- - Thursday, June 15, 2017

Anyone who has ever seen a Los Straitjackets live show will notice a few things. First, there are the sharp suits and ties the band members all wear. Second is the stellar musicianship, with band playing surf rock-inspired instrumentals (think Dick Dale and The Ventures) with a precision and expertise not seen in most groups.

And then there are those Mexican wrestler masks to mask their true indemnities. OK, so maybe you notice the Mexican wrestler masks first, but that doesn’t take away from how awesome they are as players.

The masked musicians are coming to the capital this weekend, playing at The Hamilton in the District Friday and Rams Head Live in Annapolis, Maryland, Sunday to play cuts from their brilliant new CD, “What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and … “

I caught up with bass player Pete Curry — yes, he has a name, even behind the mask — to discuss the band’s history, working with inspiration Nick Lowe and why wearing Mexican wrestler masks on stage is more of a blessing than a curse.

Question: How did Los Straitjackets start?

Answer: A guy named Danny Amis used to go to Mexico just on vacation. He was collecting masks. He had these friends he was doing instrumental music with that included Eddie Angel and Jimmy Lester. They got a gig and wanted to do something unusual since they were playing exclusively instrumental music.

They decided to wear the masks. And now we have to wear them all the time (Laughs) We’re stuck with them.

Q: Is putting on the masks the toughest part of being in the band?

A: You know what, there’s really no tough part about it. It’s great. I feel like the luckiest guy in the world.

Q: You weren’t the original bass player?

A: But I’ve been in it for 18 years — a lot longer than the first guy. He was only in it for two and a half years.

Q: Why do you only play instrumentals, and has there ever been an attempt to find a singer?

A: The intent of the band was to pay homage to the stuff that made us all start playing. Stuff like Duane Eddy, Link Wray, The Ventures.

As to finding a singer? Nope, not really. But pretty much from the get-go we have backed up singers on occasion. Big Sandy sometimes. And a lot of other people. And then Nick Lowe.

Q: Why did you guys decide to record an album of Nick Lowe covers?

A: We did a couple Christmas tours with Nick Lowe in 2015 and 2016. We got to know him pretty well and got to know his songs pretty well. I’m not sure who came up with the idea that we should do a whole record of his songs, but it was fun to do. Really great.

The guy that produced Nick Lowe’s records for the last 20 years came over from England and produced this record. It was a cool thing to do.

Q: How easily did Nick Lowe’s songs translate to Los Straitjackets’ style of playing?

A: We took some chances. There is some kind of different stuff we hadn’t done before [but] most of it came fairly naturally. I thought it went smoothly. Sometimes vocal songs don’t make good instrumentals. We did try to pick the kind of song he had written that the melodies almost tell the story.

Q: When you worked with Nick Lowe, did he receive his own Mexican wrestler mask?

A: (Laughs) I never saw him put one on, but I’m sure he owns some. I know his son owns several of them. But I’ve never seen Nick don a mask. (Laughs) That would be something.

Q: Before the show, do you each just grab a mask from a box?

A: Oh, no, no. We each have our own characters. Mine is trademarked. I had a temporary one when I first joined, but within the first month or two, I had the one I have now. I’ve had about three dozen of them. I don’t have that many left now. They wear out. They fall apart.

Q: How sweaty does your mask get when playing live?

A: They’re more comfortable then they look. They are made of Lycra. It’s a fabric you can kind of see through. I wouldn’t call them comfortable, but they are not as uncomfortable as they look. (Laughs)

Q: What can people expect when they come to see you live in the D.C. area?

A: One thing different about this tour is we will be sharing the bill with Marshall Crenshaw. We are going to be backing him up and doing our own stuff too. The way we did it with Nick is he did a couple songs acoustically, then we came up and backed him up for a half-dozen. Then he left the stage and we did about a half-hour. Then he came back and we all played for another half-hour.

I don’t know if the percentages with Marshall are going to be exactly the same as we did with Nick. I imagine it will be something similar. It works pretty well because that way there is not enough time for people to get tired of us.

Q: You toured with Nick Lowe and two years later made an album of his music. Now touring with Marshall Crenshaw, could the next Los Straitjackets album be one of Crenshaw’s songs?

A: I guess there is a chance of that, but nobody has talked about it yet. I’ll make sure you get credit if we do.

Q: How will you spend your downtime when in D.C.?

A: That Spy Museum is pretty cool. We like to go to the Smithsonian if there is time.

Los Straitjackets play The Hamilton Friday. Tickets are $20 to $25 by going to Ticketfly.com. The band also plays at Rams Head Live in Annapolis, Maryland, Saturday. 

 


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