|Brian Scott, Efisio Giordanelli, Justin Fernandez, Andrew McClarron and Gabriel Kaiser of Tesoro at Café Tropical|
2900 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles (Silver Lake)
The fiery passion incited by Latin music, flamenco in particular, is undeniably intense. For 14 years, Tucson-based Tesoro have fused the Spanish style with gypsy, rumba, pop and rock elements to create a sound all their own. What could be more fitting than to sit down with the fivesome – comprised of lead guitarist Brian Scott, guitarist Justin Fernandez, bassist Andrew McClarron, drummer Gabriel "Gabi" Kaiser and vocalist Efisio Giordanelli – at a Cuban café to talk about their new self-titled album?
Café Tropical is a popular neighborhood spot, known especially for its Guava Cheese Pie. The café is a usual morning stop for its strong, delicious coffee and hearty breakfast sandwiches. In addition to two dessert cases full of sweet treats, they also serve smoothies and, of course, Cuban sandwiches.
When I point out that one of Tesoro's tracks is even called "Cubano Nuevo" to the band, Efisio jokes, "It's funny, because this is not the first time we've thought of making the 'Cubano nuevo' lyric 'Cubano sandwich,'" letting out a laugh as he sings.
Café Tropical is also an apt location for our interview since, food is another of the group's passions. Tesoro was able to reach 111 percent of their goal when crowd-sourcing for the new album via PledgeMusic.com, and a few of the exclusives they offered to patrons included cooking lessons from the band or a dinner and show provided by them. So I had to ask what some of their favorite dishes are to prepare.
"We all enjoy food," Justin begins. "I grew up in a family with a lot of cooks. My parents were always cooking, and we have an awesome pot roast recipe in the family that's one of my favorites."
"Barbecuing is my expertise, so anything meat-wise," Gabi chimes in. "I do a lot of Indian curries, too. Basically, I'll try any recipe that I can get my hands on."
"I love cooking," Andrew replies. "I really like cooking Mexican food, fusing spicy flavors together."
"Food and music go together so well," Efisio adds.
Music has always been their first love, though, and has been a part of each of their lives since childhood.
"I grew up Bermuda where there's a lot of reggae and Latin music, so I was exposed to that. My first taste of flamenco was the Gipsy Kings, nouveau flamenco," Andrew tells. "I started playing piano at a really young age for three years, and then I played in school bands. My band instructor suggested trying one instrument for a few months until I got good at it and then move on to something else ,so that's what I would do. Eventually I landed on the bass, and I loved the deep sound of resonating notes holding the music together. After that, I played a lot of metal bass, which helped build my chops up a lot so I could eventually hang with these flamenco dudes. They play a different form of metal, just shredding scales."
G "My mom's a piano teacher, so obviously I started on piano. I was always unconsciously playing music. I could sing all of the pieces she would teach her students, note for note," recalls Gabi. "Then when I was 13, I said, 'No more piano for me,' but my mom wanted me to keep playing an instrument so I picked up drums. I bought a drum kit, played for six months then stopped doing it and started skateboarding. When I turned 18, my buddy moved in with me and brought his drum kit with him. I started playing it, and I've been playing drums ever since."
"I played piano from 5 to 12. Memorizing the music was the funnest part for me, songs from Lion King or Beauty and the Beast that I had to perform for people. That feeling of accomplishment after a good performance never left me, regardless of the music, as long as you played it well," Justin remarks. "Once I dropped piano, my dad said, 'Get a job or get another instrument.' It was the guitar because right at that time one of my four sisters found her way into flamenco dance, which started from my dad being Spanish and taking us to a Spanish restaurant in Phoenix to watch flamenco shows as his way of introducing it to us. When my sister got into it I was around these amazing guitarists thinking if I just had a guitar these guys would teach me, so I got one and went from there. I hated it at first because it was too hard, and especially because [of the need for] the long nails. I picked it up again six months later, and a couple of years later I met Brian. When I came back, I said, 'If I'm going to do it, I have to get the nails – all or nothing,' so I was 14 playing soccer and literally cutting people and everyone would make fun of me."
