This is the New South in song, an increasingly diverse society reflected in the music and makeup of Atlanta band Mandorico. The eight-piece group tours nonstop (close to 250 dates a year), hell-bent on sharing the musical melange heard on its first full-length CD, the self-explanatory collection of horn-laced funk and Latin sounds called afrocubanhiphopcaribbeanrock [A-Tone Music, 2000].
“We’re constantly traveling, constantly playing live,” says band founder and front man Jesse Lauricella. “That’s what we’ve done for the entire tenure of the band. The band’s been through a lot of lineup changes in four years, finding people that were content being on the road and being broke, that kind of stuff. It took a while to find folks that were willing to stick it out and see what happens.”
Before launching starting Mandorico, Lauricella performed with the Ghost Daddies, an Atlanta-based ska band, for several years. Then the singer moved to Mexico in the mid-1990s to study at the University of Guadalajara. “Down there I got exposed to a bunch of different Latin rock,” Lauricella recalls. “Afro-Cuban music isn’t real big in Mexico, but I heard a little bit of it. I came home and started digging up some records and checking into that stuff. I went to Puerto Rico with a friend and really started getting into it. I always loved dance music. I love anything that musically takes me … big-band, horn sections and percussion and stuff. So we said, ‘Hell, why don’t we just try it all — reggae, ska, rock-steady, hip-hop and Latin, and see what we come up with?’ So that’s what we got — Mandorico.”
Consequently, the only constant variable identifying a Mandorico audience is its level of enthusiasm.
“It totally depends on where we are,” says the singer. “There are some cities where people are predominately 30 and up, and some cities where it’s a younger mix of Latin kids, reggae kids and hip-hoppers. I wouldn’t say there’s been any consistency in it, as far as the crowds go.”
Lauricella finds great joy in “crossing over.”
“It’s awesome,” he says. “We played a festival a couple weeks ago in West Palm Beach. We were gearing up to play, and looked out and saw a lot of old folks. We were thinking, ‘This is not going to work; they’re going to hate us.’ And we just started real chill with some mellow stuff, which is not really what we do. We finally ran out of those songs, and thought, ‘OK, we’re screwed.’ [But] we played the regular set — and they loved it, man …
“This one 80-year-old cat came up and bought a record for himself and one for his grandson,” he reveals.
Lauricella likes the group’s live show so much he’s almost reluctant to try to reproduce that experience in the studio. “It’s one of those necessary evils, so people have something to hold onto and remember you by,” he concedes. “If it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t do it. To me, making records doesn’t feel very natural. Music has always been something that’s created live. You have that improvisation vibe, where you’ve played together so much that you know how everybody does what, and when. You’ve got to get it right: It’s got to be four bars, and then the break is this long, you know what I’m saying?
“I much prefer the spontaneous vibe as opposed to the kind of cold and calculated studio vibe. I’ve never dug that, but some people thrive on the precision of the studio. I like it a little bit looser, with a little bit more breathing room, which is why I believe that we’ve gotten a great reputation as a live band.”
Mandorico performed one track on the Latin Ska III compilation [Moon Ska] and released its debut EP, Familiar Places [Pico Rico], in 1998. Besides headlining many venues throughout the Southeast, the band has shared stages with acts like UB40, Toots & The Maytals, Smashmouth, and the late, great percussionist/bandleader Tito Puente.
Atlanta has been a good base for the group, a jump-off point for tours down to Florida, up to Pennsylvania, west to New Orleans. “A lot of markets are roughly within 10 hours,” Lauricella says. “And we do a bunch of stuff in between to kind of cut down the drive.”
The band’s lineup has changed some since it recorded afrocubanhiphopcaribbeanrock. Besides Lauricella, Mandorico now features trumpeter Steve-o Farmer, Allan Soave on saxophones, Jonathan Lloyd on trombone and timbales, guitarist John Stockdale, bassist Chimo Harmon and drummer Alan Marcha.
“We’ve lost some good musicians and gained better performers, and we’ve lost some good performers and gained much better musicians,” the singer explains. “Right now, we’ve got a real good mix between the two. We’ve got some excellent performers, and some of the best musicians I’ve ever played with. Our horn section is the best it’s ever been. These guys write incredible harmonies, and they’re all powerful, knowledgeable players. But the thing that’s best about them is that they realize in the music that we’re playing, some of the songs have maybe a grand total of eight bars of horns and that’s it, just stabs and fills — and there are other songs that we’ve written recently that are very much horn-driven, that revolve around the horn line.
“It’s good to have people that know when to play and also when not to,” he clarifies.
Mandorico recently completed four songs for a new CD — but Lauricella can’t wait to take a break from recording to play Asheville.
“It’s going to be a great show, especially after being cooped up in the studio the week before. We’re going to be ready to throw down.”