It’s been said that every decade lives twice, and thanks to White Ford Bronco, the dream of the ’90s is alive in DC. WFB takes nostalgic, party-loving Washingtonians back to the golden age of angst by paying homage to the musicians who wore their heart on their flannel sleeves and reigniting the most memorable songs of the era in a way they’ve never been rocked before.
The supremely authentic and equally energetic supergroup is composed of lead guitarist, Ken Sigmund, groove-seeker bassist Sean “McNasty” McCauley, killer drummer Matt Golden, the ever-charismatic, Eddie Vedder-esque guitarist/vocalist, Diego Valencia, and lead-singing dynamo, Gretchen Gustafson, whose powerhouse vocals effortlessly telegraph everything from ironic girl next door charm to howling riot grrrl indignation. (And when she belts out the chorus of “What’s Going On” a capella, it will stop you in your tracks.)
What’s held things together so solidly for over half a decade is WFB’s ability to maintain their own recognizable identity amid playing songs written by other people in an era long ago. In their live performances, there’s a contagious vitality achieved that courses through song after song, regardless of stylistic or genre detours. What’s also striking is how well these songs have held up, how excellently WFB rocks them, and how desperately you’ll be begging for your youth back.
Together, White Ford Bronco is a well-oiled machine of musicians with a magical on-stage chemistry that evolved from a passion for playing music, shared 90s nostalgia, and deep personal friendships over many years. It’s no surprise these five rockers have developed a bona fide cult following in their crusade to save the 90s. Hundreds of local 20-somethings brave long lines, packed bars, and every imaginable weather condition to relive memories of a not-so-distant past where la vida is eternally loca.
Check out our interview with these rebel-rousing rockers and snag your ticket for their major headlining gig at the State Theater on February 8th. Trust me — they’ll destroy your sweater.
So explain the genesis of White Ford Bronco. Who started it, where’d you all meet, etc.
Gretchen: I was bartending at Clyde’s of Georgetown. It was my fourth shift and Diego and Matt walked in with the intent of obviously getting drunk. I asked what they did and they said they were in a 90s cover band called “White Ford Bronco.” I laughed (because it’s awesome) and said, “If you ever need a chick singer let me know.” Here I am four years later.
Diego: The 90s theme was an idea I had been kicking around for about 9 months before Matt finally bought his drum set. Sean lived with Matt and the WFB fellowship was created. I figured the 90s were due for some love.
There are all kinds of cover bands out there, but very few that focus specifically on the magical era of the 1990s. What was the inspiration behind deciding to be a ’90s cover band? And who are a few your favorite bands from that era that you pay homage to in WFB?
Gretchen: Everyone was doing the 80s and we’re basically the next generation of that. It’s what we listened to. I grew up a teeny bopper listening to horribly amazing boy bands and pop princesses. My iPod now is full of Foo Fighters, Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Sound Garden. Homage paid.
Ken: We don’t pay homage to 90s singers and groups – we outdo them. We’ve got all the bases covered, from teenybopper pop (Britney, Justin), to country (Garth, Shania), to grunge (Kurt, Eddie V). For what reason, I haven’t the slightest clue.
What are your favorite songs to play live? What songs have you noticed the crowd reacts to the most?
Gretchen: There are some that I absolutely dread singing (“MmmBop,”) but the crowd reaction is amazing. We forget that although we play these songs night in and night out there are people out there that have never seen us before, haven’t heard that song since it came out in 1997. Just when you get sick of playing “Semi-Charmed Life,” “Flagpole Sitta” or “You Oughta Know,” there’s someone out in the crowd screaming every lyric off right in your face and you want to show them that you’re having just as good of a time as they are, you’re just fortunate enough to be on stage.
Diego: They do love their “Tubthumping.” The more guilty pleasure the song is, the more people love it: “Closing time,” “Bitch,” “Fastball,” “500 Miles,” etc.
Speaking of playing live, your shows are pretty intense. You always play to packed crowds sometimes for up to 4 or 5 hours. How do you maintain such high energy throughout the shows and do you structure your set in such a way that corresponds with the increasingly more intoxicated crowd as the night goes on?
Gretchen: We are very much a band that feeds off the energy of a crowd and each other. There’s a definite structure to the set list. The first set is songs people recognize, or some we just want to rock out to that may be on the B-side of an album but we love it. That sort of gets us into the flow and then by the second set its all stuff you just want to party to. People have either just gotten in the door and want to rock or have been there since the beginning, drank a bit and now want to rock out. But on the rare occasion no one is paying attention to us, we just have fun and act like dumb idiots practicing in Sean’s basement.
Ken: We’ve come to know where each song usually fits in the scope of the entire night, going for mood and the ‘OOO’ factor, though we do experiment all the time, because you can never be totally sure which song is gonna tear up the crowd at any given gig.
The rad thing about WFB is that no matter how many of your shows I’ve been to, each one feels completely different and I have just as much fun as I did the first time I saw you. How do you manage to make each show feel unique after playing similar sets to similar crowds for nearly half a decade?
Gretchen: I think it’s the people that come to see us that want to have a good time that make it unique. I literally have a group of GW guys we played a formal for three years ago that come to a show at least once a month and they request “Chumbawamba” and “Third Eye Blind.” Every time. Without fail. They might not come to every show but we have people LIKE that at every show. It’s that little stuff. You remember who likes what and when they’re there and they’re screaming after every song to play ‘their song,’ you kind of have to.
