Animal Tropical Talks Shapeshifting and Getting Crunk, Screwed, and Scissored

Categories: Q&A
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We don't have enough room to print a full history lesson. But since the early 2000s, singer-pianist Jose Castello and a crew of musicians buddies -- including guitarists Kris Pabon and Max Johnston, drummer Jorge Rubiera, bassist Jarret Hahn, and vocalist Edward Adames -- have been swarming around the Miami scene.

First, Castello and company were post-hardcore group Pygmy. Next, they became country soul band the Down Home Southernaires. And finally, for the last few years, they've been calling themselves Animal Tropical.

On the heels of their first release on vinyl, Just Between Us Girls, a split ten-inch with Ice Cream, Crossfade shot Castello some questions.

Crossfade: In various incarnations, this core group of musicians have been at it for a while. Can you tell us about the various releases by Pygmy, Down Home Southernaires, and Animal Tropical?

Jose Castello: As Pygmy, [there's] 2002's Pygmy Performs, 2002's The Council of Important Scientists says No!, 2003's Sleeping With Beautiful Beagles, and 2004's Great Divide.

As Down Home Southernaires, [there's] 2005's Down Home Southernaires, Murcielago unreleased sessions 2005 to 2007, and 2008's Negro en Bicicleta.

And as Animal Tropical, [there's] 2009's Doom Years, 2010's Committed to This Committed to This Committed to This, and now Just Between us Girls.

Pygmy/DHS/Animal have all existed as very mobile entities that move a lot between scenes. You play for a lot of different demographics, on different occasions, in different spaces. Ice Cream are a relatively new band with a local following, but not much touring experience, or non-Miami attention. How did you guys link up, and how did you decide to finally release a vinyl 10''? 

We printed the ten-inch because rock 'n' roll is youthful business. Pairing with boys with an appetite for destruction seemed the shrewd way to stay legit.

What is the band's current mode of songwriting?

The songs are mine, I guess, but mostly made up on the spot, with only the most patient participants present. Each record is necessarily "different"from the last, but everything after Negro, the method is increasingly such: (1) Band hastily captured "live" by engineer (Jorge engineered much of Doom Years himself); (2) Jorge and Jose overstuff basic tracks with additional (and increasingly exotic) performers and performances, while Jorge engineers, and Jose directs instrumentalists through sketchy "arrangements"; and (3) Jose works closely with a very patient, professional engineer and "distills" mess into music, from refining textures to omitting passages to you name it, in short spurts over several months.

That's why they sound so peculiar and unlike the live performances. This split is our most radically "edited." The original performances were shaped, warped, crunked, screwed, scissored, and hardly resemble the original performances at all. Always a nice surprise for the rest of the band.

Animal Tropical and Ice Cream's Just Between Us Girls Release Party with Slashpine, People, Shiboleth, and New Theory, plus Jolt Radio DJing between sets. Thursday, June 30. at Villa 221, 221 NE 17th St., Miami. The party starts at 9 p.m. and there's no cover.

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