Sunny dance pop, with lyrics I can’t understand and sick synthesizers– I love Uli & the Gringos! I got lucky to meet them when, a few years ago, they moved from New York to the house next door to where I was living with Tyler and Rand. Uli and Eugene were some of the best neighbors I’ve ever had, and they remain valued friends even though we no longer live next door to each other. I’m excited that they asked me to make the flyer for their show on Wednesday, June 23 at La Cita:
They’ll be recording a live album during their set. You should come and be boisterous, for posterity’s sake! Here is a link to the Facebook event.
Last year, I interviewed band member Eugene (synths, saxophones) for the “…What is Happening” magazine released by Big Whup Industries. In honor of their show, I’ve printed it here. I took a liberty by removing myself from the interview, and it’s like a monologue because of that. That’s not how it really was.
Eugene Toale, September 2009:
The core of the way that I write music, that I do music, is improvisation. Like, I was a jazz guy, right? So I went to jazz school, played sax – and part of the saxophone lifestyle is to learn how to improvise and play over chord changes and invent on your feet and all that. When I write music for the band I’m usually improvising my parts, or I was improvising them in the studio and I got to know them and played them again… Boxing makes you think on your feet. That’s where the phrase comes from; that’s where a lot of phrases come from: “thinking on your feet,” “down for the count,” you know, “had him on Queer Street!” Being in the moment and in the fight and having no way out has probably put the capstone on my improvising as a saxophone player. Not that’s not the core of who I am as a musician and all that shit, but it kind of informs all of my writing, all of my everything. The ability to pick up an instrument and just blow has gotten easier as a result of being able to jump in the ring and just fight… Do I understand everything my wife sings about? No. I understand what they’re about, I mean, I was with her when she wrote them, she tells me what they’re about. But words and lyrics and stuff? No, of course not. I can’t sing, like “te quiro puesum da, dumbumbum parara.” I don’t know any of those fucking words, I just know the sounds of them. But then again, in Uli and the Gringos we’ve got that kind of split partnership where we can kind of give each other jobs. I know it sounds crazy, but she writes all the words and I obsess over the bass lines. We both work on the beats. She usually comes up with the chords, I like to do the arrangement of the tune, the sounds, the production, and really get into which players I want to use and stuff. So the lyrics are purely Uli, and the music is, you know, Uli and the Gringos… But I understand what she’s singing about in all these songs because I was there. One song, “No Quiero,” was about quitting her day job. I went to that job everyday after my job, which I hated. I mean, I was there when we quit. I was there when she wrote the song, I mean we live together. We play together. I mean, I don’t know the words because my Spanish isn’t all that good. But I know which bird she’s singing about in the bird song, you know?
…We never wanted to be labeled as a jazz group. We’re not a jazz group. Uli went to a jazz school, she understands that type of harmony. But her philosophy is very independent, it’s very rock n roll… We got a bass player in New York, we got a bass player in Mexico, we got a bass player here and they all play so drastically different. They look different, they act different, they are different. So we let them play those notes however they want. We don’t play them a record and say “play this.” The guys are generally strong enough players that they can just jump in and play something. Then when it comes time to make an album, we usually go to all the cities we work in just so we can use all those guys. And it makes sense to use this guy on this, this guy on that. Jamie is the nastiest funk guy in the world. When he plays, he plays the gig all funky. I play more straight up on the sax, Uli plays a little bit rockier on the guitar. We play with Oliver, I play real sweet. She starts doing the upbeat skank thing a little bit more, lays down on the beat. We go to Mexico and that’s a totally different thing. Eddie is more of an improviser, do you get something different with Eddie. Give him some space, come up with some lines, whatever… I mean, it wasn’t fun at the time, but practicing our instruments as little kids, not knowing that we were going to be a musicians as a job… now, around this age it’s like the instruments kind of disappear. There’s no reason a saxophone should be in a Latin/Rock/Indie group, but I play it in a way that fits in. Fuck it. That’s the instrument I play. We make it work. I don’t play jazz, I don’t impose my will on it… The saxophone has got many traditions, and I try not to pick one. With the jazz tradition, you really learn to play be-bop. That’s what’s up for guys in that. And then there’s some rock n roll guys, like Clarence Clemons. Michael Brecker can really play, but he sounds a little cheesy. Whatever. What I tried to do was play “pop saxophone,” you know? This is just my instrument. I’m not trying to be cool, I’m not trying to be indie on it, I’m not trying to drag my bassoon out to the rock n roll show. I’m just trying to say “this is what I do.” I can improvise. I can find a spot. I can play like, one note lines behind her. I can play a complementary counter-melody and then I can back off and all that. I can have maybe a new identity as a saxophone in a band… And Uli put the PhD on my improvising, just by having to play with someone who can really compose. Someone who knows how to write classical music, really knows melodies and stuff. She tells you to “do this, to this.” Most of it was “you’re playing too much, you’re playing too much.” In reverse, though, a saxophonist works years and years and years on his tone. His support. His air. The size of the sound. And she as a singer has been singing against a tenor saxophone with a big sound for the past five years. And her voice sounds bigger and bigger and bigger. She’s got a big strong voice for a little girl… We figured out a register that we can both live in together, we both blast our asses off, and we blaze nice.
There is also this thing going on tomorrow, in West Hollywood at the Standard Hotel. It’s free, and I play at 8 PM: