There’s a free spirited nature to all that is Gothic Tropic. On the band’s Awesome Problems EP, guitar and drums swirl around and bump up against each other, creating a potent mix of African-inspired percussion and free jazz noodling. Their silly-but-sinister moniker conjures thoughts of black eyeliner and SoCal tropicalia. And more often than not, frontwoman Cecilia Della Peruti can be found performing barefoot.
That’s not to say Gothic Tropic is championing some new brand of hippie chic. Far from it. Instead, the L.A. trio is navigating the space between experimental and garage rock, citing everyone from Talking Heads to Can along the way. This Saturday, Gothic Tropic returns to Muddy Waters for a headlining set alongside James Supercave and S.B. newcomers Empty Priest. Below we play the getting-to-know-you game with Gothic Tropic’s leading lady.
Can you tell me about how the band started? Where/when did you all meet? The band started as a “solo project” when I discovered loop stations and started playing guitar with myself. That’s when I wrote “Monkey Bars” and “Kitty Baby.” I was intending on taking this as lightly as possible, but I ended up jamming with drummer Liv Marsico and met bassist Daniel Denton and formed a band around it. We all grew up in L.A. and narrowly almost met enough times to dive into it once we did. Our new drummer Lia Braswell and I played in a band previously, and since reforming have just rekindled our creative juices.
What were the first practices/jam sessions like? Did you have a pretty clear vision of what you wanted the band to sound like from the get-go? Well it was the kind of thing where all my visions for it just had to bow to whatever was happening naturally. I thought I’d be looping and looping and building unusually, but operating a loop station with live drums wasn’t as easy as I thought. Haha. It turned into something really cool, and jamming with them was so intuitive and mind-blowing, so I didn’t bother holding on to anything. I play solo occasionally and it really is a different release.
How did you come up with the name Gothic Tropic? Was it meant to describe the music? Well it was a joke at first. I figured since it was my “whatever solo thing” it could be funny as well as actually representing my taste. On one hand I love Fela Kuti and West African groovy music and on the other I love Alan Vega and Cocteau Twins, so because that’s ridiculous, it kind of translated to “gothic-tropic.”
How do you describe the Gothic Tropic sound to folks who have never heard your music? There are some pre-punk elements that are bizarre for pop, but it’s music from specific happy weirdos who love bands like Magazine, Television, Can, Neu, and I love Talking Heads and they’re all progressive. It’s like West Africa meets Tom Verlaine on guitar, baroque Motown on bass, and polyrhythmic groove on drums, and we play pop songs, kind of.
How does songwriting work out? Is it a pretty collaborative process, or do you tend to work alone? At this point we usually write a song where someone starts playing something out of the blue, someone joins in, then someone else joins in, then we predict all the changes, and then usually I do something outlandish. Then we jam out until we stop playing and then we write it down. Often I’ll come to them with an idea, and kind of conduct the vibe, and sometimes it’s already fleshed out, and I play it for them and they jam along. It’s different every time, but I’m happy to say it’s as collaborative as we can make it. I need objectivity, so I ask Daniel and Lia to help with any process.
Are there specific bands/artists/albums that you guys collectively admire? Who do you cite as influences? We all love Talking Heads and Television, and then we more privately love prog bands, and dark weirdos. I’d rather not expose our guilty pleasures. Haha. Early performance punks; Iggy, Bowie, bands like Sonic Youth, Swans, The Flaming Lips, jazz artists like the Coltranes, Elvin Jones…
The vocal effects play a pretty big role in the Gothic Tropic sound. Have you always sung through an effects pedal? What do you use? What drew you to the sound to begin with? Well I actually just bought an effects pedal last week! But the sound on the EP was a Copperphone mic with a slap delay. I always asked for a slap and I was surprised that a lot of the boards in the venues we play didn’t have it, so I just bought one. Most of anyone who’s seen us thus far it’s either been just some reverb, a slap, or completely dry unfortunately. But I hope it’s made me a stronger vocalist. I liked singing through the Copperphone because I love that compressed distorted sound.
Coming from L.A., do you guys feel like there’s a pretty healthy music scene down there right now? Yeah we do! We’re constantly impressed with our friends whenever they share secret tracks, and just blown away by the talent we’re surrounded by. Body Parts, James Supercave, Traps PS,The Happy Hallows, and Norse Horse are all amazing bands in L.A. right now. It’s definitely getting saturated, but you have a more discerning ear about it.
Finally, what comes next? Can folks expect a full-length sometime in the near future? Yes! We’re recording our full-length next month! I’m festering with excitement about this. In the meantime we’ll be releasing some singles and videos, and we’ll be hitting the road with the release of the full length.
Cool Summer presents Gothic Tropic at Muddy Waters Café (508 E. Haley St.) with James Supercave and Empty Priest on Saturday, February 9 at 8 p.m. Call (805) 966-9328 for info.