"You started getting manicures at 14?" Andrew asks.
"Absolutely, I didn't have a problem with it," Justin laughs. "I would get ridiculed sometimes, but it wasn't that bad."
" Music is something that I've always done. It was a hobby like any kid has – playing soccer or going to the mall – I played guitar. Starting at age 3, I was always air guitaring, so at 5, my mom put a guitar in my hand. I started lessons right away, doing the Suzuki Method. The instructor started me out on a cereal box with a ruler attached to it to learn the positions, where your fingers go first," Brian remembers. "Then, I got a tiny guitar and took lessons until I was 11. After that I started doing heavy metal, punk and rock through various bands in high school until I met Justin and he showed me around the flamenco guitar a little."
"There was a lot of chemistry from the beginning when we first started jamming. I remember spending a month with these guys learning all the songs, and playing my first gig was nerve wracking," Andrew admits as Brian chuckles. "But we had good chemistry, so the sound was good. And the response was good, so it really helped me get comfortable and I knew were were on to something."
Tesoro went on to release a live album in 2006 and win a Tucson Area Music (TAMMIE) Award for their fiery performances. 2010 brought about a rebirth for the band, regrouping their focus by enlisting vocalist Manuel Iñigo and Gabi, who shared a mutual friend with Andrew, on drums. They put out two more live albums, 2011's Live in Studio A and 2012's Live at Hotel Congress, started playing 100-plus shows a year and earned the title of Top Local Entertainment from Tucson Lifestyle.
When the time came to part ways with Manuel, the band began searching for a new vocalist.
"I was a waiter serving tables, and a customer who would come in all the time told me about this great Latin band who was looking for a singer. He was very insistent and said, 'I'll give them a call right now!' I talked to Justin, but I never followed up because I was just too busy with school and working full time," Efisio recalls. "Eventually, I felt like I really needed to do something with music because it's what I truly love so I was looking on Craig's List and one of the first listings I saw was Tesoro. I thought, 'I recognize this name, but I hope they won't remember me flaking on them."
Everyone laughs as Justin admits, "I didn't remember. He told me the story about two months after joining to remind me."
Born in Venezuela, Efisio says he doesn't have a childhood memory where he's not singing.
"I never realized that I was actually any good until I started high school and people would give me attention over it. That's when I started getting more serious about performing," he grins. "I have a lot of vocal influences. When I was growing up I obsessed about one singer for a couple of years, then a different singer for another couple of years. My first obsession was—"
"She bangs, she bangs," yells Andrew.
"No, I was so bummed when the 1998 World Cup finished because I wouldn't be able to hear that song [Ricky Martin's "La copa de la vida (Cup of Life)"] on the radio all the time. I was 8, give me a break," Efisio relents with a sigh. "Anyways, for me it was really Ricardo Arjona. I know every single one of his songs. Probably the biggest influence on my vocal technique was Luis Miguel, when I started performing more seriously in high school choir."
As for the rest of Tesoro's members, I wonder if there are specific artists' albums or concerts that hold particular significance to them as well. Gabi's is pretty obvious since he has 'Black Sabbath' tattooed on his arm.
"I heard Black Sabbath at my friend's and went nuts. I bought their first three or four albums and would only listen to those for at least a year," he confesses. "It was really their drummer, Bill Ward, who inspired me to start playing again. I heard his heavy drumming and said, 'OK, that's for me. 'Fairies Wear Boots' was the best song, the one I would play through every single day."
"My first concert was Boston, but that didn't make me want to do music," Brian laughs. "But then I saw Metallica and was like, 'Oh!' If you're 13 years old and seeing Metallica, it's fucking awesome. I wanted to be on the big stage."
