Cato Salsa Experience with Soundtrack of our lives at the Opera House (735 Queen East), Saturday (November 9). $20. 416-870-8000.
Norway isn't exactly world-renowned for its musical exports. Its biggest claims to fame are the antics of people like Count Grishnackh, bass player for death metal outfit Mayhem, who stabbed guitarist Euronymous to death in 1993 and is now a self-professed neo-Nazi making music under the name Burzum, and Faust, drummer for rival band Emperor, who was convicted of stabbing a gay man at around the same time.
Enter the Cato Salsa Experience, poised to salvage Norway's sullied reputation with their upbeat, stylin' vintage garage rock. Rife with organs, distortion and dirt, nods to Hendrix and Detroit rock with touches of the likes of the Blues Explosion, their album, A Good Tip For A Good Time, is exactly that.
On the chance that I might be experiencing a brain fart, I ask versatile Cato Thomassen -- he's responsible for electric guitar, organ, piano, Mellotron, Moog, percussion, lead and backing vocals -- if there might be any famous Norwegian bands that aren't springing to mind.
"Well," he offers over the phone as the band heads from Atlanta to New York City, "I don't know if you've heard of A-ha...."
Um, I meant besides A-ha. Like, obviously. Thomassen comes up with Turbonegro. Good one.
"Right now there's a new kind of self-confidence," he says with that flattened-out Norse accent. "It's not like one scene either. There's a lot going on."
Cato Salsa Experience formed a few years ago out of a caffeine high as members Thomassen, Jon Magne Riise (drums, percussion, acoustic guitar, Mellotron, backing vocals) and Christian Engfelt (bass, percussion, backing vocals) bitched about their dissatisfaction with their respective bands. And, lo, just as strangers in a bar whining about respective spouses might get together for an impromptu shag, the three got down-and-dirty in a jam session and the Cato Salsa Experience was born. Almost.
First they had to go trolling for a female member. Only when they encountered Nina Delay (Nina Bjorndalen) at a party shouting at a DJ to play something "that rocks" was the circle complete.
Delay plays organ and is mean on the theremin, too. She also kicks ass on the decoy duck, as you can see in their video for So, The Circus Is Back In Town.
"The duck is our mascot," Thomassen tells me. "She's in the van with us right now. Her name is Anna."
A Good Tip For A Good Time was recorded on a 16-track analog, giving it that extra raw punch so often lacking in today's glossy, over-produced market.
"I like the warmth and depth of analog much better than digital," says Thomassen.
"What I'm interested in is energy. That's why we play rough music. I like to perform that kind of music live and to be able to put that kind of energy on tape."
While this record tends to centre around the retro, the next one will show other influences.
"I grew up listening to everything from Nick Drake to Slayer," says Thomassen.
But what about Norwegian pop music? It must exist.
"Sure. There's a Scandinavian version of MTV, and I listened to Norwegian pop music because that's what was on the radio."
But despite these role models, it never occurred to Thomassen to sing in Norwegian.
"I played in one band where the singer sang in Norwegian, but I don't think it works musically. I don't like the way the language sounds. Swedish works much better."