Second chances never go out of style. Ask Alexander DeLeon. The former frontman of The Cab, an emo-pop crossover act first formed when he was fourteen, DeLeon has just released the debut album for his latest project, Bohnes, following a deep dive into self-exploration that kept him out of the spotlight for the better part of four years. He’s nearly thirty now, and he seeks to explore the truth in life, that all live and die, through music influenced by the experience of being a person today. That desire has taken him around the globe, mostly by himself, in hopes of understanding this thing called life. He has maintained a rabid fanbase throughout this time, and right now the one thing on his mind is how they will react to Bohnes’ first release.
“It’s a big weight off my shoulders,” Deleon says about the availability of 206: Act I. He laughs before adding, “Now people can stop tweeting me a million times a day asking, ‘Where’s the music, where’s the music?’”
Deleon is speaking over the phone from New York City where he is busy promoting Act I on the day its released worldwide. The sun is out, and for what feels like the first time in years the temperature has crossed the sixty-degree threshold. You can hear the joy in Deleon’s voice, as well as the relief.
“I read every single tweet,” DeLeon says excitedly. “Not to see the criticism necessarily, but to see how people react to the album. I’m curious to know what songs people connect to, what are their favorites. It’s also cool to tweet back to people and let them know I appreciate their support after all these years.”
His fans are no doubt dedicated. The Cab’s final release was an EP that arrived in 2014. The band’s future was up in the air at that point and Deleon, seeking to find answers, decided to look inward. He began traveling with his camera as his closest companion. He lost himself in cities and rural areas, becoming one with places while capturing them through his camera lens. That experience provided the foundation for Bohnes, as well as all the material needed for the videos DeLeon plans to release in support of 206. Through it all DeLeon remained quiet about his latest creation, choosing instead to lose himself in the moment at hand, and his fans waited all the while.
“There are two acts to the album,” Deleon explains. “I recorded them both at the same time. I wanted to release a little at a time because I didn’t want any songs to get lost in the mix. I didn’t want to release sixteen songs because I knew each song wouldn’t get the attention it deserved. I’m also releasing so many videos for the album that I — I just really wanted to focus on each song. We’ll have Act II ready in probably…Three months? I’m hoping we get it out in June.”
DeLeon began releasing material as Bohnes online in 2015 with a single titled, “Guns And Roses.” That song, as well as every other track DeLeon has released for the project, appears on 206. Some on Act I, others on Act II. “I wasn’t sure if “Guns and Roses” and “Middle Finger” were going to be on the album because I released them so long ago,” he explains, “but I think “Middle Finger” specifically has a place in the world right now given the political landscape. It’s a song about the youth not putting up with the rules and stipulations that the political world has placed on them. It felt like it needed to be on the album.”
Some may view the inclusion of older material as a bad thing, arguing that an artist’s first songs are rarely their best, nor are they indicative of what might come later. While that may be true in certain situations, it is not the case with Bohnes as Bohnes is not your typical project. No two songs sound the same, though there is an undeniable energy that runs throughout. It’s a sense urgency wrapped in poetic romanticism that recognizes the futility of life and chooses to celebrate that fact instead of hiding in fear. You cannot predict where the music will take you, but you know you’re going on a journey, and that has been DeLeon’s goal from the beginning.
“People keep telling me they think every song is different from the rest, and I think, for me, that has always been something I wanted out of my music. I don’t want to release an album with ten, twelve, or sixteen songs that all sounds the same. The seems redundant to me, like Bill Murray in Groundhog’s Day. I really want to showcase the fact people change, seasons change, and things change. There is a common theme in life and the world that every day is different. There are hills, and there are valleys, and I wanted a song that represented that. I wanted every feeling, every attitude, and every emotion represented. Life and death is a theme, and how death forces you to live. It’s about coming to terms with getting older and recognizing how life changes.”
It’s impossible to overstate the influence time has on DeLeon’s work. As though the themes of life and death were not enough, there are countless references to time throughout 206 and his work as a whole. Having spent more than half his life chasing a dream, he’s had since before he could drive, DeLeon is more aware than ever that time is not on our side.
“I think it’s important,” he explains. “The [sooner] you realize how fragile life and love is, the better off you are because it forces you to live. It makes you chase your dreams and follow your passions because the worse thing that can happen is to have those regrets later in life about things you could have done. I wanted to impart that to my listeners at a young age.”
One explanation for Deleon’s fixation on time can be found in the birth of Bohnes, which came as a direct result of how The Cab came to an end. That band was all DeLeon had known in his adult life and had it largely defined his identity. Finding himself without the band for the first time since his young teens, DeLeon was left to ponder the big questions in life, specifically those related to one’s purpose, and he confesses that the search for answers left him feeling lost.