"The song that forever reminds me of my childhood is Dire Straits' 'Money for Nothing.' I would climb up on a table, and, right as the drum buildup breaks and the guitar starts, I jumped off the table, pretending I was playing it," recalls Justin. "Gipsy Kings were the first real concert I saw that blew my mind because it was right as I was starting to play Spanish guitar – to see them up on stage doing what my teacher was teaching me in way that was making everybody dance. I liked that fusion side of it, the rock 'n' roll, the fun – that was what drew me in. I wanted to be able to stand up and play like the Gipsy Kings."
"If there's one show that sticks out in my mind, it's when I saw the Flaming Lips open for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The energy of both bands was amazing, especially the Flaming Lips. I felt so alive after the show and realized that music can be so powerful," Andrew says. "I always looked up to Flea as a bass player too, his energy, dynamics and overall chops. I saw that the bass can be an epic instrument; it doesn't have to just be the backbone of a band, it can be used as a lead instrument as well. That show was incredible."
"We've done three live albums and, when Efisio came, in the first thing was to gett some new music going. We went to Austin and did SXSW for our first time and the next thing naturally was get an album done, a studio album," Justin says. "Jim Waters did an amazing job of capturing the live energy of a Tesoro show, and I think that's the treasure, capturing that little bottle of energy that you can get from every live show and putting it into a CD for people to be able to feel when they listen to the record."
"The band has grown so much in the past few years, with adding Gabi and Efisio, and we're just really starting to hit our stride creatively. It was so fun recording the album; we put in a big effort toward working cohesively," Andrew offers. "We're really happy with the sound that we got. Playing together and tapping into what the band is capable of doing is what I would say the treasure is."
We wrap up our time together at Café Tropical, as the time approaches for the band to do soundcheck for their show this evening at Silverlake Lounge next door, and I as if there's anything they enjoy most about Los Angeles whenever they come to visit.
"It's huge; there's always something to do," replies Gabi. "There's usually a good show to see if we have time. That would probably be the main benefit. And the food, bars."
"It's a more fast-paced life, you're busy and hustling, but there's still some relaxation going on when you're able to eat good food and have some adventures," Justin says.
"We play in Tucson all the time, so when we play for someone who isn't a regular fan it's really cool to see how excited people can get about music when they have never heard us before," Andrew describes. "That's one of the great things, new crowds, making new fans."
"Our music has a shock factor at the beginning, especially for those who haven't seen us before," Justin adds. "Sometimes it takes people a minute, then they're grooving."
When I ask what he hopes an audience comes away with after seeing them perform, Brian replies, "No. 1 is the energy, then maybe inspiration to be creative on their own. You hope that when someone likes your music that they listen further and spread the word about. I'm going to be a little selfish here," he laughs. "We play everything, from restaurants to weddings, and we've had people come up to us and say, 'You made my day.' So mainly, it's to make people happy."
"My personal goal is to make people dance," Efisio interjects. "The great thing about Tesoro is that it's very danceable, easy to find the rhythm. It's always great to see people that you know probably haven't danced in years get up there and have fun. That's my personal goal."
"He can really be the ice breaker for a crowd that you can tell has an itch to dance but wants someone to start the whole thing. When he does, it's funny how the dance floor comes alive," Andrew says.
"When he jumps off a seven foot stage, doesn't break his ankles and starts dancing – that gets the people going," Gabi laughs.
"That happens sometimes," Efisio agrees. "You never know at a Tesoro show, if I'm going to pick you to dance."
"Or, if he's going to land on you," Gabi comments.
You also never know what kinds of covers Tesoro are going to include in their sets. Whether it's an instrumental version of Tool's "Forty Six & 2" or a Spanish version of Led Zeppelin's "Fool in the Rain," they love to mix it up.
"Everybody's different, so you have to mix it up. One of our best venues in Tucson is more of a biker-type bar, and it's interesting to see that crowd go crazy over some of our instrumental stuff," Justin says. "We take what we love to do and turn it into something that creates a dynamic, diversified experience for our fans. All of our experiences, hurdles and accomplishments along the way have helped to form who we are and where we're going. It has all been fun and exciting, and it still is."
Tesoro's self-titled album is currently available. For more information, visit tesorotucson.com.