SANTA ANA — Mike "Gabby" Gaborno wants to create something positive from the ashes of his last band, the short-lived X Members.
For years, Gaborno has been a charismatic and distinctive fixture on the Orange County music scene. His sagging belly, snarl of a voice and energetic stage presence have been trademarks of bands from the punky/roots-driven Cadillac Tramps to the ethnic-flavored Manic Hispanic.
It looked like he was on a roll in 1996 when X Members, a hard-core punk outfit, released "Down With the Average Joe" on Priority Records, landed a coveted slot on the nationwide Warped tour and secured dates opening for No Doubt and Goldfinger.
But after pressing only 10,000 copies of "Down With the Average Joe," Priority dropped the band. X Members got a reputation for inciting violence that kept them from landing any gigs beyond their final No Doubt/Goldfinger shows.
So Gaborno decided to form a new punk band called Drive by Smile, which makes its debut tonight at Club 369 in Fullerton. The quintet also includes guitarist Ray "Bones" Rodriguez and drummer Mick Palmesano (both ex-X Members), guitarist Randy Cash (ex-Hit and Run) and bassist Eddie Tatter (ex-Aversion).
According to Gaborno--a singer who works construction by day--the new group was conceived for personal as well as professional reasons.
"Sometimes you see bands on stage having a real good time, and it's magical," he said recently. "But you don't often see that offstage too. That's what I'm after with Drive by Smile."
The band formed in March. "I really just wanted to jam with [Rodriguez and Palmesano,] guys that I missed being around, and with a couple of guys [Cash and Tatter] I'd been wanting to meet," Gaborno recalls.
"Initially, we just wanted to hang out and have some fun. But the music and general vibe was so good . . . everything just kind of clicked between the five of us."
They got serious and for two months have been rehearsing and writing in an explosive, careening punk style--close to that of X Members.
"When bands break up or something happens to them," Gaborno noted, "they drop everything and try to do something brand new. I always say, 'Don't cook a souffle when you make good menudo.' "
What is different, he said, is the attitude and chemistry. Not forgotten is the violence and frustration that marked X Members' final tour.
"We actually got escorted out of cities," Gaborno said. "There were fights and stabbings . . . just so much [expletive] violence. It took all the fun out of it." Guitarist Rodriguez admits that the the band was guilty of fostering an angry mood, ripe for unruly behavior.
"We were notorious for provoking it," Rodriguez said. "A lot of it was because we were mad at ourselves. The musicianship was down."
Another factor was the presence of skinheads who have a history of disruptive behavior at punk concerts. Rodriguez said a small group "repeatedly would come to kick our butts, and they'd end up either fighting us, the crowd or among themselves."
Gaborno and Rodriguez want to put that bad blood behind them. "There are a few [unpleasant people] everywhere," Gaborno said, "and it's unfortunate the violent ones spread their behavior at our shows. Everything that has to do with violence and weapons, we are 1000% against."
Even their band name reflects their desire to, as Gaborno puts it, be "lighter and have more fun." The members of Drive by Smile want to enjoy each other, write and record new material and land a record deal soon.
The new songs sound promising, including "Remember," a warm look at Gaborno's youth; a blistering rocker called "Heart Attack Jack," and an anti-racist anthem called "Face." (There also were two excellent covers, a reggae version of Iron Maiden's "Trooper" and a charged punk treatment of the Beatles' "Come Together.")
Even though the band is concentrating on new music, it won't turn its back on old stuff. For the gig tonight, Gaborno said, "we've included some Members and Tramps songs along with our new ones. They're all fun songs that we have a good time playing.
"Everyone else out there is into becoming rich and famous and this and that. Whatever happened to just playing good music?"
Then, he added, with a devilish grin: "In three months, I guarantee you, this band will have an abundance of radio hits. And I'll quit this [expletive] band if we're not signed [to a label] within the following week."
* Drive by Smile, Mind Driver, Fuel Syndicate and Zebrahead play tonight at Club 369, 1641 N. Placentia Ave., Fullerton. 21 and over. 8:30 p.m. $4. (714) 572-1816.