In their two-and-a-half-decade, 15-album hot streak as America’s foremost instrumental guitar combo, Los Straitjackets has earned a reputation for audacious album concepts and star-crossed collaborations. Both descriptions apply to Los Straitjackets’ latest album, What’s So Funny about Peace, Love and Los Straitjackets. The collection finds the masked marvels, who always don Mexican Lucha Libre headgear, paying tribute to Yep Roc label mate Nick Lowe. Guitarists Eddie Angel and Greg Townson, bassist Pete Curry, and drummer-percussionist Chris Sprague deliver distinctive instrumental interpretations of 13 songs drawn from the master English tunesmith’s illustrious career.
What’s So Funny about Peace, Love and Los Straitjackets marks a timely convergence of Lowe’s singular songwriting sensibility and Los Straitjackets’ sublime interpretive skills. The band reveals new melodic depth and sonic dynamics in familiar Lowe-penned standards, such as “Cruel to Be Kind,” “Heart of the City” and “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding,” while recasting more recent Lowe gems. They include “Lately I’ve Let Things Slide,” “I Read a Lot” and “I Live on a Battlefield” in exciting new directions.
Lowe himself makes a stealthy vocal cameo that’s so subliminal that the band declines to actually reveal what track it’s on. He also appears alongside the Straitjackets on the album’s front cover, which brilliantly spoofs the iconic cover art of Lowe’s beloved 1978 debut Jesus of Cool (aka Pure Pop for Now People), which Yep Roc reissued in an expanded edition in 2008.
What’s So Funny about Peace, Love and Los Straitjackets also prominently features co-founding guitarist Danny Amis. While Amis previously had been forced to take a leave of absence from the band for health reasons, his instrumental and arranging talents are abundant on the album.
The band recorded What’s So Funny about Peace, Love and Los Straitjackets with producer and longtime Lowe collaborator Neil Brockbank, who’s overseen the recording of Lowe’s last six studio albums. The album also features longstanding Lowe band member Geraint Watkins on keyboards, as well as the recording debut of his 12-year-old son, Royston, on percussion. The seeds for the project were planted when the Straitjackets teamed with Lowe in 2014 for the first of their now-annual Christmas “Quality Holiday Revue” tours, which have seen both acts unite on stage, with Brockbank serving as road manager and sound engineer.
Los Straitjackets also recently played alone-and-together sets with Lowe earlier this month at Lincoln Center’s Damrosch Park in New York City. Upcoming live dates include Aug. 23 at Musikfest Café in Bethlehem, Pa. with Marshall Crenshaw; Aug. 24, Havana, New Hope, Pa.; Aug. 25, Dogfish Head Brewing, Rehoboth Beach, Del., also with current tour mate Crenshaw. On Aug. 26, the East Coast leg of Los Straitjackets’ tour will draw to a close at the Asbury Park Surf Music Festival, which also will take place Aug. 24 to 27 throughout the City by the Sea. The tour will kick up again on the West Coast.
While local Los Straitjackets fans anticipate upcoming performances, they also can enjoy the following chat with Eddie Angel about working with and in honor of Lowe, playing the growing Asbury Park Surf Music Festival and more:
How did the past three holiday tours with your Yep Roc label mate Nick Lowe develop and how did they lead to What’s So Funny about Peace, Love and Los Straitjackets?
Our manager, Jake Guralnick, also manages Nick, so he came up with the idea. The touring led to the album. Since Nick’s songs are so melodic, they are perfect for developing into instrumentals.
Why did you want to pay tribute to Nick with What’s So Funny, how does the album accomplish that goal, and how did Neil help accomplish it?
We’ve all been big fans of Nick’s. We feel like we really showed off his already beautiful melodies. We were sitting around the pool on one of our tours at The Seashore Motel in Santa Monica drinking tequila, and Neil came up with idea for the album.
Nick liked the album enough to appear on the front cover with you and sing on an undisclosed track, but what kind of feedback did he give you about the album?
Nick was not at the recording in Culver City at The Pow Wow Funroom, but we would get feedback from Nick through our mutual manager, Jake.
How sweet was it to provide the recording debut of Nick’s 12-year-old son, Royston, on percussion?
That was pretty cool. We met Roy at our London show last December. He’s a very sweet, well-mannered boy. I gave him one of my masks for a Christmas present.
How did Danny contribute to What’s So Funny, and is he on tour?
Danny came up with some great song ideas and arrangements. It’s great to have him in the studio. He won’t be on the upcoming East Coast tour. He might show up on a few shows in the future but nothing planned at the moment.
How is he doing health wise?
I’ve been getting all good reports!
With 15 albums, how do you decide which songs to play each night?
We have our standards we love to play, and the audience expects them. We try to mix it up for each show by adding some new songs and some old songs that we rarely play. It’s never easy making those decisions because there is really so much to choose from.
How did the current tour with Marshall Crenshaw develop and how do the shows jell despite the differences in sound and style?
Again, we are all fans of Marshall’s, and it was Jake’s idea. Although our styles are different, so are mine and Danny’s and mine and Greg’s, but that’s what makes it so interesting. We all share the same music vocabulary.
What are you looking forward to most about returning to Asbury Park and what do you think of the city’s revitalization?
That’s easy … The Silverball Museum on the boardwalk, Vic’s Tomato Pies (best pizza in the world!) and hanging out with friends Chris DiPinto, Stephen Hunt and Todd Abramson.
Asbury Park Surf Music Festival was founded by members of the local surf-rock trio Black Flamingos. This year is their fourth, biggest and best fest, growing from one day at a 500-capacity club to four days at several venues throughout the city, including where you’ll play on the beach at Convention Hall. What do you think of that kind of grassroots effort to promote surf and instrumental rock?
Why do you choose to play DiPinto guitars?
We love DiPinto! They play great, and the look is perfect for our presentation. It’s great to be identified with a signature guitar like The Ventures were with Mosrite.
What should we expect from your guitar symposium with Chris DiPinto in the afternoon of Aug. 26 at the surf music fest?
They say surf music has had several waves throughout the years. You guys have been there for a few of them. What is your forecast on the next swell?