Grupo Fantasma is back with their fifth studio album, Problemas, produced by Steve Berlin(Los Lobos, Los Super Seven) and set for release on October 30, 2015 on Blue Corn Music. This is the band’s first studio album since their GRAMMY award-winning 2010 release El Existential.
With all the chatter of the Austin music scene changing too fast and subject to gentrification, one band that keeps standing the test of time and constantly evolving is Grupo Fantasma. This year marks the band’s 15th anniversary since they played their first show as Grupo Fantasma at the Empanada Parlor in Austin.
Grupo Fantasma formed in 2000 and is comprised of musicians with Latin American and Texan backgrounds. Praised as one of the most important independent acts in the Latin genre, they are widely known for their energetic live shows, which NPR declares “seamless…whenever and wherever they’re on stage.” The 10-piece orchestra has received praise from The Wall Street Journal, Billboard, Huffington Post, and by USA Today, calling the band “Latin-funk masters.” The band has also seen a wide array of film and TV placements including AMC’sBreaking Bad, the John Sayles’ film Casa de los Babys, Showtime’s hit series Weeds, ABC’s Ugly Betty, NBC’s Law & Order and many others. They have served as the backing band on several occasions for the legendary Prince (ALMA Awards on ABC, Golden Globes, CBS Super Bowl Bash), Fania All–Stars pianist Larry Harlow, Sheila–E, GZA of Wu–Tang Clan and indie rock standouts Spoon.
For the first time ever, Grupo Fantasma decided not to self-produce their upcoming album. As bassist Greg González puts it, “We thought a new process would help us find a unique voice and create a story. It would’ve been easier and cheaper to record everything ourselves and reuse the same techniques which successfully garnered us a GRAMMY and two nominations for successive albums (Sonidos Gold and El Existential) but the desire was to push ourselves in new directions.” After coming up with a list of people they admired, they went with Steve Berlin someone they knew would be a well-seasoned, sympathetic producer (as a horn and keyboard player with wide-ranging musical taste) who genuinely enjoyed the band’s oveur and was eager to work with them.
Berlin’s intent was to streamline the music as much as possible, to strip out the superfluous or busy elements so that the core of the band’s songwriting and unique approach would stand out, be accessible and clear. According to González, Berlin wanted Fantasma to make music that was uniquely theirs, to give voice to their experiences and influences, yet also not fall into being a merely Latin, Texas, or ‘World Music’ album that could easily be pigeonholed or written off as a calculated attempt at crossover.
This goal has been achieved, many times over. Grupo Fantasma walk a fine line that transcends easy classification, blending international flavors from both far and wide. The sound is contemporary and edgy while also drawing on Latin roots music at its core. Interestingly, Problemas manages to sound both familiar (integrating elements of heavy metal, indie rock, funk, hip-hop, jazz) and foreign (African, Eastern European, gypsy, South American, Cuban, Tex-Mex) at the same time, bearing repeated listens that slowly reveal nuances and deeper levels the more you hear it.
Jose Galeano (timbales, vocals)
Kino Esparza (vocals, hand percussion)
Beto Martinez (guitar)
Greg Gonzalez (bass)
John Speice (drums)
Matthew “Sweet Lou” Holmes (congas)
Gilbert Elorreaga (trumpet)
Josh Levy (baritone saxophone)
Mark “Speedy” Gonzales (trombone)
09/19 @ Lonestar Pavillion at Sunset Station – San Antonio, TX
09/27 @ Texas Reds Festival – Bryan, TX
10/24 @ Denton Day of the Dead – Denton, TX
10/30 @ Mohawk – Austin, TX
11/22 @ Whatever Fest – Houston, TX
*More dates announced soon