"Freaking Out" (wriggle dancing and chicken walking?) to the Cato Salsa Experience (CSX) on a Tuesday night at Slim's an unusual amount of wonder & curiosity spun around this band. The music was loopy & unruly, and the band played with a sincerity & happiness that transformed the CD title into reality, A Good Tip For A Good Time. Aware of one weird fact whispered to me prior to showtime, "Norway has the highest suicide rate for young men in the Scandanavian countries" I saw CSX as a heroic antidote to depression. The music & stage antics got everyone dancing, laughing, and clapping - happy to be in that place on that night. Without any booze I was tilting towards tipsy by the shows end. So how the hell did a band from Norway (!) make it all the way to SF to make this goodness happen?
Do It Yourself ( D I Y )
CSX is a DIY delight. Maybe because they began as a "hobby band" or because they knew labels weren't ready for their sound two years ago, they bypassed the industry norms and put the process in their own nutshell. CSX created their own record label, Garralda Records, and recorded, produced & distributed A Good Tip For A Good Time. DIY success stories like CSX & others have a recycled positive impact on the music community in Oslo: bands continue to inspire each other & spawn success by having the confidence & spirit to create "first class music" with the DIY ethic. CSX was driven by the autonomous urge to create first instead of submitting to inhibitions aroused by the major music conduits.
Energetic & tightly executed performances and a high quality CD are components to the CSX success but serendipity also intervened - and that occasion was grounded in design. Their show may not have made it stateside so soon without excellent design choices: an Emperor Norton executive visiting Norway picked up their CD because he liked the cover; the inclusion of a woman (Nina Bjorndalen - Keyboards & Duck - who returned home with a virus prior to the SF show) has a character impact on how the band is perceived and, rightly or not, neutralizes our weariness of mono-gender bands (see International Noise Conspiracy, Murder City Devils, etc.) ; and the iconic mallard duck flying around in the music video all construct a band whose aesthetics are admirably developed to communicate their identity. The Emperor Norton story may be just fortuitous but it got CSX a deal with an indie label that nurtures & promotes its bands - and who quickly helped them get into good venues in the US. Kudos to all the unsung designers, eh?
Garage Revival ?
CSX may benefit from the buzz about GR, but they're collectively ambivalent about being part of a movement or "wave". There's a consensus in the air (in SF and echoed by CSX) that the current GR bands make good music, and if they get on the radio, we're all happier with the airwaves. GR bands, while hyped, (a la the trinity of The White Stripes, The Hives, The Strokes) have become iconoclastic figures for indie, DIY, and populist movements as icebreakers smashing through the corporate landscape of music that dominates radio. But comparisons based on genre can be a pitfalll as well, and CSX seems well aware of it. When Jon (drums) states a love for JSBX, he asks, "Would you call that garage rock?" And as a valid comparison, those who like JSBX probably would like CSX, same goes for Rocket From The Crypt fans. If CSX gets caught in the web of genre identification , this will unfairly limit their audience. While they can't arrest the comparisons to other GR bands they're wise to resist the media simplification of their sound.
CATO SALSA EXPERIENCE (CSX): Cato (blond guitarist with the fierce beard): I'm Cato and I play guitar and sing. Jon: My name is Jon and I play the drums and sing a bit. Christian (Cstn) (brunette bass player): I'm Christian and I play the bass and sing.
CSX: (Cstn) I'll write when I'm at home alone, and some songs come along when we jam together. And then the others write songs at home too. Whenever I work on a song(s) at home, I like to sing on them. (Jon) There's no planning, it just happens. Sometimes there's been a song, then someone will take the initiative to write some lyrics. (Cato) Yeah, sometimes we're jamming together and then someone will have an idea for the words and sometimes it's like working in an office, "Maybe you would like to write some lyrics?" (gesturing to bandmates), and someone will say "Sure."
CSX: (Jon) It's happened. (Cstn) It's actually both. (Cato) We don't have a songwriting system, it's just random. (Cstn) Actually, the first lyrics that we wrote, were written down on coffee filters, by hand in the restroom. (Cato) And that was right before we were going on stage for our first gig.
