Arizona’s Katastro has been breaking down barriers and transcending genres since their debut in 2007. The group consists of Andy Chaves (vocals), Andrew Stravers (drums), Tanner Riccio (guitar) and Ryan Weddle (bass). This year marks the arrival of their first full-length studio album, as well as their first album under Law Records. ‘Strange Nights’ dropped on Apple Music September 30th and is a great display of the band’s evolution and progress.
The Pier was invited to drop in at Black Labs Studio in Tempe, Arizona to discuss the new album, Strange Nights, as well as their upcoming tour. They welcomed us with open arms and were very gracious with their time as we chatted for over thirty minutes. All four members of the band were present and we were able to get a close up look at the momentum and buzz they’ve steadily been generating.
The Pier: Katastro has continued to develop a very unique and distinct sound that fuses and transcends multiple genres. Can you guys explain how you’ve cemented a foothold in the reggae/rock, alternative/reggae scene without producing some of the stereotypical sounds and attributes of modern reggae?
Ryan: A lot of it has to do with the Dirty Heads. They would come into town and play The Clubhouse and back then, before they were getting a bunch of people out to their shows, they would ask us to open and we’d bring all of our friends. And they would ask us to do it again every time they came back. So we kind of got into that scene because we built our fan base off of their fan base. I don’t know how we kept doing Cali Roots and all these other reggae shows because we have almost zero reggae sound.
Tanner: They’re also just some of the biggest shows. Fans of that music go to huge festivals that cater just to that genre.
Andrew: Even if we look back to when our band started, we were part of that generation of the first bands to utilize the internet to talk to their fans or other bands. I remember when we were eighteen, we met Pacific Dub on Myspace and they started trading shows with us and bringing us out to California.
The Pier: The scene in general is constantly developing…
Andrew: It’s Exploding!
Ryan: It’s bigger than the metal scene out here. They’re the only shows that are really selling out. People on the radio are coming to Phoenix and they’re not selling out the Marquee, but Iration just did.
The Pier: It was a crazy packed house; I haven’t seen the Marquee rocking like that in ages. Speaking of Cali-Roots, I caught your guys’ set this past summer and you absolutely killed it.
Andrew: We had so much fun with that set. I remember that being really fun.
Ryan: It was the most fun we’ve had at Cali Roots.
Andrew: It’s such a fun festival. They’re so many familiar faces, you see so many people you know.
The Pier: Did you guys see what Eric Rachamany of Rebelution said about you guys? He was definitely speaking your praises and said you guys are a ‘must see’ live band.
Andrew: I think I saw one of the quotes about the live show.
Andrew: He’s a great dude. Me and a couple of us got a chance to talk to him after the show. The night we played at Cali Roots his other band, Unified Highway, played across the street at a small bar that we all went to.
The Pier: So this is your first full length studio album and you decided to release it with Pepper’s label, Law Records. Can you guys elaborate a little on how that relationship developed, how Pepper closed the deal to get you guys on their Label…
Andrew: I remember the exact moment. (Laughs) I seriously do. I remember at the end of the Dirty Heads/Pepper tour, (Pepper front-man) Kaleo Wassman grabbed me backstage at the last show and said we’re going to sign you. (Laughs) He grabbed me, picked me up and kissed me on the forehead about seven times and said, “Dude, we are going to record your album and sign you to our label and you’re going to come to Redondo Beach and record it at our studio.” I think we all thought that night that he’s probably drunk and going to forget about this tomorrow. And then (Pepper drummer) Yesod Williams started hitting us up and seven or eight months later they started talking about it again and we finally made plans to do it. We went to their studio for two weeks and tracked the album.
Ryan: We went out their one day to see what the city was like and we did one song there. I don’t even think we got to put any vocals on it. But yeah, just to see how it worked with everybody there and their guy, Mike Sutherland, he’s their main guy and he tours with them… He co-produced this album and was our engineer and so we got to kind of hang out with him and it was super comfortable. All those guys are so cool. We love those guys, they’re awesome.
Andrew: Kaleo has such a positive presence in the studio… It was actually kind of scary, we had two weeks blocked out to record the album and right when we got there, Andy got strep throat. So he was literally dying in a side studio room, like some other room in the studio… We put him in there, shut the door, turned the lights off and he slept for like three days straight. So we were like: “Alright, I guess we’ll start tracking the album!” He finally got better and started doing his vocals the second week.
Andrew: We were much more prepared this time. We tracked all of our own demos at home and we wrote as much as we could at home and recorded all of it so that we could kind of bring those demos into the studio and kind of know what we want. We usually go in not knowing what the hell we’re doing.
Ryan: Like ‘No Mud, No Lotus,’ we probably wrote about 90% of it in the studio, but we were there for a month.
The Pier: I know you have said before that you guys like to jam out in a live setting and let the songs develop naturally. But you guys also sometimes put the songs together more methodically, assembling them piece by piece. Sounds like you guys were pretty prepared on this one and you had everything laid out before going in there.
