Denver’s Tarantella cinematically blends Old-West, Argentina, italy and Colorado
By Jeffrey V. Smith
Denver’s distinctive and edgy cow-town sound has emerged in more than a few of its seditious — and successful — underground bands in recent years. Bands like Slim Cessna’s Auto Club, Maraca 5-0, 16 Horsepower and its side-projects Woven Hand and Lilium, have all helped to define Denver’s sound and put the region on the nation’s musical radar. Now the sound has found its way into the music of Tarantella, a band that not only embraces and expands musical facets of its predecessors, it also includes a few of their members.
Tarantella’s sound, while incorporating hints of the region’s novel approach to traditional American music, is much more of an eclectic melting-pot of styles, moods and emotions than its contemporaries. The band’s roots and unique influences lie with lead singer and songwriter Kal Cahoone, who grew up in California and Colorado with an Italian grandmother and has lived in Argentina, where Calhoone married a well-known instrumentalist and composer doing “wild-West music” in Buenos Aires. She also teaches Spanish.
Anyone who has heard Cahoone’s extraordinary, mesmerizing vocal work would find it difficult to believe she didn’t start singing until her late twenties. “I’ve always loved singing. I just didn’t have the guts to do anything,” she recently told The Marquee. Thanks to a night out at a karaoke bar, that all changed. Before she started to sing in public, however, she spent six months in Chile living on an ocean-side hill in complete silence. “No friends and no phone, no radio and no TV, no computer, no nothing. I literally found my voice. I started writing lyrics and poems and singing. It completely changed my life,” Cahoone said.
While the musician claims the band has never had much of a plan to create a certain sound or type of music, her influences come through nevertheless. “Obviously, coming from where I did, there are influences from the Latin world,” she said. “I’m into boleros, ballads and romantic music in a sense, but I’m also into country and folklore.” Upon retuning to Colorado from South America, Cahoone had the idea to combine all of her influences, as well as try to capture the “sound that might come from this place,” despite having “no idea what the sound of Colorado might be.”
Her attempt has yielded unique, surprisingly cinematic music that playfully draws a line between a hypnotizing, Latin sound and the soundtrack to an old, dusty Western, then crosses it repeatedly. Add in surreal, dramatic, emotive vocals not too unlike Siouxsie and the Banshees’s, and you get Tarantella. At least something reasonably close, considering the band ultimately falls into the unclassifiable category.
If it helps to understand, the name refers to a dance characterized by the rapid whirling of couples, as well as taking some of the name of the tarantula, whose bite was allegedly cured only by frenetic dancing.
The band that would ultimately assist Cahoone with this musical stew began to manifest at the turn of the Millennium when she took a tape to John Rumley after a gig with his band Slim Cessna’s Auto Club. At the time, she had just returned from Argentina. “I didn’t know him at all,” the Slim Cessna’s fan said. “ I just went up to him, gave him a tape and said if you like it, give me a call. I actually had no idea why I wanted to work with him.” Rumley ended up falling in love with the music and saw an opportunity to explore a musical side that hadn’t been available to him in his main gig.
Although the group started as a duo with Cahoone and Rumley, the two soon decided to add violin player Kelly O’Dea after seeing her play with Maraca 5-0. The band grew again when bass fiddle player Dan Jon Grandbois and drummer Ordy Garrison, Rumley’s band mates from Slim Cessna’s, were added. Garrison has since left the band and been replaced by Chad Johnson. Rounding out the act as it appears on its upcoming release, is guitarist and revered recording engineer ‘Big Bad Bob’ Ferbrache, owner of Denver’s Absinthe Studios. “He was into the music, Cahoone said of the former 16 Horsepower member. Despite being on maternity leave from music this past year, Cahoone is ready to once again get her band on stage and start performing and celebrating the band’s latest self-titled release.
“There are a lot of songs that we’ve been working on for a while, so it’s a pretty big deal for it finally to come out,” Cahoone said. The self-titled disc is being released on former Dead Kennedy’s front-man Jello Biafra’s Alternative Tentacles Records, thanks to the band’s connections with label-mate Slim Cessna’s Auto Club. No matter the success of the CD, tour plans are up in the air. Cahoone has never aspired to tour and isn’t sure she’s ready to change her mind. “I’m not into seeing the world on a tour bus. I don’t want to go to towns for just one day. It would really kill my soul to do that,” she said. The musician did say she’d be into touring the U.S. sometime. “It would depend. If I could bring my baby, maybe,” she said.
Tarantella :: CD Release party :: with Munly and the Lee Lewis Harlots :: Bender’s Tavern :: Nov. 4
Spectate if you Gravitate:
• Siouxsie and the Banshees
• Slim Cessna’s Auto Club
• 16 Horsepower