Crazy Cats, Venetian Masks

Enter Gato Loco, eleven (only eight were present) psychopaths in a small room full of eerie art, coffee cups, and a whole lotta horns.

Intro by Teo J. Babini - Interview by Greta Pininfarina - Photos by Teo J. Babini

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So it seems that the word psycho is no longer limited to men murdering melons in the black and white showers of old. No, these days psycho is a musical pre-fix, that is, when attached to the name of another genre it adds a little punk zest with a sprinkle of horror-core on top. My first experience with this hybrid happened when I randomly arrived at Otto’s Shrunken Head Lounge one night to a sea of punk rock pompadours… Ladies and gentlemen, I give you psycho-billy, and what a disappointment it was… Enter Gato Loco, eleven (only eight were present) psychopaths in a small room full of eerie art, coffee cups, and a whole lotta horns. Now, where my main beef with the billy was that it overly perverted the source music, in the case of Latin music it just brings it a whole new breath of energy to the already spicy rhythm. All very serious musicians, the cast of characters they inhabit through costume and personality is what lends them their theatrical flare, which spawns from the animated imagination of their leader. It was a morning of brass and bass that I won’t soon forget. Viva el Psychomambo!

Jackie Coleman Photo ©Teo J. Babini

CBK: Why the name Gato Loco?

STEFAN: A lot of our music comes from what we hear here in New York, but it’s also kind of a crazy experiment… Very rambunctious, very energetic, humorous, playful, and also mean, I suppose. Gato Loco means “crazy cat” in Spanish.

CBK: How did you guys find each other when you came together as a group? ‘

JOE: We met late night in a bar playing Trivial Pursuit at about four in the morning. Stefan and I did. We decided to play some music. Then I eventually met Clifton a few years later online. I think I was like hey, there’s this crazy guitar player with cool music, and the three of us hit it off. We met Jesse shortly thereafter. We met everybody else in proximity in New York.

CBK: Musically, how would you describe yourself?

STEFAN: The way the band started in it’s conception was this fusion between Latin music that I was listening to a lot of and loved and sort of like taking salsa esthetic but with more of New York punk rock attitude. A little rawer, a little edgier. I was writing some pretty sophisticated complex music. So that was another element to it. So it started as this hybrid between Latin and sort of punk rock and more complex compositions. That’s why people call us psycho mambo. But I think now it is turning to it’s own thing. You can hear those influences and it also freely incorporates music from everything. Everybody brings their own influences and own sounds and styles, so it develops and grows with all the personalities.

Jesse Selengut Photo ©Teo J. Babini

CBK: Is there like a basic training that you guys sort of share together?

RIC: We all come from a variety of different backgrounds. A lot of us have studied classical music. A lot of us have studied Jazz. A lot of us have studied everything else too.

JACKIE: We all play differed styles in other bands. I do Mariachi as well.

STEFAN: Joe is in the middle of Polka month. Me and him are playing a lot of polka. It’s not pretty.

JESSE: One interesting thing about the group is that inside of the group maybe is, gosh, maybe up to ten sub-groups. There’s always different cross-sections combining so many different styles and opportunities and attitudes. I guess we just like being around each other at lot.

STEFAN: Part of the Gato Loco thing is that we all have a million different influences and are exposed to playing music from all over the world.

JESSE: It also has an element of theater. A lot of us have a theater background so there is an element of stagecraft that we are focusing on. It’s just something that goes into our presentation.

RICK: I used to be a professional science teacher. I had no background science, but you know, I was in it for the money.

Ric Becker Photo ©Teo J. Babini

CBK: If you guys could make the music video of your dreams what would it looks like?

Stefan: We are closing on two years of planning for this video. It is sort of a psychedelic animation with images of us and stop motion and a lot of puppets. I like animation a lot. A lot of our music in my head has the old Betty Boop cartoon sort of running around and crazy demons flying and very psychedelic trippy images. I sort of imagine that running along with the music. I guess it could be kind of scary actually, but humorous and nice.

