerde points out. "We had all this time to really focus on the music that we were doing. It's ironic, in the sense that it's in many ways due to that accident that we've had the time and space and whatever to do nothing, really, but music."
With extra time on their hands, the two got busy writing songs and worked on honing their sound — folky, singer-songwriter-based material spiked with blues and country. The music eventually morphed into what LoVerde describes as "whiskey-slinging, boot-stomping gypsy rock" — though hanging that handle on it raised a few eyebrows.
"'You can't call it gypsy rock,'" LoVerde recalls people saying. "'You guys aren't gypsies and you don't have a fiddle, so it's not.'
"It's not gypsy music, really," he concedes, "but I kind of like to call it gypsy rock because it's very open-ended as far as what people want to infer — or don't want to infer — from it. As far as our sound, it can be a little all over the place. Like, one song will be kind of an upside-down polka, and the next song will be blues, and then next one will be a soul song. I think what ties them together is the attitude and the way that we sing and what random notes we decide to play. But, really, a lot of it, I think, is the way our voices and the way that we come to it, in that respect, give it this overall sort of ambiguous, sort of ramshackle, carnival-y sort of party feel."
There are, in fact, elements that are carnival-y, and there's a lot of inspiration taken from the desert, which prompted someone to say that the music is like psychedelic desert blues. Whatever you call it, LoVerde says the sound, direction and feeling of the group (which is now a trio after bringing on Brazilian drummer Alex Ferreira a year ago) ultimately comes from breaking each other's work apart.
"It can be really difficult and painful when you write something and you're in love with it," notes LoVerde. "You just think, 'Oh, my God, this is the coolest thing.' And you bring it to the band, and somebody else is like, 'Yeah, I like this, but what about if we completely change it and do this with it?' I think it's a lot of that going back and forth and making compromises. We mull it back and forth, and sometimes feelings are hurt and everything else, but at the end of the day, I'd say we really like to write songs as a band."
While writing songs may be challenging, LoVerde says the music has also helped with the process of recovering from the car accident, as well as the stress involved in dealing with the aftereffects of it. "It's kept us sane," he declares. "Really, just because going through something like that and just trying to figure out how to get through it — it's a process that takes years. I mean, just the legal side takes forever, and it's so slow. You want to be like, 'I want to get beyond this. I want to get my life back. I don't want to have to deal with this anymore.' You really have to put it behind you.
"So I think playing music for us has been a wonderful salvation," he continues. "It's so positive, and it's something that we feel we can really do and have control over. And it's not people saying, 'You can't do this, and you have to do that.' We can really just let loose and let out a lot of the things like stress. And dealing with residual pain — it's like you've got so much adrenaline rushing and everything else that you can sort of forget about all of it, which has been great."
While the outfit regularly performs locally, LoVerde says he and the other members feel most at home when they're traveling, even it's just a trip up north to Wyoming. "We're so comfortable and happy being on the move," he says. "Going and playing the show is cool and fun, and that's a bonus, but it's almost the journey of traveling, just seeing new places and meeting new people. That's where we shine."
Being on the road also inspired the moniker of the group. In the summer of 2009, LoVerde's grandmother Bonnie had been dealing with cancer, and she had been on his mind a lot. LoVerde and Fong were driving back from Santa Fe, and the name just popped in his head. LoVerde's facial hair inspired the second half of the name — but he discovered another potential meaning when a friend asked why he chose the moniker. "'She's the Bonnie, and I'm the Beard,'" he recalls telling his friend. "He was like, 'Yeah, people are going to ask which one of you is gay.' I was like, 'What?'" LoVerde wasn't aware that "beard" can refer to someone being used by another to conceal his or her sexual orientation. "He explained it to me, and I was like, 'Oh, shit!' I think it's kind of funny that people kind of wonder, 'So, wait, which one of you is the beard?' We usually just try to play it off."
And besides, concerns about the name seem slight when compared to the ups and downs of maintaining a four-year relationship while also being in a band together.
"I think in a lot of ways it's made it stronger," LoVerde says of his and Fong's relationship. "It's tough, but at the end of the day, it's really special. It's really special to go through this kind of process and do this kind of work with somebody that you're also with. What we always say is that most people probably couldn't do this. They would drive each other crazy, and we do drive each other crazy from time to time.
"Our relationship is kind of evolving and changing as the band is evolving and changing," he concludes. "It's kind of an amazing thing to be in and be part of. It's kind of like both relationships affect each other, and we're just hoping to keep it going and keep both trains on track."
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