Hanging in the Studio With Que Lastima

When we last left Que Lastima, the band was melting speakers with its debut album, Fever Dreams, inciting riots at music venues across South Florida. The album cracked like a whip, making it tough to guess how they might move forward without retreading former glories. But anyone who's followed Que Lastima's live trajectory knows they're constantly performing new songs out, experimenting with one foot in front of the other.

Tempered Tantrums, the new album out later this month, uses the same instrumentation from the first — fuzzy guitars (Andrew Pino), Leslie Speaker organs, accordion, piano (Paultergeist), horns (Ian Lutz on saxophone, Trish Durius on trumpet), percussion (Sean Chesal), and upright bass (Chris Welling) — and blends it into a more focused, cohesive sound. They’ve had a year and a half of playing together as a band now, whereas the first album comprised a long list of guest players led by ringleader Paultergeist. This time around, Pino brings his own songwriting into the mix as well, and the result is combustible.

"I usually focus more on not filling in all the space with guitar work. When someone tells you a long story with a hundred details, do you remember it all?"

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It all kicks off with an instrumental introduction, part military march, part languid matador fanfare. Reverb-drenched guitar fuzz mixes with burlesque-stripper saxophone that teases, "We’re not going to show all our cards just yet, but follow me."  

The band borders on the anthemic on "The Asylum" with the chant, “Let us in, or let us out!” The theme smashes like brick through a stained glass window. "Dark Eyes" takes a traditional Russian folk song and turns it on its side with speakeasy trumpet playing and circus-church organ.

Que Lastima has the unprecedented feel of a traveling medicine show taken over by swing-time horns, with melodies so sticky you're humming them before a song reaches its all-too-soon conclusion. Paultergeist’s sin and swagger meets with Pino’s guitar and rumba rhythms. Many times on Tantrums, the trumpet signals fight! while the saxophone drips pure sex. The preacher’s got a rattlesnake in a burlap sack, and the menace of letting it loose keeps you transfixed, blood coursing with adrenaline — and then there’s vocalist Sophie Sputnik.

New Times caught up with Paultergeist, Pino, and Sputnik at Power Station Studio in Pompano Beach, where we talked Tempered Tantrums and broke down the singular Que Lastima dynamic.

New Times: Paultergeist, did you ever finish writing a song and think, “How the hell am I gonna fit the horns in there?”
Paultergeist: Not on this album, but definitely on the more bluesy stuff I’m currently writing. I really love old James Brown shit, where there’s a real powerful but simple and to-the-point horn line that kinda tags the song. I think, for the most part, mastery and power in art lies in what you take away from a song, not what you add to it. Getting the raw material, and just letting the most important shit speak through. So writing horn lines that are bluesy and clean and punch hard and have that funk are usually the most simple ones. Listen to the Meters, you know? This album’s songs really came together pretty easily, for me at least. Andrew is really good at coming up with those kinds of melodies.

Did you ever want to snatch the guitar or bass away from Andrew or Chris and say, “Here, let me do this…” or did you prefer to let their personal styles inform the song?
Paultergeist: I’m always open to ideas that I feel are better than my own. It’s really nice having Andrew write songs, too. I really try to kinda let the band be an organism on its own, and letting go of creative control is something that is a learning process. Ninety-five percent of the time they know exactly what I’m going for and hit the nail on the head.

Sputnik: When they were trying to figure out who was going to sing the "Poison" verses, I was sitting there spinning around in the office chair biting my tongue thinking, “MAN, I REALLY WANNA DO THAT.” But I didn’t say anything, because I didn’t want to intrude. But then Paul asked me if I could give it a shot and I did.

: You know, it’s funny. In the studio, a few of us tried singing — actually singing those verses, and realized we couldn’t do it for shit. I just yelled them all growly, which left no dynamic change in the chorus. So Sophie brought that Motown R&B soul vibe to it. She also came up with that idea to do a three-part harmony in the background, which was impressive to watch. She recorded a line, in one take, then went back and harmonized perfectly with it, in one take, and went back and harmonized with both of them perfectly, in one take. She has perfect pitch and memory. It’s unreal.

Pino: I didn’t officially join Que Lastima until after Paul had already recorded the guitar tracks for the first album, and there is nothing convenient about learning guitar parts written by a keyboard/accordion player. [Under his breath] Although, I have to admit that “banana hands” has a decent grip on more than one instrument. This time around, it came out quite naturally. I wrote guitar parts for most of the songs, and all was well in the jungle.

I sense more of a Latin feel to the songs on the new album. Is this Andrew’s influence on the writing of the songs?

Pino: It was probably the leftover arroz y frijoles I ate that morning…

Paultergeist: It absolutely is his influence. He’s Cuban. Like, 100 percent. And he definitely brings that flair to the band. I always just fall back to the blues or punk, but this fool really has that sound flowing through his veins. Did you also know he doesn’t use his middle finger when he solos? He does almost all that stuff with his index and ring finger only. Once in a blue moon, he’ll throw a pinky in there. But yeah, he’s very much Cuban. I think he wishes he was Japanese, though. But only if he could be Japanese in the '70s with a CB750 and a topless chick holding his katana riding on the back.

Andrew, it sounds like you were given a lot of space for guitar solos. Did you approach their tone differently than the rhythm tone?
Pino: Believe it or not, I recorded the whole album on an inflatable guitar. You know, the ones for the pool… the ones that white people use in cheesy photo shoots. Those things get great tone if you know how to dial ‘em in. I would say I usually focus more on not filling in all the space with guitar work. When someone tells you a long story with a hundred details, do you remember it all?

Sophie, is there a song on the album that you’re not singing, and you wish you were?
Sputnik: I honestly just want to sing all of it. And I do. In my car and my shower. "Dark Eyes," though – that’s my favorite song right now. I wanna sing it always. 

[Aside, to Paultergeist] I think I prefer it when Sophie or Andrew sings…
Paultergeist: I think you’ll find my band is 100 percent in agreement with you. That even goes for me talking as well. All my words will fall short to accurately describe how unbelievably exciting and refreshing and eye-opening it has been to work with Sophie Sputnik. That chick IS music. And I just wanna play tambourine, truthfully. Imagine how easy loading in and out of a venue would be? Also, do you kiss my mother with that mouth?

[Aside, to Andrew] I think I prefer it when Paul or Sophie sings…
Pino: I have to partially agree with you on that. Sophie is the only one on the album who can sing. Seriously, she’s great... I’m making Sophie T-shirts, and is it weird that I collect her hair? WHAT ELSE AM I SUPPOSED TO MAKE SOPHIE DOLLS OUT OF, HUH?!?!? Me and Paul just kinda open our mouths and hope the audience is tone deaf.

[Aside, to Sophie] I think I prefer it when Andrew or Paul sings…
Sputnik: It all depends, you know? Paul sings like an old mumbling homeless demon wizard zombie from New Orleans and Andrew’s like a snazzy, tap-dancing Skelton prince. Depends on my mood. Like, if I’m cranky, then I just want cake.

Que Lastima Record-Release Party
8 p.m. Saturday, May 21, at Propaganda Lake Worth, 6 S. J St., Lake Worth. Cover is $10 at the door and includes a copy of Tempered Tantrums. Visit Facebook.
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Christian Clarke
Contact: Christian Clarke