CSX: (Jon) We've known each other for a long time. And we all played in different bands, but we were not satisfied with our old bands so we all decided we wanted to do something different. (Cstn) Actually, we started out as a hobby band. We just wanted to make some noise together. We started right after New Years, four years ago. (Cato) And it was more fun than anything I had ever done. I hadn't experienced that kind of fun playing with people before, so it was natural to build on it and move forward with it.
CSX: (Cstn) I've never done it before. (Jon) Me either. (Cato) I have toured in other countries, with an interesting band. I enjoyed getting the experience of touring in other countries, we toured in Germany. I was just asked, and I was at the university in Oslo and I was kinda bored with it so when they asked me if I wanted to join as a keyboard player for the tour, & I said OK. It was cool and I liked the travel, but it wasn't my band. I think it was good because I got to see the possibilities of touring with a band. From that tour experience, I realized we don't have to only go around playing in Norway, we can go out to other countries as well.
CSX: (Cato) We've toured around a lot. (Jon) I think that we've been lucky because we've met the people we needed to meet pretty early. Cato's experience with the other band helped us get to Germany. So then we were one step up... (Cstn) But we're still the underdogs in Norway. But that's alright. (Cato) MMMhhh. But we have a good audience in Norway, and we kind of would like to stay the underdogs in Norway. We don't want people to expect anything from us. And we haven't played in Norway that much in the last year because we've been touring in other countries. It's actually not that different to play a night in San Francisco than it is to play a club in Oslo, Norway. We want to give a 100% wherever we are.
V V: What's the music scene like in Norway, or in Oslo? Are you part of an underground, or how do you fit in to the whole Norway music scene?
CSX: (Jon) At the time it's just productive. New bands are popping up, good bands! There's no scene, it's just all sorts of music. (Cstn) But Oslo is kind of a small town, so everybody sorta knows each other. So it's a good community. (Cato) It's not one "scene", there isn't a separate punk rock scene and a separate electronic scene. So all over the shoulders, there's different bands that inspire each other. A lot of people in Oslo are into different kinds of music. (Cstn) There are some electronic bands that like to do remixes of the things we are doing. (Cato) And we used the horns from a jazz band on our record. It's very inspiring in Norway right now. It didn't used to be! (Cstn) It's like a growing self confidence. (Cato) It used to be kind of depressing playing music in Norway. Like in the mid-90's.
CSX: (Cato) It's because it's easier now. The other bands can do like we did and realize they/we don't need to get on a major label to get our music out, so a lot of people started their own labels and put their own record out, and then people start looking out of the country and they say "Oh, we can tour in another country. And we can get popular there, without being popular in Norway." It's like Christian said, that self confidence is growing and the self esteem is building. And the ball starts rolling and yeah, it's good. (Cstn) Like when we started, we just released a 10-inch record of our own on our own record label. (Jon) We didn't ask anyone else. (Cato) We never sent our demos to major labels to get released, because we didn't need it. (Cstn) Or because we were too noisy. (Cato) At some point, (a label affiliate) can be constructive too, but not being on a label doesn't mean you can't get your music out there, and to go out and play. (Cstn)That's the whole vibe right now in Norway. (Jon) Do it yourself (DIY). If you have a thousand dollars, you can do a lot. (Cato) And what happens, is that the bands are doing it themselves, and they're turning it out really professionally: high quality bands. That can be the problem with "underground" stuff, it can be sloppy and dirty and something you don't want. But everyone is turning out first class music and that's really inspiring.
CSX: (Jon) Actually, that album is two years old. (Cstn) We recorded it in Norway in April 2000 and released it in Norway in October 2000. We did it all ourselves: we got some equipment to record (bought some and borrowed some), and we made our own label. So the boss from Emperor Norton went to Bergen about a year ago, and he went to a record store because he wanted to buy some Norwegian music. On the bottom shelf he saw the cover of our CD and he bought it . He just liked the cover of the CD. And he liked the names of the songs, so he checked it out and half a year later we got the deal. We got lucky! (Cato) It was pretty coincidental, and we like it that way. We don't work with a schedule or a plan. We have to now probably, but we don't like to.
CSX: (Cstn) I don't want to work anymore, that's my aspiration. That's my goal, just work with music. Big or not, that doesn't matter. (Cato) We're just happy to go anywhere, playing. Whatever happens, happens. Of course we welcome success, but we would never feel like we failed at this stage. We already have success. (Jon)Yeah, we get to go to San Francisco! (Cstn) Yeah, we're in San Francisco, what more could we ask for?
