Jose Boyer lifts his brown, half-empty, 22-ounce bottle of beer from the picnic table, spins the neck between his fingers, and glances at its label. "Imperial Hefeweizen," he reads. "They have a lot of different kinds of beer in there. I always try to grab something I've never had before."
The brew is strong, maybe 8 percent, he notes, filling his pint glass back up and taking a drink. Boyer, 23, is the youngest member of Chapel Hill's The Gondoliers, and he's the first to arrive at Weaver Street Market to talk about the band he joined a year ago. Boyer had been a longtime fan of The Spinns, the erstwhile act of head Gondolier Todd Colberg. The Spinns were three party guys, '60s obscure obsessives from top to bottom. But Boyer heard more room for pop in The Gondoliers. When the band needed a new, permanent bass player after its first show, Boyer—a classically trained violinist who speaks five languages, plays guitar and tinkers with recording equipment in his bedroom—volunteered.
Colberg was nervous. After playing in The Spinns, he thought he'd never find musicians who understood him that well again. Those guys collected the same '60s garage records he did, after all. These new Gondoliers didn't: Twenty-five-year-old drummer Chris Lauderdale played in grindcore bands, pop bands and math-rock bands back in Richmond, Va. Colberg refers to that as "some strange variety of bands." Now, he was hiring a bassist who knew more about guitar than he did, treated his instrument almost like a guitar, and worshipped The Beatles. As Colberg puts it, "It was a source of much concern."
But The Spinns had run its course, and The Gondoliers needed to be different by design. The Spinns, before it ended, was "such a dictatorship." Colberg planned tours, scheduled practices and wrote the songs.
"We had a really good band that just imploded," says Colberg, 35, the flinty gruff of his voice a strong contrast with those of his bandmates. "You have this band called The Spinns, you know, and it's a great joke because we go to everyone's town and party with them and drink them under the table, New Orleans or anywhere. Eventually, that destroys your band."
Colberg says he got really lucky. His new bandmates don't know much about garage rock, but they're eager to learn. Colberg passes them essential records and compilations from his collection, and they cover the staples. Still, Boyer and Lauderdale bring what they love to the band—a little pop, a little charm, ample swagger. "I wanted some players who were young and good-looking—male or female, it didn't matter—and I wanted to have some fresh faces and vitality and people that were enthusiastic about playing," Colberg says.
In finding those sorts of musicians, he also found people who wanted to be a band, to collaborate: Boyer recorded the band's first LP himself, even though the songs were Colberg's, and, when they hit the road last year, Boyer pitched in for the van. He laughs when he remembers Colberg's surpise.
"He was like, 'Wow, this is new to me. I always totally have to do everything,'" says Boyer. "I felt like, as long as I could keep helping out, I could make it more my project. I could have a project not necessarily just to play along with but to have some input in, too."
He had the right idea. Boyer wrote a chunk of the second record, and that doesn't scare Colberg anymore. Rather, Colberg preemptively refers to the band's second album—which won't be recorded until November—as one the whole band will like. The Gondoliers will even headline Blackbeard's Lost Weekend this year, a garage rock festival The Spinns started five years ago. Colberg doesn't seem nervous that The Gondoliers won't meet the garage-rock snuff The Spinns set in years past.
Boyer's not worried either, reaching for the bottle of beer he's never tried before: "We like to have a good time, too."
The Gondoliers play the closing night of Blackbeard's Lost Weekend at The Cave Saturday, Oct. 27, with Thee Crucials and The Butchers. The Adult Film Makers, Coffin Bound and Stone Figs play Thursday night, followed by The Coathangers and Beat Beat Beat Friday night. The music starts at 9 p.m. nightly.