Ryan: Yeah, for the most part. The way that the songs are on the album, down to little extra sounds and shit, that’s all stuff on this record that we did before going in there. We did most of our post-production stuff before we even went in there. So we knew exactly how we wanted it to sound and how we wanted it to turn out. But obviously when you get in there, things change because they’re producing it too and they have some great ideas. But yeah, we were the most prepared and the songs were completely done before we went in there. So it was really nice. As opposed to the other ones where you have seven days to write seven songs and then have a month to record and we’re just like, “What?” It’s stressful. You sometimes have to settle with a song that you’re maybe not as stoked on just because it’s done.
The Pier: That’s awesome – To touch back on Kaleo. Law Records did a rad mini series featuring you guys talking about the different tracks on the album. Andy, you had mentioned that on the lead off track “Under My Tongue,” Kaleo helped and collaborated with you during the song-writing process for that individual track.
Andy: Yeah, it was cool. I think I had to write two versus and me and him just went in the other room for like 20 minutes, going back and forth. He came up with the chorus, too.
The Pier: Was there any talk of having Kaleo as a featured vocalist on the album?
Andy: Yeah, he threw down some vocals but he didn’t really like them so we kind of scratched them.
Andrew: If we had more time in the studio, that maybe would have happened, but I think we were so busy and he was trying to help us organize some songs.
Ryan: We only had two weeks, that’s shorter than we’ve ever had to make an album.
The Pier: That’s crazy you guys knocked that out in two weeks.
Ryan: Yeah and then when we got home, we did post-production with my friend Matt Keller and he added some keys and stuff over it.
Tanner: And I want to add that most of those two weeks we slept on the floor of the studio. (Laughs)
Andy: I slept at my Grandmas every night.
Andrew: Shout out to Colton Place from Pacific Dub…Big shout out to Colton Place. Colton housed me and Tanner a couple of nights during the recording process.
Ryan: I slept in the studio every night except the last three nights. I think it was like 12 days of sleeping there and waking up and recording and then sleeping there.
The Pier: Were you guys partying quite a bit?
Andrew: No, we stayed very responsible-like.
Tanner: We just ate fish tacos every day. (Laughs)
Andrew: Yesod would roll in about 2:00pm everyday with the biggest bags of fish tacos and a big smile and make everyone happy.
Tanner: The Hawaiians are such nice people.
The Pier: You guys are part of the Ohana now. You guys have been welcomed in. Speaking about the featuring and the collaboration stuff, this album marks the first time Katastro has had a guest feature on one of your albums. How was it working with Jared Watson of Dirty Heads on “Waste the Night”?
Andy: It was cool. We had that song and we were all talking about ‘man it would be cool’ cause we knew Dirty Heads weren’t on tour and Jared lives fairly close to the area. We were just thinking how cool it would be to get him on the second verse so I hit him up and he was down. He loved the song and came down a few days later and hung out with us for a few hours.
Ryan: He laid it down fast.
Andy: Yeah, it was dope. He had the second verse and he did the bridge too. It was cool. It’s not like he just went in there, did his verse and left. He hung out for a while and then we ended up playing some shows with him a couple months later.
The Pier: That’s awesome, man! I think that song is going to break through for you guys big time. It’s a bad-ass song.
Andrew: Thanks, it’s different for us too. We never really made a song with added production and stuff like that. We did put a lot of work into that song… That’s another thing about the album. I think compared to some of our previous ones, we set out to add more variety on this album. I think there’s a big range of different songs. Every song doesn’t have that same sound; you know? To me, that’s a cool representation of where our bands at today because we all like different kinds of music, and finding a way to fuse that all together can be really hard but I feel like we kind of did on this record and we’re pretty stoked on it.
The Pier: Absolutely! Do you guys have any collaborations planned in the future or anyone on the wish list so to speak that you would like to collaborate with musically or vocally?
Ryan: Not really, we don’t really have any plans or anything. “Waste the Night” just worked out so well for his voice and stuff.
Andy: We thought about Del the Funky Homosapien
Andy: Stick Figure’s manager is also the manager for Hieroglyphics, so we thought “Oh we can get to Del somehow.”
Ryan: Anyone from Hieroglyphics would be cool.
Andrew: We all grew up loving Hieroglyphics. Atmosphere, damn if Atmosphere would ever be down…
The Pier: You guys dropped a really cool music video for “Waste the Night.” Who directed that and how much creative input did you guys have?
Andy: There’s this dude named, Todd. I can’t pronounce his last name. He had reached out to me like ten years ago when I was rapping by myself and he was kind of doing videos around the local hip-hop scene over here but we never really linked up to do a video. I hit him up when I knew we were doing a video for the new album. That was the first time I had met him, but we always talked through like Facebook or whatever.
The Pier: How involved were you guys with the creative process?
Tanner: Not really at all… It was kind of his whole thing. We drove there to L.A., started shooting at like 7:00pm, for about four or five hours or so.
