Easy Reader - Thursday, July 31, 2014

Spellbound Pumps It Up - The funk and Latin groove band plays Suzy’s on Saturday - by bondo wyszpolski

The years get away from us, don’t they?

Paul “Pablo” Thomas and Bobby Moon started writing and playing music together some 30 years ago when both were living “on the hill” and attending Palos Verdes High. At first there was the group Life After Death, and then later, at least by 1996, the two friends formed their own band, Spellbound, and released a self-titled CD on their own Selfish Recordings label.

In the years since – I’ll leave it to you to count how many – Thomas and Moon have released another dozen or so albums, mostly comprised of danceable funk and Latin grooves, with a heavy dose of R&B and Afro-Caribbean influences – all the more intriguing since this is an Asian and a Caucasian growing up far from the urban jungle or some sugarcane plantation.

Spellbound performs what Thomas describes as a celebratory-type music, and which others might just want to call party music, this Saturday night at Suzy’s in Hermosa Beach.

An Unlikely Calling

Paul Thomas had been in the high school jazz band and marching band, plus he played guitar and keyboards in other outfits. Bobby Moon liked poetry and the arts, and he also wrote lyrics, “reams and reams of lyrics” according to Thomas, who one day had the chance to read through them. Clearly, the impression was a good one.

“I was frustrated with my previous band,” Thomas says, “not being able to write songs, not having a lyricist. I couldn’t write lyrics very well myself. Bobby and I had very similar tastes in music, and we started to collaborate.”

Life After Death, Moon says, “was a post-punk synthesizer kind of band.” It had a local following and the band even cut a four-song vinyl EP, which received some distribution through an independent label.

This alone was encouraging, and the group tried courting major companies. “If that wasn’t going to happen,” Moon adds, “we were still going to continue doing things ourselves.”

Elektra and Warners apparently never came knocking, but Thomas and Moon weren’t waiting around anyway.

We still have to ask the big question, how did a couple of kids in P.V. get heavily into Latin and funk because, then as now, it seems rather alien to the area.

“I would credit Bobby for that,” Thomas says, “because this guy’s very open-minded. Going to P.V. High, I was influenced a lot by my peers and what they were listening to – and Bobby was telling me about people like Marvin Gaye and Bootsy Collins, Parliament-Funkadelic, and these things were foreign to me. He had all these strange albums and he started to turn me on to some of them.”

What pushed it over the top, it seems, was their subsequent immersion in the L.A. music scene. Says Thomas, who’d moved up to Hollywood, “I started to pick up a little more on some of the urban sounds, particularly Latin music. Once we got turned on to Latin music we just really, really fell in love with it.”

“The sound that we have now,” Moon says, “is because of Los Angeles, the overall influence.”

These days, Thomas is living in south Torrance, where the group has a recording studio, while Moon, after several years in Redondo, now resides in Koreatown.

Although Thomas may have had his eyes (and certainly his ears) opened to soul and funk through Moon’s record collection, both men discovered the African-influenced sounds of the Caribbean, specifically Puerto Rico and Cuba. When I mentioned Los Van Van, each of them praised this acclaimed Cuban band to the skies.

One person unstinting in his encouragement was Rudy Mangual, who earlier in this century was running “Latin Beat Magazine.” Mangual’s wife, Yvette, owned the Alex Haleigh Gallery down the street from El Camino College, and opening nights often culminated with a full-on music jam. Later on, Rudy Mangual joined up and performed with Spellbound.

The size of the group has varied over the years, from as many as ten to about three or four – which is pretty much what it is these days, when so much in the world of art and music has been scaled back.

There’s No Quitting Now

With just one exception – The Allman Brothers’ “Whipping Post” – Thomas and Moon penned all of the songs on “Iluminados,” their most recent album.

“The first five CDs that we made were all originals,” Moon says, “and then we started incorporating some covers that we were influenced by, that we thought we could make a good interpretation of.” He admits that “Whipping Post” seems to be an unlikely candidate, but says they picked up on the odd time signature and the slightly Latin influence they found in the work, and proceeded to emphasize these elements.

With the exception of certain iconic groups that somehow have earned a free pass – The Rolling Stones, U2, Neil Young come to mind – middle-aged rock ‘n’ rollers can often seem like an embarrassment, except maybe when they go on the oldies circuit.

And even then…

Thomas and Moon realized this early on. “What we love about Latin music,” Thomas says, “is that age doesn’t matter. Bobby and I said, Hey, this is for us, because we want to do music forever. We noticed with Latin music that it’s cool no matter what age (you are); you can keep going until you drop.”

They’ll probably do just that, since they still seem as enthusiastic about making music as any other duo half their age. Right now, they can pursue it full time, too, and they’re even recording other artists (Candi Sosa; Pablo) on their label.

Yes, the years do get away from us, but Paul Thomas and Bobby Moon have been hanging in there the whole time without losing their dreams, without becoming discouraged, and where the music business is concerned that’s saying quite a lot.

Where: Suzy’s Bar & Grill, 1141 Aviation Blvd., at Prospect, in Hermosa Beach
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Cover: None
Call: (310) 379-6