Band: “Rhythm for the Rivers” fundraiser
Date: Saturday, Aug. 26, noon
Venue: Grand Magnolia Ballroom, 3604 Magnolia St. (Pascagoula), www.grandmagnolia.com
Tickets: $25, available through www.nature.org
For those wanting to avoid the masses at Mobile’s downtown beer fest, the Nature Conservancy will be holding its “Rhythm for the Rivers” event just up the road in Pascagoula. Proceeds of this event will go to “support conservation of Mississippi’s critical natural waterways.” This philanthropic organization has gathered sounds from along the Gulf Coast, including Molly Thomas & the Rare Birds, Cary Hudson, Matt Hoggatt and Lynn Drury.
The Iguanas from New Orleans will headline the event. Since the early ‘90s, these New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival regulars have released some of the most exotic sounds to come out of the Big Easy. The group mingles Mexican cumbia and Colombian sounds with rock ’n’ roll. Bassist René Coman provided Lagniappe with the secrets to both the band’s longevity and its unique style.
Stephen Centanni: The Iguanas have been doing their thing for 20 years now. How does it feel to see this thing last as long as it has?
René Coman: It feels great! When you have the kind of background that we have together, there’s a level of telepathy that you can’t get in anything else in life. Even if you run into adversity, it’s even more apparent because you can see the organism of the four guys move around whatever the obstacle it. It’s intriguing as an audience member, and it’s intriguing as a participant. It feels really good. One of the most fun things that you can do in life is to have a group of people who you know so intimately and have such confidence in to be able to operate with.
Centanni: I always love coming across New Orleans bands that don’t fit the musical stereotype for the city. There seems to be a lot coming out of there right now, and it was kind of that way when you guys were gaining popularity. What was it like bringing your sound to the New Orleans scene back in the early ‘90s?
Coman: Yes, for sure, we were playing Mexican and Colombian music and using the kind of very regular band approach. A lot bands in New Orleans don’t have a name or maybe even a leader. It’s all different guys all the time. Right from the jump, the idea of The Iguanas was that we would be a solid unit. If somebody couldn’t make the job, then we wouldn’t take the job. We had an approach that was outside the box in New Orleans. That was at a time that you had a few established bands that had been playing for a while, like The Radiators. There weren’t as many clubs. Frenchman Street was in its pre-infancy. It was definitely a fun time to see the band catch on and grow like it did and have people recognize us. It was a fantastic thing.
Centanni: You were the first band to be signed to Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville label. How did you and Jimmy cross paths?
Coman: Jimmy was good friends with Clint Davis, who is the originator of the Jazz Festival. They’ve known each other since the very early days of Jimmy playing around town. He called up Clint and said, “Hey, I’m starting this label. Is there anybody that I should check out down there?” [Clint] mentioned us. He told him, “Go see The Iguanas. They play every Sunday night at the Maple Leaf.”
We’re playing our regular Sunday night gig, and Jimmy comes in and talks to us on the break. He wanted to have lunch the next day. He laid it all out at once. He said he was interested in possibly signing us, and he offered us an opening spot on a winter tour that he was doing. So, we did that and did some recording with him down in Key West. He knew we were cool on stage, but he wanted to see us in the studio. That all went good, and it just went from there. We opened for him on a few summer tours and put out three records on his label. It was well-timed.
The music business is interesting. You go through different phases of it. Different people are operating it, and different trends are going on. The real goal is longevity. It’s like you’re going through the jungle, and at the end of the pendulous swing of one vine, you have to reach out and find another vine.
That was a fun one. It was fun to do all those dates. We had that full ‘90s boom of CDs coming out and a lot of money in the record biz. It was an opportunity to get swept up into that part of the business, which is good, because that part of the business kinda doesn’t exist anymore. It was nice to have done it while it was there.
Centanni: It’s definitely a different game now. With that said, what’s it like for The Iguanas these days?
Coman: Well, let’s see. There were a lot more people involved, and I would say a higher degree of stress in that there’s a lot more things proposed and decisions that had to be made. There were more people on the road like managers negotiating your way through. If you wanted take out a bus, you had to work out how you’re gonna make it work.
Personally, I’d say it was more amped up or nuts. So, it definitely feels like a calmer time now, which I’m perfectly fine with.
Centanni: Your last release was 2014’s “Juarez.” Your band has always been consistent with the Latin influences, but there seems to be more of a garage rock edge to this one. How did that element creep into your sound?
Coman: I think it was just a function of who we did it with and where we did it and how it was done. Those first records on Margaritaville were very meticulously pored over and done in a way that, really, the recording budgets don’t allow nowadays. Those were cool to make, and those records sound great.
Again, it’s that thing of moving through different phases of the business and your career and what you’ve done before. You find yourself in circumstances that kind of allow for one aspect to flower. So, you can fight that and say, “Well, I wanna do something that I did before.” Even though the circumstances are totally different, you can just go, “Okay, this is cool, and we’ll do something cool in this context.” Hopefully it resonates with people.
I’m happy with the record, and other people have said that. Yeah, I think it’s the level of cohesion and confidence that a band gets if they don’t fall apart. Discussions don’t have to happen. It all happens on the instinctual level.
Centanni: The Iguanas have always stayed busy with albums, and it’s about time for a new one. Are you guys working on anything?
Coman: Yeah! We haven’t gone back into the studio. We’re still trying to keep our eyes out for the next situation and place to record, and circumstances to record under, and writing and adding stuff to our repertoire. That way, when the opportunity arises, our powder is dry and ready to fire.