By Rebecca Bulnes
By Lee Zimmerman
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By S. Pajot
By S. Pajot, Liz Tracy, Kat Bein, & Sean Levisman
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Fernando Perdomo's friends jokingly refer to him as Chewbacca. And with his formidable height, unruly brown mop, and sometimes copious facial hair, the musician does bear a slight resemblance to the cantankerous Wookiee from the Star Wars epics. However, given the gentle Perdomo's penchant for seamlessly appearing and disappearing from the lineups of various rock bands around South Florida, another comparison might be more apt. A mere 22 years old, he seems closer to Yoda, the ancient Jedi knight who upon death became one with the Force and subsequently materialized in the oddest of places. Perdomo, seen strumming bass and guitar with the likes of Nicolle Chirino, Jennifer Kaiser, Fulano, Ed Hale and the Transcendence, and until very recently the Avenging Lawnmowers of Justice (where at times he wielded a theremin), to name a few, considers himself to be an ordinary guitar for hire. "It's not that I give my card around and say 'Hey, hey, does anyone need a guitar player? I'm not doing anything Tuesday!' It's more of a case where I get asked," he says, attempting to explain his infinite popularity. A boundless love for music and the seemingly endless energy of his youth might also factor into his accepting many of those requests.
And a very unscientific survey of local bands shows that Perdomo is not alone in his propensity to share his vast talent. His own colleagues (Derek Cintron and Tony Medina) in the power trio DC-3 are just as willing to lend themselves out, in many cases as a unit. When Perdomo is not popping in and out of every band in town, the three of them also back Maverick Musica recording artist and Latin Grammy recipient Jorge Moreno (with whom they appeared last month on ABC-TV's Good Morning America) and Broward-based pop artist Zach Ziskin. Is it egomania run amok that keeps them in a multitude of musical lineups? An attempt to better their odds at getting noticed? Or are there just too many bands and not enough musicians to go around?
Asked why he frequently shares his time with bands other than his own, DC-3 drummer Cintron laughs and admits, "Because I don't have a real job!" Actually Cintron is one of the few locals who can confidently say, "I do music to make a living." A Miami scene veteran, he first played publicly in the early Nineties with hirsute metal band Vandal. On his own in the mid-Nineties, he released the well-regarded album Mantra and proceeded to form his own group. A subsequent stint with fellow members of the Hialeah music Mafia in Humbert and a few other local bands preceded his return to solo recording and the CD Oh ... the Drama. Joining forces with Perdomo and Medina (also a former Vandal member) two years ago, he began to front an eponymous outfit, in which he sang lead and played drums standing up -- and often shirtless, to the delight of squealing female fans. A name change to the less obvious DC-3 soon followed and the trio's schedule got way busier. Though they didn't play on Ziskin's latest album Real as the Memory, they've performed with him frequently for the past six months. Eight months ago Moreno hired them as half of his back-up band.
Known by some for his rather reactionary political tirades via e-mail updates on his band, Cintron is in fact a personable guy, open-minded and generous. "I do like other music besides the music I write," he allows. "I learn things from playing with other people and I have a good time. If I hear music I think is strong and that has a good idea and inspiration behind it, and somebody asks me to be in on it, I'm happy to do it. Hopefully I can add to it or make it better, or just be a part of it in a good way."
A self-described "musical illiterate," Cintron may not be able to read music, but he also can't cite a moment onstage when he forgot part of a song that wasn't his or began a tune other than the one he was supposed to be playing. What he can point out are the advantages of spreading himself a little thin musically: "From a drumming standpoint, you learn things about different rhythms and how different grooves work. On a holistic level, you learn about how certain sounds work well together or don't. Maybe the most important lesson is learning how to make anything work."
Being dubbed "the drum whore" once by a fan joking about the number of bands Cintron was in made him finally realize: "I've got to keep this in perspective. I can't let this playing all around with everybody get out of hand." So he's cut himself down to a paltry three, his main priority naturally being his own DC-3. Competing against 20 bands in a local battle and winning, plus making the top 50 cut for the nationwide Coca Cola New Music Awards (the winner gets a live slot on the 2003 American Music Awards), keep the momentum going. "We figure rather than just washing dishes and going out at night to do our band, why not just play music all the time?" Cintron says. "Keep your chops up, have a good time with your life, and work towards getting your music out there."
DC-3 guitar player Tony Medina, who switches to bass in Ziskin's ensemble, already does that in a way. His day job with production company ADG Music Works consists of creating songs for local and national radio and television advertising. "Everything I do is music, 24/7," says the seasoned player, who's worked with locals such as the Butter Club and Rhett and the Pawnshop Drunks. For Medina the most important benefit gained from performing with others is "you can always learn more. It just makes you grow more as a musician." Of course he wouldn't mind if all the groups he performs with became famous simultaneously: "On a good note: DC-3 will be in all three of them!"
Amazingly in addition to all his musical activities, prodigious prodigy Perdomo, who plays guitar and bass with most bands but pounds the keyboards with Moreno, finds time to conduct man-on-the-street interviews for El Nuevo Herald. But he admits, "My heart's always going to be in music. Music is the driving force in my life; it's my therapy, it's what I do for everything, for happiness." Despair might arise if a few of the half-dozen outfits to which he contributes reach the top at once, and he is forced to take a permanent post. "You get something out of playing with every band," he remarks. But if forced to choose: "It would have to come down to the band that represents you most as an individual. It would probably be DC-3," he says on the phone somewhat hesitantly, Cintron and Medina howling in the background.
While DC-3 offers an example of three local musicians who play well with others, there is a downside to all that playing around. Vocalist/guitarist Zach Ziskin, back on his own, could be considered a reformed multi-band addict. "I've gone through the twelve-step band-slut program," he quips. While fronting his own pop group Passion Seeds in the late Nineties, Ziskin also played guitar with Trophy Wife and Sixo, and worked as a bassist with Matt Sabatella. Later on he took a post with Jim Camacho (formerly of the Goods). "Part of it was just the joy of playing music; part of it is also a challenge," he rationalizes. "It's great for your chops and great to advance yourself as a musician."
But Ziskin admits that something eventually has to give, namely your own work. "You get to a certain point as a musician where either you say, 'Okay, I'm a utility player, or I'm an artist who is doing my own thing.' And if I'm going to be really sincere and serious about dedicating 100 percent of my creativity and my energy to my music, I have to focus on that and not spread myself out over all these other projects." Saying no to his friends whose songs he liked was tough, confesses Ziskin, who grew increasingly annoyed when he found his multiple commitments prevented him from booking gigs for his own projects and cut into his time for writing songs and recording.
The last straw, however, came during an uninspired gig he played with Jim Camacho's band in front of an apathetic audience at the Hard Rock Café. At the set's finale, Camacho, with whom he remains on good terms, decided to energize the moment by smashing his bass to bits on the rickety stage. Two whacks later, as splinters from the bass rained down on the room, the crowd remained comatose. "At that point," Ziskin recalls, "I was like, I need to get back to doing my thing."
And following his own dream lately involves none other than DC-3, musicians in a mutable position that Ziskin has also faced. Despite the uncertainty, his future plans go unchanged. They'll record shortly and keep gigging whenever possible. "They're the best players I've ever played with," he affirms, "and if it were up to me, I'd play with them forever." Yet he's the first to acknowledge a nagging fear: "These guys are so good. I can only hold on to them for a limited amount of time before they get snatched away with some other major thing or their own thing as DC-3. I'd hate to lose them because they're so amazing. I'm just grateful to be able to play with them at this point, to play with them now."