INTERVIEW: Peter Furgiuele of Gringo Star
Gringo Star pushes the barriers of rock and roll “to create the psychoactive ingredients of their echo-slathered, doo-wop-indebted indie gems; psychedelic garage bangers, gritty R&B shuffles and spaghetti- western weirdness.” The band takes its musical cues from the likes of Santo & Johnny, The Stooges, Ritchie Valens, Marc Bolan, Percy Faith, Sam Cooke to Robert Johnson. The band has toured relentlessly across the U.S. and Europe building a diehard underground following while sharing bills with everyone from Cat Power and Feist to The Black Angels and Weezer, and also touring with Wavves, Best Coast, And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead and fellow Georgia natives The Black Lips.
SoCalMusicToday.com recently caught up with Peter Furgiuele of Gringo Star (which includes his brother Nick Furgiuele, Jonathon Bragg and Josh Longino) to discuss their musical background, influences, songwriting, their new album The Sides and In Between, (due on August 26), recording it and building their own studio “with money won from a jackpot on a slot machine in an Oklahoma gas station” and their tours including festivals and clubs and an especially memorable gig at an elementary school in England.
What did you learn most from having a grandfather in the music business?
Well our grandfather passed away before we were born so we actually never met him. His influence was more passed through our grandma and mom who showed us all kinds of cool photographs from the 50s and 60s of soul and early rock n roll performances that he would promote in Columbus Georgia and played us all the greats from those days. Our granddad was a DJ, record store owner, show promoter and even managed and produced some groups which left our mom with a really great record collection that we dug through at a very young age. I think this exposure was what really got us into all that stuff.
Did he impart any words of wisdom or advice about being musicians to maybe better prepare you?
No. I don’t think you can really give much advice on the music Industry. It seems more to me like something you have to get out and experience first-hand. Having somebody connected only goes so far if you don’t have the creative drive, but either way we didn’t have the chance to meet him and hear what advice he may have given.
It’s rare you hear young bands influenced by artists and bands from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Why do you think that music resonates so strongly for you?
That’s tough to say. Many of our friends are into older music as well. I don’t think there’s any rhyme or reason to it. Aside from having the opportunity to hear all that stuff as a kid, it’s just kind of random what people relate to musically. We had a great “golden oldies” radio station accessible when we were young and we just took to that stuff. It’s not all we listen too by any means but really does resonate with me personally. And I can’t really say why it does. Only that those decades were mastering the art of melodic edgy pop.
Is your new album, The Sides And In Between, your first full-length LP? How would you say it differs from your past work?
It’s actually our fourth. We are most excited about this record for sure. We’ve been building our own studio for years and when on tour last year I won a jackpot on a slot machine in an Oklahoma gas station. Totally random luck, but this allowed us to complete our studio with a couple pieces of gear we had our eye on for a while. So it was the first record where we were able to really accomplish the quality we wanted. We didn’t want to go pay at some studio and end up with an over polished sound. What we got on this album really represents our sound best. It was a blast to make and recording it ourselves really felt natural.
Having been together since 2007 the band must have gone through a number of changes both personnel wise and I would imagine creatively? In that time or have you stuck to a formula that works for you and not ventured too far from it?
Well, Nick and I have pretty much always been the primary songwriters. Our method of writing together goes all the way back to when I was like 10 or something when we used to lay stuff down on a tiny little tape recorder. The way in which we write songs really hasn’t changed that much, but we are always looking to experiment with new approaches and arrangements of songs. We love to accomplish different sounds on different songs. Otherwise, it would just get really boring.
How does the band collaborate in terms of the songwriting and arranging the music?
Usually Nick or I will start off with a general idea we have whether it’s a beat, a melody or some chord progression and then we get together and just see where it takes us. Sometime the ideas develop as we are recording and other times we have a pretty precise idea of where the song will go.
What inspires the band lyrically?
Living life on a daily basis, touring. Same as with working the song’s music out sometimes we have a phrase in mind and other times we just let things come naturally and see what means the most to us. In this album I feel like the lyrics are the most personal yet. They have meaning to us, even if they might seem vague at times.
The band has toured the U.S. and Europe extensively. Gringo Star has opened for Cat Power, Feist and Weezer among many others. What was that experience like performing in front of big audiences? What do you enjoy the most about touring and what are the band’s most memorable moments on the road?
This is always a tough question to answer. It shouldn’t be, but looking back things always seem blurry. The European tours we’ve done are certainly high on the list of most memorable. It’s truly amazing to play over there. We also had the opportunity to do some pretty big shows supporting some bands, but even some of the smaller ones stand out.
We also love to get to see all these places that would be hard to make it to without the band. Like the Czech Republic, Norway and Sweden, Germany, Switzerland and so on. After doing several tours you learn about certain places like restaurants and scenic places or meet friends that make it exciting to come back. Some of the festivals we’ve done, Lollapalooza, summer fest in Milwaukee, Wicker Park Fest in Chicago, and other ones have always been some of the most fun we’ve ever had. But really I like it all.
The lows make the ups even higher. I like to see a wide range of shows from clubs to festivals to whatever else might present itself. One time we played an elementary school lunch in England. It was really a strange but cool experience and something that American principals would never allow. We just like it all and will keep pushing and making music and seeing what presents itself.