Monday, December 28, 2009

Coati Mundi interview

This fall, I went out west to have some doughnuts and a Styrofoam cup of Orange Bang and hang with Andy Hernandez, a/k/a Coati Mundi, the man who had a hand in such bands as Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band and Kid Creole and the Coconuts. After bowing out of the biz for twenty plus years, he's back, dropping a fun single earlier this year and prepping an album for release on Rong Music early next year. I wrote a feature on the man entitled "It Came From Spanish Harlem." Here are a few more bon mots:

On his performance at PS1:
It was for an older crowd that knows my history. It’s performance art. In another age, the 40s-60s, it was all part of the performance: singing, dancing, music. Louis Jordan and James Brown and all that, you had the music, but it was a package. The music is together, then you can do the other stuff. It doesn’t become a substitute, it adds to it. That’s how it was with Kid Creole, but before us, it was LJ, JB, all these people.

Back to that show at PS1, it was clubgoer kinds of kids. What I told my posse is we’re gonna ignore the audience, we’re just gonna be another piece in the museum. Like people watch art. Sculptures don’t change because people looking at it. Either they like it or they don’t. At least, they’ll appreciate it. At least you put something forth.

One thing about me, I was always theatrical. If you look at those guys from the 40s, all those great musicians had a lot of theater to them. We were part of that, Kid Creole and the Coconuts, we kept that in. I was always a ham, which came from me just trying to entertain my aunts and uncles. I could never just do something simple. I could never just play the instrument. I could never keep still. If I played a note, I had to dance to that note, I had to make a face. I couldn’t just play the music. I wanted to show off.

Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band:
I was in my early 20s. I was coming out of being a social worker, up in Spanish Harlem, 122nd St. and that whole area. I don’t remember us thinking of vision. We just came together and everybody was into something. Stony and August, the brothers, they were just into a certain style. I don’t remember any of us saying “This is the vision.” It just came together.

We came together as a friend said these guys were looking for a piano player. My main instrument was vibes. Back in the day, few bands were using vibes. My guy was Cal Tjader, latin-jazz, one of my main influences. Cal Tjader was just a classic player. Lionel Hampton is the number one guy. Milt Jackson, and then Cal Tjader. With the piano, I couldn’t get work playing vibes. In order to keep getting gigs, I taught myself piano.

These guys were starting Savannah Band. And I auditioned with a lot of piano players, all better than me, but I had a sense of humor with it. I was willing to do anything on piano, not just stick with the basics. And they were dressed in these antique 1940s clothes they picked up in thrift shops and I dug it. I was with the program and I played enough piano to interpret their music and get it out there. I didn’t have to be McCoy Tyner. We were just kids in our 20s, from the Bronx in Spanish Harlem.

We became a very successful band. We were living high off the hog or whatever the phrase was. Like a lot of successful rock bands, we went bankrupt. August and then decided to do projects together. So I came along as his musical director and arranger and formed Kid Creole and the Coconuts. It was sad at the end, we were still in our twenties and had a taste of success. It was tough psychologically. How can you go back to square one and start all over again? In my case, my sister supported me and took me in and got me back on track, got me out of my depression.

Kid Creole & the Coconuts never having US success:
We never felt that successful. If you can’t make it in your hometown…we would go on tour: France and Japan and play in front of thousands and thousands of people and then come back to my little apartment in Spanish Harlem and it was like a dream. You’d come back and there’s nothing. What is so difficult about it that we can’t get over in the US. We had a good product and we were entertaining. The music wasn’t ‘pop’ Top 40, but it wasn’t that inaccessible. We weren’t from Mars! It was tough and it was tiring. Eventually it got to me after ten years. It was too much.

Did you and August part amicably?

Not at the beginning. No we didn’t. We’re okay now. When you’re younger, you’re more energetic on not liking somebody. The spiritual part of life doesn’t kick in that soon. We’re cool now, but not back then. That’s the way it happens.

On acting:
I had been doing acting on and off in New York and LA. It came during the band. What happened was…I never planned any of it, the band, the acting. So with the acting thing…The producer for Miami Vice saw me playing in Savannah Band and saw how animated I was. He wanted me in Easy Money with Rodney Dangerfield, but I was going off on tour. So he got this Miami Vice thing and he told the casting person to get a hold of me. My first professional thing was Miami Vice, an episode with Bruce Willis. I played a part of a gun-running mob and Bruce Willis was my boss. It was a lot of fun. I had a great time. I wound up doing a few episodes as different characters. They always called me “The Ghost” because they would kill me off and bring me back as another character. That’s how I got into it. I came out to LA because I had family out here and NYC was getting expensive to live in. It was colder. I just got to change it up. I go to NYC cuz it’s still my town.

Any other acting parts?

Who’s That Girl? was the most popular acting thing. Since then, I’ve done little bits and pieces for a lot of different things. Independent films, We Own the Night with Joaquin Phoenix. Choreography for an episode of Heroes.

The new record, Coati Mundi is Dancing for the Cabama Code in the Land of Boo-Hoo:
This new record was really an accident. One of my best friend’s was a singer and his niece married my co-producer, E-Love. He was a big fan of Savannah Band and Kid Creole. He wanted to write with me. I wasn’t really interested in doing a record, but we got together on our spare time. It took a few years, but we were just getting together and doing songs. A guy named Doug Lee was a friend of Johnny’s and he passed it along to Rong.

It’s cool these cats were into my style. That was intriguing for me, cuz I didn’t think they’d be into it. I was into dance stuff, but not into computer-laden, without any personality, stuff. I would go to the clubs but after awhile it became linear to me, it lacked personality and I wouldn’t know one artist from the next. It didn’t mean anything. It was great productions, great sounds, great beats, but…so I sez to E, I want to put my personality into it. I want to attach my personality, my signature to this album. I’m gonna sing what I want to sing, even if it’s stupid things about a dog. No one is telling me what I’m gonna do. And he was with the program. We’ll see how it works out.

I’m just going with the flow. I try to keep it in balance. If this record never came out, I could care less. I’m an old cat. I’ve had a lot of records out. I’m not a twenty-year-old with my tongue hanging out. If it ain’t right, I couldn’t care less. I’m a bit ornery, old age does that to you. In my 20s, I’d give up my ass a lot. As I get older, the less of a whore I become. In a way, it feels great. I hate to put it this way, but I don’t give a fuck.