Meet Fredo Ortiz of Bongoloidz (playing Alex’s Bar on December 27)

I’ve been seeing Fredo Ortiz play amazing arena shows (Beastie Boys at the Velodrome) and special, smaller jams (w/ Tommy Guerrero, Ray Barbee, and Money Mark at HUF) but finally met him at Giant Robot Biennale 3 (above). We’ve kept in touch and bumped into each other here and there, and I was stoked when he jumped at playing Alex’s Bar on December 27. Here’s some scoop on his solo material, his successful Kickstarter campaign, and the gig.

MW: Were you surprised at all that your Kickstarter campaign met the goal (and then some) to support your first solo release? Were there any names on the list that surprised you or were blasts from your musical past?
FO: You know, I was very surprised, because I went into the campaign with little expectation that I would reach the goal and succeed. Not that I was pessimistic, I had hoped it would succeed, of course, but I felt like I was basically asking people to pre-order an album that they’ve never heard and have no idea what it will sound like, just because it is from me, it’s my own material and my debut solo record. That’s asking for quite a bit of trust and confidence from people. And I was pretty blown away by all of the support I received, humbled in fact. Supporters came from all different areas of my life and musical career, and it’s really a great feeling to know that such a wide variety of people support me and my music.

MW: You’ve sat in, jammed, and played with so many big-timers from Los Lobos to the Beastie Boys to The Bronx. What is it about your style that lends itself to playing with so many different styles? Is it as easy as you make it seem?
FO: I think it’s really rooted in how I grew up surrounded by a huge variety of music, studied it, practiced hard, and so on. I came from a musical family; my father played acoustic guitar, my brother played Hammond organ, my Uncle Carlos played trumpet and my Uncle Gaston played sax, so I was always surrounded by various types of music in my house. In high school I was in marching band while I also played in the bands The Villains 99 and Yeska. So all at the same time, I was performing traditional marching band pieces, punk rock with The Villains, and Jazz,

Afro-Cuban rhythms and Ska with Yeska. My experience learning and performing such different styles of music has allowed me to be more versatile as a drummer and percussionist.

MW: Can you talk about your solo work for music fans who only know your work with other bands and combos?
FO: Well, I have always been recording and writing my own stuff, while at home, on the road, etc. and I’m always hearing excellent feedback from it. And it just felt like the right time to put it all together and put it out there. On this first record I brought together my influences, from punk rock to hip hop to pop music to Latino, in order to put together an eclectic variety of tunes. I started with recording drum tracks, then wrote the songs from there, performing all of the instruments (bass, guitar, keys, percussion) as well as singing vocals. In the end I brought in a few of my musician friends to help add a little flavor. I think the result is something pretty special.

MW: I think it’s rad that you’ll play warehouse jams with friends and last-minute bar shows like next week’s Alex gig. You really still get off on playing dives after doing huge festivals in Europe, etc.?
FO: I guess since I started off playing high school talent shows and local backyard parties before playing stadiums with the Beasties, I feel just at home playing to 10 people as to 50,000 people. I’m always down to play at any venue that supports live music. As long as those people walk away having enjoyed the evening, it brings me the same satisfaction.

MW: When we last talked, you weren’t sure what your lineup was going to be. Any clues?
FO: In the very beginning of Bongoloidz it was a one-man show where I performed all the instruments. At a certain point, I realized I needed a couple band members to fill out the live show in order to bring my songs to life. Backing me up right now is my homegirl Ruby Rosas on bass and vox, and Bobby Amaro on the trap kit.

The Alex’s Bar lineup for the January 27 gig is Sandy Yang at 9:20, Bongoloidz at 10:00, and It’s Casual at 11:00. Seeya there!