Asbury Park-based deSoL is an emerging septet comfortable with singing in English, Spanish and "Spanglish." The group melds crunching rock guitar with vivid Latin rhythms that not only prove bright and animated in the live setting but also have taken hold on commercial radio as well. The group’s first single "Karma" climbed to #4 on the Triple A radio chart, while deSoL’s version of "Little Drummer Boy" entered the Billboard AC chart at #6,. Meanwhile the band has been touring the country opening for such artists as Widespread Panic, Los Lonely Boys, Blues Traveler and Particle. Still, the band’s journey has been a gradual as lead singer Albie Monterrosa explains, “You get caught up in what you’re doing and you don’t think about it while it’s happening. The next thing you know your going to Mexico opening for R.E.M”
Monterrosa founded the band with the intent of “blending the music of his Latin American heritage with the Rock & Roll he loved growing up in New York City.” He drew on players who shared this sentiment, supplementing original songs with the music of Tito Rodriguez, Fania All Stars, Santana, Ruben Blades, Buena Vista Social Club, Tito Puente and Los Lobos. The line-up features three percussionists, with Jeremy Hoenig on drums, James Guerrero on congas and Ray Turull on timbales. Andy Letke adds piano and organ, Soto is on electric guitar, Chris Guice plays bass and Albie Monterrosa contributes lead vocals and acoustic guitar. In addition to last year’s self-titled CD, the group recently released a 5-song live EP, LiVE/ViVO.
Greg August sat down with deSoL to discuss the band’s development and future plans.
Greg August: What does your name mean?
Albie Monterossa (singer/guitar): deSoL means “of the sun.” It’s a literal translation.
GA: Can you talk about your many, varied influences?
Andy Letke: That’s an easy question but hard to answer. (Laughs)
AM: Chris is a Pop-head and comes from a lot of different back rounds.
Chris Guice (bass/vocals): Pop music like The Beatles, English, Punk, X.T.C; that sort of 80’s Pop bands. Growing up in the 70’s as a kid, listening to AM radio was so big for me. Hall and Oates, The Bee Gees, and that kind of very-produced radio.
AM: I grew up on The Stones, Elton John and Billie Joel. But my parents liked the music of Fania-All-Stars, Tito Rodriguez, Tito Puente, and Vicente Fernandez. So, what I did when I had the vision to put this band together was to mix cultures, the rock n’ roll and Spanish culture that we live in. Growing up in New York City in an area where these two worlds collide was very interesting. I’m an American first right? My parents are from El Salvador and I think that is the main thing in our music.
GA: Can you talk a little bit about your development in terms of getting out on the road?
AM: We started out just with big dreaming. We started out and we said to everyone in the band, “This is what we want to do and this is how far we want to take it.” We don’t want day jobs. We’re not doing this for a hobby. We want to take on the world and make our stand in it. From day one we were going to do it without anybody’s help. We got together and played every single little place we could play along the Jersey shore and New York City. We bought a van, we L.L.C’ed our company and created record label to put our CD out and sold ‘em. We pay taxes, which I fuckin hate doing. So, that’s how we did it. We said we were going to do this and we confessed it to the world.
GA: So everyone was in the same boat from the beginning?
AM: Every single body. Well, there have been some changes in the band, people that have fallen aside because they didn’t want to confess it. They couldn’t handle the road.
AL: I think a lot of bands get together and aren’t fully committed to the project. For some reason when we first got together the nucleus was real strong. We understood this concept of deSoL Del and everyone jumped in really hardcore right off the bat. Where as I seen other bands try to get together and there are guys who have day jobs they don’t really want to give up. We all had to quit our jobs and dedicate ourselves to it and we are fortunate that everybody that was involved with this project really sunk their teeth into it.
AM: We’re all musically monogamous. (Laughs)
GA: Even though the seven of you are musically monogamous, who comes to mind when thinking in terms of potential collaborators down the road?
CG: David Byrne from the Talking Heads! After David was done with The Talking Heads he really embraced the Latino music and made a lot of World Beat and Latin rhythms.
