Wailing City Spotlight: Interview with Llama Tsunami

Published September 21, 2023
Interview by Meghan Killimade

You guys have been together and playing in the area for around 15 years!? For those who may be unfamiliar - what's the history of the band?  
Band: Formed in 2008, Llama Tsunami is a 9 piece ska band. Many members have come and gone over the years- there are 20 current and former llamas! Currently, three original members remain; Ben Perry (bass, vocals), Nick Perry (vocals), and Josh Middleton (trumpet). Kevin Stoodt (saxophone) joined in 2010, Zach Lewis (lead guitar) joined in 2013, and Christy Hagerty-Stoodt started singing with the band in 2015. Meg Canastar (trombone) joined in 2018, Marcus Dipollina, a long time friend and drum sub, joined officially as our drummer in 2019, and Evan Grey joined in 2022 as our rhythm guitarist. Zach and Marcus are from Waterford, Evan is from New London, and everyone else is from Montville. The band has always been a creative outlet, but also we’re just a bunch of folks who want to have fun, and be a little dumb, like, as a band. We started as college kids who wanted to make music with friends, and now we’re a bunch of adults who make music with friends....

How has the band changed/grown over the years? 
Ben: Well for starters, we’re not kids anymore - we all have jobs, families, very busy lives and finding the time to be in a band is harder and harder. That is to say that the fact that we continue to make this music together is proof that we do this for a reason. Over the years, we’ve had twenty different members, but the band has managed to keep a consistent sound that slowly grew into the mix of genres we have today. The subject matter of the songs has changed over time- we have different priorities now and as our experience grows we find we have more to say. With all the change though, the heart of the band has stayed the same - we’re here to have fun with it.

Marcus: It’s really incredible to get 9 people to do anything together. The band has always made decisions as a democratic unit. In the past, a lot of the work has been on Ben and Nick to keep things running. But now that division of labor is more spread out, with some members really stepping up to help the band keep going.

Josh: When the band started, and we talked about what we expected or wanted from the band, Ben and I agreed that mostly we wanted to do it because we enjoyed performing and it was fun. Anything else that came from it would be cool, but ultimately enjoying the experience was the higher priority. Over the years we've had challenges and low points, but have been able to use that as a touchstone when figuring out where to go and what our priorities should be. That has been really helpful to have a clear goal in mind.

Tell us about your most recent album ‘Something Clever’ – what was the inspiration behind it and how did the songs come together? What was the recording process like? Where did you record?
 
Band: We sat down in 2021 after quarantine and asked each other what we wanted as a band. We decided that even as members were getting married and having kids, we wanted to make an album together. In the past, Ben and Nick spearheaded songwriting, but with 'Something Clever' everyone was much more involved in the process. Some songs have multiple songwriters, like "Hairflip"-- and Kevin and Christy wrote a song each, which were "Edgewise" & "Color Theory" respectively. 

Christy: Even the album cover was a group effort. I’ve appointed myself band secretary and when we had the album name meeting, we had a long list, and I offhandedly said “haha what if this was the cover.” Nick took that idea and ran with it, making the I Spy themed cover. It’s filled with stuff that means something to us. We’ve got D&D minis and dice, anxiety meds, a vibraslap, a mask, our lyric notebook, buttons, an old set list, and the focal point, being the notebook with names and doodles that I scribbled down. I’m so incredibly proud of how it all came together. It perfectly encapsulates who we are right now.

Band: We recorded at Firehouse 12 in New Haven throughout August & September of 2022. It was an incredible experience because much of the band hadn’t recorded in a studio; we’re far more used to recording in Ben’s basement. 

Christy: We spent almost every weekend for 2 months recording. I was very pregnant at the time, and overall, it was great! Greg, the engineer, is a huge ska fan so it was awesome working with someone who knew and loved the genre too. By the end of the summer, I was a bit afraid I was gonna have the baby at the studio, I was so huge. It’s really special to me that my daughter can listen to this album that she was technically there for.

Marcus: There was tons of space, which made my drums sound huge! For me, it made me feel like a rock star even if I only recorded there for 3 days. Just being in a room like that can get you amped up and inspired.

Josh: The green room had really nice snacks so that was pretty rad. 

You guys also just released a music video for the song "The Haunted/The Hunted" - how did that come together? Tell us about the video! 
Josh: 
We’ve done acoustic videos before, and live videos. We’ve taken a much more serious approach with this one- we had a shot list, multiple sets and shoot days.

Christy: It was mostly Nick! He sat us down at practice and said he had a vision and a really ambitious idea. He had worked with his filmmaker friends, Ashleigh Becker and Lily Giannoni, and they helped direct and film the video, which was so much fun. I didn’t record vocals on The Haunted/The Hunted on the album, so I starred in the video with Mike Hinton, a longtime friend of the band. Nick’s idea to have “guy get sucked into TV playing an 80’s horror movie, then girl go in and save him” immediately sounded like a blast, and it was! This video was a huge step up from our others. Most were shot with one camera in a yard or a bedroom, or on webcams during quarantine. It was really neat seeing Nick’s idea come to fruition in a big way.


