Jeff Santiago y Los Gatos Negros released their most recent album, Rolling Towards the Moon, in April 2014. Since that time, the rock band has shortened its name to Los Gatos (and traded the y for an ampersand) and begun writing for a follow-up album. But the Asheville group’s period of low-profile activity is coming to an end. “This last year, we’ve slowly been working on some new pieces,” singer-songwriter-guitarist Santiago says, “but we’ve gotten a lot more focused in the last several months.”
Los Gatos will debut some of its new material at The Mothlight on Thursday, Nov. 9. And, though it wasn’t originally planned as such, the show is now a benefit to help those affected most by the recent hurricanes in Puerto Rico.
Returning along with Santiago are bassist Lee White, drummer Springs Wade and lead guitarist Brandon Burney. Keyboardist and vocalist Kristin Avery recently joined the collective. As for the name change, “We just felt it was too long,” Santiago admits with a laugh. “People were kind of tongue-tied with it, so I felt it best to shorten it.”
Though he’s an accomplished songwriter on his own, Santiago’s previous work with his acoustic-based group Rozinante, and as a member of indie-rockers Broomstars, both demonstrated his skill working as part of a creative team. That’s Santiago’s favored approach within the context of Los Gatos as well. He says that the band develops new material in a variety of ways.
“I’ve written some pieces and kept each open so that we can have input from everybody who’s playing on it,” he says. “I like to see everyone really be a part of that process. Then, other times, we’re sharing ideas and trying to see if we can build off of those, working up a song from there.” Santiago says he relies on “group input and group effort from the band.”
Even with its collaborative nature, Los Gatos’ music primarily reflects Santiago’s lyrical concerns. A decade ago, Asheville audiences recognized the quality of his work. A 2007 feature in Xpress characterized Santiago — then performing as a solo acoustic act — as making music that’s “a unique marriage of rhythm and heart … both laid-back and danceable.”
But the lyrics Santiago writes in 2017 differ somewhat from those of just a few years ago. “I became a dad,” he explains. He describes parenthood as a life-changing experience: His young daughter has taught him a lot about slowing down. Being a father “made me realize that it’s good to get back into fundamentals of songwriting and break out of the typical, old habits I’ve had,” he says.
Santiago shares his love of music with his toddler, who’s on record as being a big fan of acts such as Toots and the Maytals. “Now that she’s growing into this little person, I’m able to share a lot more music with her,” Santiago says. “It’s been inspiring. That, coupled with the temperature of the world right now and everything that’s going on, means that I feel a lot more motivated — obligated, even — to continue expressing myself as a songwriter.”
He’s also motivated to express himself as a humanitarian. The devastation visited upon Puerto Rico by Hurricane Maria in September left the U.S territory largely without potable water or electricity, and federal efforts to provide aid have been criticized as late and insufficient. Santiago has many close friends and family who live in Puerto Rico. “I’m first generation off the island,” he notes. “People are hurting, and people are cut off, and I’d like to see a real effort to get those people taken care of.”
Right after the hurricane, Santiago organized a food and supplies drive under the auspices of Operation Puerto Rico Strong. “We started out with one truck,” he says, “and we wound up filling two. It’s just a matter of getting that stuff to people.”
In cooperation with local band Modern Strangers, Los Gatos decided to make its already scheduled Mothlight show a benefit, with all proceeds going toward United for Puerto Rico. While details were still being sorted out, Santiago is scheduling a personal trip to the island. “I’m already talking with some friends at Habitat for Humanity,” he says. “I’m hoping to go down there and help rebuild some homes.”
Amid those efforts, Santiago still finds time to make music. In addition to showcasing some of the new tunes and old favorites, he says Los Gatos “will pay tribute to a couple of fallen musical heroes as of late. This will be our first show at The Mothlight, a venue I have a great appreciation for,” he says. “I’m excited to get a turn at it.”
WHO: Jeff Santiago & Los Gatos with Modern Strangers
WHERE: The Mothlight, 701 Haywood Road, themothlight.com
WHEN: Thursday, Nov. 9, 9 p.m. By donation