Who could have imagined that Tom Pergola’s long and varied music career would have landed him in the middle of the first gay boy band?
Not Pergola, a heterosexual man in his early 70s whose first experience with a band was when he played in one at the age of seven in New Jersey. At the age of 19 he spent time playing guitar with the singer Charo, and in 1966 he started his own band, the Pilgrims, and signed with Mercury records.
In the early 1970s, at the age of 25, Pergola moved to California. He’d never been on a plane before and boarded without his guitar and only $600 in his pocket. A little more than a year later he launched Burn, a band described as putting on “an old-school performance with a funky new twist.” Pergola’s career morphed to also include artist management and writing songs.
The idea of a boy band came to Pergola when he was with his girlfriend watching “Magic Mike,” a film whose story about exotic male dancers made it popular with both women and gay men. “I came out of that theater thinking I should put a boy band together like that, with guys who can sing and dance,” Pergola said.
A search on Craigslist and music industry databases helped him put a band together, but over time the straight members drifted away.
“I finally found after 18 months the group I wanted,” Pergola said. “They were all gay.”
And Asian, African-American, Latino and Caucasian. And millennials. And musically very diverse. That’s Echo V.
In many ways, the band is just getting its start. Echo V was on stage a lot last month, playing at the first ever Venice Pride and doing a performance at Rage in West Hollywood on L.A. Pride weekend and in Orange County.
A goal now, Pergola said, is to get a big social media following, something record labels, 12 of whom have expressed interest in the band, insist on these days before signing one. (You can follow Echo V on Facebook and Instagram. The Twitter account is @EchoVMusic.) A soon-to-be released video series will get attention. Pergola also is looking for a good manager (preferably someone who is gay) and a booking agent. Pergola asks that those interested send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Given the looks and personalities of Echo V’s members, that shouldn’t be hard.
There’s Jay Maq, who effectively is the spokesman for the band. He’s African-American and moved from North Carolina three years ago. “There’s no other group that’s as musically diverse,” he says. There’s Gamaliel Baez, a native of Mexico’s Guadalajara, who grew up singing mariachi music. He brings a Latin sense of music to Echo V. In Fresno for 16 years, Gama moved to Los Angeles one and a half years ago.
Mike Marchak, who is Caucasian and a dancer, grew up on the East Coast, living in Rhode Island and Philadelphia before moving to L.A. 10 years ago to go to college. Devin Collins, the second African-American member, moved to L.A. from Tampa, Fla., and has been in L.A. almost two years. And then there’s Randy Cuevas, a native of the Philippines who has lived in Miami and moved to L.A. from Denver.
The guys, all in their 20s, have formed a tight bond, with two of them living together as roommates. “We definitely love each other to the point we hate each other,” Devin said, drawing laughs from his Echo V buddies. They all have other jobs, working as actors and models, in commercial real estate and accounting firm and social work. But they exude confidence that this Echo V will be their careers.
“We are unstoppable,” Randy says.
They see themselves as distinctive by being able to appeal to a diverse audience, in part because of the variety of music they embrace — R&B, Latin, Pop and Rap. Certainly, they will draw a gay audience, if for no other reason than that they are the first gay band, and they’ve come alive at a time when there’s evidence (the new ABC television boy band competition) that the boy band phenomenon is reviving. “If anything, having this TV show speaks to the legitimacy of what we’re doing,” Mike says.
Echo V likely will draw a young audience. “We’re millennials from our looks to our sound,” Mike says. It’s the looks that might make the biggest impact, attracting a gay male audience as well as an audience of young straight girls.
“We are very in shape guys,” Devin says. “We have that sexiness that shows up.”
A look at any of their videos posted on YouTube proves that point, as does the photo below.