It has been a banner year for Los Straitjackets, the Lucha libre-masked crusaders of wordless surf-twang guitar rock. The quartet's new album, The Further Adventures of Los Straitjackets, was released seven months ago to generally positive reviews — not only for the band's raging guitar instrumentals but also for the evocative comic-book concept that houses them.
"It seemed like a natural fit," says guitarist Eddie Angel. "We're perfect for comic-book action heroes."
The creation of Further Adventures was slightly different for the band by virtue of geography and scheduling. With the foursome (Angel and Danny Amis on guitars, bassist Pete Curry and drummer Jason Smay) now spread out across the country, there's less time for members to hang out like they did when they lived closer to each other. But they still have a strong creative connection.
"We've got a good chemistry, and our manager, Jake Guralnick, is like a fifth member of the band; he's got really good instincts," says Angel. "He can see from the outside what we should be doing. But this band has been really lucky, and we've been able to avoid a lot of pitfalls. We're always motivated by what's fun for us and what we think our audience will want. And we're in a good position in that we have total creative freedom. We've never been on a big record label that's told us what we needed to do."
With their cross-continental scattering — Angel is in Nashville, Amis and Curry are in Los Angeles, Smay lives in Rochester, New York — Los Straits had to become more economical with their writing and recording sessions. This time, rather than go into the studio with largely finished material, the quartet brought little more than riffs and ideas and began hammering songs out of the fragments.
"Me and Danny always have songs we've written on our own, but on this one, we made an effort to write a lot of songs together as a band," says Angel. "Also, it came together over time, like at least a year, where we got together at different times at Pete's studio in L.A. It was a pretty good way to do it, a couple of songs at a time, because if you try to do it all at once, you get kind of dry. So it was different. But the thing I'm most pleased with is that we can still come up with a record that's good. It's what we do, but it's fresh. We're not breaking any new ground, but we never claimed to do that."
As a result, Further Adventures crackles with intensity and immediacy, an amazing feat for a band that's worked the same stylistic corner for the past decade and a half. It's an astonishing accomplishment when a band can make the same direction it's explored for 15 years over a dozen albums sound new and vital.
"It's in our DNA," says Angel. "I've been in bands my whole life, and I can tell the difference. Some bands might have enough to do one or two good CDs, but to keep going for 15 years, it has to be something that's just organic."
Los Straits also decided it was time to follow their 2002 Christmas album, 'Tis the Season for Los Straitjackets, with a sophomore holiday offering, the just-released Yuletide Beat. For their second set of twisted Christmas tunes — from the Tarantino-ized "We Three Kings" to the Bobby Fuller Four twang and strum of "(I) Deck the Halls" — Los Straits once again apply their reverbed brilliance to songs of the season.
Of course, a new Los Straits Christmas album means that a new Christmas tour is on the way. Angel says the latest installment of Los Straitjackets' holiday trek, christened ¡Viva Christmas! and featuring special guest El Vez, might be the band's best seasonal extravaganza.
"We're all playing together," says Angel. "[El Vez] was on [2001 Straitjackets album] Sing Along; he sang 'King Creole.' A bunch of years ago, we did a Christmas show together. We were on the same bill, but we opened for him. It was a lot of fun, and we thought it would make a lot of sense. He's got a lot of great Christmas songs, like 'Mamacita Donde Esta Santa Claus?' and 'Brown Christmas.' It's going to be entertaining, I think. He's a very theatrical guy. We're gonna make 'em laugh, and we're gonna make 'em cry."
Yuletide Beat is available in a number of limited-edition formats. The band pressed 1,000 CDs and 1,000 10-inch red vinyl albums in letter-pressed packaging designed by Washington, D.C. poster genius El Jefe. The vinyl is available through straitjackets.com or Angel's Spin Out label; CDs and vinyl will also be available at the show. And for the tech savvy, downloads are available through all the major services.
"I gotta say, I think this sounds really good," says Angel with obvious pride in the vinyl run. "It feels fun to hold it in your hands, as opposed to CDs. It's like a book; it feels like something real. That would be a cool Christmas present for people."