We first heard of Salt Petal during their performance at Make Music Pasadena. I was impressed by the colorful instruments and sounds (including trumpet and accordion), which the group describes as “tropical surf rock.” The mixture of genres and styles, as well as the native origins of the band members works well to mirror the cultural diversity of Los Angeles. And the band is a hit with audiences. The group has played such festivals as SXSW, Los Angeles Times’ Festival of Books and most recently, Make Music Pasadena.
We chat with Rodrigo González (lead/rhythm guitar), Autumn Harrison (voice, accordion, keys), and Hiroo Nakano (drums, percussion) about their sophomore album Sea Monster and upcoming shows.
[By Monica Harris, Photo by Danay Catalan]
Salt Petal is a group that offers a rich mixture of sounds that blend together beautifully. Lead vocalist Autumn Harrison is originally from San Francisco. She and Rodrigo Gonzalez, originally from Argentina, had been playing music together in various cover bands before deciding to write original songs and forming Salt Petal “to play for fun in cafes around Los Angeles,” she says. “We realized we wanted to make it electric and add more sounds and it kept expanding from there. We’ve been fortunate to have found talented musician friends who have wanted to join the project over the years.”
Drummer Hiroo Nakano, originally from Japan, met the group through mutual friends — Salt Petal’s engineer/bassist Shawn Moore and 9-string guitarist Kurt Szul. Rounding up the group is Dayna Richards on trumpet, adding a powerful flair to the combined sound.
And just what is a salt petal exactly? “We were thinking about names that could represent music coming from different genres and languages,” explains Autumn. “Rodrigo remembered a song by the Argentine musician Fito Paez that talked of a lost love and life in the city. We liked the way the words sounded to together and that it seemed like part of a strange plant that could grow in the desert or float around on the ocean. Also, if you let a tear dry on a flat surface, it leaves a thin, crystalized oval. If you could pick that up, it would be a salt petal!”
I love the sound of the accordion and had to ask Autumn how she took up this rare instrument. “I always liked the sound too,” she says. “I remember trying to pick out songs that had bits of accordion in them; there are actually a lot of pop songs that have it in the background without you realizing it. I always wanted to try playing one, but didn’t have one until about 5 years ago when I was given one as a gift.”
How heavy is it? “It’s pretty heavy… Playing it’s kind of like going to the gym! A really fun, loud, old-timey gym.”
As for songwriting, Rodrigo explains that he and Autumn work on the structure of the songs and lyrics, create a vision of what they want to hear and then they “jam the ideas with the rest of the guys, which they do an amazing job,” he says.
Autumn adds: “Rodrigo and I work through a bunch of ideas and try to get them as ready as possible and then we ask Hiroo to try some different beats and he comes up with things that really add character to the songs. All the great bass lines were written by Jesse Herrera and Kellen Harrison (my brother).”
The group looks like they are having so much fun on stage but claim they do not possess any special secrets on working together and getting along so well. “We love music and we believe in what we do,” Rodrigo says. “Our songs are parts of ourselves because we pour all our feelings into the songs and we barely stand each other but when it comes to music it is like magic happening, we put all our differences aside.”
“Maybe one secret would be that we don’t ALWAYS get along,” says Autumn. “But we try to listen to each other and let the best idea lead the way. And like Rodrigo said, once you find an amazing piece that works, it does feel like you walked into a spell or something magical.”
Hiroo adds: “We are like sisters and brothers from different countries. There are many differences among us. But I think when we focus on the particular songs to write or shows to perform, the differences become strength. We also have a lot of laughing in the studio.”
Rodrigo says they are busy working on new songs as well as video ideas for their current album Sea Monster. “To us, Sea Monster is a rad album because we had the chance to explore new sounds in the studio and combine rhythms that we grew up listening to,” he says.
“We just released Sea Monster and we’re really excited about the whole album,” says Autumn. “It feels very alive for us. It’s alive…! We worked with Raymond Richards and Mark Chalecki on it. There are some new songlings in the works too…We’re hoping to release some new videos in the upcoming months. We’re also planning to do some touring soon.”
“I’m proud of the album,” Hiroo says. “Some songs surprised us because we improvised new parts in the recording studio. We were in the moment. The next album will be even better!”
And what can we expect at a Salt Petal live performance?
“This is a tough question, I don’t know,” says Rodrigo. “We guarantee high energy and a naked dancing buffalo. Anything can happen in our shows, we flow with the moment.”
Did I hear that right? A naked dancing buffalo? “Actually, we really are working on a herd of buffalo,” says Autumn, and “Flying saucers and a herd of wild mustangs!” she adds.
Sounds like we will definitely have to make it to the next Salt Petal show. ~
7/16 The Townhouse, Venice, CA
7/23 The Satellite, Los Angeles
8/17 KCRW’s Chinatown Summer Nights, Downtown Los Angeles
8/18 Echo Park Rising