by Kevin Crowe
"A lot of people who know me see me as a fairly reserved individual,â” Angel Zuniga says. Today he's wearing a tailor-made suit, eating a plate of fajitas at the Downtown Grill and Brewery. This sideâ"the business-casual, entrepreneur lookâ"of Zuniga is a far cry from the whimsical frontman you'll see onstage with Angel & the Lovemongers, sporting aviator shades and tight leather pants. â“My truer self is very theatrical and manic, ever since I was a kid. I remember wanting to be on Broadway, wanting to be John Travolta. It has been a struggle to find that inner child.â”
â“He's kind of flaky,â” drummer Eric Nowinski laughs, â“like most artists are. No offense.â”
â“When we got on stage initially, he was much more reserved,â” Nowinski goes on. â“But he's come out of his shell. Most of it came out during Bonnaroo, for better or worse.â”
At the 'Roo, in the claustrophobic confines of the Troo Music Tent, Angel & the Lovemongers took the stage, staring at a packed room. Maybe they were in the right place at the right time. Something just seemed right.
Out in front was a man with mop-top hair, arhythmically dancing as the Lovemongers' plopped down a heavy dose of pop wizardry. It was Beatle Bob, the legendary scenester from St. Louis. It had to be a good omen.
In an email sent a few weeks after the 'Roo, Beatle Bob wrote: Whiskey-fueled and case hardened deep in the heart of Tennessee, Angel & the Love Mongers are rock'n'roll worthy of being blasted out of a Plymouth Barracuda with 451 Hemi engine. With as big-as-the-room personas, an ability to rock the doors off the most jaded clubs, the hearts to hold a room completely still with their music, this band of merry makers are one of the most unique bands around.
"I'm a Texas boy,â” Zuniga says. â“Came to East Tennessee because of my wife. I had been a singer/songwriter since I was in the third grade, and I decided it was time to test the waters. I had placed a small, obscure ad in Metro Pulse . Eric was one of the first to call up.â”
It was an inauspicious beginning when Zuniga placed that ad back in '04, but his dreams of rock'n'roll have always found a way to survive. â“You have to know a little bit of how I was raised,â” he explains. â“I was raised a devout Catholic, but in South Texas there's a lot of meshing of Catholicism and voodoo and witchcraft. So, the evil arts are definitely part of my past. To counter that, I had an extremely sheltered life. My mother had a silver platter, and we had weekly burnings to clean our house of evil things, like REM and old U2 records. For the most part everything got burnedâ. My Dallas Cowboys cheerleader calendar.â”
The luck has yet to wear off, thank goodness, and their sophomore album, The Humanist Queen , is a wondrous mix of groove-fueled pop and straight-up, thunderous rock, all of it tempered by Zuniga's big, Broadway vocals. The sound is just a little theatrical, at times an over-the-top parody of rock superstardom.
To record the album, the Lovemongers headed up to North Carolina to meet the god of jangle pop, Mitch Easter, the master-producer who has mixed tracks for the likes of REM and Wilco.
â“It was an absolutely incredible experience,â” Nowinski says of working with Easter. â“The history of the bands he's produced and recorded over the years is just incredible.â”
Another major producer from the '80s, Don Dixon, showed up at the studio on his way to Atlanta and, as luck would have it, he ended up singing backup vocals on â“Frankenstein's Friend,â” which is the most bizarre song on the album, flirting with a bouncy, freakishly fun backbeat, a rollicking assault of carnivalesque sound and magical realism.
â“For me, it's the fulfillment of purpose,â” Zuniga muses. â“I've heard it said that the ability for you to be open to the greatest amount of pain and suffering gives you the greatest amount of joy.â”
Thus speaketh Beatle Bob: They are adept at abandoning common sense in favor of laying themselves at the feet of a rambunctious, freewheeeling, and unhinged sound. Do not miss the opportunity to catch the healing power of this band live, who will put a smile on your face and drink one with you after the show.
WHO: Angel and The Lovemongers WHEN: Friday, Aug. 3, 9 p.m. WHERE: Preservation Pub
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