Diego: I think when you’re having fun the crowd senses that and gets into it more. Also some of the songs we play conjure up a unique meaning for the listener. So every time they hear it they relive their first kiss, first heartache, first bj, studying for HS finals, driving till 2am with your friends screaming the words to “Motorcycle Drive By” with the windows down, so on and so forth.
What’s been your most memorable show to date and what made it so legendary?
Sean: 9:30 Club opening for Super Diamond. Just because it’s the 9:30 Club and it’s rare to get the opportunity to play there as a local cover band.
Ken: We murdered Super Diamond like Ray Lewis murdered… uhhh, that crab cake sandwich.
You often incorporate the audience into parts of your show which is always entertaining but has probably also led to some interesting alcohol-infused encounters now and again. So what’s the craziest crowd/fan experience you’ve had thus far?
Gretchen: I think I get more play than the guys on this one. I’ve had girls use me as a stripper pole, asked to be their midnight kiss on NYE, had someone grope me… But then I’ve also had people call me a bitch because I wouldn’t let them on stage. I remember you, ‘Girl Who Tried To Steal the Tambourine.’
Sean: There were the hot pink panties that ended up on stage one NYE, which we then hung up in the practice space for a long time.
Staying on the crowd topic, in recent years you’ve developed a bona fide cult following in DC. You recently played major venues like the 9:30 Club and the majority (if not all) of your shows are packed from wall-to-wall with a long line outside of people anxiously waiting to squeeze in. What’s been the progression of this extremely diehard fan base and how does that make you guys feel?
Gretchen: Honestly, words can’t describe the feeling. To see the shows we started with at Saloun playing to 5-20 people all night to now not even being able to walk through a bar, or seeing a line out the door all night is absurd. There’s been a turn, maybe in the last year or so, and I don’t know where it came from but I love it. I know I like to make sure if I have seen someone more than say, three times, that I thank them for coming and ask their name. I guarantee I won’t remember it until they’ve come a few more times but some of my close friends now are people I met randomly at shows.
Diego: Things really picked up when Gretchen joined. She’s driven and taken us to places that we would have likely been too hungover to get to ourselves.
You’re all absurdly talented musicians in your own right and your individual strengths are highlighted perfectly in your performances. With such great musical chemistry on and off stage, have you ever considered writing your own music and taking WFB in another direction? If you did, what kind of music would you make?
Gretchen: Everyone in this group is talented in their own right, for sure. Kenny can wail on a guitar like no other and Diego’s energy is captivating. Matt is the most outgoing by far and Sean is that cool cat bass player. Me, well, who knows. We’ve become a little dysfunctional family. As far as taking our talents elsewhere, I think it’s randomly been discussed but then you think ‘people are here to see a cover band’ and it quickly gets put away on the back burner. 90s are our thing.
Diego: I think there are different influences for everyone in the group but I’ve always said the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. So I’d be willing to say that we would bring our own influences into an original venture that would be equally as entertaining. Otherwise, Sean has a side gig called The Dead Women, Matt has been known to play with local singer/songwriter Tom McBride, anyone would love to have Gretchen in their band, Ken’s interest lie in pursuing his law career, and me — I write songs in my basement that no one will hear.
What’s next for White Ford Bronco? After your big show at the State Theater I know you’re headed to the Big Apple, so talk about those shows and if you have plans to take the WFB revolution on the road more frequently in the coming months.
Gretchen: The world is our oyster, my friend. As far as traveling goes, we are up for anything but it’s got to make sense for us. We’ve been asked to play some amazing shit before but we had absolutely no business being there. And then, there’s the random road trip we took to Georgia to play a pool party. I mean, that made sense, right?
Ken: State Theatre is always a tremendous gig.. we’re hoping this one is the best and biggest one yet! NYC is by far the farthest we’ve pushed things, not strictly geographically, but in terms of playing in perhaps the biggest music city in the world.
For the one person in DC who’s been living under a rock for the last five years and the future attendees of your show in NYC, just give a general impression of what first-time fans can expect at one of your shows.
Gretchen: Panties. Dropping.
Sean: A lot of warm and fuzzy memories from the 90s. A lot of “OMG, I love this song!” And then probably some more fuzzy memories the next morning.
Ken: Classic 90s cuts. Straight-up guitars-bass-drums lineup, plus slammin’ lead vocals from both sexes. Cool drink holders attached to mic stands.
So you’re obviously pretty nostalgic for the ‘90’s, (aren’t we all?) Aside from music, what’s your favorite bit of ‘90’s pop culture that you wish was still around today, be it tv shows, movies, dial-up modems.. you get the idea.
Gretchen: Zack Morris and Monica Lewinsky.
Diego: My JNCO jeans. I’m also happy that modem speeds have increased. Downloading porn was just painful in the 90s — like hours for 1 min of some shoddy Jenna Jameson video.
Matt: Music videos on MTV.
Sean: I just wish we had more people to trade pogs with these days.
Ken: Pre-AIDS sexual environment. That was the 90s right?
All photos: Erika Horn // cozmikphotography.com