Andrew: And then we left at like 2:30 or 3:30 in the morning and drove straight back to Arizona. We drove there, shot the music video, and drove home.
Tanner: It’s really just him manipulating all the images…
Andy: He does a lot with the green screen… We didn’t really know what was going on. We were just behind the green screen.
Andrew: After shooting that video Andy now has a degree in acting. (laughs)
Andy: He made me act a lot. It was fun though. (laughs)
The Pier: I have to ask the Arizona question: Being from Arizona, how would you say that’s shaped your sound and style and are there any local artists, past or present, that you guys look up to or enjoy jamming with?
Andy: I think it shaped our sound because we’re in the reggae scene and all those bands are from California so they’re kind of beachier, you know? They fit that reggae vibe… but we don’t, so we kind of started doing our own thing, but got into that scene so I think it definitely shapes our sound not being from the beach and the only band that’s from Arizona in that scene… It’s cool, sometimes you see online, or whatever, “Represent AZ,” if one of those bands post about us.
Andrew: It’s honestly pretty amazing that we’re accepted in this (reggae-rock) scene, because especially our new album, there’s not one thing that’s reggae, at all. There’s not one guitar skank, there’s nothing that’s reggae, but kids think we’re a reggae band because we play with all these bands, which is fine. What I’m saying is it’s really cool that all these fans embrace us even though we’re different.
Ryan: I wouldn’t want to play in front of a different crowd, really…The people that come to these shows are all people that we would hang out with and it’s nice having that big of a scene that kind of lets us in, even though we’re different. I think it has to do with the hip-hop part of it because there’s a lot of fans that are fans of reggae that are also fans of hip-hop. You see how they always have the rappers at Cali-Roots. I think that aspect of it relates to those people and then kind of having some more mellow music to it, they can somehow tie it together…
The Pier: You guys are about to embark on your first headlining tour. Huge congrats on that… You guys have a new van all set up and the trailer ready to go. What would you say you guys have learned opening up for some of the biggest names in the game like Pepper, Dirty Heads, 311 and countless others, about putting on a great live show and putting the work in?
Ryan: From Pepper, we’ve learned a lot about how they deal with their fans. They are so good to their fans. They’ve been doing it for twenty years and they’re not jaded or they’re not like “fuck I have to go shake this guy’s hand.” They immediately go out there and shake every single person’s hand in that crowd. It’s crazy and so cool.
Andrew: I’ve literally seen Kaleo drop all of his bags on the ground and drop everything he’s doing to go shake hands with a fan and talk to them for a second. To me, that resonates and goes a really long way and I think that’s why they’re still where they are today; which is definitely cool.
Andy: We learned it’s important to go out there as an opening band and meet as much people as you can because then fans are like “I saw you up there” and they’re most likely going to come next time.
Ryan: And making relationships with the bands you’re opening up for too, because without that you don’t really have anything. That’s how we’ve gotten every tour we’ve been on because we’ve met them at different shows and became friends with them. That’s how we got tied in with Pepper and that’s how we got tied in with Dirty Heads. And now, since we know them, we were able to have them on our album and that’s opened up a whole new thing. Their fan group is so strong and now we’re seeing those people at our shows, too. We just did this radio thing where some of their fans are running our fan page now, too and they’re up all night voting for these types of things for us and it’s awesome. It’s really, really cool.
The Pier: That’s bad-ass. You guys have Mouse Powell opening up for you on your Headlining tour. For those who don’t know, who is Mouse Powell and what can fans expect from your opener?
Andrew: Mouse is a rad dude from Tempe, Arizona. He holds it down on the mic, super hard.
Andy: He’s dope… he’ll come onstage with us and perform. He’ll probably be doing that every night on this tour.
The Pier: Do you guys have some songs planned out for some live performance collabs?
Andy: Yeah, we do like a little cover mash-up and he comes and does a verse but it’s cool…
Ryan: He has so much energy… I watched him go out in like Albuquerque, NM before we went on and there was like nobody really in the room, yet. So he just took the mic and stood in the middle of it and made everybody circle around him and he got everybody that was in there that was standing with their arms crossed to get their hands up and start jumping up and down with Mouse because he’s really good at…
Tanner: He brings the energy…
Andrew: Also, he likes whiskey. Any fans that like him on our tour, you need to buy him a shot of whiskey at the bar. We want to make sure he’s passed out before we get onstage. (Laughs)
The Pier: Does Mouse Powell play with a live band?
Andrew: I think he’s just going solo on this run. He usually runs with a DJ. I think he’s actually going to cruise with us in the van and just do his solo thing before we play… It’s going to be cool, man; we’ve never done this. It’s going to be a big learning experience for us as a band, throwing our own show every night. We’re going to learn a lot.
The Pier: Any cities or venues you guys are especially excited about?
Andrew: Colorado always…Texas is fun too. I’m really excited to go back to Seattle because our last couple shows in Seattle have been awesome.
The Pier: I really appreciate you guys taking the time today!
Group: Yeah, thanks for coming out!