Philadelphia garage rockers Bleeding Rainbow — formerly Reading Rainbow — have been busy prepping their new album, Yeah Right, due out 1/29 on Kanine Records. Three songs from Yeah Right have been released already: the fuzzy, anthemic “Waking Dream,” the driving, punk-inflected “Pink Ruff,” and the dreamy and catchy “Drift Away.” Founding guitarist and vocalist Rob Garcia left his career as a mechanical engineer to focus on Bleeding Rainbow and the new album, and I corresponded with him to hear what he had to say about his old job and what drove him to take the plunge.
STEREOGUM: What was your job after finishing both undergrad and grad school with degrees in Mechanical Engineering?
ROB GARCIA: After college, I found a job in Philadelphia at an engineering consulting design firm that focused on sustainable design. We basically designed the HVAC (Heating, Ventilating, and Air Conditioning) systems for large commercial buildings. It was my job to create detailed computer models to simulate how much more energy efficient our designs were above the energy standard for new construction.
STEREOGUM: Had you always had an interest in sustainability?
RG: Well, while I was in undergrad, I did a work-school co-op thing where I took a year off from school and worked. The only thing I found related to engineering was working at this nylon-manufacturing plant near Richmond. It was horrible. The smell alone from all the burning chemical was ridiculous. Seeing all of the smokestacks and the dumping into the nearby rivers really opened my eyes about how big business doesn’t give a shit at all.
STEREOGUM: Do you think that broader societal pressure for sustainability will ever gain traction amongst big business? Or will the bottom line always rule the day?
RG: I think things are slowly beginning to change. Going “green” is such a buzzword now, which ultimately is a good thing. Even within the five years I worked at the design firm, more and more people were beginning to ask what they could do to have a bigger impact. I think it takes a long time for major change to happen.
STEREOGUM: Did working at the energy consulting firm change your personal energy-use habits?
RG: It was really in college where I started moving toward the sustainable/green way. It was also way cheaper to live. I rode my bike everywhere, I bought all my clothes from thrift stores, and I’d get most of my food from the farmers market. I was even in a band with a close friend who worked on an organic farm. We’d have practice at his tiny farmhouse.
STEREOGUM: So “green” has been a theme. Was finding time to play music on the job ever a problem? Given the job description, it sounds like you worked pretty full days.
RG: I took my job duties very seriously, but I always found time for music. A typical day for me would be to get into work around 8:30 a.m., get home between 6 and 7 p.m. Eat some food, drink some coffee, and work on music till around midnight. There were countless times where we’d play a show in New York and get back to Philly around four in the morning and I’d still get to work on time the next day. For me, music was an escape. It was therapeutic. I didn’t just want to do it; I had to do it to keep sane.
STEREOGUM: Did touring ever pose a problem?
RG: At first, not really, but as time went on and the band became more serious, things started getting weird. Initially we would try to fit everything within weekends and my available vacation days. The first national tour we ever did, we somehow were able to fit it within a two-week span. It was pretty much driving 12 hours each day and playing a show each night. It was a great experience, but super brutal. As time went on, I was somehow able to convince my job to allow me to take entire months off for touring. My boss was super nice about the whole thing and we worked it out so that I always had my work waiting for me. The trade-off being that I would lose all of my benefits usually associated with a full-time job. This went on for another year and a half while we did four more national tours as well as a few trips to SXSW and Chicago within that time period.
STEREOGUM: Were you ever concerned about being passed over for promotions at work while you were spending more and more time with the band?
RG: Promotions and career advancement were never really a goal of mine. Just maintaining a position and ensuring a paycheck were hard enough. I think in the back of my mind I knew that it was only a matter of time until something had to give. It got to this point where I felt like I wasn’t doing my job as good as I knew I could and at the same time realized that I wasn’t doing all the things I wanted to do with my music.
STEREOGUM: What was the breaking point?
RG: Things really started becoming clear for me while working on our new album, Yeah Right. We were really proud of the songs we were writing, and we had a lot of grand ideas for how we wanted it to sound. We booked an entire month in a nice studio to record and things were really intense, but I was really happy to be able to fully immerse myself in what we were doing. (Our past recordings were always super rushed.) While we were in the studio, we were offered a really good tour that would last six weeks and would begin around the time we were supposed to be finishing things up. So it ended up being almost three months off in a row that I had to ask off from work. When we returned home from the tour and I went back to work, my boss immediately called me over to have a meeting. I knew completely that things were becoming out of hand. He told me that things like this can’t go on and that I had to chose between work or music. I chose music.
STEREOGUM: So you’re doing music full-time now?
RG: Yup, focusing on music full-time. But, then, in order to pay rent I got a part-time job washing dishes, actually. It’s been quite a humbling experience. But it also frees up way more time for me to do what I want.
Bleeding Rainbow’s Yeah Right is out 1/29 via Kanine.