You know an album is going well when a train whistle blaring outside the recording studio fits in perfectly with a track.
That’s just how fortuitous things were for The Iguanas on “Plastic Silver 9 Volt Heart,” their debut Yep Roc LP (released on March 25). Recorded in the group’s hometown of New Orleans, the album has The Iguanas’ trademark mixture of roots-rock, R&B and Caribbean rhythms, plus the inspiring production of Justin Niebank (who worked on the band’s first two LPs).
The defining moment of their eight-day session may have been during the recording of “Sugar Cane,” when a train passed by on cue.
“It happened just as we recording it,” singer-guitarist Rod Hodges said recently. “We didn’t just stick that on there. It fits perfect; that’s why we left it. It was even in the right key.”
The band was using a temporary studio while another more-soundproof facility was being built in the same building.
“There were all kinds of noises – trains, motorcycles, people yelling,” Hodges said. “I’m sure those sounds are on the album, too, but I just haven’t noticed them yet.”
Hodges says he and band mates Rene Coman (bass, piano), Derek Huston (tenor sax), Doug Garrison (drums) and Joe Cabral (vocals, multiple instruments) love the cohesiveness of the album and are anxious to take it on the road.
Getting Niebank on board may have been the difference. He kept the sessions tight and simple, emphasizing a live feel.
“I originally called Justin just to see if he had any suggestions for someone who might be interested in producing us,” Hodges said. “I didn’t think he would do it himself; he’s been doing a lot of stuff, like the new Vince Gill record and trip-hop stuff in Europe. This was a low-budget record, so I didn’t think we’d be able to pay him what he’s worth.
“He just said, ‘Well, what about me?’ I said, ‘Sure, of course.’ It’s a project done more out of love and interest for him, so he wasn’t concerned about the money, which just made for a great working relationship. We were all doing it because we wanted to be there.”
Hodges has equally high praise for Yep Roc, which has wide distribution through Redeye USA.
“So far, they’ve been great,” he said. “They’re a small company, but they’re real enthusiastic about the record and they’re putting all their energy into it. The owners are actually on the phones, sending stuff out. I talk to them all the time.”
Sadly, the eclectic joy behind tracks such as the title track, “Yesterday,” “Flame On” and “I Dig You” isn’t likely to go beyond The Iguanas’ fan base and exposure from National Public Radio and college stations. Airplay, which helps fuel album sales, is hard to come by, and Hodges finds that frustrating.
“When you see how airplay helps, that gives you an idea of what it can do,” he said. “We do get some radio play in different towns and you can really see the difference.”
Regardless, Hodges says, it hasn’t diminished The Iguanas’ determination, even after 12 years together.
“Part of the secret of us staying together this long is that we still have a pretty good time when we get together,” he said. “We still like hanging out and laughing, even when we’re all in the van. We feel we’re still creating some good stuff, too. We had a great time making this record. Besides, no one’s thought of doing anything else than this.”
THE FIRST RECORD I EVER BOUGHT: “The one that sticks out in my mind – though it wasn’t the first one I bought – was something I stole, Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Smash Hits.’ It was one of those teenage larks, then I got in trouble for it and that cured me of that. My dad wanted to know where the brand-new record came from; he kind of knew and figured it out, and we left it at that. I got scared badly enough that I didn’t think it was a good idea to try it again. The first one I actually bought might have been the Allman Brothers Band album that has ‘Dreams’ on it.”
THE FIRST CONCERT I EVER WENT TO: “It was Van Morrison and the Isley Brothers at Fillmore West in San Francisco in 1972 or ’73. I grew up around San Francisco, about an hour north. My friends convinced me to hitchhike to San Francisco with them when I was 14. We didn’t care who was playing really. We just wanted to be there.”
THE WORST JOB I’VE EVER HAD: “It wasn’t so much because of the job; it was the horrible boss I had. I used to work in a book-binding shop. It was factory work and you’d have to take books stacked about 4 feet high off these rolling pallets. There’d be all these ladies lined up at these book sowing machines. You had to keep them supplied all day long. It was real physical work. I guess I never moved fast enough for my boss, so one day I just up and quit. I was never good with irrational authority.”
ORDER “PLASTIC SILVER 9 VOLT HEART”: Click here.
ON THE WEB: www.iguanas.com.
BWF (before we forget): The Iguanas album discography – “The Iguanas” (MCA, 1993); “Nuevo Boogaloo” (1994); “Super Ball” (Margaritaville/MCA, 1996); “Sugar Town” (Koch, 1999); “Plastic Silver 9 Volt Heart” (Yep Roc, 2003).
Upcoming tour dates – April 25 and 27 and May 3, New Orleans, Mid City Lanes Rock ‘n Bowl; April 26, Houston, Houston International Festival; April 27, New Orleans, New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, fairgrounds; May 2, New Orleans, The Dock.
May 15, Saratoga, Calif., Carriage House Theater; May 17, San Francisco, Great American Music Hall; May 25, Memphis, Memphis in May, Great Southern Food Festival, Tom Lee Park; June 4, New Orleans, Lafayette Square Park; June 12, Oshkosh, Wis., Waterfest 2003; June 15, Cincinnati, Rib America Festival; June 17, Pittsburgh, Three Rivers Arts Festival; June 22, Louisville, Ky., Rib America Festival; July 5, Milwaukee, Summerfest; July 11, New London, Conn., Sailfest; July 13, Lancaster, Pa., Long’s Park Amphitheater; July 18, Steamboat Springs, Colo., Strings in the Mountain, Strings Music Tent; July 19, Denver, LoDo Festival; Aug. 6, Norwich, N.Y., Chenango Blues Festival; Aug. 19, Hyannis, Mass., WOMR Music, Food and Wine Festival.
More updates: Joe Henry, Marcus King, Lily Kershaw, Poliça, Sarah Brightman, Jerry Leger, Simple Minds, Grateful Dead, etc