Thou hast seen nothing yet

Work hard, play hard: Despite a hectic schedule that includes talent booking and venue management, Jeff Santiago y Los Gato Negros found time to record Rolling Towards the Moon. From left: Jared White, Debrissa McKinney, Clayton Jones, Santiago and Brandon Burney. Photo by Duncan Chaboudy
Work hard, play hard: Despite a hectic schedule that includes talent booking and venue management, Jeff Santiago y Los Gato Negros found time to record Rolling Towards the Moon. From left: Jared White, Debrissa McKinney, Clayton Jones, Santiago and Brandon Burney. Photo by Duncan Chaboudy

Tapping time-management skills and Don Quixote, Los Gatos Negros releases a record

With all that local musician Jeff Santiago has going on in his life, it’s a minor miracle that his new album, Rolling Towards the Moon, exists.

On Saturday, April 12, the singer/guitarist and his indie rock band Los Gatos Negros celebrate that achievement with a record-release party at Asheville Music Hall. Joined by openers Andrew Scotchie & The River Rats and Empire Strikes Brass (who’ll both serve as the headliners’ horn section and close out the night), the show looks to be a highlight in an already busy week, one full of activity from different sides of the music industry.

One of six members of the Orange Peel management team, Santiago breaks off into different groups depending on what the club needs. Specifically, he and another manager review potential bookings with AC Entertainment and figure out what opportunities best fit The Peel and the local market. Other responsibilities include staffing, hiring new staff and managing the shows themselves, which also involves making sure the band gets paid. This work requires a minimum of 45-50 hours per week and much more time during the venue’s busy season.

“It’s my bread and butter,” Santiago says. “The day-to-day is really about The Peel for the most part. I’ve got a good management team that allows me to have something to do elsewhere. One helps the other and keeps those muscles sharp, and I’m able to approach the business from different angles.”

The chief secondary gig is his side booking business, Rozinante Music. Inspired by Don Quixote, one of Santiago’s favorite books, the name comes from the title conquistador’s horse. In that equine character (whose name — Rocinante — is a pun that deals with pushing the boundaries of ability) Santiago sees a fitting symbol of the area music scene. “It’s the vehicle where dreams meet reality,” he says. “It’s something I use toward helping bands start getting gigs and booking on a smaller local level and trying to develop them to get to the next level if possible.”

Booking acts for LAB and Aloft Hotel’s W xyz bar demands 15-20 hours a week, and Santiago tries to take one full office day a week for that business. The remaining time is spent with his wife, helping care for his elderly parents, catching up on sleep, planning the next iteration of DIG Fest (of which he’s a founding member) and slipping in writing when he can. “It’s superimportant for me to be creative, to write and perform music and be able to get together with other cool musicians to make that happen,” Santiago says. “It helps my inner sense of being and that happiness that I need in my life in general. It helps me connect to both sides.”

Since the Orange Peel shows can fall on any night of the week, Santiago has no set schedule and no pattern to his days off. Simply making time to practice is difficult enough, but producing work up to his high personal standards amid these myriad obstacles can often be a quixotic struggle. “More challenging is finding the time to get inspired,” Santiago says. “I can’t force a quality song out of a short window of time. I try to push through that, but it takes me a little while to shed my other responsibilities when I start playing.”

Los Gatos Negros helps in that regard. Band members Jason Daniello (guitar and vocals), Clayton Jones (drums), Jared White (bass) and Debrissa McKinney (vocals) push Santiago to focus. Alone, the prospect is tougher as he considers what he wants to write about, what he’s feeling and how he wants to express those thoughts through music. Santiago and his band amassed enough material for a demo at Candler’s Hillcreek Studio in 2012. But “once we tracked those songs and sat on them for a bit, we realized that we were really a live band,” Santiago says. As the songs continued to evolve, it became clear that they needed to re-record.

A perfectly timed call from Jessica Tomasin at Echo Mountain Recording Studio helped reverse those fortunes. The studio had some time for local artists, and Santiago jumped at the opportunity. Under the guidance of engineer/producer Julian Dreyer, with whom Santiago developed a close friendship, Los Gatos Negros embraced its on-stage identity and recorded the main tracks with a live-show feel. Derrick Johnson of Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band later laid down trombone and trumpet.

In fact, the recording process went so well that the band wants to get back in the studio as soon as possible. When it does, guitarist Brandon Burney will take over for Daniello, whose frequent travel for his Moog Music job makes regional touring difficult. Both guitarists will perform at the Asheville Music Hall release for Rolling Towards the Moon. That show serves as a torch-passing ceremony and one more milestone on the band’s distinct journey.

WHO: Jeff Santiago y Los Gatos Negros album release show
with Andrew Scotchie & The River Rats and Empire Strikes Brass
WHERE: Asheville Music Hall
WHEN: Saturday, April 12, at 9 p.m. $7/$10

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About Edwin Arnaudin
Edwin is a freelance writer and a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA) and the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS). He also contributes to the Asheville Citizen-Times and Ashvegas.

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