Tacoma-based indie rock band The Whole Bolivian Army played its first public show nearly 30 years ago with three members and a drum machine named Roland.
Guitarist and songwriter Matt Kite, singer Mary Beth Kite, and their friend founded the band in Seattle during the city´s post-Nirvana grunge craze of the ‘90s.
The band has transitioned through different styles, recording processes and rhythm sections (including many, many drummers) but has stayed loyal to the Puget Sound area. Twelve years ago, the Kites moved to Tacoma, bringing the band with them.
On Oct. 11, the band will release a new album, their first with their new bassist, Delia Gable, and the same time as the 20th anniversary of the release of the band´s album “Amnesty.”
The new album, called “The Monster that Ate Her,” is inspired by the story of ‘90s punk musician and performance artist Lydia Lunch.
When she first joined the band in early 2018, Gable lent Matt Kite the autobiography of Lunch, who gained the nickname because she used to steal lunch for her friends as a teenage runaway in New York City.
“I read about her story and she seemed determined to almost destroy herself to build herself if that makes sense,” Matt Kite explained, which led to his inspiration for the album´s title track.
Kite says he and Mary Beth Kite had nearly decided to end the band in 2017, but when Gable joined, their music gained more energy and power.
“This is probably about as raw as we´ve ever sounded,” Matt Kite said.
They´ll be playing with several other local bands, close friends of theirs from the Puget Sound music scene.
“My favorite thing is to play with other bands that I love and other people that I love,” Mary Beth Kite said.
The Whole Bolivian Army
Mary Beth Kite studied classical opera at Western Washington University before realizing what she actually wanted to do was sing in a rock band.
“I have a huge respect for it, and I love it even, but it´s not the music that moves me,” she said of opera. “So I always imagined myself in a rock band because that´s the stuff that gets me, that lights the fire.”
She met Matt Kite shortly after finishing college and decided she wanted to join his newly formed band.
“Matt and I were set up on a blind date,” Mary Beth Kite recalled, laughing. “It turned out that we didn´t want to date at that time, and I learned that he was starting a band, and I was like ´Oh, you´re starting a band?’ And I basically insinuated myself into the band.”
She jokes about the band´s early years playing together in Seattle.
“We basically played in (Matt´s) mom´s basement before we were not afraid to go out in public,” she laughed. “Actually, we were afraid. We were deathly afraid.”
The band chose its name as a reference to the movie, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” The movie ends with the title characters surrounded by the whole Bolivian army.
“It´s actually a reference to a reference,” Matt Kite added, “because there was a comedian that used to compare going onstage to being surrounded by the whole Bolivian army.”
Mary Beth Kite jokes that she´s conflicted about their choice of name.
“Our original bass player, he´s really to blame for it,” she said, laughing. “I don’t know if we can give credit or blame because it´s a mouthful, and at times we wish we had gone with something simpler.”
‘The Monster that Ate Her’
The band has seen significant changes over its nearly three decades in Western Washington. It has changed its sound from what Matt Kite described as “quirky” to embrace hard rock.
Gable´s background in industrial goth rock and punk rock helped shift the band´s influences. Originally from New York City, Gable visited Washington in 2013 for GeekGirlCon and fell in love with Tacoma.
“I´m very passionate about Tacoma,” Gable said with enthusiasm. “I moved here because it´s a grassroots city with a strong arts scene, where people could afford to have a weird business and not have to live in permanent wage slavery.”
The Kites´ son Gibson, 18, started playing shows with the band in 2016 as drummer. He says he´s enjoyed growing up in the band.
“It was cool because I always got exposed to great music and music I had a connection to,” he said.
He attends Tacoma Community College, says he´s currently interested in anthropology and keeps seven different types of snakes which like to come out when the band practices.
“We had a joke when I was pregnant, and we´d been through five drummers at that point, maybe six, and we were in flux at that time, and Matt would just jokingly say to my mid-section, ´Be a drummer,´” Mary Beth Kite laughed.
Their recording process has changed as well. While the band recorded the majority of their previous albums in studios, this recent album they recorded entirely in the Kites´ Tacoma living room and attic.
The drums stayed in the living room, because the hardwood floors made for good sound quality, Gibson Kite explained. The group went up to the attic to record the guitar, bass and vocal tracks.
“I´m the only one who can actually stand up there,” Mary Beth Kite joked.
They took the tracks to Seattle´s London Bridge studio to be mastered. The group views this album as its best, most raw and authentic production yet.
“Early on it was hard because my voice is so clear, and it had power but no edge,” Mary Beth said. “That´s what I love so much about what we´re doing right now is that I feel like I´ve finally arrived at where I want to be musically.”
Where: Louie G´s Pizza
When: Friday, Oct. 11, 8 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Cost: $10 cover charge
Where: Slim´s Last Chance Saloon
When: Saturday, Oct. 26, 9 p.m. to 12 a.m.
Cost: $10 cover charge