It all happened pretty quickly. One moment, Bang Tango singer Joe Lesté was just Joe McElyea, a 19-year-old from San Diego, Calif. The next, he was a rock star with a major-label deal and a hit video on MTV.
“I moved to L.A. and then the rest is history,” Lesté said. “We were signed six weeks later, and we’ve been going ever since.”
That’s not technically true, inasmuch as within three years of their 1989 glam-metal debut, “Psycho Café,” and its minor hit, “Someone Like You,” the band was dropped by MCA, another victim of Nirvana’s tsunami. But that wouldn’t be the last chapter, because Lesté’s never seen this as anything but a lifetime endeavor.
“I’ve had a hit, and it’s a great feeling and everything, but the one true thing that came to me at a younger age is that this is not about getting an overnight hit.” he said. “It’s about having a career.”
Bang Tango plays Saturday at Samurai Saki House.
One of the things that distinguished the group on the Sunset Strip in late ’80s was its sound. While the guitar featured those trebly, candycane-sweet runs indicative of the era’s metal, the rhythms were fueled by funky, hard-thumping bass.
“The idea was to have strong bass lines, no pre-thought-out notion of any sort. I wanted the guitars to drop out in certain spots and when they did, the bass was so prominent with the drums,” Lesté said. “It really lets the songs breathe a lot. That’s really important when you’re writing songs. They have to have breadth and everything, but also a solid punch and groove. We just kind of loved that sound.”
The guys endured a cycle of breakups and reformations throughout the ’90s. In 1999, Lesté went in another direction, hooking up with former BulletBoys guitarist DJ Ashba to form Beautiful Creatures, a more contemporary, angsty, post-grunge act. The whole thing arose when another band with a major label deal approached Lesté about replacing its lead singer, but its manager had a better idea. “He said, ‘Why don’t we just build a band around you and get you your own record deal?’” Lesté said.
We’re not Mötley Crüe — we know that.
For a stretch, Bang Tango and Beautiful Creatures were alternating projects for him, but for the last few years, Bang Tango has been his main focus, hitting the road to rebuild its audience, using the same thing it initially did: a hot live show.
Lesté’s assembled a crack backing unit that banters maniacally in twisted camaraderie. Drummer Trent Anderson bags on guitarist Scott LaFlamme’s penchant for Addiction shirts.
“Trent dresses pretty cool, but at least Scotty can change his clothes; Trent can’t change his voice,” Lesté said, referencing Anderson’s high pitch, reminiscent of television’s “Saved by the Bell” character Screech. “We’re just a community of bullshit-slingers.”
Bang Tango’s currently putting together tunes for its as-yet-unrecorded sixth album. He said they’ve started writing “massive songs” that sound like a hybrid of Bang Tango and Beautiful Creatures.
“I love playing with all these other bands and new bands, seeing old buddies. It’s just like being a part of an awesome community,” he said. “I may not make much, but I’m still here. We’re not Mötley Crüe — we know that, but we’re not the smallest beans in the bucket, either.”