AM: I’d like to work with Rick Rubin because he did the whole Run DMC thing. When I was coming up in Queens, he was involved with Russell Simmons. These guys were from my neighborhood and they built something like what we did, something out of nothing. Chris was talking about the Bee Gees, I’d love to work with Robin and Barry Gibb because I think they’re great songwriters.
It’s funny. Last year me and Soto went to dinner with Jackie “The Joke Man” from the Howard Stern show. While we were at dinner Jackie said,” Hey, why don’t we go see my friend Les Paul play?” Of course! Soto had his Les Paul in the car and Jackie said he would try setting it up where something would go down on stage between Les Paul and Soto. We really weren’t sure what would happen. Now let me tell you, we’ve played many different venues with thousands of people, but when Les Paul called Soto up, he didn’t want to move! He fuckin froze! (Laughs). I never seen this guy more scared in my life! So, he’s up there playing with Les Paul and he is just staring at him. Soto was up there with his long hair and looking rugged, ya know? They jammed for a few and it was so cool! I think he was impressed.
CG: The one thing that is most obvious that hasn’t been mentioned of course is Carlos Santana. He’s the guy that really invented Rock n’ Roll with a Latin soul. (Laughs). In terms of musicians he would be a natural fit for what we do. He’s a big hero of ours; somebody that we’ve modeled our band on.
AM: The Wailers have been very open to be brought in on a project. The Dirty Dozen Brass Band are friends of ours. I’d like to work with them.. We were in Baltimore last month, and there were maybe fifty to eighty people in the crowd, very small. Not a lot of people came out. So, we’re jamming out and all of a sudden I see E.T. (Efrem Towns of Dirty Dozen) in front of the stage dancing the music. We invited him on stage and blew that horn all night with us. Man, it was a great time.
GA: Tell me about your set lists. What role does improvisation play in the song selection and in the music itself?
AM: We don’t like to leave too much in the air. We work on the songs and the jams so that 90% of what you hear is set up. We leave that 10% for when the spirit is right. I’ll give J-Ho (drums) that special look and then God knows what’s going to happen.
JH: Improvisation is like jumping into deep water. The Grateful Dead did that night after night. I know that because I’m from San Francisco and I’ve been to like fifty Dead shows. Some nights were magical and other weren’t. We recognize that and sort of leave improvisation to when the time is right. What’s cool about De Sol is the pop element. We writes a song that are three and half minutes long and when we play live, it all depends on the vibe.
GA: What do you guys do when you’re not on the road?
AM: We write songs and take care of our business. Andy is in charge of so much. He’s in charge of finances, video and production, that kind of stuff. We’re all in charge of writing and arranging songs. There are so many things to do; everyone has a job in the band.
AL: We’ve toured for the past two years and the friends that we’ve made on the road we keep in contact with. We’re going back out West again in next couple months. We’re setting up connections that we’ve made that can help us out in the future, which they always do.
AM: I don’t think that we ever take a break and I really don’t think you’re allowed. There is someone always waiting to get into your spot. We’ve come this far, starting a band in Asbury Park and we’re not huge and we want to be bigger than we are. Lots of bands think it’s about overnight success, but it really is a ten year over night success. We never get a time to rest. Some of us have families. I have kids. That’s my favorite time, with my kids. At the same time we have to work and make money to bring into the household.
CG: We’re always doing some kind of press, promo, working on the website. Anything that’s related to the band, someone is working on it. So, like tonight, in many ways when we have a gig but I feel like it’s a night off. It’s fun to hang out, drink beers and play our music on stage. I’m actually relaxing tonight! Tomorrow I have to work for this group. I have to work on the website, make phone calls, and we have to travel because we have a gig. So when we’re not playing shows we’re really working for the band.
GA: What’s next for the band after your current tour ends [which it did at the end of August]?
AM: Our focus right now is writing songs. We just got out of our record deal so we’re doing a lot of things ourselves. We’ve got a live CD and DVD. We’re going down to the dessert in Texas, right on the Mexican border to record a new studio record. We were there in January and Andy and Chris started a documentary down there. Our purpose was, because the band is on the road for such a long time, that we decided we needed to get together as buddies and just to keep everything in perspective. Now we’re going back in September/October. Andy will finish the documentary. Then we’re shopping for a new label.