Taos’ Vanilla Pop is kind of mysterious. Yet, as far back as most everyone can remember, they’ve always been there: Al Dente and Lester Moore, creeper mustaches, emotionless faces, shiny outfits and all. But from whence did this lounge act-meets-cover band come, and how have they kept it going for 17 years?
"We started off just as a side project," Al Dente, who was interviewed under the condition that his actual identity remain a secret. "Our girlfriends at the time were working together in a bookstore, and they had suggested we get together and see what would transpire." What followed was, according to Al Dente, "light and airy," and a new cover band was born. "But with a twist," he continues. "Just so it wasn't two guys doing the same old stuff—I truly believe that any creative endeavor needs to have its own life and time to develop."
Moore was a longtime musician, whereas Al Dente had always gravitated toward the theater. With these forces combined, and a mandate to never take the band too seriously, a concept evolved. "I remember the first time we said, 'Hey, let's put on mustaches,'" Al Dente recalls. "And then a few months later, we thought, 'How about a sign? What about a Las Vegas style-cruise ship vibe?'"
It was meant to be fun, above all else. With keyboards, sequencing and synths layered beneath live guitar and vocals, Vanilla Pop would tackle rock and R&B hits from various eras with a lively panache few local acts seem to have tuned into.
Having grown tired of low-energy, corner-of-the-bar bands and blues-rock nonsense even then in the early aughts (let this be a lesson to all y'all), Vanilla Pop set to work nailing down a more cohesive musical vision. "I thought, how many fucking bar bands can there be? And for the longest time, we just stuck to the '80s, and we still have an '80s core," says Al Dente. "But that doesn't really tell you a lot about what we're actually like, so on the road one time I came up with 'Frank Sinatra makes out with Michael Jackson.' So, technically, they are orchestrated versions and covers with strings and horns, but they're very tongue-in-cheek in the little things; the nuances like set design and costumes. It's not just throwing on a wig and a mustache—though we're interesting to look at, I think—it's an artistic and interpretive vision."
This is how they pack dance floors at weddings, private events, corporate gigs and regional shows on the regular. Al Dente says they've become completely self-sufficient at this point, which is no small feat for any band, and especially huge for New Mexico, where countless musicians must hold down day jobs to indulge their passions.
Al Dente can empathize. "We're all just trying to keep our wheels spinning … paying our mortgage and keeping our phones on, and that doesn't always allow for us to reflect on what's happening in the world," he says. "But when I sometimes step outside myself and look at the whole [Vanilla Pop] production, I'm impressed. Would I come and see me if I wasn't in the band? I think the answer is definitely yes."
So this goes out to all you dance fans and all you fans of songs you already know. Just keep in mind that while Vanilla Pop is technically a cover band, they make the jams their own.
"We do songs we like, and we're never going to do songs because people request them," Al Dente says. "We're going to do songs that make me think, 'Oh my God! I totally forgot about that song!' And we're never fucking playing 'Mustang Sally,' not now—not ever."
See, there's just something you've really gotta respect about that.
10 pm Friday Feb. 24. $10.
142 W Palace Ave.,
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