San Diego is fortunate to be in the midst of a musical renaissance. Everywhere you look there is great music being made across all genres. To be sure there are plenty of new artists to listen to and excellent tunes from long-running favorites. The current crop of big names is particularly diverse. Beyond the newcomer scene, some artists have taken a while to connect, some have built on previous laurels , but only one band seemed to emerge fully formed and grabbed the area’s music fans attention: Little Hurricane. A blues rock duo featuring guitarist Anthony “Tone” Catalano and drummer Celeste “CC” Spina, the band first came together in 2009, winning Best New Artist at the following year’s San Diego Music Awards. Their rise was essentially meteoric. Releasing their debut album, Homewrecker in April 2011, they scored three more SDMAs that year, including Best Alternative Album , Best Alternative Artist, and Album of the Year.
Neither member of Little Hurricane is an area native. Catalano, originally from Santa Cruz, relocated to Ocean Beach in 2004. “I moved to be closer to LA, for music, but not in LA,” he said. “I also had some friends down here.” Meanwhile, Spina is a Chicago native. “I moved here back in 2005,” she noted. “Being from Chicago I always heard of the warm weather and wanted to get away from the harsh Chicago cold.”
Little Hurricane came together through the tried-and-true art of placing an ad seeking like-minded individuals. “I had posted an ad on Craigslist looking for someone to form a duo with,” said Spina. “I included a video clip of me drumming. Tone responded and it caught my eye that he had played in a jazz band in high school. As it turned out we were about three blocks from each other on the same street in North Park.”
The duo’s name was chosen as a way to describe their music. “It was a result of brainstorming something that would describe our sound and size,” Spina said. Catalano describes it as “dark, stormy, thunderous, uncontrolled, noisy, messy. Also, nobody likes big hurricanes, but little hurricane’s are an excuse for a party,” he continued.
The decision to perform as a duo was pragmatic. “I thought I’d start with looking for a drummer,” Catalano said. “The songs just worked well in a simple forma,t so we’ve kept it that way.” Spina agrees. “For me, I felt intimidated by a five-piece band. I knew if I could find one person who was patient and understanding of my lack of experience, it would be easier for me to learn. We’ve considered adding more musicians in the future, but for now we are leaving well enough alone.”
The blues seemed like a natural choice for the pair. “[I like] the emotion that comes with the songs,” Spina said. “The blues can take something so sad and make you feel happy when it’s put into songs.”
The pair considers vintage musical gear to be of major importance to their sound. “It’s incredibly important,” Spina remarked. “My favorite drum kit is a vintage champagne sparkle Ludwig from 1966 and a silver sparkle Slingerland snare from ’65. Some people think it’s wrong for me to tour with these drums, but for now I am okay with using vintage drums on a nightly basis,” she said. Catalano concurs with the sentiment. “Well, tube guitar amps are a must for me. The dynamics and warm, round tone are impossible to mimic with modern solid-state technology. [In addition] my guitar is ’60s vintage and definitely contributes to a lo-fi harmonic.”
While Little Hurricane is a fairly new proposition, Catalano has spent time as a recording studio engineer, taking part in recordings by many major names. “I’ve worked behind the scenes and in studios for many artists to various degrees of involvement,” he said. “Metallica was one of the lesser ones; I recorded a live performance in Guadalajara, Mexico. With Gwen Stefani I’ve worked in her home studio as well as traveled to various tour stops to record live performances.” Though the music is different from what Little Hurricane performs, he considers all the studio experience to be a plus when it comes to his band. “With my work as an audio engineer I was able to see far more bands live than would’ve been possible with any other job,” he noted. “I’ve seen the good and the bad, I’ve seen what I like in music and what I dislike in music. So, to that degree it’s really helped Little Hurricane, not to mention being able to record/produce our own music and see the songs through with the original vision.”
Both Spina and Catalano started playing music in grade school. “I started playing guitar in 7th grade as a class elective. It seemed better than home ec,” Catalano recalled. “My mother wanted me to get a classical guitar, but fortunately my dad brought me to the music store and allowed me to buy an electric. After learning all the chords and a few Nirvana songs I was getting bored with guitar until I saw a friend’s older brother playing some Chuck Berry song – and it blew my mind.” Like many before him, Catalano found Berry’s music to be a revelation. “I promised myself to never think a six-stringed instrument or music in general can be limited.” His first live performance was at 15 years old, at an official school function in his school’s gymnasium. “I was the guitar player and I remember people coming up to me afterwards saying our band was good but the singer was terrible! That’s when I decided that I better start learning how to sing,” he quipped.