CSX: (Cstn) I get most of my inspiration from music. And at the moment, or for the past few years, I've been buying old soul 45's. That's my main inspiration, soul and r&b 45's.
CSX: (Cstn) We do covers of songs I like the best. There's a song by Baby Ray, "The House on Soul Hill". We play "Hazel Hill Lonely" by Mickey Lee Lee. (Jon) It's hard to tell. There are many things to inspire me. Just sitting at home playing guitar inspires me. (Cato) And the drive between San Francisco and L.A. It's so good to be in another place. (Jon) So, sooner or later, the In and Out Burger will appear in a song.
CSX: (Jon) I don't even listen to garage music at all. I like the Rolling Stones, Led Zepplin, and stuff that I liked while I was growing up, but I don't think I even have a garage record at all. I listen to The (Jon Spencer) Blues Explosion, would you call that garage? (Cstn) I've listened to plenty of garage but I've listened to plenty of other records as well. It's just that we have fuzz on the guitars and bass and it's got a lot of energy, so people call it garage rock. But as you're asking if we find it inspiring to be part of wave, or something that, maybe yeah. It's cool that we can be... (Jon) We're just happy if someone likes it. (Cato) I don't think too much about it. I actually like those other bands: The Hives, The White Stripes, and The Strokes. As long as quality music can get out to people, that's good. And if we're a part of it, that's great. But I don't care for being part of a scene or a hype or whatever. We're still going to be playing our music.
CSX: (Jon) If you see a good video, then yeah, it can be a piece of art. And yeah, they can give you joy... (Cato) Generally, when I see music videos, whether it's a band I like or don't like, it's a commercial for selling records, (Jon) Not always! The Aphex Twin videos are amazing. I love them. (Cato) Yeah, I know, but the idea behind music videos is that (commercial). And sometimes you see a good commercial too. (Cstn) There's a lot of crap and there's a lot of cool things. (Cato) And you can call them a piece of art, if you want to. It's a fine line. (Cstn) There's always good and bad - good commericals and bad commercials, good music and bad music. (Cato) And good cereals and bad cereals.
CSX: (Cato) Like you said before, the video we have right now reflects who we are as a band and that is what we want to do. And if it fits the music... (Jon) It's a commercial for the band. (Cato) Yeah, it is a commercial actually.
V V: Did you have fun making it?|
CSX: (Jon) Yeah, we had fun. (Cato) We had a hard time making it. (Cstn) I had a lot fun, but when we came to garage 14, I was so fed up.
VV: What was the concept for it? How long did it take? How did you get the burning paper to go backwards while you sing forwards?
CSX: (Cato) That's a secret. (Jon) We didn't come up with the idea. We know the director and he came up with the whole thing. (Cstn) The idea was 20 garages in 2 days. (Cato) And we had to learn the song backwards and play it backwards.
CSX: (Cstn) It's not wooden, first of all. It's plastic. (Jon) Don't insult it. (Cstn) It became our mascot somehow. (Jon) Someone gave it to me as a Christmas present as a joke and I had it laying around. And it hung on my wall for a couple of years and then I started bringing it down to our rehearsal room, it was not doing the job on my living room wall. We just played around with it and somehow it ended up being in the video. (Cato) It ended up being the most interesting thing about the band. (Jon) Everyone talks about the duck, so we had to bring it along. (Cstn) And now we're just nervous about people stealing it. (Jon) Yeah, we have to get it insurance. (Cstn) We have to insure the duck.
(everyone has now completed their beers and is looking hazy and glowing, giggling about the duck insurance, because it is, after all, now a percussion instrument in the band...fade to black)
Interviewer: Catherine Lee
Camera & Photos: Matthew Lawrence & Rodwin Pabello
Transcription & Editing: Catherine Lee
Special Thanks: Farrah Rocker & Julie Forchhammer
Tamara Pollard & Maureen Russell & Slim's staff
© 2002 Evans Media Group, Inc.
Emperor Norton Records (USA)
The Short List :: Superb organization that creates a US based Indie awards list of music, and CSX made the Long List for 2002. Panelists have included Kim Gordon, Dan Nakamura, Beck and independent radio programmers and journalists.