Checking in with Johnny Vatos & Oingo Boingo Former Members
May 18, 2021 by Traci Turner
As a Southern CA girl, I caught some of the legally required Oingo Boingo Halloween shows, plus a sneaky Clowns of Death gig at the Whiskey. I have known for decades that Johnny Vatos is an amazing drummer, so I was pretty darn excited to chat with him this week. Vatos’s personality is infectious (in a good, non-covid way!), and he made me giddy with excitement over what is to come. Not only will Oingo Boingo Former Members be back on the stage soon, they have a very interesting double CD in the works.
Traci: We made it through 2020 and shows are happening! Were you driving your family crazy being home so much?
Johnny: It’s just my wife. My kids are grown up, so my wife and I, we’ve been married now for thirty, thirty-three years and we got just got even closer. It was really kind of neat.
Traci: But now it is time to get out there so the rest of us can see you! Your first post-lockdown gig is coming up, right? (May 29th, Lost ‘80s Live, Lost at Sea on Catalina Island)
Johnny: It’s actually our first time headlining a Lost ‘80s show, which is a big thing for us. Lost ‘80s Live is a worldwide franchise and they have all these great ‘80s bands. This is going to be an incredible day of music; Dramarama, A Flock of Seagulls, The Romantics (Wally Palmar), Annabella (Bow Wow Wow), and Animotion. I mean, every time I hear Animotion, I want to just do a shot of tequila! And we get to headline a great, great show, plus Richard Blade is going to be the guest host all day long.
Traci: A lot of good music in that group of performers. You guys also have dates later in the year?
Johnny: Yes. We do have a bunch of dates in October, but our season starts September 25th. We’re playing a Halloween convention in Las Vegas. It’s a two-day Halloween convention in the Area 15 convention center and we’re headlining Saturday night. Then we start our Halloween L.A. stuff, The Canyon (Santa Clarita) on October 8th. October 16, we’re playing the Mountain Winery in Saratoga and that’s an open-air show, and we have Missing Persons and Dramarama on the bill. That should be a real big outdoor concert! We’re playing The Canyon (Montclair) on October 22nd. On October the 23rd, we’re playing at The Coach House (San Juan Capistrano) and Jimmy (Alvarez, TNN Radio, OC Music News) will be the emcee there, which will be totally incredible. Then October 31st, big Halloween night. We’re playing the Canyon Club in Agoura Hills, which is a big club, and we can fit over a thousand people in there. It should be a roaring time. Also, our last date of the year, we’re going to play in Salt Lake City in December.
Traci: Halloween is going to be “Nothing to Fear” album, right?
Johnny: Yes. We’re featuring the “Nothing to Fear” album the entire Halloween season. We’re going to because those 10 tunes cover a lot of our setlist and they play so well. The album is just amazing, one of my favorite albums! So yeah, we’ll be back on the road doing stuff. There’s so much on our plate now because everything’s opening up. I’m running around, you can tell by the tempo of my dialog here!
Traci: You do sound pretty energized!
Johnny: I’m just wired with excitement because we’re working on our new CD. It’s just going to be an amazing CD. We’re doing a double CD of not only all the Boingo hits – it sounds so great and they really represent a band that’s on fire and what people can expect to see in a show. But we’re also doing another CD of our original music. That was per advice from Danny Elfman: “Why don’t you guys write your own stuff?”(laughing) I said alright Danny, I think we’ll do that!
Traci: When will we get to hear new stuff?
Johnny: We’re actually going to start dropping singles in July, August, and September. So three new singles, and then along with it, three original tunes from the guys in the band.
Traci: Who are the members of Oingo Boingo Former Members?
Johnny: Of course Steve Bartek, John Avila, Sam “Sluggo” Phipps,” Carl Graves. The lead singer Brendan McKian, and we have Mike Glendinning, Freddy Hernandez, Brian Swartz, and Ryan Dragon.
