When the members of Pablo Cruise disembarked in Miami after playing on the high seas as part of the Puerto Rico-bound Rock and Romance Cruise, they had no clue that the late February gig was to be their last for 2020.
Since then in quarantine though, the band – Cory Lerios (keyboards/vocals), Dave Jenkins (guitar/vocals), Larry Antonino (bass/vocals), and Robbie Wyckoff have found the chance and the time to polish old skill as well as learn new ones. “I’ve taken up archery to keep people from my front door,” Jenkins jokes in a Band Zoom Video Interview. “Actually, I’ve just been playing music. Playing the guitar and trying to write songs. What else are you gonna do?”
“It gave us the chance to really focus on writing,” Antonino adds, even if that meant they had to do it over the phone and calling from locations as offbeat as a store parking lot. “It opened up a window for us to finish this song.”
That song is the single “Breathe,” and it’s the first new music that Pablo Cruise has put out in 37 years. Formed in 1973 with Lerios and Jenkins as founding members, they released a string of albums in the late ‘70s to mid-‘80s with hits like “Whatcha Gonna Do?” “Love Will Find a Way,” “A Place in the Sun,” “Don’t Want to Live Without It,” and “I Want You Tonight.”
“Breathe” has an upbeat, danceable rhythm, whistle hook, and the classic Pablo Cruise sound. The lyric video has already been released, but the band has granted the Houston Press exclusive rights to show the official video before any other outlet. The lyrics – while seemingly universal on the surface – really apply to what people should do in the shit show that has been 2020 so far with pandemics, protests, poverty, politics, and preventable murders.
In a world that’s going crazy/I say maybe we take a time out/And break away from all the madness, the sadness/Someway, somehow/Just breathe, take it slow/Wherever you go, just breathe/Don’t worry about tomorrow/Live for today, don’t let it slip away.
The genesis of “Breathe” started off with a bass riff from Antonino, and the four band members worked on the music and lyrics together, usually remotely. Fifth member Sergio Gonzalez later overdubbed some drumming as well. He just recently replaced founding member Steve Price, who’s been suffering from some health issues. It was all put together through the magic of mixing.
“We’re just tired of everybody bickering at each other. The climate with COVID and the political stuff…what happened to human beings?” Antonino offers. “I stopped watching the news just to get my own brain back. We just need to take time to get to know each other as human beings again. The lyrics just came out.”
The band questioned even putting out the song when, during the final mixing, the murder of George Floyd by asphyxiation in Minneapolis broke, and band members were leery that some might take the title “Breathe” the wrong way.
“You know how fickle the population is with news and stuff. People move on. We’re all still reeling from George Floyd and taking away some lessons from that and hopefully will grow. But it’s not as pressing right now as the California fires,” Jenkins says. “The song is timely in a lot of respects. The world has gotten fucking nuts and it’s time to step back and breathe and try to find some peace.”
“There’s a lot of hateful stuff out there. And this song has a good, positive message. Just spreading a little love among the madness that is happening right now,” says Wyckoff, who sings lead. The band has also been bemused to hear some of their lyrics coincidentally echoed out of the mouths of politicians. They mention that Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti recently recommended that people just “breathe,” while President Donald Trump said something about “taking a time out.”
The original lineup: Cory Lerios, David Jenkins, Bud Cockrell, and Steve Price.
A&M/Universal Record Cover
Lerios says the band has gotten a good response on the single from their fans, and it has been added to a handful of radio stations. But a lot has changed in the past 37 years when it comes to releasing music. Pablo Cruise fans – typically older – aren’t rushing out to record stores (or the ones that are still around) to pick up a 45 or CD.
And almost no classic rock radio stations are going to play anything new by classic rock band. Why play “Breathe” when casual audiences just want to hear “Whatcha Gonna Do?” or “Love Will Find a Way” for the gazillionth time? It’s the Classic Rock Conundrum.
“You never know what’s going to happen when you put something out, especially today. But I have a feeling this song is going to get heard,” Jenkins says hopefully. “I’ve had a lot of people write to me about it. People feel like ‘It’s a breath of fresh air, it’s fun, and fuck it, I’m just going to enjoy life for three minutes!’ It’s going to be a riot when we can play this live.”
Lerios says the band has other songs in various stages of completion, and they do get together in person occasionally (but social distancing) to work on them. “Putting out this song is a kind of Hail Mary for the band, because we can’t play live,” he notes. “I know bands are doing a lot of these live Zoom things, but I don’t know, measuring the [response] to that is kind of tough. There’s so much of it, and it’s not really our demographic. It might not break until next spring or even summer.”
Antonino offers another take. “That’s why we need to get their kids! Maybe they’ll yell out ‘Breathe!’ like their parents do ‘Love Will Find a Way! This song is our ‘Kokomo!’” He’s referring to the insanely earwormy 1988 Beach Boys tune from the soundtrack to the Tom Cruise film Cocktail. It was a huge hit that introduced the band to an entire new generation and increased their touring audiences.
Still, music has never been so easily available to so many people as it is now. One of the reasons that Gen Z has embraced Classic Rock is that with a few swipes of a finger on Spotify, any 16-year-old could pull up the entire Pablo Cruise catalog as well as “Breathe” in an instant.
Pablo Cruise 2020, ready to play again in...2021?: Sergio Gonzalez, Cory Lerios, Robbie Wyckoff, David Jenkins, Larry Antonino.
PabloCruise.com screen shot
Things aren't so easy for live music clubs, of course. “We’re worried about venues that aren’t going to survive and will go away," Lerios says. "It’s sad for club owners and sad for promoters. And most [club owners] don't even own their buildings. They’re just paying rent. And they can’t even make that at 50 percent capacity.”
On other music fronts, Lerios – who has had a very successful side gig doing soundtracks for film and TV – is working on music for a Demi Lovato project on Quibi. Wyckoff has a song on in the recent Disney animated film Phineas & Ferb The Movie: Candace Against the Universe. The band is also working on more new Pablo Cruise music – if they could just locate where the digital files are.
“How are those guitars going, Dave?” Lerios asks at the end of the Zoom interview.
“I sent them to you last night!” Jenkins protests.
“You sent them to me? I don’t see them!” Lerios counters.
“Just look in your junk mail,” Antonino laughs. “It all diverts there, right Cory?”
“Breathe” is available on most streaming and purchase platforms. For more on it and Pablo Cruise, visit PabloCruise.com
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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.