With Flobots, we had the right song at the right time in 2008," observes Andy Guerrero, aka Andy Rok, about his former group. "If not for that, we would probably just be another band here. A lot of that is about timing and realizing you have those opportunities."
For six years, Guerrero was part of one of the most successful and well-known bands from Colorado, a band that he helped assemble not long after hearing Jamie Laurie's 2000 solo EP. "He was this white-boy rapper who was actually really good," Guererro recalls. "But he would do these shows with a CD player. I said, 'That's just not happening, man. Yo, if you move back here from Rhode Island, I'll get a band together for you. If people see a band with an MC, people will be more into it and you can do a lot more stuff.'"
Guerrero cobbled people together to play in what eventually became Flobots, and for two or three years, he played full-time in both that act and his previous and current band, Bop Skizzum, which he started around the same time he met Laurie. Guerrero is one of those people who are easy to like. Gregarious, energetic, charming and genuine: These qualities led him to his first meeting with longtime collaborator and de facto musical director of Bop Skizzum Serafin Sanchez.
"My mom works concessions at the Pepsi Center, and Andy was there with one of the drummers at the time in the band," relates Sanchez. "My mom is really chatty, Andy is really chatty."
"She complimented my cologne," Guerrero interjects.
"Andy said, 'I'm in a band,'" Sanchez continues. "My mom said, 'Oh, my son plays saxophone. He likes Dave Matthews Band.' Andy said, 'We're looking for a new saxophone player. I don't know if he can hang, because we're a pretty hard-core funk band.'" Sanchez nonetheless reached out to Guerrero, and when the two got together to play, they became fast friends. Guerrero was knocked out by Sanchez's ability to play pretty much anything.
"He knows how I operate, and vice versa," Guerrero points out. "And we've figured out how to work together with my flaws and him accepting me and vice versa. Even the last year trying to find a new singer and the doubts involved in reconfiguring, we realized we can still write good songs and that we'd been doing this before anyone else came in. I think that's the only reason we are where we are now — because we stuck together and did it."
With a master's degree in jazz, Sanchez has become the guy who not only takes Guerrero's raw pieces and tunes them up, but also brings his own considerable technical musicianship to the table and contributes to the songwriting, much more so on the band's latest record, the eclectic and infectiously groovy Coloradical. "Just having somebody that's that good," says Guerrero, "and someone that I know, musically, is superior, and I can say, 'Yo, man, maybe I'm the hook guy in the show, and how do we make this musically badass?' I can always call on him to do that."
"Andy is kind of the muscle, the driving force behind this band," adds Sanchez. "As crazy as he acts, he's actually one of the most focused people I've known. He's kind of like the guy that's like, 'No, we're going to keep doing this. You've got to believe in your dream and you've got to make it happen.' He's proven that. He's definitely motivating in that sense. Sometimes you think this is too hard, or you shouldn't do this. Andy's like, 'No, this is what we are. This is what's going to happen.'"
The capacity for perseverance and faith in their abilities have served Guerrero and Sanchez well through lineup changes and setbacks that might have ended lesser bands. When Guerrero approached Sanchez about his need to focus on Flobots for a while, the two were good enough friends that Sanchez encouraged him to take that as far as he could. Even before Guerrero parted ways with Flobots a year and a half ago, he realized how much he missed playing regularly with his old friend and the possibilities of what he could do musically with their band.
In the summer of 2011, Bop Skizzum was scouting for a female singer again, and Julie Almeria happened to be in town from New York City, visiting family away from her job in musical theater. Her friend Nic Hammerberg, from the band Petals of Spain, told her that Bop Skizzum was looking for a new singer and that she should try out.
Almeria submitted a recording of her voice, and the reaction from both the band and its fans was so positive that after the band had already gone through more than two dozen tapes in a second round of auditions, she was called in for a final audition at the Soiled Dove. "I don't think I've ever been more nervous in my life," Almeria confesses. "It's so funny, because I look at the set list now, and having to sing four songs was terrifying because I didn't know if my voice would burn out. I couldn't sing four songs in a row!"
But she did, and she rated well with fans at that audition. Now, of course, she performs a nearly two-hour set without any problems. Not so bad for someone who had not been in a band before Bop Skizzum beyond singing with her dad while growing up. "I gotta say," notes Almeria, "after doing musical theater my entire life and doing this, this is so much better."
With Almeria on board, the band was ready to start building momentum. But then this past spring, she suffered an injury that stalled their efforts temporarily. After her mother implored her to go to the hospital, Almeria ended up spending a week there being treated for a tear to her vertebral artery and another five and a half months recovering. Although she eventually ended up playing shows with a neck brace decked out with rhinestones when she recovered enough to perform, the band had to come up with another plan while she was healing, so Guerrero enlisted Shane Franklin — whom he had seen put in a powerful performance with Air Dubai earlier in the year — to join the band.
Franklin grew up seeing his aunt, a dancer, perform at Cleo Parker Robinson Dance School, and it was there that he learned the importance of putting on a show and not merely performing the music. As he puts it, "It has to be a real-life production that makes people go, 'Oh, my gosh, when's your next show?'" With Franklin bringing his considerable rapping and musical talent to the band and Almeria now recovered from her injury, Bop Skizzum is back in top form.
"Bands are all about families, relationships and communication," Guerrero points out. "The fact that I have a group that wants to make music with me and trusts my leadership is important. Being a good leader is listening to everybody. I value what Julie has to say about stuff. Serafin's like my main partner man. Shane is the newest member of the group, and somebody I respect.
"At the end of the day," he concludes, "I can learn from the mistakes that happened in Flobots. I've been down this road before, and we need to focus on these things, because that's what's going to get us to making a living off of playing our music. We have to be grounded. We have to be committed. It's a lot of hard, hard work. No one is going to hand it to us."
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.