Traci: How did you guys do the original stuff? Is there somebody that’s the songwriter or you just all throw your talents in there together?
Johnny: What we did is the original stuff are individual projects, so Bryan Swartz is a jazz trumpet player, Grammy nominated, incredible player. He has a big band and he also has a small group and he’s recorded with a small group and some of those tunes are going to be on there. Brendan McKian has his own project, Crisis Culture and it’s kind of high energy, thrashy power stuff, that’s kind of cool. It’s a whole other area. Mike Glendinning has a band called Human Haggis – Human Haggis! – and it’s kind of a punk raw street. Great, great man. I love their tunes. Carl Graves is working on his own solo album at this very moment, and it should be out right about the same time. He has a bunch of great tunes. Everybody’s worked on their own things and I have my own original tunes too, and I’m writing and hopefully I’m going to record a couple of those new tunes that I have. So that’s what we’re contributing to the new music. I’m producing the band and the old, all the regular stuff that we’ve been doing. The Boingo stuff. John Avila and his son-in-law Anton are mixing and I’m producing and my son Freddy Hernandez is co-producing.
Traci: Oh, I didn’t realize that he was your son! (I completely forgot “Vatos” is not Johnny’s last name!) Family business!
Johnny: Yea, Freddy is a classically-trained musician, bass player and he works all over town. Sometimes John, who is so famous has to go out of town, so Freddy subs for him. He’s our second bass player at Halloween and when we play long shows he will split the shows with John. He plays guitar and a couple other instruments too and the fans really like him. He plays his ass off! (laughing) No slouches in the band!
Traci: I watched some of the videos on YouTube and you guys are amazing! It sounds fabulous and I can’t wait to see it live.
Johnny: It’s doing great now and as long as the fans keep coming! For the last two years as we were playing, the crowds got younger, and for some reason there were 30-somethings and 20-year-old kids. Then there was even young kids with their parents and they knew the music and they were so glad and we took pictures and all that stuff. So the music is still alive and I’m waiting to see if, with all this extra attention that Danny Elfman is getting and doing his thing, that it doesn’t spill over when people hear the new CD. I’m hoping they’ll know they have a choice when it comes to enjoying Danny Elfman’s music, you know? I’m excited, I’m really glad for him. I’m glad he’s doing what he’s doing because he’s my friend. I’m glad he’s not sitting around being stupid and not enjoying himself, going crazy either. He’s crazy guy. I mean, I’ve been going crazy ever since I met the man!
Traci: When you talk about the younger fans, I never pushed my music on my son and he just on his own, picked up on Boingo. He plays drums and one day said, “I just learned ‘Weird Science’ because I liked it,” so I love to hear that the younger fans are showing up and enjoying the songs!
Johnny: It is! I am glad to hear that story! Tell your son thank you very much for enjoying it.
Traci: What’s your favorite song to drum to? What do you have the most fun with?
Johnny: Every minute, every millisecond and every millisecond and moment of every song is an incredible event and they’re all like my children. I was there from the inception. Just like your child. It’s like that! There’s so many, so many great songs. “When the Lights Go Out,” “Reptiles and Samurai,” all these just incredible tunes, “Mama,” all these high energy. We would go out of control and to have a band that did go out of control and do crazy stuff is really a lot of fun. If your son learns most of the music, he’s going to learn most of the music of my influence, which is every great drummer from Cozy Powell who played with Duke Ellington all the way up to me (laughing), because all drummers are the same. We all go back. We’re all standing on somebody’s shoulders.
Traci: So much history and decades of good stuff! Until we see you in person, stay safe and I can’t wait for the discs!
Johnny: Everyone is in good health and very excited to play and wait till you hear the new… Oh, my gosh. It just makes me go crazy. It’s really exciting!
There you go folks, new music starting in July! Make plans to see Oingo Boingo Former Members at one of their upcoming shows and plan on a double CD that will blow you away!