CBK: I imagine you guys spend a lot of time together. Is there any tension?

STEFAN: It depends on the sleeping situation. Sometimes it gets really close.

JOE: As long as the wine is good we are usually able to work out whatever differences.

ARI: If you have to travel with ten other people all over the country in crazy situations all squished together, it’s like a giant volatile soup of fun.

STEFAN: In those circumstances any tension that we have is resolved on stage. Some of the trip of the last tour was pretty intense. Just no sleep and trains.

Light reading Photo ©Teo J. Babini

CBK: So you guys move by train usually?

STEFAN: It depends, but we try not to. We have done vans but we are just too big for a van. The Gato Loco bus is coming soon!

CBK: How do you guys feel you are perceived differently as far as you playing here in the US and Europe?

JOE: There is a huge difference. Europeans loves the band. European audiences are amazing. New York audiences are a little bit more fickle. We’ve had to work harder to win them over, but we’ve had good shows here too.

JACKIE: There are so many bands in New York. It’s just kinda hard ‘cause there’s so much going on and just trying to get people to come to your show. But when they do come they really enjoy it. It’s just getting them there.

JESSE: An obvious perception is if this band is awesome enough to get flown all the way across the world to play somewhere. In Germany, for example, just the fact that there is a band of ten people that came from New York just to do this thing means that they are awesome. There is an expectation that is raised and a bar that’s raised and that is exiting for us. We play up to that. Whereas when we are playing in New York, it’s like “Oh yeah, that band came from Tribeca”. It’s not the same situation as what people’s expectations are.

Tuba Joe Exley Photo ©Teo J. Babini

CBK: Do you think there is also a sensibility difference between the audiences?

ARI: Definitely. I think that the way people and the audiences are in New York is actually different than they are not only in Europe, but also in the rest of the country. There can be indifference in New York to any music. It’s almost like, you are supposed to be cool. You are supposed to be like hanging out watching something. Where when you go other places around the country or in Europe, people are genuinely excited. They allow themselves to show that they are excited. It is just a different mentality. Especially in Europe, people are just like, they are overjoyed. That there is music coming from New York or music they haven’t had access to before and they show it. Where as here there can be a different “I’m cool” mentality sometimes, but what I think is cool for this band is when playing in New York people also get exited which is a good feeling when you are playing and you see people you know. It’s a hard audience to win over that you’ve won over. I feel like we’ve done that a couple of times in New York. It’s kind of growing. It’s making a name for itself. It’s a cool thing.

Clifton Hyde Photo ©Teo J. Babini

CBK: Do you guys have a favorite place to play? Anywhere in the world?

JOE: We’ve done a few gigs that have been pretty amazing. There was The Green House in Venice (Italy). That was a magical place to play. The birthplace of this band when it really came into it’s own in a big way was at this big festival on the steps of a chateau in Bordeaux (France). It was a really emotional moment for the band. It kinda brought us all together. That’s probably my favorite gig I have ever played in my life.

CBK: And you guys enjoy equally playing in the venues that you do… As opposed to doing the street thing?

STEFAN: The band has evolved and grown over the years and we have been doing a lot of these bigger festivals, where we’re usually the headline band. We had like an hour and a half sometimes more to play with captive big audiences there and we can take them on a journey, take them through the night you know rather than in a bar. In a bar sometimes people tune in, tune out. Their friends are there. They are sometimes not as captive and engaged. So I think the kind of music we are playing right now it’s really developed into festival music vibe where it tells a story.

RIC: We’ve done some cool stuff in the streets in Venice, like playing in a boat on the canal and doing stuff in the streets of New York and we played coming down the street in Torino. That’s always cool, but when we get up on a big stage with all the equipment with a nice sound system in front of a really big appreciative crowd. That’s where this stuff really comes to life and exists at it’s full potential.

