La Tunda Casts A Spell

Stephany Brown PhotoStephany Brown, Kriss Santala, and Andy Beetham burst into laughter in Cafe Nine, in the time between happy hour and that night’s featured show, when asked how they got the name for their band, La Tunda.

“I was on a kick researching different female witches and demons,” said Brown. “I came across this one Colombian witch called La Tunda. It’s a really old Colombian legend and the legend goes sort of like this: She lives on the shore and has a wooden spoon for a leg, and when sailors come in from the ocean, she transforms into this beautiful lady and seduces them and feeds them shrimp that she’s farted on, but her farts are toxic and the sailors fall into this unconscious state. And then she eats them alive. And when I read that I just couldn’t believe that it was a real story.”

But they soon found out it was.

“She does it to a lot of cheaters, bad men,” added Santala. “If you look it up, there’s a video. It’s a south Colombian myth.”

(There are, in fact, a few videos on YouTube. The band has posted a shortened version of one of them on its Facebook page. View at your discretion).

Brown, Santala, and Beetham pride themselves on their offbeat sense of humor, but it is only one part of what the New Haven-based trio is serving up, bred as they are on a wide variety of influences and mutual respect and admiration for one another.

Together since 2013 with Brown on vocals and guitar, Santala on vocals and bass, and Beetham on drums, La Tunda has been hard at work putting together its first full-length recording, which will be celebrated with a show at Cafe Nine’s Sunday Buzz matinee this Sunday, Aug. 19. The lineup also includes Lamb Bombs and The Natch.

The band had previously made a recording of five demos back in 2014 called Live from Your Mother’s Attic! — “because we practice in my mom’s attic,” said Beetham. “The title captures the essence of that sound and gives it that flavor of rawness.” Listen to the songs “Funk Bitch” and “Killer Waves” and you get a strong sense of what this band is all about. But Brown, Santala and Beetham were committed to getting a more polished recording down in 2018.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Brown. “We actually tracked the album a while ago and we’ve been slowly mixing it. We had all the excuses. We’re busy and it’s hard to stay on track with it. But I’m going to be starting art school in the fall, so we thought we needed to finish this and put it out there.”

Lys Guillorn PhotoThe album, titled Factory Girls — which is also the title of the picture used for the cover, taken by singer-songwriter, artist, and friend Lys Guillorn — consists of 10 original songs and was recorded at Birdseye Studio with engineer Jonathan Conine, “the local sound wizard,” said Santala.

The songs are a labor of both their love of music and of each other.

“Kriss and I write the songs,” said Brown. “It’s kind of a mixed bag. Sometimes she comes in with a finished song. Sometimes I come in with a finished song. Sometimes I write one part and she writes the other part. But it’s all collaborative; we all come up with our own parts.”

“And Andy just does what we tell him,” joked Santala.

“That’s right!” Beetham added with a laugh.

“It feels very natural to write and sing with Stephany,” Santala added. “It’s like we were born to sing together. Even if I have a little part of a song, she comes up with another part that compliments it and vice versa.”

“There’s a lot of duality to the songwriting,” said Beetham, who added that this duality translates well into their live performances. “Kriss and Steph will switch it up. First one will play bass and one will play guitar and then they’ll totally flip.”

“She’s helped me be more confident with that, playing more guitar,” said Santala about Brown. “She’s really good. I think she’s a better bass player than me.”

“It’s selfish, really. I just like playing bass,” Brown said with a smile. “Basically the way we do a show is I play more songs on guitar — I guess I’m the main guitar player — but we switch for at least four songs every set, sometimes five. We both like playing both instruments and it keeps it interesting for us.”

“Andy plays intermission beats while we switch,” added Santala.

“So I come up with little quick drum solos in between, which is fun,” said Beetham.

“It does make it a lot more interesting,” Santala said. “You’re like, ‘oh what’s going on now, I mean they’re only a three piece, and wait, what are they doing?’”

