The music of Los Guapos sounds like something built for the big screen. So it comes as no surprise when frontman Justin Valdez reaches for a cinematic description, calling the Latin-rock quintet's new EP "sci-fi Spaghetti Western."
In the last year, Valdez has rebooted the group – dropping his own name in favor of just Los Guapos—adding new members to shift the sound in a new direction. Joining Valdez and the other original Guapo, Richard Verdugo (who plays keys and now sax as well), are John Read on bass, Morgan Schlaline on drums and Engel Indo on vocals and percussion.
"It's still guitar-and key-driven, but it's a totally different flavor now," Valdez says. "When we came out of the dust, the goal was to be more instrumental than before."
Now, Los Guapos' songs are split about evenly between instrumental tunes and
ones with vocals. In addition to the surf-rock edge, there's definitely a Latin jazz flavor, and moments that lean toward bossa nova. The multi-genre style comes together under the term "soundtrack," Valdez says.
"It's easier sometimes to say it's more like movie score than a genre," Valdez says. "I had always played with a standard configuration: guitar, bass, drums and vocals. But when you add keys and conga to the mix, the floodgates open and you can do anything."
It was that reference to "soundtrack" music in the Craigslist ad that attracted the new members, Read says.
"It's nice to be able to dip into different styles," says Read, who'd actually played in high school jazz band with Verdugo, but the pair hadn't seen each other in two decades. "I responded to the ad, and when I was talking to Justin, it turned out the other guy who was already in the band was Richard. It was like 'Oh, I love playing with that guy.'"
The band has an easy chemistry and high level of musicianship, jamming readily on new song ideas as soon as someone starts calling out some chords.
"We all complement each other very, very well, so we can easily write a lot of songs together. We come up with songs quickly," Verdugo says. "We can go straight from Spanish love ballads into rock 'n' roll blues."
Though the band has three full sets of original music now, the seven songs on the Los Guapos EP were written before this incarnation of the band came together. In fact, Valdez had the studio time already booked before putting the final pieces of the band together, so to quickly prepare for recording and a big debut show at the Surly Wench, Los Guapos played two open mic shows as essentially dress rehearsals to run through the songs. The band recorded the songs for the EP live, all in one or two takes, at Midtown Island Studios.
"We should've had this CD release two months ago. We're ready to go right back into the studio and record again, a 12- or 13-song full album," says Valdez, talking with the same sort of confidence that originally fueled the band's name.
"It's kind of an arrogant name, but we're playing rock 'n' roll, no matter what style you break it down to," Valdez says. "It's an aggressive name and it's aggressive music."