“I knew myself as Alex, the singer of The Cab. I needed to figure out who I was underneath it all, which is kind of where the name Bohnes came from. I spent a few weeks in Italy, then I went to Paris and visited the catacombs. It was there that I realized what I would do next, that I figured it out. I was ready. I knew what Bohnes sounded like, what it felt like, and I set to building that universe.”
He continues, “This is me. If you listen to this album, it sounds like me. Friends and family will tell you this album is undeniably me. You could hear a part of me in The Cab, but anyone who knows me can listen to this album and realize it is Alex they are hearing. [Bohnes] is a complete, 360-degree snapshot of who I am and where I am at in my life. Some artists hail from New York, and they want their album to bleed New York, or they want to fit in with a certain sound. I didn’t want that for Bohnes. I wanted…Bohnes is about life and death. Everyone can relate to that. I wanted Bohnes to be a universal thing, and no matter who you are or where you come from we all have the same bones underneath it all. I just wanted to build a universe where we could all live together, which is why the video footage includes over thirty or forty countries and all seven continents. This is about creating a universe everyone can live in, and everyone can relate to.”
The conversation turns to individual songs on 206, with deep Act I cut “Slither” being highlighted as one of the more rock-driven tracks. The song is driven by a pulsating bass line that accompanies DeLeon as he describes a mysterious and irresistible woman that lures him into a trance. The song was written in Stockholm and inspired by Nine Inch Nails.
“I wanted to do a pop song where I took that influence, as well as my love for Justin Timberlake and Michael Jackson, and put it all together. For that kind of song I needed a thumper, something four-on-the-floor like that gets people moving. It was one of the last songs I made for the album, and it all started with that sick bass line you hear at the beginning. The decision to add heavy, ad metal guitars to it was a curveball. Adding synth to a track like that feels obvious, and I wanted to do something different.”
“Slither” is also indicative of the way DeLeon’s songwriting has evolved through his work on Bohnes. As one of the principal songwriters in The Cab, DeLeon was known for creating dance-friendly pop songs that touched on themes of young love and heartache. Bohnes offers something similar, addressing both blurry one-night stands and life-changing romance, albeit for a decidedly more mature audience. There DeLeon now knows heartache better than ever, and he’s been hurt enough to know what true love feels like. Bohnes is his way of expressing how those experiences shaped him, and the reasons why are found littered throughout the material.
“You can definitely hear elements of The Cab,” DeLeon says, “but not everywhere. The stuff that sounds familiar is hopefully more evolved and more developed. That’s what I like to see from the artists I like, constant evolution, and I hope that people hear that in this material. I made a promise to myself that I would make the album I wanted to make, that said what I wanted to say, and if it didn’t work, it wouldn’t matter. I did that because, to be honest, I used to really care about what people thought [of me]. With this album, this album is just about being honest with myself. I hope people listen and I hope it inspires people, but yea — I didn’t go into this thinking it would make a pop star or anything. I think people expected that of me because The Cab was so pop. I think people really expected a commercial, cookie-cutter pop project. Instead, I took grunge guitars and put pop hooks over it [laughs].”
With the album now out, fans have already started to ask when DeLeon might take Bohnes on the road. The project has not yet embarked on a proper tour, but it seems that may be changing sooner than later.
“I really want to get on the road,” DeLeon explains, his voice once again conveying a sense of genuine excitement. “Some of these songs, like ‘Moshpit,” are really made with a live audience in mind. I think once Act II is out we will probably tour. The music was only just released, so right now we are going to wait and see how people react. We’re going to see what they want, and if they want Bohnes to come to their town, then I will be there. We don’t know how people are going to respond at this point, but I really want to get out there and play.”
Before hanging up the subject of time arises once more. The arrival of Bohnes’ debut album comes just one month shy of The Cab’s debut album, Whisper War, turning ten years old. The significance of that occasion is not lost on DeLeon, who swears the Alex of ten years ago would think 206 was “fucking dope.”
“This is a natural evolution,” he explains. “I wrote most of Whisper War when I was seventeen, and I’m still really proud of that release. I feel the same about Symphony Soldier (the band’s second album). The fact I still enjoy it when I hear it is a sign I should be proud of my work. I’m already excited for the album that will follow Act II, to be honest. I think albums are important; they are snapshots of an artist and their career. I love that I can go back and hear how I used to see the world or think about it. I find it wild how so much is the same, yet so much is different. I’m only twenty-eight, but sometimes I feel like I’m seventy-eight inside because of how much life I’ve been able to live. It’s crazy.”