“Whenever other people talk about East L.A., they always use Mexican stereotypes about taco vendors, druggies and Casanovas…Let me set the record straight -we’ve never sold tacos.” - Ric Moon, guitarist for The Tender Box.
Tremendous, incandescent British rock music is probably the last thing that comes to mind when you think of Southeast L.A. So it’s a breathtaking revelation when you hear the chiming guitars and swooning vocals of The Tender Box. Inspired by the post punk and synth pop groups of the 1980s, the band was formed by four childhood friends in the predominantly Mexican-American neighborhood of South Gate. So how did the rain-stained, somber, murky sounds of Manchester and Sheffield resonate with kids living in the perpetually sun-drenched state of California?
As impossible as it sounds, bassist Steve Mungarro explains, “Our brothers, sisters and cousins were listening to bands like The Cure and Depeche Mode so we never knew any different.” They grew up playing in bands in their friends’ garages, mimicking the sounds that they loved so much. Vocalist/guitarist Joey Medina concurs, “Even though it’s sunny and hot in L.A. we grew up in a lower income, industrial city that is probably not that different than a Manchester or Birmingham in England. It’s no Beverly Hills and sometimes it could be a rough town.”
So maybe it’s the impossibility of finding four Mexican-American childhood friends who grew up in South Gate obsessing over synth pop and post punk groups of the 80s that made The Tender Box an almost immediate hit in Hollywood. Los Angeles had a small yet cultish scene of devout anglophile music fans and The Tender Box boys were at the forefront of the new indie scene. The lush and despairing decadence of Brit-pop appealed to their sensibilities and their own personal histories.
Henceforth, The Tender Box would continue to immerse themselves in a veritable fusion of musical tastes and seemingly disparate cultures. They fine-tuned their recipe for success blending the two worlds effortlessly. After getting the right batch of songs together, the guys hit the club circuit up and down the West Coast. People undoubtedly noticed. They have headlined hipster hot spot Café Bleu, been praised by L.A.’s legendary D.J. Rodney Bingenheimer on his “Rodney On The ‘Roq” radio show, been frequently spun on indie 103.1 and Sirius Radio, and have even landed a primo licensing spot on a Canadian Chevy commercial, which featured their song “Mister Sister” - all before signing a record deal.
“That was crazy. A lot of stuff was happening really fast, one week we were playing our f’in asses off in front of ten people and the next week Rodney is playing us on KROQ. When we heard our track on his show, it made you feel like you’ve accomplished your goal,” bassist Steve Mungarro notes.
As the band continued to pound the pavement in L.A., Beverly Martel Music came on board and the quartet went back into Swing House studios with British producer Warren Huart (Hot Hot Heat, The Thrills) to record their debut album. The finished product titled The Score is a prime example of musical synthesis, creating a veritable Brit-pop masterpiece with catchy choruses, broody dance beats, Latin rhythms and a special breed of Southeast L.A. angst that only The Tender Box could conjure.
From “Mister Sister,” a dance cut that evokes sentiments of Pulp and Suede to the Primal Scream-esque title track, The Tender Box have a sound destined for Brit-pop enthusiasts and very sweaty dance clubs.
The Score can now be found on iTunes through Beverly Martel Music/Swing House Quality Recordings. In the summer of 2006, U.K. label, So Sweet Records released “Mister Sister” as a limited edition single and to help celebrate the single’s release, the boys headed overseas to play their first string of British dates. The Score was also released in Canada through Fontana North/Universal Distribution.