Considering how accomplished the band seems onstage, it’s interesting to note that Little Hurricane is Spina’s first non-school band, while Catalano has only had a group with a few high school friends.
Spina’s interest in music dates back to the fifth grade. “We took a music aptitude test and I scored really high, so I got to choose from any instrument I wanted,” she remembered. “It was a tossup between the drums and trumpet, but my gut told me drums. Luckily my parents were okay with letting me practice at home.” Her first public performance came with the schools symphonic band. “I don’t really remember [much about it], but I’m sure it wasn’t too amazing having 30 ten-year-olds play something like ‘This Land is your Land,’ she joked. “The first time I played in public in a rock band was with Tone on March 5, 2010 at the Soda Bar. I was so nervous, and I can’t say it went great. I made plenty of mistakes, was terrified of the sound guy, and spilled my drink on stage. Despite all that, the crowd was amazing, and I was left feeling hopeful for future shows.”
Interestingly, Spina took eight years off from drumming before meeting up with Catalano. “I went to culinary school, and that took all of my free time and artistic energy,” she explained. “It was nearly impossible to play drums and cook, simply because the wages I earned didn’t enable me to buy a drum kit or live in apartment where I could play one. I never had a free Friday or Saturday night, so [at the time] being in a band that actually plays shows was out of the question.”
As might be expected from a combo whose sound is moody and wide reaching, actual musical influences are varied. “There are so many!” Spina enthused. “For music I love Paul Simon, Counting Crows, Manchester Orchestra, Nirvana, Dean Martin, the Beatles, and countless other timeless groups. Drummers would be Steve Gadd, Ron Bushy, or Karen Carpenter.” Meanwhile Catalano “grew up listening to the Beatles, James Taylor, and Van Morrison, and I still do. Then [later I listened to] punk/post-punk like No Use for a Name, Face to Face and Good Riddance. Now I listen to any style that has a good song.”
Awards, Touring, and Taco Bell
While it would be easy for the winning of four SDMAs in a little over a year would go to some artists heads, for Little Hurricane, it was simply an indication they were on the right path. “It felt really encouraging that we are doing something that we love and it is also being appreciated,” Spina said. “It was a little surprising, but gave me the extra confidence to move forward as a musician.” For their part Catalano and Spina are quite happy with the San Diego music community. “It’s amazing!” Spina said. “There are so many great bands and venues to play here. I’ve noticed it’s harder for touring bands to break into this market, but overall they encourage local music and musicians.” Catalano agrees. “San Diego is a great place for music and the arts in general. The beauty that we all live in contributes to that, as well as the attitude among all the musicians here.”
Little Hurricane is now in the process of breaking nationwide, with major inroads on a worldwide level, thanks in large part to a regular touring schedule. “We just completed our first East Coast and Midwest tour,” Spina noted. “We have toured most of the country at least once, and just toured Australia for the first time in October. We were surprised at how many fans we had over there, and as far as the U.S., Portland has been incredibly receptive.” Catalano mentions that increased radio airplay has been a big help. “They play us on the radio in Portland, so in turn a lot of people know our music there, like in San Diego it’s always a welcome surprise to have people singing along with us! We also love playing in Austin and Chicago.”
Spina notes that the band collaborates when it comes to writing the material, after a point. “We each write the parts for our instruments, and then work on the lyrics together,” she said. “Usually one of us has an idea for a song, and then we sit down and develop the idea into a feeling we can put into a song.” Fans will be happy to know there will be new Little Hurricane music in 2013. “We actually have our next album recorded; it just needs to be mixed and some finishing touches [added]. Expect to see something by spring,” Spina remarked.
The future does indeed look bright for Little Hurricane. They may be scoring impressive airplay worldwide, but millions more are hearing their music unawares, via a new Taco Bell commercial, which uses their song “Haunted Heart” as well as soundtrack appearances on TV’s “Gossip Girl” (“Haunted Heart”) and “Revenge” (“Get By”). It has indeed been a whirlwind 36 months for the band.
Now three years into performing with Little Hurricane, Spina is thrilled with the progress the band has made and the opportunities it has given them. “I love touring the country and the world. There are places I would never get to see if it wasn’t for Little Hurricane, and I feel very lucky that my job requires constant travel. Whether I get to meet new friends or reunite with old ones, its always nice to be on the road,” she said.