Masquerade Photo ©Teo J. Babini

JOE: The band really has an arena rock influence too. It just keeps growing. It keeps getting bigger and bigger and bigger all the time. That’s a hard thing to fit into a small jazz club or rock club in New York. This band really flourishes in the bigger the venue. The more people the better.

STEFAN: People see this band with a lot of horn players, but it’s not a marching band and it’s not really a horn band in the traditional sense. It’s really closer to like a rock band with a lot of singers so the horns aren’t like jazz horn players or funk horn players. It’s really something closer to a vocalist thing. When you hear five horns or six horns playing with full intensity unified and cohesive and big it’s an overwhelming sound and sensation. It just sort of grips you. Usually bands with this many horns don’t zone in on that in the same way. We don’t have a singer or any vocalist. Very specifically, when we started, a lot of people said to me, “Listen, if you want to be popular you’re gonna need a singer.” I said, “No. I will prove you wrong. I am gonna do it!” So to answer your question we are not really a street band. We do those things from time to time and I think there is a misconception that we can morph into a marching band and we have, but it’s really not what we do.

Just another day is the life Photo ©Teo J. Babini

CBK: Where is the furthest point right now that you guys have yet to reach or are trying to reach?

JOE: So far we made it from one end of Western Europe to the other and it would be great to go to Eastern Europe and Asia just as far as we can go and we take it to as many audiences as possible.

CBK: Not in a physical way, I mean as a band?

STEFAN: Basically we’ve been touring a lot and we haven’t really focused on playing new music, rehearsing new music. A lot of stuff is written and now we are going to start rehearsing in the next month or so. The next plan is to get into recording music and finding the next step. Rediscovering, reinventing ourselves to a certain degree and I think we will be able to branch into bigger audiences and new experiences.

Piano fingers Photo ©Teo J. Babini

JOE: One thing that is really great about this band is that it really has across genre appeal. It can fit in a jazz show. It can fit in a world music show and it absolutely fits in a rock show. It’s very versatile in that way.

JESSE: I find that the music that Stefan is writing is very complex and very interesting as a player and a performer. This current crop of songs we are working on. Everyone knows them really well. We get on stage and it’s cinematic. We all know what our roles are in Stefan’s world of animations. We were in Venice a couple of times and through the vagaries of touring we didn’t have a PA system and it was a blessing in disguise because we were running around without any mics and the trumpet would run out to the front and then the trombones would run out to the front when it was their turn and the saxophone would run around and it was this kind of beautiful weaving dance that made for incredibly compelling performance I thought. I think the people there thought that as well. Now actually the goal is to try to build that into our regular thing. With the wireless technology available we can do larger show with a PA and still have this feeling of choreography that feeds into the music we are making and allows the people in the audience to have this really dynamic active vision of what we’re doing musically. The new material that Stefan’s writing is just going to open up vistas for more explanations there and that’s going to define where we’re going to be with the future, what we’re doing here.

Rich Stein Photo ©Teo J. Babini

RIC: Maybe it’s not so much where we take music as really where the music takes us. It seems like this almost has a life of it’s own at this point and shows us what we need to do with it and where it belongs.

JACKIE: I would think that the ultimate, ultimate goal would be to just have the name Gato Loco be so big that where ever you go, wherever in the world if you say the name Gato Loco the people will say, “Oh yeah… that band.”

CBK: Last words?

RIC: Psycho Mambo! That’s my final word!

Stefan Zeniuk (Tenor Sax & Ring Leader), Jackie Coleman (Trumpet), Jesse Selengut (Trumpet),
Tim Vaughn (Trombone), Ric Becker (Trombone), Clifton Hyde (Guitar, Baby Tuba, Producer),
Tuba Joe Exley (Tuba), Ari Folman Cohen (Bass), Rich Stein (Percussion), Kevin Garcia (Drumset)

3 Responses to “Crazy Cats, Venetian Masks”

  1. Ebuuu says:

    Great photos and a good story.

  2. Shay Butta says:

    Love the Photos for this.. I was rolling! :3

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