“Our practices get pretty wacky,” Brown said. “We’re very comfortable with each other. We try not to take ourselves too seriously. It’s a great release, a way to bond with people, meet new people and express yourself. It’s a win-win all around.”

“We’re just trying to have a good time and put out and play music we all love to play”, added Santala.

“I’m very comfortable playing live,” said Beetham. “I find if you get too nervous or worked up about it, it actually backfires. I see when people get lost in the music — when we’re playing, I can tell, I can see everything — I know if they’re listening or if they’re getting loose or dancing. You got to get in that flow or otherwise it’s going to be too stiff.”

Though La Tunda does not play live frequently. “We like playing, but it is a bit of a time thing,” said Brown. “If we book a show, we have to practice for the show rather than work on the album. We have been trying to play fewer shows so we can focus on that. We definitely plan on continuing to play even though I am starting school in New York in the fall. I’m hoping that will open some doors for contacts in that area.”

The band is also looking forward to new musical possibilities from a writing perspective. “Once we do this show and the album is done, I’m personally looking forward to writing more stuff, because we’ve sort of been neglecting that,” said Brown. “We’re itching to do it, and we’ve been putting it off.
We have a lot of stuff on deck that we’re excited to work on.”

They began excitedly discussing an “off the cuff” song they have been working on.

“There’s this one song, I don’t know if we can pull it off,” said Santala.

“Realistically that’s because the evolution of it is we’re jamming,” said Beetham. (“Noodling,” said Santala.) “So it’s still kind of evolving.”

“We worked on other things and then came back to it,” added Brown, “so it’s all very collaborative.”

Santala and Brown both cited Patti Smith, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and The Slits, as well as Billie Holiday and jazz standards, as major influences. Santala is well known locally as a solo singer of such standards. Beetham added that he has been influenced by bands such as The Ramones, Sonic Youth, and Nirvana, the latter two also being two of Brown’s major influences.

“Actually a lot of the drumming style I use for La Tunda is really kind of like Dave Grohl,” said Beetham. “It’s pretty simple, but it’s heavy hitting.”

“It’s funny, as I was leaving the last show of ours, someone gave me the most sincere compliment. This guy was like, ‘dude you guys rocked! If you came out in the ‘90s you would’ve sold a million records.’ Which ... depending on how you take that, it’s either a compliment or a slap in the face. And I’m like, ‘Thanks, man!’”

“We’re kind of living in the ‘90s a little bit,” said Brown with a smile.

“Our songs will change dramatically throughout the song,” Beetham said. “It will not always be straight verse-chorus-verse, though some of them are. We can go from a really poppy rock song to the music changing moods very drastically.”

“I think when we play a set you can see all the different influences,” said Santala.

“But we always try to keep it original, real,” added Brown.

Brown fondly recalled how she came to play with Santala. “I saw Kriss play a couple of times, and I said, ‘I need to play with this lady.’” Beetham was an old friend of Brown’s that she knew would be “a good fit.”

Beetham offered his own words of gratitude. “I always joked to myself and said, ‘now I know what it’s like to have sisters. It’s fun. They’re fun.’”

“And we get so excited when we play!” said Santala. “I’m very excited to see what the future brings. I know we’re going to stay together for a while…. whatever happens I think it’s going to continue and evolve.”

“This is the longest I’ve ever been in one band,” said Beetham.

“Should we get rings or something, guys? Promise rings?” said Brown. They all laughed.

Would any shrimp be served at the show on Sunday?

“Only in musical form,” said Brown, though the band said they indeed had served it at their very first show. “We will be serving musical shrimp.”

La Tunda celebrates Factory Girls at Cafe Nine, 250 State St., during the Sunday Buzz matinee at 3 p.m. Factory Girls will be released imminently. More information about that show and digital release can be found on the band’s Facebook page. Brown and Santala will also be performing a “quick opening set” of “sensitive songs” as a duo at this week’s Cafe Nine Friday happy hour show opening for Jenny Parrot, starting at 5 p.m.

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