2007 was a good year for the gentlemen behind Austin’s favorite Latin band, Grupo Fantasma. The 11-piece ensemble taped an episode of Austin City Limits, their Latin funk spin-off Brownout released an excellent debut, Homenaje, (Freestyle), and they played with everyone from Prince to Talib Kweli to Marc Anthony - on a single night.
But that may have been a warm-up lap as Grupo gears up for the June 17 release of Sonidos Gold (Aire Sol), their third studio album. Bump & Hustle chatted via email with Grupo guitarist Adrian Quesada about the new album and the year ahead.
Bump & Hustle: What's the sound of the new album?
Adrian Quesada: I like to think it’s the definitive Grupo Fantasma album. I’ve never felt that way 100% about any of our albums and even though I think they all capture a moment in time for us, I feel like this is the album I’ve been wanting to make since the beginning. The sound is organic and live with little psychedelic and cinematic undertones. I want it to sound timeless but forward thinking at the same time. Sonically, I would also describe it as big and roomy.
B&H: Larry Harlow is on the album. How did you link up with him and what does it mean for you to collaborate with one of the classic Fania artists?
AQ: A friend of Larry's told him about us and he found out we were huge fans of his so he had been checking us out and finally emailed us a while back. Larry’s a Latin music institution. He’s been doing his thing for half a century and he doesn't want live Latin music, specifically the Latin orchestra, to die out and feels it's important to connect with younger audiences. I flew up and met him in Orange County where he was doing a show and recorded him with a little portable setup. I got to hang with him all day and listen to stories and even sat with him while he went through old shit from his iPod all evening after dinner. When you feel like maybe you're losing steam and someone like Larry is schooling you and stressing the importance of carrying the torch, you can't help but feel re-energized and part of a larger, more important picture in the scheme of things. It was a huge honor, needless to say, as Larry’s the man and set the standard for what we do today.
B&H: Maceo Parker drops by as well. How did that happen and what was he like to work with?
AQ: We met Maceo through Prince and have jammed with him numerous times. He was in town doing a show at Antone’s so we got in touch and set up shop in the green room at Antone’s. What is there to say about Maceo that hasn't already been said? His musical output speaks for itself. Everything Maceo does is musical and everything he does is funky, too. He loved the tune and nailed the solo in one take. I got chills just recording him.
B&H: Is Prince involved at all with the album?
AQ: Prince is not on the album but some members of his band are.
B&H: Do you find your funky Brownout side rubbing off on Grupo? Or is this more of a straight Latin album?
AQ: It's definitely more of a Latin album but the Brownout sound has definitely rubbed off, and vice versa. The two bands have now swapped a few songs in the set list and each band has made the other better. We explored much more of the funk-influenced stuff on this album, more than we ever have.
B&H: Brownout has always been seen as a spin-off of Grupo. Is Grupo still the mothership or is Brownout gaining equal footing?
AQ: It seems Brownout has been gaining momentum, in Austin and around the world, but as of now Grupo is still the main project.
B&H: You're playing Bonnaroo this summer. Do hippie festival-goers like salsa music these days?
AQ: Our whole thing has always been taking our music out of the stereotypical salsa dance thing and not intimidating anyone who feels like they don't know any dance moves. If you can dance to funk, great. If you can dance to Latin music, even better. If you can’t dance, bob your head. It’s all cool with us, just don’t get on stage and try to hit the congas or any percussion. And the cowbell joke is old already.
B&H: What else is in store for 2008?
AQ: The new Ocote Soul Sounds record will drop a few weeks before the Grupo album and I'm pretty psyched about that one too. As soon as we play our CD release party for Grupo we hit the road for the summer.
B&H: What was the best show you saw at South by Southwest?
AQ: I didn't get to see much 'cause we were playing every day and night, but from the shows we played Spoon was great and so was Darondo.
B&H: Any classic material in heavy rotation lately?
AQ: When I'm working on an album, most of the time I’m listening to what we’re working on. Since we were working with Maceo and Larry Harlow, I was listening to a bunch of their stuff again, particularly Larry's solo albums, which are amazing on their own and even Maceo’s own old stuff with the Macks and the JBs. Besides that I always find myself going back to Pink Floyd's Animals. The new Erykah Badu is pretty cool, and I've been rocking the Stones lately, too!
Grupo Fantasma holds it down at Threadgill's World HQ this Saturday.
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