By Shanna Osborn
Valley Music News, September/October 1994
Boingo (once known as Oingo Boingo) got the name Oingo Boingo from Danny Elfman's old theatrical group The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo, which he started with his brother in the later 70's. The band commandeered half of that name in 1979. Elfman decided early on in their career that every time they switched record labels they would cut their name in half. He claims there is no real reason for this idea. When they joined MCA in 1984 Oingo Boingo wanted to go Boingo, but the record company wouldn't let them change their name.
It doesn't matter what name they go by, their music speaks for itself. I found proof of Sacramento's love of this unique band when I recently attended their concert at the Sacramento Community Center. From women jumping on stage to chants of "more" the audience reacted enthusiastically to Boingo's performance. Not only did Boingo interact well with their audience, but they proved that Sacramento just couldn't get enough of these studs.
Recently, when Boingo came to town, I got a chance to meet with their bassist, John Avila. I learned that he played for ten years in other bands before joining [Oingo] Boingo. He has played just about every style one can imagine, from rock and funk to jazz and latin folk: you name it he has played it. He and drummer Johnny "Vatos" Hernandez have been friends since childhood. They grew up in the same neighborhood and as a result formed a band called Food For Feet. While Vatos was still drumming for Food For Feet, he became drummer for Oingo Boingo. It was through Vatos that John got an audition for Oingo Boingo and was asked to join the band. I got a chance to explore his vision and ideas for Boingo.
VMN: What is your opinion on Oingo Boingo changing their name to Boingo?
John: I was personally against it. It was a quick decision. I didn't pay attention to it afterwards. Now that the albulm came out it seems that everytime people ask, "What happened to Oingo?" it has turned into a drag because I constantly have to explain why. The funny thing is that there really isn't any real reason why we did it. It was just done. So we moved on.
In reretrospect, if I would have known that it was going to cause such a rukus, I would have been really against it. One of the things we always tell people is, if you want to call us Oingo Boingo, feel free. Call us anything you want, just don't call me Sue.
VMN: When did you first start to play bass?
John: When I was sixteen years old, I had a car and a license. As a result, I had a friend ask me to help him move from one house to another. The house he was moving into had an attic. We decided to get up there and see what was inside. We found this bass guitar. It was a Japanese bass and it looked just like Paul McCartney's bass guitar. It was in great condition and I offered the guy fifteen dollars on the spot for it. I took the bass home. It was love at first sight. From that moment on I never stopped practicing. I've never had a real job because that's all I've ever done was play bass.
VMN: When did you join Oingo Boingo?
John: In 1984.
VMN: Do you write any of the lyrics or music?
John: No, that's Danny's department.
VMN: He does the songwriting and the lyrics and says, "Here's what I've wrote, now practice it!"
John: Yes. With that, he will bring in a song that has been written. Not how one would hear it on record, because everyone gets together and whips it into shape. As a band there is a lot of experimentation and input that is involved. You want to be able to play it live and be comfortable with it.
VMN: Do you have a favorite song?
John: My favorite songs are always the new songs. New is favorite to me. I'm really enjoying playing "Hey" at our live shows. We have even newer songs that we've written since the albulm was released. The new stuff is even more fun to play because it's so darn new.
VMN: What are you personal influences? Do you have any certain bands or sounds you want to try and play?
John: Up until two years ago, I was in Food For Feet. We had a couple albums and we were touring. It was like being in two bands and two record companies. For almost ten years I didn't have much time for anything else.
VMN: Do you like being in the background or would you rather be a front person?
John: I've gotten to fill both shoes. With Food For Feet, I was the band singer/bassist. We were just a trio. Being the lead singer you have to be on the microphone. You have a lot more to think about. You also have to sound good on the bass. Where as with Boingo, although I'm the background vocalist, there is more freedom to have fun on stage. I'm not married to the microphone all of the time.
VMN: Do you have a favorite gig with Boingo?
John: The Halloween shows are always close to my heart.
VMN: Why is that? Because the people are dressed up?
John: Yeah, but just because it always a fun time. We play a Halloween show in L.A. at Irvine Meadows in Southern California. We very often sell out three nights at 16,000 a night during Halloween weekend. Those are just always fun wild and there are ghosts in the air. You can hear 'em.
VMN: Do you have a philosophy of the music of Boingo? Or all together as a group?
John: We've always had the philosophy that, if we ever feel like we're turning into some kind of dinosaur or it feels like it's old, or the spirit of Boingo is not in our music at any time, then that is when it will be our last year. It will stop. We feel like we're always keeping the creative juices flowing. It's got to feel right. If it doesn't then that's when it's all said and done and put out to pasture.
VMN: How does Boingo keep the passion to play?
John: I think one of the things about our band is we've never been a band to stay together twelve months out of the year. We take breaks from each other throughout the year. We have our own Boingo union breaks. Everyone goes off and does their own thing. During this time Danny has amde a career out of doing film scoring. Steve Bartek does scores for his films and he's done a few of his own movies. Everyone goes off and does their own thing. What happens is when we get back, sparks start to fly. All those creative juices start flowing. It's one of my theories. I don't know if that's the true reason we've been together. It seems to be one on the reasons we haven't burned out as a band.
VMN: Do you have any advice for aspiring musicians?
John: One thing is to practice, practice, practice. The other is location, location, location. It's a funny business that we're in. You have to be willing to put in the time. Also it takes a little luck sometimes. You have to be in the right place at the right time. Sometimes you just have to stick to it. Eventually your time will come. My advice is: every dog has his day, so hang in there.