You guys have 3 cover albums, "Don't Judge A Band By Its Cover" - how do you decide what songs to cover and what has the audience response been? 
Christy: There are few greater joys than playing music for people who already know the words. Especially really drunk folks! When we’ve already played a long while, it’s far past my bedtime and I’m exhausted and I wanna go home, it’s a nice little reminder that we all just like music. We pick music based on a mix of what we can arrange horn parts for, what we like to play, and what actually sounds good. Sometimes we’re lucky and it’s all planned out, and sometimes we’re just goofin' around at practice, start a song and realize about halfway through that it’s feasible to actually take the time to really learn.

Ben: Sometimes I hear a song and it just resonates with me like “that would be an awesome ska cover” and so I arrange it and hope the band agrees.
 
Josh: We like to choose songs that are familiar and fun and we can sound good playing with our current lineup, but we definitely try and choose ones that are a little surprising if we can. Either songs everyone forgets about or that you wouldn't think of having horns or ska rhythms in.

Where have you guys been playing more recently and what’s your favorite place to play in the area?
 
Band: Recently, we’ve played some shows at the Oasis Pub in New London, and Scottish Dave’s in Clinton. We also really enjoy playing Strange Brew in Norwich, Hygienic Art Park in New London, and the Particle Accelerator benefit show in Putnam every year. 

Marcus: We are looking forward to opening up for Sgt. Scagnetti at Otto’s Shrunken Head in NYC in November.

Favorite song(s) to play live? 
Marcus: On the new record some of the songs I really like to play are: "Something Clever", "Invincible" and "Your Friends".

Meg: I really enjoy "Something Clever", "Sweet Release", and "Oh my God" off our old album 'Safety First'. I love singing with my band mates and harmonizing with Christy gives me such joy, because I feel like our voices blend really well together. My favorite covers we play are "99 Red Balloons", "Good Thing", and "Everybody’s Better".

Christy:
“Sweet Release", "Color Theory"and "Invincible" are so much fun to play. I also love singing our cover of "Dear Maria Count Me In" with Meg; harmonizing with them is truly a gift. Also singing "No" by Megan Trainor in front of little girls is incredibly empowering.
 
Ben: I really like singing “I’m a goner; you’re a conifer” even though it doesn’t mean anything.
 
Josh: I've always loved playing "Nothings Changed". Even years later I haven't gotten tired of it. Out of the new songs I would say "Something Clever" because I can hear a little bit of everything we've done together up to this point in it and it really brings it all together for me, where we've been and where we are now.

Any memorable shows/stories over the years?
 
Christy: Playing the Wolf Den at Mohegan Sun was surreal! I also jumped off the stage at the Hygienic one time because some asshole in the crowd was harassing my friend. It was ska prom so I was in a full dress and heels too, haha. Ooh also this past Particle Accelerator in Putnam was wild to me because it was my daughter’s first Llama show and I only almost cried a little.

Meg: We went on a mini tour up to Maine in 2019 to play a bar called SunTiki with El Grande and The Pandemics, and for some unfathomable reason, Josh and Kevin started making stationery puns and were riffing off of each other for 20 minutes as we were driving to the bar. I hate puns. 

Ben: One time Meg made a pun at practice.

You just walked into the Telegraph or the Mystic Disc to flip through some vinyl – what section are you heading to first and what are you hoping to find?
Marcus: 'Stone' by Baroness and 'Heavy Pendulum' By Cave In.

Christy: If there’s a k-pop section, I’m there. If not, I’m going to the movie soundtracks and looking for either Josie & the Pussycats or Kiki’s Delivery Service.

Kevin: I’m heading to the funk section and looking for something old, or alt rock and finding a hard copy of any Unknown Mortal Orchestra album.

Meg: I agree with Kevin, I’d be in the funk section. But I’m looking for Vulfpeck, they’re pretty funky.

Ben: I don’t own a record player.

Josh: I think I've only bought three albums from a store in my life and two of them were Electric Six. I don't know what that says. I usually just steal things from Ben and our former trombone player. I have a hard time getting all the way through a single album before it reminds me of something else and I have to go listen to that right away.

Any local bands/musicians you’ve been digging lately? 
Christy: The Post Valley Green came out with an album this past spring, and if you’re into folksy music, I highly recommend.

Meg: I really dig Shed Life! If you’re into math rock, you’ll like them. If you’re more into soul, I’d check out Souls on Fire or The Soul Factory. Both are great bands!



What do you think this area needs to help the music scene thrive? 
People who want to support live local music and a place for them to do so. That’s all any scene needs. I think we have both of those things right now but they don’t always line up. 

Josh: The few venues that still operate in the area are run by a very tight knit community of artists and promoters that have worked with each other for a very long time. There is a ton of history and mutual support in there but if you don't know them or know about them, it can be impossible to get on their radar, or even know who to reach out to. I think the area can do a much better job at reaching out to new acts and younger groups and inviting them in and giving them a chance.

What’s up next for you guys? 
We’re playing Skatoberfest at the Beeracks in East Haven on September 30th, which is our vinyl release show! 
 
Josh: I want to play on a boat.

Meg: We’re going back to the Oasis on December 2nd, always love playing there!



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