Riddle: What do the local bands Raw B Jae, Sixo, the Kind, Fulano, and the Spam Allstars all have in common with Colombian pop siren Shakira?
Answer: drummer Brendan Buckley and guitarist Adam Zimmon.
The two strapping University of Miami grads may well be the hardest-working musicians in Miami -- that is, when they're in Miami. The roommates have been juggling local projects with Shakira's studio and touring gigs ever since the songstress hired the rockers to record Donde Estan Los Ladrones (Where Are the Thieves) in 1998. But in the year since her smash English-language debut Laundry Service, the two have been on the road with Shakira nonstop, making it tough to keep up with long-standing local commitments.
"That's the whole dilemma of being a sideman," says Buckley from a dressing room somewhere in Detroit minutes before a sound check on Shakira's Mongoose tour. "You want to be working all the time and you want to be hired by really important people, but anything that would be an original project is hard to sustain."
So whenever they get the chance, the two long-time musical partners sit in with friends like Elsten Torres of Fulano or Andrew Yeomanson of Spam. Although Buckley enjoys the luxury of the Shakira tour, he still misses the cross-country drives in a fifteen-seat van with Fulano, surviving on corn nuts. Although Zimmon appreciates the crack road crew who make sure Shakira shows always run smoothly, he still relishes the artistic freedom afforded him by the improvisational structure of a Spam show.
Supporting a superstar on tour is a little like putting on a play, says Buckley, where the same sounds and gestures must be repeated night after night. As Zimmon points out, every note is in sync with video, lights, and Shakira's spectacular dance moves. Yet drummer and guitarist agree that working with Shakira as opposed to, say, Britney or Christina, means that a high-paying pop gig can also have creative rewards.
"I sound like me regardless of the gig," says Zimmon, except with Shakira he never has to worry that the amps won't work or the soundman won't give a shit.
And Shakira wants the band to have a signature sound. For the Mongoose tour the singer spent months in intensive rehearsals with the band in the Dominican Republic, putting in the extra effort to be a pop queen and a rock machine at the same time. "She wanted the songs to be super loud and she wanted the guitars to be really distorted and the percussion to keep this Arabic flavor," says Buckley. "She was very into the construction of the band, so she could go out front and be on her riser and do her moves [and] she can feel perfectly comfortable. She wants the Shakira band. I feel like we have an identity now."
That identity is plenty fulfilling for Shakira's musical director Tim Mitchell. "I feel like I have enough freedom where I can come up with a track or an idea that really comes from me," says the guitarist and yet another UM alum. "I've been in bands of my own and done my own projects, but it's tough because there's the business side of it. It's a long road. The reason I like to produce and write and work with an artist like her is that you can come up with an idea and get it out there. It's not that I feel that it's my band. It's her band, but I really understand where she wants to take things and I'm there to put it together."
"She's the star," Zimmon agrees, "which is absolutely fine with me because I'm pretty sure that fame doesn't improve your quality of life. Success might, but fame doesn't. I like the more working-stiff side."
Besides, even if playing for Shakira doesn't make a boy a rock star, there's still a chance to be a superhero. As Buckley remembers: "One time she told us, 'You're all going to be in my next video and you're all going to dress as action figures, each one with special powers.'"
So will there be Adam and Brendan dolls to go with the new Shakira Barbie? "There is no G.I. Joe action figure of me yet," Buckley laughs. "But that would be nice, with the kung fu grip and everything."
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