With some help from influential family members and friends, Burgos found a new calling in the world of Latin funk and soul music.
Today he is now the lead singer and percussionist for the Brooklyn-based band Bridge City Hustle, which includes Dave Zerio (drums and keyboards), Peter O’Neill (bass), John Bendy (guitar) and Dan Cherouny (alto saxophone).
After more than a year in the studio and playing shows throughout NYC and beyond, Bridge City Hustle have just released their newest single, “Too Good For Me,” on the band’s debut self-titled EP.
I met up with Burgos and O’Neill for coffee at The Lunchbox in Greenpoint to discuss the band, their theory on music marketing and their passion for playing music in NYC.
How did you guys find each other?
Peter: We were actually playing as session musicians for a while. The more we ended up playing together, the more we started asking ourselves why we just didn’t do our own project. It took a while to iron out the specifics and come out with a sound that was cohesive and something we could believe in, and then we just started pulling other people we know.
What drives you to pursue a career in music?
Peter: I never had anyone in my family into music, but the first instrument I picked up in high school was a viola, then I just kept upgrading to something cooler. I settled on bass and there was no looking back from there.
For me there was no choice. This was just something I always knew I would do. There are times I would think maybe it was time to find a real job, but my wife will turn to me and say, “You know you can’t do that,” because I’ve tried it before and there was nothing else I ever wanted to do.
Johnny: I grew up around percussion. My uncle is a well-known percussionist. His name is Andre Martinez. He’s played with a lot of jazz groups. He toured with Cecil Taylor for years. He’s played a lot of Latin percussion for all the greats and I just grew up being around it and wanting to do it. He saw I had a little knack for it, so he took me on and showed me a few things. But it was more about being immersed.
But for me, I definitely didn’t feel like there was much of an option, and at the same time, music saved my life. I was a little bit of a knucklehead and I grew up in a rough hood. I made a lot of bad decisions – almost all of them you could have in that environment. I finally got it together and I got back into the working life. But being experienced in making music and getting out of all of that, it just always reminds me of where I was and how I got here.
Is your uncle the one that got you into playing music?
Johnny: He’s the one that was the strongest influence. He was never like, “This is what you’re going to do.” He saw that I enjoyed it and he would just show me things every time I was around. But I took it upon myself to pursue it. I didn’t go to school for it. I just wanted to do it and no one could tell me anything else.
How did you find your focus as a group?
Johnny: I had songs that were written that I always wanted musicians good enough to play the way I envisioned them. I think a big part of it is the stuff I grew up on. I was raised on salsa and soul music always playing and those are both rhythm oriented and definitely funky and talking about real life things.
Peter: For me, as a bass player I just naturally gravitated towards funk music. After getting together with Johnny, I never really paid attention to lyrics and it was always about just forming the group. I started paying attention to soul music and listening to things that could not only move you physically, but emotionally.
Especially nowadays with all this pop music going on, this is about finding something that’s a little less trendy and a little bit more real. But hopefully we can get it to be a little trendy too.
How do you find the right place to play?
Peter: There are a number of groups that we’ve been paired with on various bills we’ve really enjoyed. Bands like Juicebox, they’re really great – a little more funk and soul – but it takes a little while to find that. Once you start getting put on these bills together you can get yourself into the scene, but because the city is so large it takes a while to find yourself a niche. We may even still be working on that a little too.
Johnny: We’ve also reached out to a lot of places, and in this city there is an open booking policy, you can reach out to them with whatever their criteria is, and if they dig it, they’ll get back to you. We’ve also gotten lucky with bands we’ve played with before. We also have a lot of “buddy bands.” It’s definitely a network once you’ve solidified your sound.
How do you record?
Johnny: We got a little lucky. I, as well as Dan and Dave, have a connection. Dan and me still work at Flux Studios in the Lower East Side. It’s a very high-end studio with a very vintage sound, like modern art kind of thing, but it’s totally capable of all the technology nowadays as well, and that adds to our sound. A majority of us are producers in it as well.
Peter: That was something that was very unique to this group. Within months of writing our first group of songs together, there was already this mindset of “here’s how it’s going to sound in the studio, here’s how we want to orchestrate things, here’s the idea we’re looking for.” Between all of these guys, as well as our studio manager at Flux, we were able to take that right from here into an idea that we wanted to create.
What’s the most difficult part about being a band in NYC?
Johnny: I think one of the biggest problems is the saturation. It’s getting the access to the crowd – you’re targeting a demographic. There’s so much stuff out there and you know New York is a city with so many things going on. They’re just not fazed.
Peter: People know that they can go out even for free to see a great artist every night, so if you want to get people to pay money to see you, you’ve got to be 10 times better and work 10 times harder. That’s what the whole hustle thing is all about. That has been our mantra throughout this year, we’re basically going to hustle until we make it or break it.
What’s your theory behind releasing music?
Johnny: Definitely it’s about releasing a minimal amount. You need stuff to introduce people to and if we don’t have the fan base, then there’s no reason to release a huge amount of material. So, we’ve released two singles, and the EP containing the two singles and we’re probably going to do the same again for the next release. Maybe work two or three singles and release another EP and maybe a full-length. So that’s the plan unless we blow the hell up.
Peter: We just want to keep feeding our audience with new stuff; videos of covers, live videos as well – we’ve got a bunch of friends who are great videographers and great photographers and they help us keep things fresh on the website while we’re waiting for the next EP to drop. And actually there has already been some recording started.
What’s your take on Spotify?
Johnny: I do use it personally. It’s the way it’s going to go and the way technology is moving things. I’m always open to things, even through the credit per play is very small. You do make money, but it’s not much – about six cents a play. And there’s a certain amount of attention you have to get before you can get paid. But there’s no way to fight it.
Peter: For me I don’t use Spotify for the same reason, but I think it would be ignorant for people to think that it’s going away, because it’s not. It’s a necessary evil, and if it helps people get into our music, then that just puts the pressure on us to figure out new ways to get revenue, to put more into our shows, put more into our recordings and for even the people who can get these for free still buy our stuff. We put a lot of energy not only into the recordings themselves, but the artwork and the packaging and when you build that personal connection they want to support it.
Johnny: It’s all about content and the live show. It’s about the brand entirely. Music sales are on a steady decline, so it’s unfortunately not even all about the music anymore.